Too Many Player Ideas

Starting sometime late August I’ll be posting session write-ups from my current campaign (Pirates x Mythology!) on Mondays, and will keep doing hands-on stuff on Thursdays. These will be “how it went in my head vs. how it went on game night” type posts so you can learn from my mistakes, oversights, and hopefully my techniques as well!
 - GMGenie

We’ve all had those combat encounters that took hours, right? That’s another topic for another week because what happened in my game last week was worse – we spent over an hour planning for the combat encounter.

Some characters (read, some players) wanted a frontal assualt. Some characters (read, some players) wanted a “sneak in from the sewers” approach. Some characters (again, read, some players) wanted to dress up high-class and infiltrate the place as guests.

Now, planning is not always boring, but this came right after some pretty fast-paced gameplay where the characters were getting geared up for a big conflict. So when the action ground to slow halt, bogged down in planning, it left some if not all of us disappointed and tired – so much so that it actually killed the session.

In this situation, all the players wanted to move forward, but they all also had their own ideas they wanted to put into the scene. Now I generally allow players to approach a problem in any way they want. If someone wants to do the “sneak in as classy guests” thing, I’ll usually rule that there’s a masque already going on, and see what they do with it. But putting too many ideas on the table “clogged” the session and turned player creativity into a bad thing.

My solution
I can’t guarantee it will work for your group, but here’s what I tried this week.

Any time the group is entering a new encounter or string of encounters (such as Rousing The Townspeople, Attacking The Mansion, or Facing The Bad Guy) I'm going to ask each player to contribute one aspect of that encounter (an aspect could be anything from “there’s a high tower for us to fight our way up onto,” to “we have a mob of townspeople on our side,” or even “there’s a masque going on” or “underground passages”).

Quick note, we’re playing Fate, which actually employs aspects as single, irreducible, chunks of story and has beautiful rules for how they get used in a scene. Check it out – the concept of aspects is a powerful prep tool for any rpg, IMO.

Basically, my liturgy is:
1: GM describes scenario
2: players contribute aspects to the scenario
3: player-characters take over by making their own plan

Having an aspect-calling stage BEFORE a plan-discussion stage will make the latter more efficient.

In my game, when the players were discussing whether to infiltrate as guests or sneak in through underground passages, they were discussing the merits of those options as plans. But, obviously, what they were really pushing was their merits as fun stuff to do. As aspects of a possible action scene.

So we could have eliminated a lot of discussion by having the players contribute the fun stuff they wanted to happen, and then having the characters plan how to negotiate the obstacles.

The players’ goal should be to call out aspects that a) put what they want into the scene, and b) build on the aspects that have already been suggested by other players.

Decide if you want players to be able to vote someone’s suggestion down. My group’s mature enough that we went with the rule, “once it’s suggested, it sticks.” This keeps people surprisingly serious about what they suggest.

I advise against having a GM veto power. But you should have 3 other powers. 1) the power to secretly modify a player’s aspect with a surprise sub-aspect (like, “ok, there’s a tower, but the top chamber of is an artillery room loaded with explosives”). 2) the power to declare that an aspect is incompatible with other aspects that have been declared or just assumed. In my case, I could have used this rule to say, “guys, we’ve been assuming it’s a two-pronged attack, so you can’t suggest ‘infiltrate the masque’ since ‘underground passages’ and ‘aerial assault’ have already been suggested. And 3) to rule that one aspect actually needs a roll or series of rolls to bring it into play, such as the ‘fighting with a mob of townspeople on our side.’

These abilities allow you to keep aspects from being too advantageous, without outright telling a player, “you can’t do that.”

This plan gives a good balance between player input and GM input. When the players are sugesting aspects, they’re scenario-building, which is ultimately under GM authority. But when they’re making plans in character, their ideas can get accomodated by the GM. Players and GM both get to do their jobs, which means better gameplay.

Remember, this requires description
Remember point #1 on my liturgy above. If you give players a rich description of the scenario before they start contributing aspects, then they’ll probably a) have a lot more ideas to contribute and b) contribute aspects that are much more along the lines you were already thinking. I should probably write a longer post about GM description soon…

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