TTRPG Thoughts: Giving the Players What they Want

Part One

When I first started this website, my idea was to pre-write a dozen blogs with thoughtfully selected topics and space them out perfectly to build a following. It was a great idea! What actually happened, though, was I became paralyzed by the thought of all that work and didn’t do any blogging at all. I’ve decided now to just write them as they pop into my head and not get caught up in the scheduling minutia.

Over the summer, I decided to contact a few friends I used to game with back in Edmonton and see if they’d be interested in starting an online TTRPG (tabletop roleplaying game) campaign. They were enthusiastic, and I had a great idea ready to go—a gritty, political Vampire: the Masquerade game set in Los Angeles. Half the group had never played Vampire before, but were eager to learn. We decided on the 20th Anniversary edition rules, and I wrote a cool intro and character generation cheat sheet for the players.

We made characters and started to play. And it went… fine. I had neat NPCs for the characters to interact with. The players seemed intrigued by the storyline of Sabbat and Camarilla fighting over L.A. in the modern world of 2030. Everyone said they had a good time.

But I never felt the spark. That ineffable quality at the end of a session where everyone’s talking and laughing and rehashing the events of the night. No one prepped between sessions, and no one had strong opinions about where to take the storyline. They liked fighting other vampires, but glossed over feeding and building their territory and interacting with the rest of the Kindred in the city. When I had to cancel the odd session, everyone said, “Okay!” instead of “Aww, okay.”

(I was also starting to have trouble planning adventures. The players preferred combat-oriented sessions, and in the few months we played they’d fought ghouls, other vampires, werewolves, a Changeling, faerie creatures from the Dreaming, and a demon. I was running out of opponents, and how many vampires can there be in Los Angeles, really?)

As a GM, I did something very difficult for me to do. I pulled the plug on a game.

I sent everyone an email saying that I thought the game wasn’t working as well as I’d hoped and that, to be honest, I was losing interest. I suggested we meet as usual for our session that week (thanks Roll20 for keeping me in touch with my friends this year!) and figure out together what we wanted to do.

My stomach was in knots when I hit send. I worried the players would think I was a bad GM who had wasted their time the last few months. I worried they had loved the game and I was misreading the room and they’d be upset with me for ending it. I knew my fears weren’t rational, per se, but it was a high-stakes social situation. These were my friends, and I wanted to run a good game for them.

You can probably guess what happened next. Everyone said they understood, we met up and came up with a new game concept, and we’re playing a game that I’m much happier with and everyone seems excited over.

This summer was a good reminder that the best game concept in the world doesn’t matter if the players don’t buy in. My players were willing to give my game a shot, but the style and mechanics didn’t work for them, and that was no one’s fault. It was good that we all recognized it early on and were able to retire the game with some good memories before it became a chore.

Now, the game we moved on to… well, that’s another story about giving the players what they want. Stay tuned for Part 2, probably in a few days! (Hint: I originally told the players we’d be starting in a little village called Hommlett, but it didn’t work out that way…)

[Featured Image by Riho Kroll on Unsplash ]

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