Player- vs DM-driven narratives

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MinusInnocence's picture
Player- vs DM-driven narratives

This is kind of an open-ended topic with many layers but I think I will start it off with something simple: how much free reign do you give players to write stuff in their background or propose things during the game about the setting? In my experience, character creation always involves lots of back and forth. This comes from my days as a Storyteller in the White Wolf system, which encourages the group to engage in a series of "Prologues," mostly solitary pre-adventures where each player takes turns with the Storyteller going over stuff in their backstory. This might be a simple conversation about the character's life before the game begins, it could consist of a personality quiz or a series of "what if"s and "how does your character feel about X?" type questions; or it could mean actually roleplaying pivotal events that shape your character's view of the world and of himself. In a game like Werewolf or Vampire, particularly relevant to that conversation would be how he or she experienced the First Change or the Embrace.

So I have a lot of experience with it as more of a collaborative effort to figure out who the character is, what makes him tick and what his place in the world might be. In D&D, I take that conversation as a prime opportunity to brainstorm about secrets or goals the character might have, but also give the player opportunity to come up with some of his own stuff to leave a mark on the setting. Maybe he or she trained at a martial academy and has specific ideas about the kinds of folks in his graduating class, his instructors, what happened while he attended, etc. I welcome contributions like that to the setting. It's less work for me, after all. Obviously everything has to be approved but I think it makes players feel like they are contributing something meaningful to the ongoing narrative. The game belongs to them, too.

On the other hand, after the game starts, I feel a little differently. I don't know why but I am much more reticent to endorse recommendations after we have been playing for even a single game session. I don't have a very good reason for this, I'm just way more skeptical about stuff like that and the only exception is if someone is creating a new character to bring into the game. In that case, they get the same wiggle room to innovate as someone would at the beginning of the campaign.

Fixxxer's picture

I like to think I'm very open to players creating fluff for their characters, with the caveat that it has to fit the setting. I'm usually pretty wary of players trying to recreate a hero from their favorite story whole cloth or trying to introduce material into a world that doesn't fit. For example, I once had a player try to get me to fit a drow into a DragonLance game, where drow are not a race at all. I understand we're playing a game of fantasy and possibility, but something that stretches the suspension if disbelief in such an obvious way is a turn off for me.

Talanall's picture

I'm very open, to the point that I openly welcome players who want to write up material for the Tolrea setting. It's one of the compelling concerns that led me to stop using the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, etc. I have creative control over my setting, so I can give players that level of input. And I leave "blank space" in the setting that I don't ever plan to develop myself, so that there are places where others' material can fit in without having to mesh closely to my own.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

deadDMwalking's picture

I agree that prior to the start of the game, it's easy to include a player's concepts of where they come from. Creating a monastery or entire organizations is helpful from the DM point of view, and a world is big enough to allow just about anything - it's just a matter of figuring out WHERE it happened. Once the game begins, it does become more difficult. Partly it is a matter of weaving new plot points into an existing game and partly trying to avoid giving players advantages they didn't have before. If a major part of the game is figuring out how a player will overcome a challenge with the items and abilities they have, it kind of defeats the purpose to allow them to write a new ability into their character sheet when it becomes convenient (which an ally could certainly qualify as).

As a player, I also find that it's hard to be satisfied with the things that I 'add to the world'. It's a weird quirk of human psychology, but when we're given exactly what we want without asking for it, it counts for more than if we get the same thing but we asked for it.

MinusInnocence's picture

I thought about that: that it feels cheesy to allow something after the game has begun because maybe the player is getting away with something. I would be much more inclined to endorse collaboration once play has begun if the content they want to introduce doesn't really have anything to do with their character or even the campaign. Like if there is a monastery dedicated to a particular philosophy with its own martial art, chain of feats, a Prestige Class, etc. but it's in another part of the world and might not even come up at all during the campaign, that would be fine. Encouraging players to be more invested in the game is always a good thing.

"Men are the only animals that devote themselves, day in and day out, to making one another unhappy. It is an art like any other. Its virtuosi are called altruists." - H.L. Mencken