So you’re a GM thinking about starting a new campaign. No doubt, you’ve got some cool ideas and are champing at the bit to get started, but how do you know your players will enjoy what you’ve planned? Better yet, wouldn’t it be cool to know what your players enjoy about gaming before spending hours and hours crafting a module or campaign?
One of the most vital aspects of a GM’s “job” is to know the players sitting at his table. While it is likely you may have known and even gamed with some of your players for years (or in my case decades) it is still important to understand exactly what each of the participants wants from a gaming session. For example, if most of your players love combat, crafting a highly complex political campaign is probably going to be a waste of time. I’ve previously blogged about using SurveyMonkey to get feedback from your players about your campaign. But, even before you start to design your campaign you must think about what your players (and of course yourself) want from the game.
Blindingly Obvious Points
- Successful campaigns are those about which all participants feel excited and energised.
- If a campaign or adventure contains elements designed to play to the participants’ likes, the game is much more likely to be a success.
Several years ago, I ran into a problem during one of my campaigns. I was running a 3.5 conversion of the classic Temple of Elemental Evil and the campaign had started well, but game play had hit a dead spot. Energy was low around the table and some of the players seemed frustrated. The campaign had clearly hit a stale patch – most of the participants didn’t really seem to be enjoying themselves and I didn’t know why.
Luckily, the (real life) job I held at the time presented a solution. We’d been using Eisenhower matrixes to identify suitable strategic partners and I decided to design one to illustrate what we all wanted to get out of the game. Thus was born the Challenge/Role-Play Matrix
The Challenge/Role-Play Matrix
The challenge/role-play matrix measures gamers’ enjoyment of two things:
- Challenges: Combat, skill challenges etc.
- Role-Playing: Character portrayal and development, campaign back-story, plot and so on.
Using the matrix is simple:
- Ask each player to grade challenge and role-play on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being dislike a lot and 10 being like a lot).
- Do the same for yourself.
- Plot the results on the matrix.
Plotting the results enables a GM to easily see exactly how his gaming goals relate to his players (and to see how alike his players are).
For example, here are the results of my Temple of Elemental Evil matrix:
Looking at the matrix, the problem was immediately apparent. One of the players (who was the most vocal) much preferred combat to role-play and wherever possible steered the group towards those situations. While most of the other players enjoyed combat, they placed a higher value on the role-playing elements of the game. Hence the tension.
Understanding my players’ proclivities enabled me to design more role-play situations while keeping a large element of combat for the other player. It also made me more aware of the group’s dynamics, which was important in facilitating and directing, or (depending on your point of view) meddling with and manipulating, play.
While the matrix is a handy visual reference, it is still important to talk with the players about the course and flavour of the game; using the matrix, however, gives the GM an excellent place to start that conversion.