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Player-Centric Games - random discussion

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Player-Centric Games - random discussion

Postby pachristian » Mon Dec 26, 2016 12:57 pm

A discussion point.

Playing in a campaign recently, i was struck by the difference between a player-centric game and a GM-centric game. In a player-centric game (possibly the same as a sandbox game) the GM takes his (or her) cues from what the players do, and what they want to do. So for example, if a player comes into my game and says "I want to build a Spartan warrior who still follows the old ways, and wants to rebuild the glory of Sparta." Then, as a GM, I feel obligated to provide him with the opportunity to do so - as long as in doing so he does not damage the game for the other players. We will probably need to discuss his concept, and work out some reasonable milestones for his character. If another player is playing a Persian Magi, and wants to become renowned as a champion of magic and light; I need to find a way to make sure that his goals and the Spartan's goals can be met within the same game. And if player one says "oh no, my character wants to stay in Greece" and player two says "oh no, my adventures have to take place in Persia", well that's where I step in and say, "No, we have to compromise - I set up this game for Alexandria, Egypt, and while I'm willing to use other locations, the bulk of the action will take place in Egypt." The GM, after all, is a player too.

Player-centric includes making sure in-game rewards are appropriate to the player-character.

Note: I did not say easy. I just said possible. There's a difference.

In contrast, in the GM-centric game, the GM dictates the setting, the action, the adventures, and the rewards. A published scenario, almost by definition, is a GM-centric game. In an extreme case, the players have no freedom of action except to go from one encounter to the next. Their personal goals and ambitions mean nothing, as they are simply coloring on top of the adventure with it's predefined encounters and rewards. What I find interesting his how many players like the GM centric game. It relieves them of the burden of having to work out their character's likes and dislikes, they can avoid having any goals or connections, they just come to the table, roll dice, and brag about how well they did.

Every game is a compromise between player-centric and GM-centric. Where do you find the happy medium?
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Re: Player-Centric Games - random discussion

Postby soltakss » Mon Dec 26, 2016 1:31 pm

When I first played Hero Wars, then HeroQuest, I decided that all my games from then on would be player-centric. It opened up my eyes and made the process very easy.

In my current RQ3ish game, it is very player-centric in many ways.

However, 50% of the scenarios are still GM-led as the players like that. The difference is that in the situations where I say "This is the problem", I probably don't have a solution in mind and the players must come up with a solution that works, rather than sitting back and smiling smugly when the players cannot work out the sequence of things they have to do to solve the problem.
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Re: Player-Centric Games - random discussion

Postby nDervish » Tue Dec 27, 2016 8:49 am

I create a world, then let the players do whatever they want in it.

Personally, I consider that player-centric (and sandbox) because, if Spartans exist in the world and you want to create a Spartan character and try to rebuild Sparta, great! Go for it! I leave my players free to decide for themselves where they want to go and what adventures they want to pursue.

I suspect, though, that you would consider it GM-centric because I feel no obligation to alter the world to provide specific means to rebuild Sparta, to insert Spartan-appropriate rewards just because a Spartan PC happens to be the person receiving them, or anything like that.

In my games, the world is what it is and will not warp itself to accommodate the PCs' personal goals and ambitions, but the PCs are free to do anything that a real person in that world (if it were real) would be able to do, including pursuing (or ignoring) those goals and ambitions however they see fit.
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Re: Player-Centric Games - random discussion

Postby Matt_E » Tue Dec 27, 2016 9:49 pm

From my POV, player-centric and GM-centric games live on a spectrum, and a given campaign could switch from one flavor to the other at different stages in its development. It might also present aspects of both styles simultaneously.

Here I avoid the term "sandbox", because I reserve that for a slightly different dyad of "sandbox" versus "railroad" scenario design. Also, I prefer the terms "player-directed" and "GM-directed".

Wherever your game lives on the spectrum, it's important that the players and GM are all satisfied with the flavor. There is no wrong way to game, if you are having fun--but if you aren't, then you should fix it.

I do think it's important to realize the different responsibilities of player and GM. The GM takes on a lot, and players really need to keep in mind how hard it is to run the show. Just keeping things manageable, never mind self-consistent and entertaining, can be a challenge. Therefore, I don't think it's necessarily fair to expect a GM to have created an entire world for haphazard poking and prodding, in a different corner every week, by attention-deficient players and their peripatetic alter egos. Some GMs prefer, and excel at, worldbuilding and shifting gears rapidly, which is great--but I don't think players should expect or demand it.

On the other hand, some players really like gaming, but want or need a bit more direction. Without it, they have a tendency to freeze, or endlessly hem and haw--analysis paralysis. This is especially true of young or otherwise new players, I find. In a free-for-all setting, where the GM asks what they want to do now and waits silently, such players are lost. Know your group!

Though recently I did run an enjoyable, finite, closely plotted one that was well received, most of my campaigns are open-ended. My players have characters with fairly well-defined personalities, but fuzzier goals, which allows me to write the adventures I like. :-) Every so often I ask offline questions about where they might want to visit next, whether they wonder about what so-and-so is doing now, or what they think the big gold key from #5 might be for. This keeps them loosely invested or interested in what I throw at them in the next few episodes, while keeping things manageable for me.
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Re: Player-Centric Games - random discussion

Postby Icefield » Mon Feb 06, 2017 4:18 pm

nDervish wrote:I create a world, then let the players do whatever they want in it.

Personally, I consider that player-centric (and sandbox) because, if Spartans exist in the world and you want to create a Spartan character and try to rebuild Sparta, great! Go for it! I leave my players free to decide for themselves where they want to go and what adventures they want to pursue.

I suspect, though, that you would consider it GM-centric because I feel no obligation to alter the world to provide specific means to rebuild Sparta, to insert Spartan-appropriate rewards just because a Spartan PC happens to be the person receiving them, or anything like that.

In my games, the world is what it is and will not warp itself to accommodate the PCs' personal goals and ambitions, but the PCs are free to do anything that a real person in that world (if it were real) would be able to do, including pursuing (or ignoring) those goals and ambitions however they see fit.


I would call this Simulationist, which is the style of game I find the most rewarding to run. It sounds to me like your approach is high in Player Agency, but not to the point of giving the players narrative control over world elements.
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Re: Player-Centric Games - random discussion

Postby Icefield » Mon Feb 06, 2017 4:22 pm

Matt_E wrote:From my POV, player-centric and GM-centric games live on a spectrum, and a given campaign could switch from one flavor to the other at different stages in its development. It might also present aspects of both styles simultaneously.

Here I avoid the term "sandbox", because I reserve that for a slightly different dyad of "sandbox" versus "railroad" scenario design. Also, I prefer the terms "player-directed" and "GM-directed".

Wherever your game lives on the spectrum, it's important that the players and GM are all satisfied with the flavor. There is no wrong way to game, if you are having fun--but if you aren't, then you should fix it.

I do think it's important to realize the different responsibilities of player and GM. The GM takes on a lot, and players really need to keep in mind how hard it is to run the show. Just keeping things manageable, never mind self-consistent and entertaining, can be a challenge. Therefore, I don't think it's necessarily fair to expect a GM to have created an entire world for haphazard poking and prodding, in a different corner every week, by attention-deficient players and their peripatetic alter egos. Some GMs prefer, and excel at, worldbuilding and shifting gears rapidly, which is great--but I don't think players should expect or demand it.

On the other hand, some players really like gaming, but want or need a bit more direction. Without it, they have a tendency to freeze, or endlessly hem and haw--analysis paralysis. This is especially true of young or otherwise new players, I find. In a free-for-all setting, where the GM asks what they want to do now and waits silently, such players are lost. Know your group!

Though recently I did run an enjoyable, finite, closely plotted one that was well received, most of my campaigns are open-ended. My players have characters with fairly well-defined personalities, but fuzzier goals, which allows me to write the adventures I like. :-) Every so often I ask offline questions about where they might want to visit next, whether they wonder about what so-and-so is doing now, or what they think the big gold key from #5 might be for. This keeps them loosely invested or interested in what I throw at them in the next few episodes, while keeping things manageable for me.


Matt I agree with your description. I have also seen it framed as Player Agency vs. GM Fiat
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Re: Player-Centric Games - random discussion

Postby Icefield » Mon Feb 13, 2017 3:39 pm

In re-reading the OP I was reminded of a conversation I had recently with a friend in which he posited that you cannot have a character in the group that has a concept tied to some lone gunman type job, that the character will want to do, despite whatever else might be going on in the game. I call this guy a "Solo." This can be the Bounty Hunter, or the Ranger, Cat-Burglar, or the Death God Assassin. Any character built on a concept that takes them away from the group to perform their specialty.

In a game this character is going to look to get into situations where they can ply their specialty, and who can blame them because it's what they thought was cool and built a character accordingly. I normally facilitate these excursions in a way that allows them to have a little side mission (assuming that the others don't want to join in or are not invited), but not to the point where the whole game is now about that Hit or Theft, or Mark.

Is it something that you see as a positive aspect, or something that you regard as not optimal in the game and would prefer that the players build a team that is first and foremost designed to work together? In a GM Fiat situation the Solo may be discouraged from making that type of character at all, or may be simply denied any chance to do his purpose if its not in a group situation or combat. In a Player-Centric game the GM may start experiencing torsion if the players peel off on separate missions and maybe have wholly independent stories. In my experience it's not the end of the world but it can be tricky.

I think the happy medium is hard to hit at times and requires that the GM be like a good waiter. Serve the food, keep refilling the drinks, don't ask how it is when their mouth is full, and be ready with dessert.
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Re: Player-Centric Games - random discussion

Postby Matt_E » Mon Feb 13, 2017 10:39 pm

We just touched on this at the end of another thread (as you recall): viewtopic.php?f=13&t=1958

I agree, the happy medium may be hard to hit. Some time ago we talked about the idea of the "global average" for the spotlight: Maybe one episode in your arc is about Character X, while the next is about Y, and finally Z gets her turn. It's not exactly the same when talking about independent episodes, each for just one adventurer, but maybe the same player attitude applies: Be patient. The GM can only do so much at once. Your turn will come.

Depending on the players, it could be amusing to try this: Lone Wolf goes on his private mini-quest, and at the most inopportune moment just happens to bump into someone else from the party, whose presence normally would be welcome, but in this particular case is a problem. If the players are unlikely to be miffed by any outcome, have them roleplay the awkward scenes, and then deal with any consequences later when Lone Wolf rejoins the main group... Know your players, though, because if one is touchy, then this is probably less amusing and more disastrous. If they're both down with it, though, it might be fun. The world does have a way of intruding on our private plans, and who says the intrusions always must be totally unfamiliar?
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Re: Player-Centric Games - random discussion

Postby Icefield » Sat Feb 18, 2017 3:32 am

Matt_E wrote:We just touched on this at the end of another thread (as you recall): viewtopic.php?f=13&t=1958

I agree, the happy medium may be hard to hit. Some time ago we talked about the idea of the "global average" for the spotlight: Maybe one episode in your arc is about Character X, while the next is about Y, and finally Z gets her turn. It's not exactly the same when talking about independent episodes, each for just one adventurer, but maybe the same player attitude applies: Be patient. The GM can only do so much at once. Your turn will come.

Depending on the players, it could be amusing to try this: Lone Wolf goes on his private mini-quest, and at the most inopportune moment just happens to bump into someone else from the party, whose presence normally would be welcome, but in this particular case is a problem. If the players are unlikely to be miffed by any outcome, have them roleplay the awkward scenes, and then deal with any consequences later when Lone Wolf rejoins the main group... Know your players, though, because if one is touchy, then this is probably less amusing and more disastrous. If they're both down with it, though, it might be fun. The world does have a way of intruding on our private plans, and who says the intrusions always must be totally unfamiliar?


I love that scenario. I think I will have to try and use that soon because the drama of that moment when the PCs encounter each other could be fantastic.
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Re: Player-Centric Games - random discussion

Postby Pentallion » Sat Feb 18, 2017 5:41 pm

Icefield wrote:In re-reading the OP I was reminded of a conversation I had recently with a friend in which he posited that you cannot have a character in the group that has a concept tied to some lone gunman type job, that the character will want to do, despite whatever else might be going on in the game. I call this guy a "Solo." This can be the Bounty Hunter, or the Ranger, Cat-Burglar, or the Death God Assassin. Any character built on a concept that takes them away from the group to perform their specialty.

In a game this character is going to look to get into situations where they can ply their specialty, and who can blame them because it's what they thought was cool and built a character accordingly. I normally facilitate these excursions in a way that allows them to have a little side mission (assuming that the others don't want to join in or are not invited), but not to the point where the whole game is now about that Hit or Theft, or Mark.

Is it something that you see as a positive aspect, or something that you regard as not optimal in the game and would prefer that the players build a team that is first and foremost designed to work together? In a GM Fiat situation the Solo may be discouraged from making that type of character at all, or may be simply denied any chance to do his purpose if its not in a group situation or combat. In a Player-Centric game the GM may start experiencing torsion if the players peel off on separate missions and maybe have wholly independent stories. In my experience it's not the end of the world but it can be tricky.

I think the happy medium is hard to hit at times and requires that the GM be like a good waiter. Serve the food, keep refilling the drinks, don't ask how it is when their mouth is full, and be ready with dessert.

I've handled that quite a lot over the years. From the Weeping Wastes assassin in our Stormbringer campaign, to the Pavis Trickster in our Argraths Saga, to our current campaign and the hit man John Slinger. It is always handled the same way: He gets his mission, it's crucial to the story and then from that moment on, the players get caught up in the repercussions of what he did. It becomes an obstacle to what they are trying to do, but it has to be something that was essential to what they wanted to accomplish. In other words, to over come their biggest obstacle, they needed the hit man, but using the hit man creates other obstacles the rest of the way. At some points along the way, this cycle then repeats as from time to time one of the new obstacles to the groups goals can only be removed by the hit man, leading to more confrontations.

Then everybody feels they're part of the team.

The other key is to make sure that the hit man has other skills useful to the group so that when he's not doing his solo thing, he's still part of the group. That's usually not a problem as that character class in every roleplaying system I've ever seen has both good stealth and good combat skills. So he's always handy to have around.

And finally, when at all possible, get the group to work as a support team to assist in some way in the assassination or solo mission. Get them to think of the scenario as a Mission Impossible episode where they each play a role. The hit man player tends to really get a lot of enjoyment out of that aspect. What I call The Plan. The Plan should be the hit mans conception and it should involve all the other players in some way according to their abilities. But you have to walk a fine tightrope as the GM when you screw with The Plan. Because this is the hit mans moment and all plans go awry, the players are simply waiting to see what wrench I throw in it. But the wrench has to be such that the hit man overcomes it, because this is his hit (or trick for a trickster character), so it has to be his moment when whatever wrench I throw into The Plan gets overcome. An example is the Liberation of Pavis. It was the duck and the Trickster that came up with The Plan. So this was a Trickster moment. He was to pull off his Trick. The Plan ended up involving all the players. One nearly died on his griffin. They were all captured (my wrench was that the Lunars knew their Plan and laid a trap for them) but then the Trickster turned that around and still pulled off his trick by shouting to the gathered citizenry as they were all about to be hanged that "People of Pavis, today is your last day for tomorrow, YELM WILL NOT RISE!" and casting his Lie spell. The city panicked, the Harmony magics of the city's defenses floundered and the Praxians used that moment to burst through their magics and invade the city. The Plan succeeded despite my wrench and Trickster had his moment. the-liberation-of-pavis-t1337.html
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