Collaborative Campaigns

One of the things that is featured in Fate Core is collaborative setting building. It’s a clever device for a toolkit-like game with no predefined setting, and fits into the Fate philosophy rather well. From discussions I’ve seen about collaborative setting building from scratch, pretty cool stuff comes out of those initial sessions. But most of my interest in games comes from already established settings or campaigns. Tribe 8, Exalted, The Laundry, Mekton…the list goes on. It’s assumed that if I ask a bunch of people, “Hey, do you want to play Exalted?”, there’s not a whole lot to be done in terms of coming up with setting elements. My MO in running games in the past has been precisely,  “I want to play X” and then dumping the players into character creation without any real input into the setting.

Obviously there are a number of obvious things that need to be worked out when using an existing setting – mostly regarding tone, the exact themes, and what the campaign will actually be about. Fate Core talks about this to some degree. Creating player investment is a pretty big deal to me now (I have to admit, I’m relatively late to the bandwagon on these topics), and that’s really what the collaborative methods are all about (at least to me). When players aren’t invested in a setting, and really in the game overall, they just aren’t going to be as interested in it. They aren’t motivated to try to stay within the bounds of the setting’s tropes, tone, theme, mood, whatever. When they’re not hooked and interested, they get bored. When a player gets bored, sometimes they get frustrated or start kicking down figurative sandcastles. I’ve experienced it multiple times, and I’ve always chalked it up to the player just not wanting to play nicely.

There’s always that one guy

But like a lot of nuggets of wisdom in Fate Core, there are things that I have done – sometimes without a conscious realization of what I was doing. One of those things is taking cues from the player about what to do next. It’s an often repeated piece of GMing advice. So if helping to create the setting gets players involved, by extension creating things within a setting, and the campaign at hand, should do the same thing.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about the types of things that Fate Core suggests for collaborative setting creation, as well as other games like The Dresden Files and the Spark rpg (or even games like Microscope or Kingdom, which I don’t have yet but have peaked my interest). I’ve come to the conclusion that all of the types of things that one might define in a new setting – locations, NPCs, factions, issues, goals – should be things the players have a hand in even in defined settings.

    I think that adding these personalized touches to the setting can help the players feel a little more ownership of it. They will likely feel a little more protective over the village that they created and populated. Or more driven to get vengeance on the crime lord that they decided would be the big bad guy of the campaign. My hope would also be that players with in-depth knowledge of a setting, who I’ve always come to rely on in helping fresh players get acclimated, would likewise be good resources for helping those same players actively contribute. The setting isn’t some pristine thing that needs to be protected from the players – their characters are a part of it, and the players are just as much collaborators as the GM is.

    On a final note, I completely discount the idea that the players might balk at having to do “the GM’s job” in creating setting elements. I’ve never once met a player who’s attitude was, “I’m just here to play a character, I don’t want to have to design the setting”. Every game I’ve run where there has been some element the players can create – whether it be mecha, or a military unit, or NPCs that are related to the character – they’ve jumped at the idea. Before my change of heart on these issues (because I used to be the “It’s my setting, your characters” type), I had plenty of players wanting to give input on setting-details.

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