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FF Sparks (Casual)

[Gaming] Game Design Thoughts

After a rather interesting conversation today with a few folks about games and gaming styles, I've come to an interesting conclusion. I'm curious if anyone else thinks it has merit either way.

I think, when it comes to roleplaying in particular, you can boil things down to two essential 'schools' of roleplay. (Yes, I know boiling anything down to two essential somethings is an overgeneralization. Bear with me for the sake of this discussion.) :)

Let's call them proactive roleplaying, and reactive roleplaying. Proactive roleplayers want to get out and do things on their own. They don't want to wait for the story to come to them... they like telling stories. Reactive roleplayers want the story to have a coherent overarcing whole which they can, well, react to.

Or, in other words, a proactive RPer wants to do things of their own volition and have the GM tell them when anything particular happens as a result. A reactive RPer wants to have the GM tell them what happens and then react, doing things around that event.

Let's say you have a tabletop group. The characters want to get into a castle to scout something out, and the GM drops a hint that they might be able to enter through the sewers. A reactive roleplayer is likely to take this hint and run with it, continuing the GM's story. A proactive roleplayer might well do something like 'well, screw that, I don't want to trudge through that muck' and decide to dress the female members of the party up as prostitutes and get snuck inside to see the prince. (Yes, kieri, this means you, little miss scout the castle and get tipped well to boot.)

In tabletops, I'd say that reactive players are best with a GM who wants to tell a specific story. Proactive players are best with a GM who wants the players to tell their own story and only provide input or guidance where required. On a MUSH, reactive players are the ones likely to get involved eagerly in the plots staff start, while proactive players are the ones more likely to try and start plots.

Now, really, it's more of a range; not an either-or, but people falling somewhere on a spectrum. And both mindsets are valuable; without a GM constantly being there, the reactive players *need* the proactive players to stir things up for them, and the proactive players need the reactive players so that there's anyone around for them to RP with.

The problem is, while proactive players can keep things alive when GMs don't, such as on a game that is largely hands-off, in a tabletop game or RPG where you want a specific story told, highly proactive players are going to complicate the mix. So I'm thinking about this, because of a MU* project under construction that I know of, and wondering... how do you balance it well for both? It's an interesting question.

But here's where the discussion got interesting.

A reactive player trying to interact where proactive players are expected is going to get bored and frustrated, because they want things handed to them; they want the GM to start things off for them to react to. Conversely, a proactive player trying to interact where reactive RP is required is likely going to frustrate a GM (and fellow players) by going off on tangents or trying to tell their own story.

I wonder how many instances of frustration between players and games is because a highly reactive player got bored on a game without many tinyplots, or a highly proactive player stumbled into a place where they really needed to play reactively, and got tripped up? Going back and looking at my own online gaming career (13 years as of February, dear lord I've been doing this since I was a kid), I realize a lot of my own frustration with various games over the years has been when my RP style and what was appropriate on the game at that moment clashed.

Now, I think it is possible to have something that's a perfect blend, but in 13 years, I've seen only one game that does; it's a small, invite-only game where everyone acts as both player and GM simultaneously. While it's an incredible place to interact with others, with anything other than a small, invite-only group I doubt such a project would work.

Anyway. Random brain dump there. Those who have an interest in gaming (adamdray?) can feel free to comment... this is mostly an idle musing about this, as a prelude to thinking about how one can design a somewhat self-sustaining game with GM involvement, ideally balanced for both halves. :)


I think your initial theory is pretty good, though I would suspect that "proactive" players tend more often than not to become the GMs while the "reactive" players are content to just play; the best GMs, of course, are those that easily flit from reactive to proactive, and the best players do both as well.

Of course, now I'm going to have to read through the Forge theory stuff and add more thoughts, but you couldn't have posted this at a more opportune time for me: I am trying to get my TT group started back up again, and any sort of little insights into how people tick could be of great help.