Many of you may remember my struggles with characters that were risk-averse. They avoided committing to conflicts and always tried to either control everything or take the safest route possible.
I recently did an exercise called writing a passion statement. It is intended as a business activity but it worked well for RPGs and adventure design.
The exercise starts with completing this “Looking back at my roleplaying days I enjoyed…” but write for 10 or 15 minutes. No one else is going to see it. It is just about getting ideas out and on to the page.
Once you have that text, pick out what looks like the important ideas. Pick out as many ideas as you like. Just make a list of them.
Once you have that list, rate each idea on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the things you enjoyed the most or were most important to your enjoyment. 1 is the least important ideas.
Now look at the things you rated 5 and try and build a single statement that encompasses all those ideas. It could be a single sentence, or a short paragraph.
My statement distilled down to almost one word.
“I roleplay so I can be the hero.”
I asked a couple of my players to do the exercise and their statements were very different. They were much more about winning, or achieving power or leveling, and defeating dragons and demons.
The overriding sentiment was that they wanted to win.
To me, winning and RPGs are kind of uncompatible. You win at an RPG by having fun. But, all my players are hardcore wargamers and in a wargame you have victory conditions. You can win. Winning is the goal.
I don’t think my players want to win rolemaster. They want to win each encounter, they want to defeat the orcs nest, beat the giant monster.
They achieve their goal by minimising risks.
They only want to take on challenges where they perceive that the odds are in their favour.
I can use this to tailor their adventures, encounters and the plot hooks I dangle in front of them. I need to make them more imperative, effectively limiting their ability to procrastinate. I can also launch adventures with a surprising turn of events, so there is no time to prepare and contemplate avoidance.
These feel a bit like railroading. But, as long as I know there is a risk of railroading I should be able to guard against it.
Their current adventure started with a lost child in an area with a lot of goblin activity. My characters have defeated a great many goblins. They will happily fight goblins because they have always won against goblins. They discovered the child at the bottom of a hole being attacked by a zombie. They had no real choice. They could not leave the child to die, so they had to jump down and fight the zombie.
Once they were committed, and they defeated several groups of zombies and skeletons, their confidence rose they did withdraw and rest, their healer was out of PP, but they are volunteering to go back down the hole. Their dungeon delve is hitting the right buttons, they are winning each encounter.
This also makes running the game more fun for me. I can now create adventures that I know the characters will engage with. There is much less frustration about prepping stuff just to have it ignored by the players who don’t want to take risks.