What is your Rolemaster Passion?

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.

12 Replies to “What is your Rolemaster Passion?”

  1. Not sure if this is entirely related to your post, but reading it triggered this thought. I was reading an OSR blog post recently and they made a point that the OD&D rules directly drove the narrative due to the gold = experience mechanism. It cuts through all the other narrative hooks and PC motivations-the blogger said it more succinctly but it was something like :

    1. PC needs wants to increase experience
    2. 1 gp = 1 ep
    3. There is gold in the dungeon
    4. Go get the gold

    Never a fan of gold to experience points, but I’m starting to see the elegance of it now. Certainly it produces the Murder Hobo effect, but it also pushes the group into encounters and engagements no matter their caution.

    1. Nice article link, and thank you for it. This reminded me of a set of articles I re-acquainted myself with over on the Alexandrian the other day.
      Now, while it gets heavily into structure, it does talk specifically about the narratives behind some of the more common tabletop RPG adventure structures. For example, I found the author makes a compelling argument as to why “DungeonCrawls” (Part 3) are so common and easy to run. Basically because the goals of the players and GM are easily identifiable, and easy to implement, much like GMDave’s articles points.

  2. With risk adverse players, I always found that the reward ( or the perceived promise of reward / treasure ) had to be great enough to tempt the group into committing to the action / hook. If you play with a regular group you should be able to motivate some of the group by pushing a player’s buttons to receive the desired result.

  3. One interesting observation (at least to me) is many non-fantasy games (especially those from the first and second waves of game design) linked XPs explicitly to accomplishing a set mission (Top Secret) or skill use (most of FGU’s offerings). This pretty much pushed players into taking risks if they wanted to advance, and in the case of Top Secret some of the XP awards were scaled based on HOW the mission was accomplished (an Assassination where only the target was killed was worth more than one with a higher body count, for example). Gangbusters went so far as to have different XP tables for different professions, so a Reporter earned XPs for breaking big stories while a Gangster got his from running numbers rackets and so on.

    This kind of thing makes it easier to tailor adventures, as you have a number of motivation mechanisms (and I think RMU took a step in the right direction with its revision of XPs, making them more goal-centric in the last draft I saw instead of being more or less tied directly to combat). And since the systems tend to focus on mission accomplishment or use of resources (skills in many cases), I’ve found they’re easier for wargamers to relate to.

  4. I love the idea of the “passion statement”, and its claritive purpose. I need to do this as a GM for the campaigns I run, and greatly appreciate the insight. It moves me to look back over the campaigns I’ve run in the past, and see if I can identify the driving passion/idea/purpose I had for them at the time. One to see if my perception of how they went matches that passion/purpose/idea, and two to see how my feelings towards it matches that of my longer-term players.

    It’s funny though, in that in retrospect I have used “something” like this (although not as succinct a term) when finding new players. Like many of us, some of my players have been playing for years together and bringing in a new face can be tedious/cumbersome/ruinous. Thus I tend to ask questions about how a new player relates to this, that or another aspect of an role-playing. For example: if they are heavy into role-playing their character (including costumes and speech), then I’ll warn them that doesn’t happen regularly during our sessions and see how they react. Likewise, if I find they like investigation-intrigue-espionage gaming, or that they like character investigation through skill usage, I’ll know they are more likely to be a fit.

  5. This gave me flashbacks to my own “directed writing” exercises in professional workshops, and it’s timely for my own campaign. I excerpted part of the post and sent it to my players, encouraging them to do the exercise. I did it for myself and was rather surprised at where it led. (That puts it way ahead of the professional experiences, in terms of value of time spent!) I don’t know how many players will try, but I’ll post whatI came up with, and what I hear back, in a week or so.

  6. Nice – did I notice a short Gygaxian principle of RPG in there? He had it right – the primary reward is the social interaction of the process. However, we humans are complex beings and rarely are we motivated by one driver. Perhaps that is part of the reason for the rewards for completing the story to drive the narrative style of RPG over the more combat/treasure orientated rewards of yesteryear are being used to change the dynamic at the table. I would be happy if RPGs dropped the mechanic of levels but then I know that there are players who are motivated by the ability to show superiority through some sort of level system.

    I like your idea for helping players and GMs understand what it is they expect from the experience, nice touch. I’m not sure it would work with a new gamer, who would lack the conceptual vocabulary to express what it is that will eventually motivate them.

    1. Actually the mission/story completion model has been common in many RPGs since the early days of the hobby. Just not in fantasy games, which is why I think many people assume it’s a recent development. And even games without levels need a model of some kind to deal with skill or stat (or both) improvement. I’ve actually found some of those to be more awkward, as players start “grinding” on certain skills to improve them. It’s always a balance to be sure. There are also systems that tie access to certain resources to character level, so it’s not always about players looking for superiority through level advancement. Or in the case of Warhammer FRG you have to advance in order to move into a new career.

      I always tried to sit down with players before starting a campaign (usually right after they’d completed character creation) and sound out what they were interested in accomplishing with their characters. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, but when it did I used that information to inform my campaign planning. Not quite a passion statement, but it did help with focus and tone. As Davon pointed out this can be tricky when you have player changes during an ongoing campaign, but it can help orient new players to what’s going on and what feel the campaign has.

      1. It’s what I like about RM – that law of diminishing returns. Not only in the character XP level but also in the bonus of each skill. I totally agree about talking it through with the players. Wealth, Reputation, Mastery of Skill are all natural drivers of human passion and while many of us don’t play to get wealthy…..

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