Promoting Hot Player-on-Player Action?

edited May 2014 in Play Advice
Ok, this thread isn't actually about matchmaking with players (although it could be!) - I was just looking for a little wisdom about how to promote and direct more interaction between players (and their PCs, it follows) in the game.

I feel like as a DM, especially in the Trad Game/OSR nexus, that I'm conducting several conversations between myself and individual players but very rarely are the players interacting for any length of time aside from table-chat; I'm always involved! PCs don't talk to one another, or really have any formal relationships. How do I find and support the space in my games where player's characters can, say, have a conversation and make the shared world a little richer and a little less computational? What systems might encourage the players to face their co-players and ask questions, rather than all the chairs pointed at me all the time (gulp)?

Any ideas would be useful!



  • You know, I feel like OSR doesn't provide a lot of opportunities for player synergy. The classes all have clearly defined roles and there's no mechanism like in FATE where players can set up tags for others to use, there's no bump-set-spike going on. I can converse with the other players about what we should do, but when we start doing it, how can we mechanically cooperate?
  • edited May 2014
    The solution here is "don't play Trad Games and expect player interaction/cooperation" I expect. But I don't like this answer: Trad games will continue, despite my persistent efforts, to be the majority of the games I play. This has led to a troubling precedent of low player-interaction, even games where one might expect more of that kind of thing "baked in."

    My group's forays into DW are a good example of where the game itself wants the players to talk (a nice round of initial formal character interaction, "I don't trust X with my magic secret Y") but this very quickly returns to the Player-DM communication axis. I've had more luck with social and mechanical cooperation in games like Paranoia and Exalted!

    It's not just about mechanics though, it's about player's expectations of what the game is at a fundamental level.
  • Could just be, that's your group? Not every group dynamic has a deeper fundamental meaning. :)
  • What kind of dirty socialist would I be if I didn't assume all group dynamics were related to some fundamental meaning that can be doctored by intelligent restructuring?
  • For all the niceties. It does often come down to the group. If you have players that want to talk in character, then giving them the option should have it flowing quite happily. If you have players that want to be insular and treat everything as a problem with an ideal solution then giving them any option to interact won't really help.

    Although you don't want to hear it, you can get away from that a bit with system. I've seen the most talky of groups 'devolve' in to "The fighter stands there, the thief is ready to back stab, the cleric is in reserve with his heals, go" from some systems.

    The trad way tends to be that the system doesn't support it so you put it in anyway and hope nobody reaches for dice.

    One method I've used is playing modern day with characters close enough to the players that their table chit chat could be in character chit chat. Blurring the boundaries did lead to more actual IC conversation between players rather than just accidental stuff. Equally I've played at tables where there was a 'no OOC chat' rule which was basically 'if you say it, your character said it' we didn't stick to it absolutely, but it kept things reasonably focussed.

    I guess the trad way would be to be mean. Give them limited treasure that is of use to more than one character and have them work out who should have it. Have patrons offer unequal rewards when they hire "I need a cleric, but fighters are ten a penny, I'll pay you 100 gold and him 20." Try giving them conflicts that can't be solved by stabbing them and use the PC - NPC - PC triangle method for *world, so any NPC you are playing has different links and wants from different PC's and they conflict a bit. Have the NPC refuse to do X until the PC gets the other PC to do Y.

    But with all of that, if your group doesn't want to do it, you can't make them. If they feel silly pretending to be other people, or they don't see the advantage if there's no +2 from it, or whatever, they are just going to ignore it, or belittle it.
  • Insert obvious retorts about trad gaming and gameplay expectations based on mechanical structure here, especially if you use a "caller" position for the party, but then again, I still think there's always a way to fictize what you want.

    Here's one: Try sticking them in a scenario where they must create and execute a tactical operation on a fairly well-guarded location. It will require coordination and timing. Don't plan anything for them, but give them time before the mission to do recon, then sit down and create their own plan. If you want to go further, some sort of "communication-at-a-distance" might be useful, even if it's a magically expensive or exhaustive thing.
  • The solution here is "don't play Trad Games and expect player interaction/cooperation" I expect. But I don't like this answer: Trad games will continue, despite my persistent efforts, to be the majority of the games I play. This has led to a troubling precedent of low player-interaction, even games where one might expect more of that kind of thing "baked in."
    I think you need to seperate out OSR from Trad here. OSR does indeed have a baked in bias against player interaction (or any kind of non mechanical interaction with the world). Trad games not so much. If your group is on the OSR/Trad border it's entirely possible that you're ending up with trad games that focus more on the OSR style mechanical game oriented play that discourages player interaction (and non mechanical roleplaying decisions in general).

    There are however plenty of Trad games that focus more on player interaction and roleplaying. oWoD is an example of a trad system that focuses the gameplay and GMing advice very much on encouraging player interaction. Encouraging RP in a Trad game is entirely about table expectations and social contract. If you're having problems with encouraging it in your games, that's where I'd look first.
  • edited May 2014
    Ironically, the OP and the thread title just make me think of Monsterhearts, but it's actually a very true statement; the game is built to generate layers of adversity and interaction between players. Beyond the mechanical levers, I think a lot of that is generated by how the GM approaches things: they drill into the goals that players have, and zero in on (and provoke!) the ones that stem out of tension between the players.

    (The Smallville RPG's technique of "Wedges" might apply here, too. A Wedge is an NPC designed to put two PCs at odds with one another, because of their connections to the NPC. You present the character in such a way that the PCs will come at one another with differing attitudes.)
  • This is more a technique thing, but...

    One thing I've done in the last year or so is take several breaks during the session. It's helped a lot, because it gives me a moment to recuperate (players of course get the same thing when they're not in the spotlight, but I have to always be on) and tends to lower OOC chatter.

    But here's the thing: a lot of time, my players will still be discussing the last scene (I try to take breaks after something dramatic) and will even occasionally want to interact with me. To which my standard response is, "talk all you want, I'm off the clock. But feel free to RP, I always enjoy watching that." And a lot of the time they've done just that, carried on doing IC interaction. Not being able to have an NPC available, or any way to deal with the "truth" forces them to confront the fiction and the other characters directly.

    I don't know if every group would do that, but it seems to be an emergent behavior that came out of my break policy.
  • My mind's going random places, but what if each player had a hand of cards with metagame/fiction tweaks? Like "this roll will hit", "this damage is reduced to the lowest possible value", "this thief succeeds on their next thief check", etc. All cards are face up but can only be swapped under limited circumstances, so players end up wanting to play them on each other to get the best results. Basically, I'm thinking of Pandemic which is incredibly and intuitively cooperative despite theoretically being separate hero units acting on their own. (Pandemic hates you. Even working together, you will lose.)
  • In my experience, player-to-player interaction in OSR-style-gaming is 90% (or more!) making plans and considering options -- plotting, in other words -- as well as out-of-game discussions like "What are our characters going to do once this adventure is complete? Will they be tired of adventuring, or will they head to join the war?"

    I find that I can often sit back as a GM while they ponder their next course of action and make all their contingency plans, and often need to prod them forward if they are too slow. (Something that you can feel out easily in real life but is difficult over IRC, if you're asking about that, Mike.)

    If you wanted some other form of player-on-player action, I think you'd have to change something about the game.

    Making it more competitive in spirit, and then introducing resources which must be shared in specific ways would help, as someone pointed out above. What if you can only learn so many spells, and there are only two in the country - who will learn them? What would it take to share their secrets? Same goes for a treasure map to an apparently amazing and unguarded treasure. But for this to work you have to establish a more competitive mindset, I think - most OSR groups rather work together.

    If the common mode of play was to grab the treasure and then run, abandoning your companions to the slaughter, we might see more interaction between the players. :)
  • edited May 2014
    Something I appreciate with going on gaming conventions or gatherings is that you always have something to talk about with the rest of the visitors, because you all got something in common. What makes "gaming" an interesting topic to talk about is the perspective of the other people. If we all agree on something, there wont be any discussion.

    This is basically the formula that has been suggested by most people in this thread. If you want them to talk, create a common ground to talk about, but have each and every one bring their own perspective. This is true whether you play a competitive game, a tactical game, a narrativistic game, a game heavily focused on character immersion and so on. Games that does this are games like Fiasco, Once Upon a Time, Mouse Guard (beliefs that ties in other PCs are the strongest ones), Svart av kval, vit av lust, Psychodrame, Zombie Cinema (to make the game advance, you must have conflicts between the characters), Battlestar Galactica: the boardgame, Pandemic, The Resistance, Intrigue and many more.
  • (The Smallville RPG's technique of "Wedges" might apply here, too. A Wedge is an NPC designed to put two PCs at odds with one another, because of their connections to the NPC. You present the character in such a way that the PCs will come at one another with differing attitudes.)
    Smallville was also good because every PC's sheet had a statement about every other character, and one of the most powerful mechanical tools you could apply as a player was to specifically challenge the statement you'd written down about that character. So when the Wedge came in between you and Bob, you'd look at your sheet and see that you'd written "Bob: He's a used car salesman with uglier clothes," and you'd think -- hey, can I justify actually trusting Bob and treating him with some respect in this conflict? Because if I can, that's MORE DICE FOR ME, and I WIN. And more importantly, it meant the way your character felt about Bob would keep evolving. Now your statement is "Bob: He's a dumbass, but he has a heart of gold." Maybe a few sessions later it'll be "Bob: I wish I had his luck," followed shortly thereafter by "Bob: There is no pit deep enough to throw trash like him into."

    It was a neat trick. Lots of games can make it easy to establish strong characters and even strong opinions about other characters, but Smallville's the first one I ever played that put so much emphasis on how those opinions can change.

    That said, I'm with w00hoo on this one -- it mostly comes down to the group. If what people like is having conversations in character, they'll do it whenever they're given the room to do so. If that's not what they like, then they'll avoid it unless they're forced to, and they won't care about it even if the game forces them to do it.
  • True that, but maybe sometimes you're not sure. There's nothing wrong with testing it directly. Let's say Player A describes an action or utterance that happens in view of Player B. You can turn directly to Player B and ask "What do you think when she does that?" When they answer, you follow up with "Do you say that?" If they reply in the affirmative, you can say "Don't tell me, I'm not there. Tell her."

    By nudging them toward it this way, you can tell very quickly if you've got someone who's willing to speak IC. If they continue speaking to you, or if they continue describing their character's actions in third-person, then you've got your answer. You can stop pushing this player to do something they're not inclined to do, and look at your other players for that. On the other hand if they respond in character, you should return the favor by playing up your NPCs and engaging their "actor" side even more. If they're the type of person who enjoys it, they will; the process will feed itself. Do the same with all your players. Once you get two or more players doing this, you won't need to prompt them much to speak to each other.
  • Woah, this thread is going fast! I'm only answering the OP by Potempkin, so excuse me if I'm repeating something which occurred in the conversation already.

    In my experience, Apocalypse World produced much emergent player character-player character interaction, and the recipe for it is egregiously portable to other games with a single GM: have the PCs be the bosses of their world! When some of them are actually in charge, some want to be, and some don't care in the slightest but are themselves really important assets to "control"… players are going to have a lot to talk - or conflict - about. Your job as a GM becomes to play the world around them as complicated (true to life) enough a world that they can't just all gang up as a single team against one immediate threat and set aside their differences forever.
    Notably, this is not really a dirty hippie storygamey trick, as AW is ostensibly based on Vincent's experience playing Ars Magica.
    Also in my experience, all games predicated on a "bass playing" GM, such as Sorcerer or The Shadow of Yesterday, tend to end up in that place sooner or later, as a naturally emergent property. But this can take some time, with a lot of parallel stories going on for a while with only occasional "crosses" between each PC's separate storylines, before all the pieces come together in the end. Which might be a very different starting point than what you have to work from? On the other hand, Apocalypse World "fast-tracks" the game to that state by offering players a smörgåsbord of asymmetrical starting positions to choose from.

    A different way to do it is the Mountain Witch way. Which is, having the PCs bound together by one mission they're supposed to accomplish, but actually using that as the backdrop for intra-party conflicts — brought about, in TMW, by having secret goals for each character, probably a traitor in the party (or at least a strong suspect of one), and built-in trust issues. Be aware, though, that using explicitly stated, conflicting character goals (either secret ones as in TMW, or stated out loud as in In a Wicked Age) will of course make PC-vs-PC conflict the point of the game, whereas in something like AW it's just one of the items on the menu.
  • edited May 2014
    Agreed on the AW bass-playing approach and players being the boss of their own world. Furthering that: Notice how the playbooks all have different shit on them. Not just minor quantitative differences like Stats but really structurally different shit. This ties into another technique to encourage P2P interaction:

    "Give Em Something To Talk About"
    For P2P interaction it's useful for each character to have at least one unique thing it needs to make definitionally clear about itself through words or actions (motivations, limitations, religious customs, fears/hopes/goals, weird skills, links to the current adventure, unfinished business, a clue, etc). You can put these on the character sheet, hand them out to players individually, or let players create their own. (For instance, in AW the heterogenous structure of the playbooks supports this notion. Each character has some really important things to say about itself as an entity in the world, things that don't even appear on the other players' splats. But the MC isn't instructed to say these things out loud, and spends most of Session One asking questions rather than delivering exegeses. So unless a player wants their lovely little detail to go unnoticed, they'll have to say it somehow.) This doesn't guarantee they'll say it to each other rather than to you, but I think it does increase the odds.

    With these things in place, you can always create a situation that causes conflict for one of these unspoken character details, or pits two of them against each other. (Say, the feisty impetuousness of young Activius versus the patient contemplative ways of Brother Bellicose.) You can call for a conversation scene at any time. Just to see what happens.

    But don't lay it all out yourself. E.g.: If I said: "Ok Activius, you take the Duke's words literally and wish to leave first thing in the morning, right? And Bellicose, you think it's more of a "spirit of the law" situation and think you should wait for a portent, right? I want to see that conversation. GO." ... see now there's no real point in them having that conversation because I just laid all the important data on everyone. So don't do that. Make them say it, if they want to get it into the story at all.

    I guess if I reduced that to a Principle it would be:
    "If you want them to say it, make it important, but don't say it yourself."
  • One thing that might work is to aggressively frame them into scenes. It's a nice thing to train your players into accepting anyway because it can let you pick up the pace a whole bunch, and chances are they're already used to it to some degree. It's not a huge leap from, "Okay, you travel for two days and now you're overlooking the harbour ready to try and hire a ship," to "You've all been off talking to your contacts around the city and now you're meeting up in the Drunken Donkey to discuss your plans to attack the manor."

    If you can get them used to you telling them when and where the scene starts, then it's not a huge stretch to tell them what you want them to actually do in the scene, and if that happens to be talking to each other then so be it.
  • Whoa! That sparked a memory! Robert Bohl's game Misspent Youth does that: each player has "Friendship Questions" with other players, leading questions which clue us into the bonds between them. Each new scene is supposed to be based around a Friendship Question.
  • For OSR, B/X D&D specifies the player role of caller. The caller is the person who communicates with the DM once the group has decided what they're doing. The group is encouraged to talk to each other before turning to the caller to inform the DM.

    As for talking in character, my understanding is this just wasn't a thing in early D&D. If the characters survive long enough they will have enough shared history that character will emerge.

    In 'trad' games, I have found the most effective thing is to start with group character generation and enforce strong bonds between characters. Instead of meeting at a tavern, they are sorcerer and apprentice, Fafrd & Grey Mouser, Felix & Gotrek, etc. No reclusive assassins or rangers allowed!

  • In 'trad' games, I have found the most effective thing is to start with group character generation and enforce strong bonds between characters. Instead of meeting at a tavern, they are sorcerer and apprentice, Fafrd & Grey Mouser, Felix & Gotrek, etc. No reclusive assassins or rangers allowed!
    That's actually a surprisingly powerful technique! Give the characters something to talk about.

    An AW-esque "ask provocative questions" could be very useful here, or some kind of semi-random procedure where you establish character roles and their relationship to each other.

    But ultimately, I think, as SmZA just said, in-character conversation (other than with the GM) doesn't serve much purpose in old-school play. I've seen it done well to kill time, while waiting for something else.

    Once I was at a game where the GM didn't show up at all, and the players all spoke to each other in-character the whole time, telling stories and such, and had a great time! (I remember a few folks saying it was the best roleplaying experience of their lives, in fact.)

  • The problem, as I see it, with a lot of the OSR/traditionally framed role-playing game architectures if you're looking for inter-player communication is, outside of combat and more often than not even inside of it, there's no reason to. There's no mechanical advantage and, more often than not and probably more often than we would prefer, no actual narrative advantage for party members to talk among themselves or to actively become involved at a character level with one another – except for that annoying, and inevitable thief who steals everybody else's stuff and coincidently acts as one of the most powerful iconic figures in getting characters to actively associate with one another.

    That's why the narrative (in a meta-textual sense) of the obnoxious rogue has such staying power. When it happens, it's both unusual and spurs interactions which are themselves unusual.

    In an interesting way, that's one of the things that D&D Fourth Edition got very right. With the increased focus on the direct interaction between characters on the physical tabletop by way of mediation by miniature and map and tactical interface it had the accidental side effect of making players, by necessity, more communicative with one another at the table rather than just with GM. A lot of that may have been about tactical maneuvering and trying to decide where to be for the next turn in order to maximize damage output – but it's still interaction, and it's still contact between characters that wouldn't largely otherwise happen.

    There's a certain irony about the fact that it's the "wargame" aspects of old-school games that encourage the most interaction between players at the table and not the narrative/storytelling elements, which are generally oriented as arrows pointing away from the GM toward the players and back. It's something that the OSR folks don't really like to talk about and probably don't really like think about.

    It's also one of the main reasons that I – despite decades of being immersed in the RPG industry and market – have never, ever really been interested in D&D. I got here via entirely different mechanisms, so the OSR movement not only leaves me cold but confused. I've gotten used to that over the years.

    If you want more interaction between characters, you have to get away from old-school play. That's just the nature of the beast.
  • The solution here is "don't play Trad Games and expect player interaction/cooperation" I expect. But I don't like this answer: Trad games will continue, despite my persistent efforts, to be the majority of the games I play. This has led to a troubling precedent of low player-interaction, even games where one might expect more of that kind of thing "baked in."
    So yeah, the solution is to not play trad games. But not in the Trad Games are badwrongfun sense--But in the sense that clearly you want to incorporate experiences more common to other sorts of games into your Trad play--which is a thing you do by playing those non-trad games for a bit and then re-incorporating your experiences from those games back into your trad games.

    So take a break and play fiasco or MonsterHearts or something that forces the characters to interact in ways that even games like DungeonWorld don't. Find games that are actively different that what you usually play in terms of setting, too--because using familiar settings will lead to a situation where players just play the new game as though it was the old game. Be explicit with your players "a cool thing happens in this game, and I'd like to see more of that cool thing happening in our OSR game too."
  • I need to stop making discussions and sitting back to watch them grow: it's getting harder and harder to think how to respond to you all. :) Good advice all round, I'd say. Yes, I'll accept that the facing structures of D&D and it's immediate decedents do discourage player-interaction as a profitable activity for neither narrative or mechanical reasons.

    I like some of the strategies coming up - keep them coming. I'm not keen of being the Theatre Teacher going "Ok guys, now roleplay with each other," but most of these are beautifully subtle.
  • We always had tons of character interaction even in Red Box era D&D, I have no idea what any of you are talking about. Heck, just look at the modules, I'd say a solid fifty percent of the time you have to interact with someone to obtain the mission, and the "never split the party" mechanical situation was so ingrained that we had to have in-character discussions about what our plans would be.

    Anyway, I would say mostly that if you have players who like this kind of thing they will do it and if you don't, no game you select will make them do it and enjoy it. I've seen people play Fiasco without saying a word of in-character dialogue and have a grand old time. ("I yell at him about the money for a while.")
  • My experiences mirror Jason's. We had whole sessions in the early 80s where it was all talk and planning with virtually no adventuring or fighting at all.
  • My experience in running a Red Box game a few years ago was that the players will do a lot of strategic planning. The question is whether they do it in character or out of character, and that comes down to player preference and the culture of the group.

    What you are less likely to get in D&D is characters sharing stories around the campfire or getting into love triangles--because, as others have said, there is no mechanical incentive for them to do so. For that, you need something like The Shadow of Yesterday.
  • I co-sign Jason's post. Many of my memorable gaming experiences in the old days were in character arguments, discussions, and general reminiscing about all kinds of things. Sometimes it was strategic. Often it was personal. Characters were always tricking each other or ripping each other off or cracking each other up or taking sides. It always seemed pretty organic to me. There were a lot of hilarious debates between low level characters about whether they were even qualified to take the jobs they were offered.

    Mechanically, I suppose you could give character A a mechanical incentive (big XP reward or neat power or whatever) to do something that directly conflicts with some mechanical advantage of character B. Then make character C the one who has the power to decide who gets what.
  • +1 to JDC. I feel like a big part of my job as DM is to reign in the players after they have been talking for hours about the things they want to get done and make them actually play the damn game. “I'm going to go get a beer, and when I get back you guys will have a plan right?”

    But I do a lot of things already laid out here: I give the players some authorship over the world, I encourage them (well, require them) to state character goals for themselves, and I use wedges that I know they will react to differently. I also try really hard to make sure that the table includes some folk who are playing to win, some who love the colour, and some who have never played before because they will all disagree in the best ways. I also make the players recap the action for those who weren't there last week, and their tellings are always coloured by their own priorities.

    If you feel that OSR mechanics don't support this stuff, dig deeper and lean on the bits that do, because they are the best bits. Make sure that all the best things the players have access to are going to cause some kind of complication between them: Lightning Bolt bounces back off of a wall. Your magic sword wants to eat the Elf. The Clerics don't agree on what constitutes ethical behaviour but they know that they have God on their side. Carousing mishaps happen; so does lycanthropy. Oh and what's this, someone just left the Summoning spell from LotFP laying around in a spell-book?
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