My husband John is, and has been, the primary GM for most tabletop game groups in which I have participated. I have, thanks to my unique girlfriend-to-wife relationship been able to see his work both behind-the-scenes and in-scene. I say what I say not because I’m his wife, but because it’s true: He is a really excellent game master. Why? Because for him, it’s all about the players.
He has run multiple systems, different settings, and various lengths of games, but the one that sticks out to me the most not only includes my favorite character I’ve played, but includes a very unique mechanic: player world building. One of the keys of the game, which you can find out more about on his Obsidian Portal page, is allowing each player to build something to put into the game. While I am probably the player that has contributed the most, since I have been involved in all four campaigns that have been played in the setting, any player is able to contribute – from building cities and cultures, to magic items, races, and religions.
How does this work? He makes an effort to include the players in the creation of the campaign – what do they most want to do? Is there something they want that isn’t available in the setting? If what he has isn’t what they want, he opens the floor for them to create.
It has had some very interesting developments. I personally have had the opportunity to create religions, an entire nation called Kaligtasan, a race, and magical items. All of the things people create get pulled into the story, whether it relates to a major plot or individual character arcs.
The game began in D&D 3.5, but was transferred to Pathfinder. We have been playing it since 2007, and have played both primarily social games (with modified rules for combat and damage, reputation and wealth, and affiliation bonuses) as well as adventure games. John put in a lot of time developing the base setting and rules, but player sourcing content has made the setting massively more diverse.
My first character in the game, Ursula Mannpurtz, was built from ground up. John allowed me to create a city and complete culture that my character was from, the religion she followed, and used multi-class house rules so that I could customize her abilities to a pretty extreme degree.
John also allows players a lot of control over the story. Where do they want to go? What do they want to do? He developed overall plot arcs, but the players can ignore them, and he builds the story from their actions and their goals. There does come one major downside to this, though: inactive players. There are often players who don’t have a lot of desire to build their own worlds, or players without concrete goals. That’s where the overarching plot comes in, but sometimes players don’t even pick up on that, and drift away from the game.
It also helps to establish comfort levels and campaign expectations. If a player sees something in the setting that they really don’t like, they can often change it. They also can, by building their own cultures and backgrounds, show what their priorities are as a player and subsequently for their characters. In all, though, for really customized settings, strong character goals and backgrounds, player sourcing settings can be really fun and increase player agency.