• Player Sourcing Games

    by  • October 5, 2012 • People & Events • 4 Comments

    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.



    I'm a 25 year old admin assistant from around Pittsburgh, PA. I am married, work and attend college concurrently, and have been tabletop gaming for about 8 years. I blog (very, very periodically), and write unpublished short stories. I play tabletop RPGs, board games, and both casual and RPG video games. I live for the social part of gaming, but do enjoy a good explosion, and am learning the ropes of creating worlds in which people can play.


    4 Responses to Player Sourcing Games

    1. avatar
      October 5, 2012 at 23:24

      That sounds like a pretty cool approach and with a good group could be a lot of fun. I have GM’d several games and have had mixed experiences with how much and what players want to contribute to the world building. Frequently, the plots and the magic items are built around the characters and what they want or their characters are interested in. I find myself more inclined to just supply a setting and let the players create characters that fit with it than do world building with the group. Do you also collaborate for deciding on the rules or just setting?

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      • avatar
        October 6, 2012 at 02:59

        Typically, rules will be suggested and if people like them, they’ll be implemented. If players have ideas for rules, they’re also welcome to suggest them. It works pretty well!

        A lot of the time there are players who don’t have an interest in contributing, but those who do want to contribute seem to get a lot out of the experience (I know I do!).

    2. avatar
      October 7, 2012 at 16:52

      I like this. It reminds me of a juiced-up Storyteller approach. We typically world-build (and plot-build) with character interests and motivations in mind, and at least in games I run, plot evolves with character input. I like the idea of making even more player-creation options available, but I can also imagine some players being a little freaked out by that much input. I can also imagine some power-gamer attempts to game the system to their best advantag. Did you all just get lucky and not have Those Gamers ™ in your group?

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      • avatar
        October 8, 2012 at 21:39

        (GM of the above-mentioned games)

        We never had any of “Those Gamers”, luckily, and I always made it a point to actually have a conversation with people when they were adding content – so that I understood not just what they were adding, but what they wanted to see done with it. Doing that kept me from violating the intent of their creation while allowing them to see exactly how I would try to fit it into the larger world.

        The key to doing it has always been flexibility on the GM/Storyteller’s part: even if I’ve established something in my head, if it hasn’t already come up in play yet, it is fair game for player creation (with some exceptions for plot-related history, locations, and NPCs).

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