February 11, 2010

Players are Builders

It is my supposition that players are builders. Within an RPG campaign they prefer to build things over destroying things. I know this sounds contrary to characters running through a dungeon, killing everything in sight and ripping the place apart looking for treasure.

But what is their real motivation? Is it to kill stuff? Maybe for some players. I would argue, for the majority of players, the leveling up process and gaining of gear to make themselves more effective is what the players are really trying to accomplish.

Magic items and other acquired gear are used to make a character more effective at what they can do. It is a form of growth and a form of building. You are building your character. As he levels up he gains more and new abilities. He is changing for the better.

Characters also like to build things outside of themselves. Saving a town from marauders or evil beings allows the town to prosper and grow. It is often more about keeping the status quo but also allowing the in-game community to grow. Players seem to enjoy it when the quest they are on can provide a benefit other than the status quo. Recovering an ancient artifact the town can use to protect themselves is a quest players enjoy. It makes the town stronger and the players feel as if they contributed to it.

This concept of building is even more prevalent when the characters have access to building something for themselves. I have had players ask if they could build a trade route, seamstress shop, an inn and a blacksmith shop.

When they had access to their own castle they put a lot of effort into building it up, finding magic items that would enhance the castle and other things purely for the building. Maps were drawn for areas that would probably never see play. Adventures from that point on, almost always related in some manner to “their” castle.

Why do players enjoy building?
It is something they often can not do in real life. Players can not build castles or stock one with an army of undead skeletons under the outer bailey in case they get invaded. They can’t open a blacksmith shop and be the first to reproduce guns in an apocalyptic world.

It is a way to change the world. The GM or campaign setting sets the names and places of the world in which the players play. Every time they pass through an area it is the same, same names, same everything. The world is outside of their control. Players who build something can add a name to an area, even if it’s just ‘Callin’s Smithy’.
In addition, too often players are reactive to what is going on around them. They react to a village being attacked and wreak vengeance on the attackers. They search out the murderers of the king. While they can change the world around them, they can only do so by being physically present, there in the moment.
Building something allows them to take the initiative. Instead of cleaning out a goblin cave system because the goblins just invaded a village they preemptively clean the place out to protect themselves. They can change the landscape of the area wherein they find themselves, usually for the betterment. They can change the world even if they are not present.

It is more personal for them. Most of the time they are saving a village/city/kingdom, someone else’s village/city/kingdom. They do this because it’s the right thing to do or for the sake of adventure, not because they have anything personally invested in it. If something attacks “their castle” it gets personal and nothing will stop them from their vengeance. It somehow has more meaning. They become part of the region as opposed to passers through.

So, assuming my basic presumption that all players are builders is true, what do we do with this knowledge?
Play to their desire to build. Give them something to build; often all they need is an opportunity. This could range from a house in a village to the rulership of a kingdom.

There are individual and group building projects.
Individually you can appeal to a variety of play styles.
If a player really enjoys the fight over anything else, let him establish a fighting school. Have youngsters flock to him looking for advice and training. The player should enjoy the opportunity to show his fighting prowess as he spars on a regular basis. The building part will organically grow as he gets more students and as his name spreads. Housing will be needed for the school and soon the player will find himself invested and building something beyond simple fighting.
Role-players can gain a place that lets them role-play more. An inn won in a card game allows for interactions on a regular basis. A trade route of rare goods discovered on an earlier adventure allows for movement and new experiences, while still providing a format for building and helping something to grow.
Strategists and thinkers will like anything wherein they need to build up a stationary place. A castle, clearing wilderness for civilization, becoming leaders of a village are all things that will allow these types to plan.

Group projects are ones wherein the group, as a whole, has a vested interest in seeing something grow. This could be as simple as rebuilding a ruined castle to be used as “their headquarters”, to each of them controlling part of a kingdom. The key is to provide a common goal, while at the same time allowing each person to contribute in their own way. Often adventures are built around gaining something that will enhance the common goal.

Allowing players to build causes them to care more about the world around them. It can be used as an intimate springboard for adventures. Give the players every opportunity to invest in your world.
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