7 Habits of Highly Effective Players, Part 1

7 Habits of Highly Effective Players, Part 1
We’ve discussed running games with no story or plot ahead of time, but  do you know how those games run best?  When they are populated with players running their characters with a suitable mindset.  As you have come to expect, I  disagree with some common wisdom on what makes a “good” player (I hate the good/bad dichotomy in  RPG discussions, but that is another post altogether ), and probably agree with other sources of wisdom. When I run games, I look for players who will utilize these habits or players I can help incorporate them.
Here’s the list:
1. Have Goals
2. Have Desires
3. Talk about your Thinking
4. Make a Stand
5. Stop Trying to be Right
6. Fear is not inaction
7. Play and Watch
0. Think Before You Play.  OK, I am cheating a little here with the numbering scheme, but I need to say that everything here assumes that you think about the game that you are playing, and your role within the larger structure.  If you just want to see your part and little else, then my advice probably won’t mean much at all for you or group.  When I look for people I want to play regularly with, I look for people who want to examine what they’re doing in the space of the game.  The greatest aspect of RPGs to me is that you get to “watch” the same the story you’re making, and I want most to play with people who appreciate or can be made to appreciate that.
1. Have Goals. At the basic level,  it’s just important that your character wants something big.  Does your character want to be a lord?  Does your character want to have the world’s largest collection of magic swords?  It doesn’t really matter what that goal is as long as you have something that you want that’s too big to get right away.  The best goals are ones which will force your character to change over time to achieve.
Goals don’t have to be things negotiated with the gamemaster.  If you negotiate with your GM, he can throw out hooks for you, but the best part of having character goals is how it drives your play, not what it enables your character to get in the story.
2. Have Desires. Sounds like goals at first, but when I discuss desires I am discussing needs your character have which act on the short term, on the level of impulses. You can have goals which guide you long term, and desires that effect you in the short term.  A great character design pattern is to make a character with a strong goal with a strong desire that often stalls his progress towards his goal. A character who wants to be a lord, but with a desire to always speak the truth (and bluntly) is going to be in many situations where he could advance his stature, but sabotages himself as he tells yet another noble what he really thinks of them.
An alternate way to describe desire: impulse, compulsion, need.  What does your character have to do, even when it is sometimes not in his best interest?
Next week we’ll talk about habits 3-5, but for now let’s talk about 0-2.  What do you think?  Have you encouraged players to do any of what I’ve listed?

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8 Responses

  1. This is making me sound (and feel) old, but… A lot of what you’re saying here, and in your “Structure First” article, is essentially the Story Now idea. Sorcerer is the archetypal game in this style. For instance, Sorcerer PCs all have a pressing reason why they summoned and bound a demon (your “goal”), and the kicker gives them a situation they have to deal with right now, as well as dealing with the demon’s needs and desires.

    Saying that, your idea of separating out the long-term Goal and short-term, contradictory Desire, is a good one. I think it will help me come up with more interesting characters in future.

  2. Hi Neil, thanks for posting!

    I make no claims at originality. In fact, I hope to touch chords with things that people have already been doing, and just try to strip it of a lot of the cultural baggage that keeps arbitrary lines drawn in the community.

    Now with that said, Sorceror is one of these games I’ve heard a lot about but never played, and it seems that I should fix that.

    I’m glad you like the Desire/Goal clash! There are a lot of different ways to play with those two that I hope to talk about in the future.

  3. I’ve often disliked how “pigeon-holey” the traditional two-axis alignment system can be and the baggage that comes with it. I’ve wanted to make some sort of free form system for alignment, in the same way that 13th Age does with backgrounds as traditional Skills. Making players choose long-term goals with short-term desires seems like a good supplement for that.
    Alignment also tends to be pretty passive (“oh my character is an asshole because I wrote Chaotic Neutral on my sheet”), but I can see Goals/Desires being much more active (“my character is going to jump into the fight because he HATES seeing oppression of the poor, even if he generally minds his own business”)

  4. The way to get traditional alignment working IMO is to make each alignment represent a list of things one believes in and doesn’t believe in. If you make alignments creeds, they become more actionable and more viable.

    I do generally prefer not to have the overhead of alignment, instead focusing on aspects like goals and desire and exposing a character’s thoughts to the table for reasons you highlight.

  5. I do agree with what you’re saying here – I would always rather play with people whose characters seem to have some motivation, but I might go with “characters have goals or desires that are beyond or distinct from the goals or desires built into the game for all characters”.

    In a traditional, D&D sort of fantasy adventure game, for example, there’s an implicit goal of “kill monsters, take their stuff”. If your character’s primary drive is to kill monsters and take their stuff, that’s all well and good, they’re in harmony with the system, but it doesn’t help differentiate the character.

    In that case, I want my players to at least know *why* the character wants to kill monsters and take their stuff. That may be part of where you’re going with #3, though.

  6. Goals/Desires are great motivator, especially how you present it here.

    I remember when we first played 4E, and I would just pick cool powers for my wizard. You eventually asked me why I was picking those powers, and it gave me material to think of the character outside of numbers and give him something real to strive towards.

    Goals and desires are a simple way to nudge players into cool roleplay situations, and might be one of the easier ways for a GM to corral his players.

  7. @KN I see what you’re saying, but to me, D&D’s default setting of killing monsters and getting loot isn’t really a goal because it never really ends. Only when the characters supply that why do they have anything close to what I consider a goal.

    It’s been my experience that many people will have issues with determining character goals at first, but then they will open up when I start asking them specific (sometimes leading) questions to put their minds in the right direction.

    @David agreed. I like to think of goals and desires as also supplying your fellow players with more ways to interact with you.

  8. Hi Quinn,

    This series made me think of a few things I wrote which tie in, a bit more on the technique side, for doing what you’re talking about:


    I’m looking forward to seeing you flush out the whole series.