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Managing Game Expectations

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of discussions about how Game Masters deal with player expectations for a campaign. This is a discussion I've seen before, and I wanted to share a few tips and ideas on how to manage this. So here are a few tools that I’ve had luck with in the past.

Pre-plan and advise:

This sounds more complicated than it is, but it basically boils down to explaining to the players what the campaign is going to be about. Sort of like an “Ok guys, this particular campaign will be a mid-level (5-10) campaign, set in a gothic horror version of New England – expect low magic, low combat, and lots of Cthulhu Mythos insanity and it’ll be played using FATE.”

This allows the players to at least get a general idea of what you’re planning so that they don’t show up with widely different ideas of what’s going to happen.

The Opening Crawl:

Stolen directly from the Edge of the Empire Beginner Game, this turned out to be a great tool for setting up the beginning of the scenario and giving the players an idea of the current lay of the land. This allows everyone to get an idea of what’s going to happen as well, critically without investing more “live-time” on the GM’s part. So while they’re watching the Opening Crawl, he can get ready for the adventure.

Session 0:

Session 0 is a concept that many groups have been experimenting with. It’s a “non-game” session in which the player characters are created, and discussed so that each character can fill a dynamic role within the gaming group, and each player has a chance to connect his character with the rest of the members of the party. This is also an opportunity to roleplay certain interactions between characters, if these are baked into the system (such as the Star Trek Character Creation – reviewed by Linda Whitson HERE), allowing the players to get more of a feel for both their own character and the other members of the party.

Level 0/Character Funnel:

This is something that Dungeon Crawl Classics has pioneered, and it is a game type/entry point, that I’m a huge fan of. Essentially each player gets 4 random characters, all 0-level and all randomly generated with stats, a background occupation, a weapon, and a flavorful piece of equipment (a barrow full of manure anyone?). These 4 characters are then thrown into an adventure, together with each of the OTHER players’ 4 characters, leaving you with a party of anywhere between 16 and 24 characters (4-6 players). The ones that survive, are your characters for the campaign.

This automatically gives the PCs a sense of belonging within the party, and a reason to work together, along with an incredible tale of survival (“It was a slaughter. Everyone died, except us 4.”).

Managing and finding time:

One thing that many groups find difficult is quite simply coordinating the gaming group. There is, unfortunately, no great way to fix this. Instead, simply try to keep your game on the same game day each time, starting at the same time. And make sure everyone is reminded in a timely fashion (and OFTEN) so that no other issues get in the way. There are many ways to coordinate, from Evernote, Gmail calendars, and others. Simply use the one that fits your group the best, and which you can get everyone to use on a regular basis.

And what about you?

What do you and your group use to try and manage expectations and time?

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