It’s occurred to me that sometimes players in tabletop rpgs tend to be very passive. I’m not sure if this is due to exposure to different types of gaming styles from my own, but I’ve encountered quite a few players who seem to have issues with character initiative.
But what is “character initiative”? As I see it, players have an equal opportunity to drive the game forward by being pro-active, not just sitting around for the GM to throw a situation at them time after time. As a GM I find players whose characters make plans and devise long term goals to be the ones that are most interesting, and easy to work with.
As a GM, I’m aware of the expectation that I’m supposed to set things up and make the game interesting. I’m perfectly fine with that. But I think it may bear repeating that while the GM is responsible for handling the setting, the side characters and the extras in a game, it’s the players that hold center stage. Nobody likes a movie where the protagonist sits around and does nothing. (Shinji from Evangelion is a classic example. The only reason he might even be remotely interesting is because the medium he was presented in allowed for a lot of internal monologue.)
One of my most successful rpg campaigns run would have to be my HERO System 5th Edition Teen Champions campaign. What made me feel that it worked better than any campaign I’ve run before it is not because of my setup. I did what I normally do, work with the backgrounds that the players gave me and ran with it. What surprised me was that some of the players took their characters and pushed further, going so far as to plan out what they’d like to see next, or set things up so that another player could get the limelight. There was a dynamic in the HERO game that I would definitely love to see again in my other games.
RPGs work only if both the GM and the players are active. I know that I bear the burden of most of the work needed to set up a game, but I think it’s the players that ultimately drives the narrative and makes the game into something worth looking forward to in the next week.
So, maybe you’re thinking, “Fine, but what do I do to make my character have more initiative?” The simple answer is to think about the game as a whole. RPGs are entertaining not only because you get to beat up imaginary creatures and get imaginary loot, but because of the overall experience of being in a heroic group (or failing that, a heroic narrative.)
Remember that you’re playing with other people. As such, your job is to make your turns and actions as entertaining or interesting as possible to everyone else on the table (including the GM). It’s easy to plan out a single combat turn, but have you ever thought of giving your 5th level fighter a long term goal or perhaps some serious thought as to his motivation?
Characters with some form of drive to better themselves, or achieve something tend to get more stuff done. As the player, that’s your side of the equation. I’m just the GM. The moment I start reaching over and dictating your character’s goals / motivation / personality, is the moment I deserve to be punched in the nose.
Maybe an example would help. Picking up from the HERO game I mentioned, there are two characters that really stood out as ones that knew what they want and did what they could to get it.
First was Vogue, a French superheroine with the ability to use her hair to do all sort of things. She was motivated primarily over her sense of self. Being raised by a distant father and having to deal with the absence of a mother since she was six, Vogue’s character was hit very hard when her closest friend (and butler) was killed by a supervillain. Her stories evolved as the player put more effort into seeing how Vogue would cope with her loss, and her subsequent reunion with her mother.
What made it work: A good sense of “Self” from the player colored Vogue’s behavior and reactions to certain NPCs and PCs. Vogue had a chance to grow up and become a self-sufficient woman who has made peace with the ghosts of her past.
Next was Nightfox, who’se initial claim to fame was that his concept was a superhero born to a loving family of supervillains. While this initial concept would normally be something that some players would be satisfied in sitting on and replaying over and over, the player for this character took it to an entirely new direction: Redemption. Nightfox began to maneuver to find a way to gain a pardon for his parents. Not just that, but Nightfox also went so far as to begin world-building on his own, eventually starting off a group of super-mercenaries that began to enact great changes to the setting.
What made it work: Nightfox was a character that was NEVER satisfied. Flying in the face of traditional comic book stereotype, he had a dream, and he pursued it with a determination hardly seen in comics until Peter Parker gets pissed. By enacting changes in a setting that was receptive, he developed a sense of ownership to the setting.
In closing, if you’re a player in an RPG campaign, try to make an effort to do the following:
- Be entertaining to both yourself and the other players (including the GM.)
- Take ownership of your role.
- Take risks for the sake of making stuff interesting… go to the graveyard at night? Why not?
- Plan for the future of your character, make her grow into a better person.
- If I’m your GM, don’t be afraid to fail. If anything it’ll make your game more interesting rather than fatal. (unless it’s Call of Cthulhu or the World of Darkness, in which case, shore up all your advantages first, then risk it)