Archive for May 4, 2011

Interesting vs Optimized

Posted: May 4, 2011 by Jay Steven Anyong in Advice, Articles, Roleplaying Games

Now that I’m knee deep in the planning stages of the Mage: the Awakening campaign, I’ve been thinking about how the Players will respond to situations.  Seeing as they’ll be playing teens, there’s a certain expectation that not all of the decisions and choices they will be making will be the “best” for a given situation.

So let me make a case for making “Interesting” choices as opposed to “Optimized” ones.

Having just recently been a player in an L5R campaign, I realize that while the players don’t involve themselves in planning things out in the level that GMs do, they still have an obligation as a participant in an activity that is supposed to be fun for everyone.  Players are contributors to the overall enjoyment of the activity, and therefore a straightforward and optimized solution is not always the best one if you want a fun campaign.

While it might seem counter-intuitive, taking an Interesting action may spin off opportunities for other players and the GM to get in on the action.  Sure you could solve X problem by taking the straightforward Y solution, but if you can loop in the other players with you, or approach it from Z angle with similar results then why not do that then?  That way everyone is a part of the solution.

This of course requires an interesting balancing act of sorts as Players must consider the nature of their decision:

  • Can I involve the other players?
  • Is it unexpected, without being annoying?
  • Am I solving the problem, or making the situation worse?
An interesting course of action encourages participation from other players, whether it’s forcing the GM to adapt to an unexpected curveball solution, or drawing other players into a plan that results in a smashing success.  Sometimes it’s interesting to fail, but that failure has to be something that isn’t a game-breaker… and that has to involve both the GM and the players as you don’t want a Total Party Kill in one go just because someone decided that it was “fun” to put everyone else at risk.
Sub-optimal choices can be interesting, in the proper context.  If you’re in a fight, then fight as hard as you can, don’t mess around, since there’s more at stake than in a potentially amusing social faux pas in front of a visiting dignitary.