Player Buy-In

I seem to mostly write these "articles" out when I have something chewing at me. I've found that putting my ideas and opinions down is the best way to crystallize them, and it also serves as a bit of catharsis.

Right now, the thing chewing at me is the concept of player buy-in.

When I started getting into GMing in a big way, and into doing it well, I ran into a lot of advice about "not giving your players homework." The problem was that a lot of GMs would give their players assignments to do between sessions, things like reading write-ups or rule sections that would be pertinent, writing background for their characters, or doing other things that would "prep" them for future games. And the problem with doing this was simple: the players wouldn't do it. The GM had to learn to get the players the information they needed during play. To not expect too much backstory, to expect them to go into a game unprepared. If the GM was lucky enough to have one or two players who went above and beyond, great! But the GM needed to prepare for players who forgot about the game between sessions.

This is not wholly unreasonable.

The GM, by standing up and volunteering to run a game, is also volunteering to put in the lion's share of the work required to keep it going. I've heard that GMs put in two to three hours for every hour spent in a session, and while I think that number might be a little high (or the result of over-developed or rail-roaded games), it's not far from the mark either.

And that's fine.

But.

I don't buy that, by volunteering to be a player, you're only volunteering to play a game. Sure, you're not volunteering to prep sessions, to plan stories, to write backgrounds, or read books on the setting. But real roleplaying is so much more than "just playing."

By saying that you want to be in a game, you are volunteering to play a game... and to play a character. That means you're volunteering to do what it takes to be able to play your character, to whatever standard your table expects. That could mean knowing all the rules or spells you plan on using, or knowing enough about the setting to be able to roleplay believably, or keeping a journal of what's going on in the story, or any number of other things.

And that's above and beyond the basic, adult stuff. You're also volunteering to block time out of your schedule to sit down and play. Or, barring that, to at least give the GM a timely warning if you can't show up. You might be volunteering to host the game sometimes, or chip in for snacks and beer. I've heard of tables where the GM hosts, but the players all bring some food and/or drink to share.

Failing to meet these expectations, as a player, is just as bad as when the GM fails to meet expectations for their prep work. This grinds games to a halt. If it's a regular occurrence, it kills games.

How many times have you heard people complain about players who never know what they want to do when their turn comes up? Or who always have to consult the rulebook when they cast a spell? How many campaigns have you heard of that faded to nothing because the same handful of people kept skipping out?

I spent many years with the belief that I should never give the players homework, and never expect them to do anything. And my games suffered for it. The hardest lesson I've yet had to learn as a GM is this: you can expect things of your players. Not much, but enough.

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