Drama between the players of your gaming group can be a negative experience. But drama in your game can be a good thing. This week we’re going to talk about 7 ways to embrace “good” drama to enrich your games.
Before we can talk about “good” drama, we need to talk about what counts as “bad” drama. In general, bad drama is any decision in-or-out of character that negatively affects the enjoyment of the rest of the table.
Everyone’s goal is to have fun and enjoy the game you are playing. As a member of the game, you need to make sure that your actions aren’t depriving anyone else of having fun. Justifying your actions as “something that your character would do” doesn’t matter. Your character isn’t a real person. It only does what you decide it does, and if your decision would harm someone’s fun, then it is your responsibility to NOT do that.
Now, let’s talk about ways to create “good” drama.
1. Set Expectations
The most important thing you can do is talk about your expectations, playstyle, and comfort levels before beginning the game. This is at the player level, and should be done before you talk about characters.
Once everyone is on the same page, you can talk about your characters. Build characters that have connections or each other, or establish elements of their backstory that can be woven into confrontations.
2. What Problems Do You Want?
The conflict that a character faces can shape who they are. Are you a person that stays optimistic even in the face of despair? It’s easy to say that, but the character’s actions prove it to be true or false. Sometimes there is an intentional disconnect between what a CHARACTER wants, and what a PLAYER wants.
Masks does a great job of building this into their classes (playbooks). Each playbook has a type of drama or conflict that you will deal with. The Nova, for example, is very powerful but has poor control of their powers, causing collateral damage. The CHARACTER wants to avoid excessive damage, but the PLAYER has indicated they want to deal with these problems by picking the playbook. Occasionally having them cause collateral damage and deal with its repercussions is something that the PLAYER wants to deal with, even if the CHARACTER doesn’t.
3. Interact with Players
The GM is in charge of all the NPCs that you might interact with, but great sources of drama come from two (or more!) players interacting with each other.
In order to add more to the story, you can create drama between two PCs. Maybe you have conflicting ideals. Maybe someone has unreciprocated feelings for another character. Find something that both players are ok with doing, and make drama!
The great thing about player driven drama is that it is often at the forefront of the story. Unlike an NPC, which fades from sight when not involved, the players are always there.
This is really useful for games that are played for an audience like actual play podcasts or livestreams. The audience sees this conflict, and knows that it is always there. A conflict with an NPC is put on hiatus until that NPC comes back into the picture.
4. Act Unreasonably
It’s hard to do sometimes, but your character doesn’t always have to act rationally. Sometimes they’re afraid. Sometimes they’re too angry to think. Have them act in a way that creates drama with another character.
Are you the healer, and you’re angry at another character? Tell the player how you are intentionally prioritizing healing someone else first, or are healing them less than you normally would. The important thing here is that you told the PLAYER what you were doing, and thus what the drama is. If you kept it to yourself, it might have been missed, or maybe the PLAYER thought you were lashing out. And back to our original point, if not healing them would kill their character, then maybe don’t do that. Remember, the point is for everyone to have fun. If having their character die would hurt them, then it is in your power to not use that idea.
On the flip side, maybe your character is acting overly sensitive. Maybe they THINK the healer is healing them less than they should. The character can harbor the resentment, and eventually confront the healer in a dramatic fashion.
5. Support the Narrative
Your drama doesn’t need to always be in the front. When other players have drama, act to support one of their sides. Allow yourself to be a supporting character in their story arc. Don’t make it about yourself, and take actions that either heighten the drama or allow it to continue.
6. Make an Ultimatum
“It’s either me or him! Make your choice!”
The ultimatum is a great way of bringing drama to a head. Sometimes unreasonable, an ultimatum forces a decision to be made, or lines to be drawn.
An ultimatum can change the direction of the narrative. Perhaps a character decides to strike out on their own, or change their core beliefs. Embrace the new direction, and try to support it.
7. Apologize and Forgive
If you want the characters to all continue working together, someone will probably need to apologize. Don’t wait for the other party to, because they might be waiting for the same thing. Have the character apologize, and renew their intention to work together with everyone.
On the flip side, don’t hold a grudge for too long. If another character apologizes for something, this is your chance to accept the apology and wrap up the dramatic arc. You can always look for a new source of drama later!
Player driven drama, when done right, can bring a game and its characters to life. Follow these tips, and remember to be open about your intentions to your fellow gamers. Everyone deserves to have a fun gaming experience.