Reverb Gamers: Bribery & Information

Question #21: What's the best bribe you've ever given (or received as) a GM? What did you get (give) for it?

My players don't really tend to attempt to bribe me. Or if they do so, they're subtle enough that I don't notice, or else they just say "Oi, Drew, I want more of this in the game", and then we get into the long discussion about what "this" is, which never seems to go quite right.

It is, however, a well-established fact that if you want something to happen in my games, give me some content to shape it around, and I'll happily do just that. This does mean that players from whom I get more material - be it character background, world material, or whatever - get more of what they want in the game, but that's as much a return on investment as anything else, so I don't feel bad about it.

The discussions about what people want in the game go odd in interesting ways, though. Often, my first response is to point out the ways in which what they're looking for is already appearing. For some reason, this isn't generally seen as satisfactory. The problem lies in the thorny area of how explicit to make the information in the game.

Let me backtrack on that a bit: I have a terrible tendency to lecture. Show a combination of ignorance and interest on any topic I know about, and I will talk your ear off for a few hours, send you links by email, and generally make you wish you'd never brought it up. This is an inherited tendency, I hasten to add; my father does the same. In social situations, I've no particular fear of this; glazed eyes will give me the hint after only an hour, in most cases.

But in a game, I don't want players chasing off after irrelevant details, so I tend to outline rather than lecture. If the type of rock the buildings are made of is relevant, I'll mention it. If it's not, I'll just say "stone" and keep going. And in principle, that's fine. The issue is that "relevant" is a very movable line.

For instance, if I say that the walls are granite, and go on to note that there are coal fires burning, then it is perfectly obvious that the coal is very likely imported, and whoever has the coal fire is therefore rich. Coal is a metamorphic rock, and if you have granite at the surface, you won't have much access to coal. Obvious, right?

Likewise, if I note ornate clothing, or frequent changes of clothing in a pre-industrial setting, well, it's clear that there's a massive underclass in this society, right? You can't have ornate clothes without weeks of work, and if someone has been working for weeks on one garment, and you have lots of them, clearly there's a low-paid level of society there.

These are two examples of things I was using, and I was blind to the fact that they're utterly incomprehensible if you don't have a background in geology or pre-industrial economics. Needless to say, none of my players have either. On the other hand, I'm not the best in the world at body language, so I tend to over-describe that when it comes up, making it often much too obvious that there's a Clue there.

So getting through my own knowledge filters to know what to show and not show is hard, and it's often something I have to stop and think about, which isn't a thing I can do mid-game. I am, I think, getting better at this over time, but the requests for "can we have more of this thing in the game" and my blithe response of "it's there already!" works to show where the gaps are. It's not a particularly satisfactory exchange, though, and I'd like to improve that.

Failing all of the above, of course, buying me new game supplements, dice, tokens, stationery and beer will work wonders.

Posted by Drew Shiel at February 8, 2012 12:18 PM

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