What makes a good gaming session? That question alone can bring forth a multitude of answers. In my own group Alex might speak of dramatic scenes where the fate of nations hangs on the balance of a single dilemma. Regan might talk of the time he murder-faced a werewolf in his nightwear. Jess might be in love with the magic of the Fae realm and Tess might like being able to understand what the devil is going on, for once. The point I am trying to make is that what is considered conducive to an awesome session by one player is not necessarily the same ingredient as enjoyed by another. That is obvious and you certainly do not need me to tell you about it. Instead what I would like to talk to you all today is the nature of the multitude.
While we are all individuals the nature of the multitude is a term that encompasses those characteristics that are shared between multiple persons. For example, it is safe to say that all of the Pants Campers like dark misery-laden stories with a focus on story and character development. Another group may be more inclined towards those aspects of gameplay that better promote humour. In both cases, it should be obvious that the same GMing techniques that result in a good session for one party may bore the other. In our hobby this failure to adapt is most likely to occur in two occurrences. The first, being when a veteran GM tries to run for a new group, especially if he has not ran in a while or more so if she has recently moved from another group or location. The second likelihood is when your GM pops down to the local gaming store and purchases that awesome new module by Sir McPlotsalot. He then returns to his group, slaps it down and begins to run. Unfortunately pre-written modules are not always suitable for all groups. In my experience, in fact, I have found that modules are rarely suitable for any group without a certain chunk of adaptation. Your mileage may vary on that one, however.
The nature of the multitude theory in gaming states that by identifying the areas of gaming that appeal to the majority of your gaming group it is possible to run sessions with a distinct baseline of enjoyment. If fun is a quantifiable measure then it is useful to visualise a GM using this method as providing 3-4 points of ‘Fun’; while a GM using less structured means provides only d6 points. She will sometimes hit those sweat spots of enjoyment for her group, but just as easily won’t. Such will depend on the GM’s experience with gaming, the group in question and just general luck.
To determine the nature of your multitude begin by brainstorming the areas your party have voiced enjoyment of. Take a couple of days to do this stage, going back and forth to the list as you think of new things. Once the list is complete put names to each item. Maybe Jed and Sarah like combat, Lucy and Frank like puzzles. Once this has been done for each item you will be able to see those aspects of gameplay the majority of your party enjoy. These are the areas you should try to include most sessions. This is the nature of your multitude. You now have a clearly define structure to work from when designing sessions or adapting modules. If with a new group, maybe chat with them over pizza, a bad 90s action movie (I personally recommend Escape from New York) or perhaps coffee. Find out what they liked about their previous GM or did not like. If your new party have never gamed before talk about their favourite movies and why they like them. Experience with the group helps a lot, but even without it you can still turn this method to your advantage, tweaking it later.
Does that mean the rest of the list is useless then? Not by a long shot. What you will be left with is a list of things that only one or two players enjoy. These are the aspects of gameplay you can use to tailor sessions. Not every area of a game needs to appeal to all players, so long as the appeal is fairly distributed. If two players like puzzles, make sure to provide enough combat for the other two. If one player is hugely into political intrigue then maybe provide a side-plot to explore than, while the other three get to enjoy a more prominent place in the main story that session. Balance is the key. To return to our qualitative score earlier. If the nature of the multitude provides 3-4 points of Fun and you have four players, then every time you further appeal to those players you are adding another 0.25 points of Fun per-player. It is easy to see how quickly you will be able to ramp up the enjoyment using this method.
Of course these a risk of staleness that comes with slavishly adhering to lists. So make sure to chuck in a few experimental ideas into your sessions. Maybe your players have never really encountered guild conflict. Chuck some elements in for good measure and see how your players react. Using this method you have already given yourself 4-5 points of Fun, you can afford to lose one or two if things go badly. You never know, they might not and you may see your Fun sky-rocketed to 6 or 7 points!
To conclude make sure that your sessions are tailored to your players and don’t miss anybody out. By appealing to the nature of the multitude you ensure that everybody has something to enjoy. While those extra pieces of personal tailoring boosts the enjoyment of select players, without sacrificing that of the rest. Remember, accessibility and appealing to a wider audience might be dirty words in video gaming, but they are the life blood of tabletop RPGs.
Thanks for listening.