Curtains for Your Players Through Metagame Fun

We’ve established throughout this week that one way to encourage interest in your work is to dangle curtains for the audience to look behind. So what sorts of curtains can be dangled in front of RPG players, and how do you know which one’s likely to work?

Photo mine.

To answer this, I’m going to refer to one of my old favorite articles: Metagame Rewards, or the Different Kinds of Fun. Take a look at this; covers most of the people we’re likely to need to dangle curtains for, right? But what kind of curtain works for each variety of metagame fun? (Note that many of these can be applied to writing as well.)

  • Alea: Playing up unknown risks. This can include hinting at dangers that the player or her character is as of yet unaware of, but my favorite method is more hinting at what kinds of dire things might happen if the character fails.
  • Catharsis: This one’s pretty straightforward: Hint at a big event that you know is going to happen; not necessarily specifying the details of the event, but at least its general type. As long as they seem interested, keep raising the tension. Add more hints, drop a false alarm (but no more than two; people get jaded). They’ll be looking for the signs of it around any corner, and as long as it’s delayed the feeling of “drop the other shoe already!” rises.
  • Closure: For this one, it doesn’t matter so much what you’re hiding as that you know exactly what you’re hiding. Consider it like a checklist; you know exactly what’s behind the curtain, and you tell the Closure gamer the vague categories of everything behind the curtain, so both of you can mark each off as it gets revealed.
  • Expression: Who says creativity is best done alone? For the Expression gamer, try cordoning off a section of your behind the scenes work and letting her run around in it. Not only does this give her a new creative outlet and something she knows that the others don’t, it gives you a sounding board and alternative mental approach—and introduces a fascinating brand of uncertainty while increasing the likelihood that the overall event will go as you expect it by having someone else on the ground with a stake in the results. Just be careful how often you do this, and what parts of your world you do it with. Hinting at new things coming up might also attract this player type.
  • Fiero: Hint up the power of the opponent or the overall difficulty of the challenge. While things that might go wrong are the easiest way (and give you the best synergy with the Alea player’s curtain), they aren’t the only way. What about taking an ambiguous display of power on the part of the opponent and strongly implying that the most scary possible explanation is the correct one?
  • Humor: Any world is likely to have its own in-jokes; ways people refer to each other or to other things, lines with standard responses, you name it. Think about the in-jokes you have with people you know, then try to create parallels of them for your world, without explaining them when you first deliver them.
  • Kairosis: Change is often due to a changing world. Make it clear that the world and its characters are changing and developing in ways that the PCs could figure out, and leave it to your Kairosis player to start investigating why.
  • Kenosis: As with Kairosis, Kenosis benefits from a living world and living characters. Secrets are part and parcel of a living world; reminding the Kenosis player that everything is as it is for a reason will interest her in figuring out what those reasons are. This just requires being able to follow up when the player starts investigating.
  • Ludus: As with the Expression player, the Ludus player is best served by actually letting them behind the curtain. They enjoy working the rules, after all; why not let them work the rules in your favor for a little while? It’s a leg up for you, a chance to have a secret for them, and overall a win-win situation.
  • Naches: This is a fun one to dangle curtains for. For your Naches-dominant player, figure out some things that you’re going to want to make sure the group knows (whether this is helping a newbie with a certain subset of the game mechanics, or explaining an obscure piece of in-world trivia), and then ask the player to teach them. Not only does this get the Naches player speculating on what this information’s going to be needed for, but it helps to ensure the information gets where it needs to be.
  • Schadenfreude: This one’s also pretty easy. A rather obvious “sucks to be them” attitude towards one or more characters (most likely NPCs, particularly antagonists), without explaining why, will probably intrigue your Schadenfreude player.

You will note that I skipped Agon, Kinesis, Paida, Sociability and Venting. These styles are rather more difficult than the others to dangle curtains for, and most players will have a mix of styles that, if they include these, will likely include something on the list (Agon/Fiero is a rather intuitive combination).

Have anything to add?  Willing to give this trick a shot?  Fire away!

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