Delayed Followup: Proactive vs. Reactive

A long time ago I wrote about player styles, particularly proactive vs. reactive approaches to a game. The old article was something of a simplification of the issue, and since then, I’ve learned a bit more about the proactive-reactive continuum.

One of the things I’ve noticed about a proactive style is that it isn’t necessarily either-or; there are degrees of proactivity. It’s really hard to have a player/character who’s 100% proactive, because then they need to have motivations beyond the plot, and a lot of people prefer to wait and use the plot as a source of motivation so they don’t have to worry about either making the GM’s life difficult or clashing too badly with the rest of the group. A lot of proactive players are problem solvers; once they’ve got something to oppose, they’ll make the first move, and the second, and cede the third to their group, and maybe the fourth, then make the fifth… but until you present them with a problem in need of solving, they’re as likely to be flying a holding pattern as their more reactive counterparts.

The other, and perhaps a more important one, is that proactivity can be very, very tiring. After all, if you’re the one who’s making the first move, that means you’re having to think of the first move, rather than just tailoring your reactions to whatever just happened. This, I think, is why most people tend to play in more games than they run: while being a reactive GM is possible, I haven’t seen it near as often as I’ve seen the GM having to break the impasse by being the proactive one. Now imagine doing that in multiple games per week. Similarly, proactivity might be affected by stresses outside of game, particularly things that require the player/GM to use the same sorts of skills and traits that they use when being proactive in game. Fatigue, then, is the greatest enemy of the proactive player; if someone’s tired enough, it doesn’t matter how many games she’s carried in the past, she’s not going to have any more luck trying to drag the plot along than someone who’s never taken charge at all.

Reactivity’s a lot harder to reverse, since it requires less energy, but it is possible. If you get sufficient motivation onto a character, then she might actually start Doing Things rather than waiting for the next plothook to appear; sure, you still need something to react to, but you aren’t having to worry about it turning into the reinvention of the wheel.

Consider the outside forces when looking at proactivity and reactivity. It might prevent unpleasant surprises when you depend on someone showing one trait, but they’ve slipped into another.


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