Encouraging "meta" activities from players

In my last sessions, the text-based, slow-paced nature of play allowed several of my players to do something awesome: they speed-sketched what their characters were seeing, and the locations, live.

Players cheered, I was stunned for a moment, and it helped bring a lot of atmosphere to the session.
It made me think. There’s a lot of games and game mechanics that encourage certain game actions, like killing monsters, forming bonds, exploring new areas. Then there’s just as many discouraging game actions.

But what about encouraging meta actions, such as:

  • drawing a map for the other players (“the mapper”)
  • helping others fill character sheets or keep track of HP/supplies (“the quartermaster”)
  • explaining game mechanics to others (“the guide”)
  • sketching characters, NPCs and locations (“the artist”)
  • worldbuilding locations, rumours and NPCs (??)
  • suggesting new rules and game mechanics (“the hacker”)

In my experience, when they happen, they’re quite impactful and things like extra worldbuilding, mapping and sketching can either totally carry the session, or provide enough hooks and ideas for the GM to greatly improve it. Else, they make players appreciate one another more, they get excited about things, and it gives them something to do between sessions.

I don’t really have a point, but I want to start a conversation about:

  1. What meta activities are there that would benefit the group / the play experience in a novel way?
  2. How could a game encourage these activities, or bring them to the front of players’ minds (since they would do these things even without a reward, but there’s just so much to focus on that they may not)?

We play with a few. Most are evolutions of the standard ones you’ll find in older games. We have a Caller (generally in parties larger than four), and a Mapper (Dwarf characters get Graph Paper! All others get looseleaf).

I’ve been trying to bring back the Holmesian “Chronicler” with a modicum of success:

But other “Player Roles” have evolved over time and proved useful. We have a Quartermaster (who mostly tracks Rations and other Survival Supplies…they tend to supervise the occasional Inventory Audits as well). A Lucifer (who is responsible for Light Source awareness (Who has 'em) and tracking Torches/Oil). Very “Dungeon Exploration-centric” roles.

In Overland Exploration, these roles shift a little bit of course. Caller gets to set the number of Rests/Watches. Mappers help locate Features and improve Travel Times through areas traversed prior. Quartermasters are still there for Resource Management, but Navigator is employed to help Avoid getting Lost, and a Scout Role helps with the location of Landmarks/Campsite selection. Sometimes there is overlap, and players take on multiple Roles.

Many of these activities sort of come with their own rewards on a practical level (Caller rolls “the parties half” of a Reaction Roll to intuit disposition), Maps are often valuable to sell to others, etc. So I don’t really incentivize them too much. Some games don’t need certain Roles after all, and these sorts of things are highly dependent on what aspects of play a given Player finds enjoyable. Some like more bean-counting than others, and make great Quartermasters. Others like chatting to NPCs and make natural Callers. Artistic talent isn’t a pre-requisite for Mappers, but some naturally gravitate toward it :slight_smile:

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Delegation is a key part of meeting management - so much referee advice, especially in OC or Trad circles revolves around the “cult of the DM” - the idea that the referee is there to put on a show (often complete with smoke machines and snacks), but I think it’s mostly meeting management: presentation, facilitation and adjudication. You don’t have to use Agile (I am inexplicably a CSM … but I don’t like to remember that…), but damn those meeting management skills are good shit - especially with online play, because of Zoom fatigue (look it up, the business world has been in a tizzy).

Like I said delegation is great. As a Referee one has enough to do, so handing off tasks to players not only keep s them involved, but it lets the referee have a bet more attention to spare for running a game: providing good detail, responding well to player action – all the core elements of making a game compelling. I think a table (or a game I guess) encourages it by handing off the rolls to players explicitly. Like “Pick your Turnkeeper and Mapper and give me your marching order, PC names and ACs” (at least for my kind of game which is fairly high on the referee control) is the start of each game.

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