The Trouble with Playing Locals

I’ve just managed to put my finger on something that was bothering me about recent games I have been in, and it is that I tend to try and play locals instead of wandering strangers.

This sounds ideal and the GMs are always pretty happy about it - it signals that you’re not just going to murderhobo, are interested in the setting, and gives them convenient plot hooks. But honestly for me it has made for difficult play.

So the big problem is that I both know and do not know the locale. I mean that my character likely does, but I do not. This means every interaction I have to check in to see if I have any history with these people. Some GMs are better about letting me in on the details offline, others are flying by the seat of their pants (I like this best) so can’t do much about it, and others have intricate notes or prepublished scenarios but keep their secrets. A lot of the time, I feel blindsided by things my character should know about.

In one, I was trying to defuse a fight and the GM asked me to describe how, and I was appealing to which of them was the younger brother. I gave my schpiel and the GM said they looked confused because I got which one was the younger brother wrong… so it was just awkward and baffling. I thought he was giving me some reign to narrate but it turned out he had his own ideas and I was supposed to guess or something. In another I had to check to see if I knew where the town square was.

I’m just feeling a bit frustrated with it and am really starting to sympathize with players who make their characters wandering nomads with no history. It’s a pain to play locals.

But I probably will. What do I do different next time?

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Yeah it’s tricky. I think playing locals might require more from the players than playing as visitors from another land. Maybe the GM has to write up a summary of “what locals/natives should know”. Also maybe an allowance for players to make up places, characters, etc. that their character would know?

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A Classical Filipino Heroic Fantasy game, Gubat Banwa, has a section for what folks in his setting should know.

Screenshot_20211024-140946_Xodo Docs

I used it as a guideline for my own Classical Filipino Cairn hack Mangayaw (though its not done yet). It doesn’t have any specifics about people or places, but the idea is for players to know the common sense of the natives and the world. I dunno if this is helpful or not hahaha

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Different strokes for different folks is always true, but I feel like this is something that differs depending on the GM. If I’m running a game and a player says to me “I bet my character would know someone with info at my local bar.” I would say “hell yeah, there’s definitely at least one character there with that info. Describe one of your drinking buddies. And hell, name the tavern if you like too!”

I’ve been on both sides as a player, both playing with a restrictive GM and one who invites player creativity and player-made lore. I asked one GM where the factory is in a town my PC is from and they’re like “you will have to ask around or make a check” and then made it unnecessarily difficult to locate. Shit time. And on the other end, one GM allowed us to create NPCs on the fly. Fun as hell.

In the case of mistaking the older from younger brother, that’s as simple as understanding what the player is trying to do and running with it.

Local adventurers are always great vessel for allowing players to come up with their own local lore and ideas of what the town is which as a player, can be SO fun and great for establishing your character. And as a GM it takes some of the overhead and planning out of your hands, and the result is always that the party become instantly invested in “their” town.

But that comes down to GMs and how they run games. The ‘GM is God’ thing hurts player investment IMO and for local adventurers that does lead to a dissonance of “I live here, yet I know nothing because you don’t want me to”.

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I feel like when running players playing as locals, the gm should be handing out way more information to players. Like, just straight up introduce the fight by saying ‘the millers eldest and youngest son are having a spat’ and what. Don’t leave information out unless the players actually seriously wouldn’t know it (and couldn’t infer it). And yeah if the GM doesn’t have those details let the players fill it in, it will make the feeling of playing locals stronger since the players are introducing the info themselves. Its definitely a Referee problem not just a player issue.

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If your GM lets you play a local, then I think that the GM should allow you to invent details about the locale through your play, and the GM should go with it. Letting you play a local can be handled if you get “tiny GM powers” about the locale. If the GM trusts you, and you are both on the same wavelength (established by a conversation beforehand), it can be magnificent, and your creativity will add to the whole game. The other players will look at you as a local, too!

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Others have already articulated more or less what I would have said. I just want to show solidarity that, while there are always things we can do better, it does sound in this case like it was really the GM’s responsibility and so to the extent that you came out of it not feeling good, you should try to cut yourself a little slack if you are able to do so.

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I think they should too. BUT…

Given the short supply of such GMs, I’m just going to have to try this when running my own games.

So here is what I am thinking: next time I do this (and I will, I am a fool), I will have to chat with the GM.

If I’m going to play a local, I want:
A) some idea of the main players in the locale
B) a map that covers what parts of the town I would know exist
C) whether NPCs are GM exclusives or subject to my narration

Is this an obnoxious request for a GM?

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Yeah, first paragraph is how I prefer to play - both as player and GM.

I love it and more games should do this!

I did this with Eldritch Gambit in the collaborative worldbuilding section. Right on the world sheet there is a space for you to put things everyone would know or be marked a weird stranger. Doubly important if more than just the GM is building the setting.
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I think it might be obnoxious to some GMs. If it turns out to be so, then play someone who is local to another locale! :grinning:

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Seems very reasonable to me, for maps, at very least a rough sketch and you should be able to ask for or generate more.

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I tend to limit locals to either replacement characters or the second campaign in a region/setting when the players already have a basis of knowledge about the place.

Alternatively playing absolute bumpkins from a town where nothing happens works. You can be local, but you only know vague rumors about anything other then beet harvesting times, which villagers are sleeping with each other and the details of a 2 mile region around your starting village.

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The point in this blogpost about homebrewing versus “teambrewing” a setting is just what you were talking about (players contributing to setting). (Never mind the advertisement. Just go down to the word teambrewing.) The point is that your referee has to be ready to let players contribute. This is just what I’d hope for your “local” PCs.

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The Spout Lore move from Dungeon World has worked well for me in these situations. I give the local character different (and more) information when the move is triggered. It’s the GM’s chance to unload information and then, optionally, ask how the character knows it. IMO it’s a great way for the GM to provide the info and then the player to embellish and explain the knowledge but with the GM guiding what is known.

The Spout Lore move should be transferable to any system I think.

I’d say this depends on the sort of game you’re playing - a lot.

In a narrative forward game player control of setting is fine, it’s ideal even in places. In an older puzzle solving sort of game, resources matter, and handing setting control to players is effectively handing them a resource maker. Now this is fine if that’s what you want, but it can be an issue if as a designer or referee one wants to insert setting/region level puzzles/social complexities into the game. Intentional design, unexpected side effects and all that.

For example, if I have a haunted mansion dungoen near a run down town and I hand over description of that town to players two or three session in it has a risk of being the setting’s industrial holy water production center with three different exorcist, ghostbuster, and paladin training centers - all of which are renting out henchmen. In an narrative game where the goal of play is explicitly genre emulation players wouldn’t be as likely to push things so far in their favor, simply because it’d be poor sportsmanship – the goal of the game is to emulate the story of dungeon adventure. In a classic game though the player goal is to use whatever schemes and solutions one can think up to solve the puzzle of the location, so if the fiction provides the option to give yourself extra resources to deal with a problem, you take them.

It’s this sort of thing that I mull over when I talk about how and why Classic play has the restrictions and strict player/referee roles that it does, and to some extent it’s something that I think the Big Model misses with its assumptions that games are for telling a story with a fairly unexamined meaning of the word (not that they shouldn’t be about telling novelistic or filmic stories, just that they aren’t always).

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The DW Spout Lore move doesn’t do this; the GM says what the PC knows and then may ask the player how their character knows this.

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That’s still a form of narrative control, and with all of them one one can add detail or other resources.

I.E. “I know about the ghouls because the exorcists at the holy water factory down the block told me”.

Again, I’m not saying never do this, only that it is a specific mechanical decision with effects and side effects that one should knowingly include.

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I knowingly include them. My version of “Spout Lore” is called “Establish Realities” and includes a percentile roll like in Ironsworn (more likely, less likely). I definitely recognize this style isn’t for every table, for sure!