Using player input in your game: Behind the scenes of Supernatural If These Walls Could Talk

I’ve been sitting on the basic story for Fandible’s latest game since May, when Billy and I visited Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. It’s an eerie place, perfect for setting a ghost story. And as described at the end of the podcast, there was a plaque in the prison that took a starring role for my story. But other than the big set pieces, a lot of my details got changed along the way, as I saw where Billy and David’s interest lay. As someone who loves Behind The Scenes features about my favorite movies, I thought it might be fun to turn that tactic onto a Fandible game.

If These Walls Could Talk was always intended to be something of a family saga, but a much less tragic one. My original victims were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The original family saga was tracing the family of the warden that sent the inmates off to war. I had several generations of female descendants planned out (chosen because the name changes make genealogy work just a little harder, as well as a nod back to Eastern State Penitentiary and the stories one warden’s daughter told of growing up around the prison). Genealogy isn’t my strong suit, so while my original notes carefully traced how my NPCs were related to the warden, when I started making up interconnected victims on the fly, I had to be much more vague.

When I said there was a construction truck from Garrett & Sons, it was supposed to be just a bit of color. But when David asked Billy to look into it, and Billy went beyond just a cursory search on them, I knew I needed to reward their diligence. Thus, the birth of a cursed family line. Luckily, one of the new GM tricks I’ve picked up is to create a list of names in my notes so if I need to name NPCs on the fly I have a pre-generated list. Not only does it keep every other NPC from being named “Jane,” but when I need to bring that character back later in the session, I don’t run into the all-too-common problem of “What’s that guy’s name again? … Whatever. He’s Steve now!”

While my first thought when Billy and David started to try to dig into the Garrett’s was a hint of frustration (Stop going after the red herring, guys!), ultimately, I think they helped craft a much tighter story. The tragic family elements also allowed me to (accidentally) make a much richer story for Billy’s character. I knew nothing about David and Billy’s characters before we got started, and didn’t have Billy’s character in mind when I had the Garrett patriarch explaining the strained relationship between himself and his grandson – since the elder Garrett didn’t exist in my original version of the story, I was improvising as I went along, creating a back story for these characters to explain why the grandson wasn’t part of the construction company.  Again, because my players insisted on investigating a bit that was originally intended as fluff, together we ended up creating a much more insightful story that was even possible to tie into a player character’s background.

And these two instances don’t even begin to cover the plot point economy system built into the system of Supernatural! My favorite systems by far have a constant exchange of points between players and the GM, from Supernatural’s plot points to Hollow Earth’s style points. David used some of his plot points to introduce the rave, because I guess I wasn’t making life hard enough for him. Plot points were also used to try to salvage the first roll of the game, when David botched his social graces roll. Poor catastrophic-failure-prone David.

Perhaps ironically, I’ve found it much easier to incorporate my player’s ideas into games that I have planned out with some thought before hand. I’ve GMed games in three different ways now: very carefully scripted, absolutely no script, and a brief outline filled mostly with settings and characters rather than a literal order of events. The first style falls apart for me when the players want to go off of my script. The second style often leaves me floundering as I try to remember everything the players have thrown at me and try to shape it into an enjoyable story for all. The third gives me just enough of a framework I can always return to when I feel the player’s suggestions are beginning to overwhelm me and I feel lost. Just glance at my notes, find a good place to anchor the next scene, and guide the players back in the general direction of my original plans, while leaving plenty of room for them to still explore the world and throw a few interesting curve balls into the mix.

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About the Author
A city girl with midwestern roots, Angela has been on the internet for far too long. A geek of many stripes, when Angela isn't pretending to be a different person every weekend she can be found reading, writing (that novel will come out some day!), or preparing for her eventual life as a crazy cat woman. Angela also blogs about gaming at the blog Gaming as Women http:///

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