Granting player agency to create the best quarter I've ever run
Last week, I wrapped up my final session of Summer Quarter for the group I've been running consecutively for about 8 years, and I have to say that this was easily the best quarter I've ever run.
I wasn't planning on running group over the Summer- I was hoping to have more time to take vacations, but that just didn't pan out, and so having something to keep me busy on the weekends was not a bad thing. However, when thinking about what to run for a standalone quarter, I was stuck. 10 two hour long sessions isn't a lot of time to do a huge plot arc, but I still wanted something that would give the students something to bond over, while also creating a diverse set of challenges that would appeal to everyone.
So, I decided they were going to be running a theme park. I set up a point buy system where they had 10 points to buy theme park features- the rides were 4 points, the merch booth was 3, etc. There was a total of 19 points worth of items.
There was also threats. Things like an angry parent group that hated theme parks. Or an experimental Artificial Intelligence running the park. Or the fact that it had been built on a cursed graveyard.
The students chose almost all the threats.
Each session, I would ask each student what they wanted to do, and they would talk with each other to discuss strategy. One student started communicating with the ghosts from the graveyard. Two of them started working with the AI to help it learn how to be kind. Another focused entirely on shutting down the parent group. The kids would help each other out, identify each other's strengths, and challenge each other to rise to difficult tasks when they needed them to.
And I ran out of problems. The students did such a fantastic job squashing each crisis that I ended up having to have the eccentric mad scientist wizard who hired them to run the park end up deciding that the AI had gone too far into sentience and needed to be deleted, which created a massive showdown, which may have been the best session I've ever run.
By creating diverse challenges, each with various levels of severity and need, I was able to give each student a chance to shine and help the group, while also creating scenarios where they could all jump into a scene if they wanted to, allowing them control over their level of engagement. Most of the challenges were coming from their peers, usually like, "Hey, we're both busy talking with the AI, can you call the merchant's guild? I know you don't like talking with people like that, but you've got this."
Furthermore, the benefit of it being such a self driven narrative quarter was they were massively engaged. I saw more high fives, hugs, and amazing compliments this quarter than the past year combined. They told me how much this group has meant to them, and how amazing this quarter has been. One student's words as he was leaving was "Best DM ever."
And my thoughts on that statement was that by giving them the reigns on the plot, they became the best players ever.
If you're interested in more details of how I ran this quarter, reach out to me on twitter @rollforkindness. Also, big news on the Caravan Endures coming soon, so stay tuned!