I think the biggest change recently in my gaming is that I’ve been exposed to much more “active” play.  And I like it, and don’t want to go back.

As I see the terms, gaming is never purely active or reactive.  There’s a continuum of sorts:  at the reactive end is the classic “railroad” game, where the GM comes up with the plot, and all the players do is chew scenery until they activate whatever magic trigger moves them to the next scene.  The extreme end of the active side is where the burden of everything is on the players.  The GM can’t or won’t give them something to do, so they have to supply their own fun, and may end up just chewing scenery.

I’ll start with reactive play, because it’s the “traditional” roleplaying model:  GM preps a session with ample notes.  Game time comes:  GM presents the situation of the week, players encounter it and interact with it.

There’s levels of active play in the reactive.  At the low level, this might be thought of ‘action feedback.’  The big bad guy got away?  Maybe he’ll show up again.  I suspect no one puts much thought into this as player activity, but its there.

The reactive plot seed can also be player-driven:  as in “gee, next week I think we should follow up on the lead about the swamp monsters.”  So the GM puts alot of detail into the swamp monster shrine or whatever.  But the players are still primarily reacting to the GM, and at game time they’re primarily reacting to the GM’s presentation of the swamp monsters.

Active play gets alot of love from “indie” games.  While I haven’t played Sorcerer, it’s my understanding that it’s pretty close to the “action” pole.  Active games are player driven:  the GM doesn’t really have much of a plan for the game, only an initial situation/setting.  Character generation is where the campaign comes to life.  The players, not the GM, create the key plots of the game.


Traditional GM:  “Okay guys, this week you’re going to fight the swamp monsters!”

Active Player:  “Dude, you know what would be awesome?  Swamp monsters!  I’m going to fight them this week.”

The level of reactivity present in an active game also scales;  at low levels the GM only provides a starting situation, and everything from there builds off the PCs.  At higher levels there’s more give-and-take, with a mostly player driven game, but the occassional “bang”-insertion to keep things moving.

Like I said in the preamble, I’m a big fan of active play- both as a player, and a GM.  Decreased handling time (i.e. scene instead of task resolution) aids in going from player-created dramatic situation to player-created dramatic situation at lighting speeds.  No longer does the GM have to have pages and pages of adventure notes each session!  He needs only to have a flair for improvisation, and listen to his players.  (Although a room full of Nazis to mow down doesn’t hurt).


One thought on “Active/Reactive

  1. Daniel says:

    I’ve really got nothing to say apart from that I agree and that everything’s better with a room full of nazis.


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