Brus' Five Pillars of Good Staffing
This is ripped straight from old WORA. Brus had a lot of important things to say, and this is one of the most lasting. I am copying it here because it's something everyone should read.
I can include the conversation that followed, but we need to start here.
(edit: originally posted Wed Aug 05 14:17:55 2009)
So, it seems the theory of good staffing is coming up more and more in the threads, as well as in PMs. I have gotten 3 in as many weeks from new/returning after hiatus staffers asking for my advice in being a good staffer. I think my reputation is overstated and it is not like anything below is stuff you all haven’t heard before, but hey, I have ideas I have followed and offered for years and they seem to work, so I thought it might be helpful to put them all in on place. For what it is worth, here is what I think makes a good staffer.
1. Have a Vision
It isn’t enough to say I want to run X game in Y setting. You have to know why you want to run it. What is your specific goal? What do you want to do in the RPG? I call this detailed idea a Vision, it is what separates your game from every other X game in Y setting. So, instead of saying “This is a Vampire game set in San Francisco”, you should say, “This is a Camarillan Vampire game set in San Francisco with the theme of how predators fare in a social setting, with a heavy focus on Clans.”
Having a Vision acts as a road map. When questions come up about what new character types, plot lines, expanding the game in different directions, and so forth, having a Vision keeps you focused. It stops you from doing the “Ooo, I should add X because it would be Cool.” You should add X because it fits your vision. If it isn’t, it is diluting the game, making it a mish mash of stuff, just like every other boring MU* that seems to lack anything new and interesting.
This also applies to staff joining an existing game. If you can’t get a straight answer to “Why should I play this game?” or “What does this game do that other X theme games don’t do?” then you are going to have problems staffing. If existing staff can’t tell you what their game is really about, how can you help them run it? If you are picking up a dead game and trying to revitalize it and no one knows what the Vision of the game is, make one!
In the end, the game is going to succeed or not because people want to play it. If you have a Vision and the Vision works with players, then you have a shot at making something really cool. You want to have this game, players want to play in this game, everyone wins. And if the Player’s don’t share your vision? Then find a new one. You can’t force players to play the game you want them to play, and you will just be annoyed if you run a game you don’t want to run. Having a Vision you can articulate makes your statement up front, “This is what I am offering you.” It will save you a lot of grief in the long run.
2. The Game is Your Focus
Staff often times get distracted by other things that get in the way of good staffing. Some people are too involved in their own ideas of how cool they are, some cater too much to the players, some are fiercely protective of the source game and try to emulate it perfectly, and some just want to watch out for the friends. (Good) players don’t come to the MU* because they think you are cool or the game system is holy writ or to get ahead and be the big fish in the small pond, they come because they want to play a game. They want to have fun. Their focus is the game, so yours should be as well.
This means you need to be ready to say “screw it” to game books and canon setting. This means you need to be ready to make unpopular decisions that will piss players off. This means you need to forestall your own ego or your own sense of how things should be done if it is hurting the game.
Putting the game first is the best away to avoid abuse as well. Almost every time you hear a horror story about a MU*, it is because people are not putting the game first. Staff are using the game for their own ego stroking, players are trying to make their own fiefdom, slavish attention to setting makes the game a chore instead of a game. People log into a MU* to play a game, so that is the focus.
Staff has a lot of duties and time constraints, so just issued edicts from on high seems like a good idea because it is efficient. But it is also counterproductive. Players and staff are here to do one thing, play the game. You may have different roles, running the game vs. playing the game, but the game is the thing. So if your players are part of the people making the game happen (you can’t have a game without players), include them. When you decide something, tell them why, just don’t issue it.
Communicate also means listen. Be available to your players, talk with them about their concerns. You don’t have to agree with them or do what they say, but you need to understand their positions about things. You need to be able to explain why you can’t do what you want them to do not because you don’t know why, but because you have considered it and you think your way is better. You may not be able to persuade them, but at least they will know you heard them.
And be persuaded at times by them! You are not god (even if you have access to #1). You are fallible, you will make mistakes, and you will make bad calls. Your best reality check is your player based, because they see first hand the impact of your decisions. If you start ignoring them or rejecting their ideas out of hand, you are no longer serving the game, you are serving yourself, and that just leads to abuse.
Lastly, Communicate also means be honest. Never make a decision in secret that you wouldn’t want to be known by the player base as a whole. If you have to hide something because you will look bad if players find out, you have stopped serving the game. You don’t have to broadcast every thing you do, but keep in mind that in the net people will probably find out sooner or later. Further, admit to your mistakes. You will make them, and if they hurt someone, apologize. People are much more willing to forgive an honest apology than forget a slight never acknowledged.
4. Be Open to Change
Opening a MU* is like having a wedding. There is a lot of work and effort and passion getting to that point but the day after is when the work really starts. It is one thing to make something new and interesting, it is another thing to keep it new and interesting. You should always be striving to make the game better.
This does not mean, however, you should make change for change sake. There is still the Vision to remember; that is your road map. And there is focus on the game. If a change doesn’t fit the Vision and if it does not serve the game, it is not good change, it is just change for the sake of change.
However, if a player offers a new idea, if metaplot or player actions make significant alterations to the world, or if people want some thing new that isn’t what you expected; and if this new stuff fits Vision and Game, then do it. Your default position as a staffer should be to say yes. Unless Vision or Game gives you a specific reason to say no, say yes. This will keep the game alive and fresh and new. Saying no as default locks the game into staticity. Static and unchanging is just another way of saying dead.
So do not be afraid to try new things. Innovate. Alter. Expand. You will make mistakes and some of the ideas or stories will be craptastic, but trying is better than not. Be open to change, and the game will stay fresh and young for you and your players.
5. Have Fun
The whole point to doing this hobby is to have fun. You aren’t getting paid, you aren’t going to save the world, you are not going to get laid (probably). The reward is the enjoyment, the fun. If you aren’t having fun, then for god’s sake why are you doing it?
Lots of staff fall down on this one. They stay staff even without having fun out of a sense of obligation (if I don’t do it, who will?), or because players ask them to do it, or because they may hate their game but they love the attention. At best, these reasons will lead to burn out and you doing a piss poor job as a staffer. At worst, it will make you abusive because you will no longer be serving the game, but serving the players or your own ego.
Now that is not to say throw in the towel the first time you get discouraged. All staff have bad days. But if over time you realize you are not having fun anymore, that the game is a chore, then quit. Either turn the game over to someone else, or reboot it being something you do want to play, or shut it down and do something else. You will be happier and in the end, part of being a good staffer is enjoying yourself.
Have a very specific idea of what you want your game to be, and what it will accomplish beyond “be fun”.
Focus on making the game suceed, not yourself, the players, or the other details.
Communicate! Talk with your players, not at them, with honesty.
Be open to change. If you aren’t trying new things to make the game better, you will have a dead game.
Have Fun. This is a hobby. If you aren’t enjoying it, you aren’t doing anyone any favors.