Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Giving them their cookies

About five years ago, I played in a fun little steampunk game with a handful of gaming buddies. The setting was something the GM had cooked up himself: lots of airships and piracy, along with a dash of intrigue thrown in for good measure. What I remember most, though, was a phrase he had scrawled on a piece of paper and paper-clipped to his GM screen: “Give them their cookies.”

What followed was a bullet-point list of the specific in-game attributes that would please each character. Cookies, if you will. I was playing a technophile (it’s steampunk – how can you not?!), so my character was obsessed with collecting and cataloguing the various fiddly bits we came across during our adventures. My cookie, then, involved stumbling across people and items relating to engineering and mechanics. I’d get this nod from the GM at least once a session, and it never got old. Sometimes it even launched the campaign in an entirely new direction.

Some cookies, though, proved troublesome. My friend Brett tends to play anime-inspired samurai characters in every single game, regardless of the genre – and that befuddled our GM, seeing as how we were campaigning in a high-adventure faux-nautical setting. But he found a way to distill this samurai character down to his essential parts – honor, duty, loyalty – which then provided opportunities for a veritable double batch of gamer cookies.

In practice, cookies should be tangible things: a bag of gold, a rusty hauberk, a trophy lightsaber. Sometimes they can be people, organizations and contacts. A good rule of thumb is this: A well-designed cookie should always prompt the character to note something on their character sheet, be it a new piece of equipment or an important campaign note.

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