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As you know DMs do most of the job for the campaign (maps, plot, NPCs etc) and quite a bit of storytelling. Players, on the other side, bring in their creativity and add extra spice to the game sessions, plus they steer the overall story direction.

What would you recommend as a way to make the players do 'more'? What could they devise, of the universe the DM has in mind, so that it does not give them too big of a help in the future but, at the same time, it reduces the DM's burden without scrambling his/her plans?

I know that not all players like to invest their off-session time in RPG thinking, but, luckily, some do.

I've browsed the site and could find only one vaguely similar topic: How do you compensate your game master?, but i'm talking more of things to do for the campaign, not extra (like pizza). Please point me to more of those topics in case i've missed them!

The game I generally play is DnD 3.5. I'm a bit challenged by describing the fashion... I think of it in terms of a great adventure with a party that roams the world, takes part in a major plot but also gets to say its own about in (sort of like the hobbits in LOTR, they are carried in the adventure at first, then they shape a part of it)

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This is one of the best questions I have ever seen asked here. –  KRyan Feb 28 '13 at 16:29
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4 Answers

Modern techniques

There is a tendency in modern game to include mechanisms to allow the players decide some of the environment/events. For instance, in FATE, players can spend a fate point to invent something about the environment, or gain a fate point allowing some complications happen to their characters. This is supposed to help the GM who this way doesn't to make up everything.

Troupe roleplay

I want to bring attention however to a much older game, Ars Magica, which introduced Troupe Roleplay. In troupe roleplay, every players take control of several characters, not just one. Generally, one mage, one companion and a indetermined number of minor characters. This helps the GM who has to control less characters, and make the players be more involved with the game when their main character(s) are note present.

Additionally, troupe roleplay allows the group of players (troupe) to rotate the role of GM. This can be in many ways. For instance, a traditional way would be to have each player run each adventure. If the players want a more cohesive campaign, one of them would act as the campaign director. This character planify the general purpose of each adventure, and assign it to a player.

Less traditional ways to rotate are also possile. For example, you can divide the cities and other locations among the players, who take control whenever the group stays in their locations. Or you can even divide the NPCs, in a way that a NPC's motives are only known to his player, who must control him when needed. You can divide the world as the troupe agrees, for instance designing a Fae player, expert in that aspect of the world, who takes the control when players has to deal with fae creatures.

Millington model

If the wikipedia article of troupe roleplay, you can find a different way: the Millington model. In this model, GM traditional responsabilities are divided. It is supposed that these tasks can be divided among different players. Quoting from Wikipedia, these roles would be:

GM: Chairperson (responsible for the order and focus of the players), Referee (responsible for arbitrating the game), Game Engine (responsible for interpreting what's happening in the game based on player requests and dice rolls), and Director (responsible for the story and the setting of the game).

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There are likely many things players can do to lessen the GM load. One of my favorites, both from a GM and a player perspective, is player involvement in world-building.

I think one of the major goals of a GM is to provide verisimilitude to the game as much as possible, and the primary way to go about that is to create rich environments and characters. That requires a TON of detail. The players can really help with that. Often I've seen this done with character backgrounds in the form of vignettes or short stories focused on an encounter the character had in the past, completely made up by the player. The player can create small locales, like the character's favorite tavern "The Deep Watering Hole", run by Dirk, an ex-adventurer. The player can really run with something like this, developing basically the entire tavern, several regulars who visit the tavern, the barkeep, etc. etc. Then, on some adventure later on, the GM can use this tavern as a meeting place with some NPC perhaps. The player will be happy that his/her character is operating in a familiar environment, and the GM gets a freely-made locale, complete with some fleshed out NPCs. Saves the GM quite a bit of work on details that have little to do with the mechanics of the game but are still important for the believability and enjoyment of the playing session.

Of course, the caveat with this scenario is that the GM and the player need to develop some understanding of what must remain in the purview of the GM and what the player can make up. With a little communication, I think most or all potential problems with this can be avoided, though.

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Here's a few ideas:

  1. Create a detailed background for your PC, and don't get mad/upset if your GM uses it (for or against your PC).
  2. Don't argue with your GM about the rules during the game. Save the rule look-ups until after the game.
  3. Don't complain if the plot seems forced or that you're being railroaded. Sometimes it's hard for the GM to make a plot that fits for all the PC's (this is especially true for new GM's or if you're using modules). I'm not saying that you never need to complain, but it makes it harder for a GM when they keep hearing complaints from the players.
  4. Follow up to #3, if your PC has a reason to follow the plot, use your influence to convince the other PC's to follow the plot.
  5. Be willing to help the GM during combat. Indicate you'd be willing to run NPC's or monsters combat rolls/tactics during combat.
  6. Don't accuse your GM that he's being unfair (even if it seems like he is). Sometimes the plot depends on PC's getting captured/separated (especially modules).
  7. Try keeping the party together. Not only do you make it easier for the GM, you're not wasting the other people's time while the GM needs to deal with the actions of the multiple groups.
  8. Depending on your group dynamics, try to get non-essential purchased completed during off-game time. Try not to spend too much of the GM's time, but indicate what items you'd like to get while you're in town.
  9. Give your GM a wish list of items your PC would like to get, and goals they would like to accomplish. These give the GM ideas on what treasures to stock the dungeons and motivations for the PC's for adventures.
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First, determine what all the GM does, and then also determine what he or she wants or needs help with. Then do that.

Seriously, start with observing and asking. GMs have different styles and different things they like to do - if you jump in and do some things, you may be annoying that GM because it's their favorite thing to do. Players like to play, but GMs might like crafting settings or running NPC interactions or designing new rules. Some GMs are into "players contributing to the narrative" but others may think you're way the hell overstepping your bounds and "rocks fall." Some GMs do hours of prep and some like to improv - clearly, help with innovating the plot vs help with prep work are of differential value to them.

Then, once you've figured out where you can help that's welcome, ask and/or think about what to do. Also keep your interests/strengths in mind. It can be simple stuff. If the GM clearly likes crafting setting stuff, and you're going into an arctic region, forward them cool resources on arctic stuff you've found. Maybe they would welcome someone crafting NPCs for them (a real pain in the *ss in 3.5e/Pathfinder) and that's a strength of yours. They don't even have to use them for that campaign, many of our GMs are running multiple games and so helping them with the other game provides more spoiler-free assistance.

Sometimes a GM is "trapped into GMing" - if that's the case, offer to GM (even some one shots help when a GM has other stuff going on and is falling behind). Offer to co-GM, to run friendly NPCs in combat, look stuff up for him...

I know you're focusing on in game, but don't neglect out of game. One of our GMs is unemployed and therefore chipping in on game supplements or providing a ride is more helpful to him in terms of being able to focus on game prep than any amount of narrative shenanigans. We're getting ready now to start the Carrion Crown Adventure Path and I subscribe to all the Pathfinder lines so have everything; thus I loaned him all the relevant sourcebooks for the duration.

Anyway, the main message I want to get across here is that there is no one answer. Customize your help to the GM, game, and situation.

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