Focusing your game more on your PCs and less on the “plot” makes for better games. The reason for this is simple: PCs, or rather the Players I suppose, have fun, plots do not. PCs are the people in this scenario so if you focus on them, there will be more enjoyment in your game. The plot you’ve spent the last decade brewing up and storing in your little notebooks is not a person. It doesn’t laugh or cry or stub its toes. It doesn’t have fun. So if you focus your efforts on the enjoyment of your plot, the game will suck because the plot has no capacity to enjoy anything.“Okay fine,” you say. “So how do I do that? How do I focus on the PCs?” Good question. I’m glad you’re paying attention. It’s really easy. Step 1: Find out about your PCs. Talk to your each of your players 1 on 1 at some point during each game. That means away from the other players so there is no peanut gallery to “help” them. Ask them what their character thinks is going on. Make them explain why they think these things. What evidence have they seen that led them to this? Then ask them what their character’s individual plans are. Step 2: Leave no one behind. When planning for your next session, think about what’s going on in your game *from each PC’s point of view*, not from your point of view. Then come to each session with a little gift of info or a solo experience for each PC which plays into each of their unique understanding of the game. Be sure to give each of these gifts out during your 1 on 1 with that player. If they want to share their experience/info with the group, fine, but you shouldn’t share it for them. This makes the game a more unique experience for each player and not so much an exercise in group think with the loudest, most dominant player doing most of the talking/thinking. Step 3: Bring some glue, but use it only when absolutely necessary. Here’s where the “plot” comes in, but unfortunately not in the way you’re thinking.
Step 3a: Mix the glue. Try to look at the game as a whole. If it makes it easier, take notes during your 1 on 1 conversations and then look at them later. Try to think of a single plot that would satisfy each of the player’s individual viewpoints. One person see X, another sees Y, and yet another sees Z. What could really be going on in the background that would look like X, Y, and Z from three different points of view? That, not the stuff in your notebook, is your plot.
Step 3b: Gently apply the glue. Possibly as often as once per game, but usually more like once every two to three games your players will come into conflict. They will not know what to do next (normal) or they’ll be wanting to go their separate ways because they disagree so much (not so good). Apply the glue by introducing another piece of your plot puzzle. If you can, give a little bit to each PC. If not, if they’re feeling like maybe they’d each do better on their own, give it to them as a group possibly in the form of a threat or obstacle they couldn’t each handle on their own. This will perform the necessary task of keeping them together and pushing them to come up with the next stages of the game.
Step 3c: Mix some new glue. When there’s a big change in the game, a new addition, maybe even some new ideas on the PCs’ parts, it’s time to talk to them again. Talk to each one again and get their new points of view, plans, and general thoughts. Sometimes you’ll find that they continue down the same lines you’ve already discussed with them, but sometimes they’ll have completely junked their previous ideas for new ones. As the GM you have to know when this happens and adjust your game accordingly. I mean, you don’t want to show up at the next session and be surprised when the PCs decide out of the blue to assault Fort Knox. It usually helps if you end each session right before a big significant task. That way the next session gets started right where the last one left off with very little confusion about what’s going on. Step 4: Don’t get attached. No idea or plot or NPC or any artificial portion of the game is nearly so important as your PCs. Look at the game objectively and do not be afraid to let these various elements get killed off spectacularly or even just forgotten about quietly if the PCs move away from them. Just keep telling yourself that the PCs are the elements of your game capable of having fun so that’s where you need to place the most emphasis. Step 5: Roll with the punches. The rest is just logic. What do they find in the office they’ve snuck into? Uh… Duh? What did they hope to find in there? They probably find that. Never give too much reward for a single event and be sure not to give too little either. In a good PC oriented game the info they get from doing things is the real “experience”/”loot.” So make sure what you give them is in proper proportion to the amount of work it took them to get it. If they put a lot of thought into tricking the bad guy and roll well, let them get the drop on him. Why not? That’s what you get when you make a good plan and things come together. If their response to every question is “my character checks the internet” feel free to give them crap for rewards. (Personally, I make the internet far less useful in my modern day worlds than it actually is.) If they try hard and fail, make sure they get away with some valuable knowledge
because in real life, you always learn more from failure than from success. If you make that also work in your game, it will feel more realistic. So that’s it. I know this is a point I’ve harped on before, but it’s been a while. Sure the horse looked dead… but how could I really be sure without one more good kick?