Research Requests - the good and the bad and what to do about it

Steve Hatherley

Over the last couple of years, we’ve been using GM “research requests” for weekend freeforms.

Research requests replace all the tedious queuing that players used to have to do in order to ask the GMs a question. Instead of queuing, players fill out a research request form and place it in a box on the GM desk. The GM's then read the request, give it a considered review, and write the answer on the same form. They then return it to the originating player.

The form itself is a simple form (we used A5 paper in Cafe Casablanca) with the following fields:

  • Character name
  • Player name (for those GMs who haven’t memorised the cast list)
  • Time and date of request
  • Request (this is a large box for the players to ask their question)
  • Answer (another large box for the GMs’ answer)

This has lots of advantages:

  • First, it means that queues at the GM desk are dramatically reduced - and nobody likes queuing, even us Brits.
  • Second, it means that the GMs can properly consider the request, instead of having to think about it on the spot and come up with decision that may be a hasty and ill-considered.
  • Third, the requests are written down, which means that the poor GM doesn't have to remember everything and can come back to the request if they are interrupted.

Sounds good, right? And they were - they helped enormously in Lullaby of Broadway and The King's Musketeers. Unfortunately, Cafe Casablanca in 2014 revealed a few problems:

  • First, the requests mean that the players spend more time playing. That’s a good thing (nay, an excellent thing), but as a result they may chew through the plots at a faster rate than normal. Now for Cafe Casablanca the fact that players seemed to be racing through the plots may just be experience playing its part (after all, I first played it nearly 20 years ago), but by reducing the time that players spend queuing means that they have more time to play the game and that’s bound to have some impact.
  • Second, there's no penalty on players submitting lots of queries, some of which might be irrelevant by the time the answer comes back.
  • Third, if you have a lot of queries, they can take a long time to answer. This means that it might be a couple of hours before a player gets a response (which is not ideal), and the GMs answer them between sessions and end up with even less sleep than usual (also not ideal).
  • Fourth, some of the GMs may end up doing nothing but answering questions, which actually isn't that much fun.

We had this problem at Cafe Casablanca - we were absolutely swamped by research requests and that created all of the problems above.

So here’s what I’d do to fix the problem: I’'d allow only one research request in at a time from any one player. If they put in another request, it will be ignored.

I could imagine a complicated system with cards or tokens or something to enforce this, but to be honest I'd rather just use an honour system and trust the players. (Abusers of the system will, of course, be put to the bottom of the pile.)

Article by Steve Hatherley.


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