This brings us to the last of four posts about the principles of agile design. Throughout this mini-series within my larger agenda of game building and game design, I have stressed at each point the need for the DM to be flexible and player friendly when running the game. This is actually the fourth tenet of agile: that it is more important to respond to change than it is to follow a plan.
This does not say that a plan is a bad idea, or that it is not useful to the campaign, but the plan must never, ever, take precedence of a DM's willingness to change the processes in order to improve the overall value of the game.
At the end of the last post, I talked about players making changes to plans and how we should just go with it, as much as we can. The only way this can be done is if you are prepared to Welcome Change. Change isn't something that must happen; change itself will not make a campaign better. But if change happens, or there is reason to believe that is should happen, then don't step around it or fear it. If your players are pushing for changes to be made in your style, it is because they believe those changes matter; if you dismiss that push for change, you are also dismissing the players. You're trying to go it alone. This will not help you keep players in your campaign.
Understand, however: welcoming change means that your campaign won't be what you expected it to be when you started running. As a community, we pay a lot of lip service to games being collaborative experiences, but we are well aware that DMs are rarely prepared for their precious campaigns to suffer change at the hands of a bunch of players. DMs have worked long and hard on their campaigns and they're just not prepared to let a gang of peasants with torches and pitchforks burn it all down. I don't deny that a DM's campaign matters ~ but I do resist the characterization that players have no idea how campaigns work or how they ought to work.
This sense of "what do players know?" is less a rational conclusion than it is an invented crutch that DMs use to impose themselves above others. Virtually every game I have ever run included two or three other DMs, at least; with the first games I played, in my youth, every player was a DM, because we were all trying. It is silly to claim that these DMs don't know anything about how RPGs work.
The problem with the campaign first, players second notion of game design is that it fails to comprehend the primary goal: a working game, in which unique experiences are made possible, followed by excitement and gratification. To obtain this, the campaign, whatever it is, has to take a second seat.
At no time does this say the planned campaign won't survive in some form! It may have most of the features that it possessed in the original planning stage. Those changes that are made can be rescinded if they don't work out, while other changes that are made will be appreciated and kept. If the party works together as a group, and if the DM shares power with that party, that together the whole will continue to look for new and better ways to work together.
Here is the hardest truth that every DM and Player has to come to grips with. Processes won't make your game better. No matter what the adventure, no matter what the game system, no matter what form of RPG we play or how hard we play it, we won't improve our game mastery through practices or procedures.
We can only improve our games by having principles and values that promote a strong and friendly collaborative process. People matter. Not adventures. If you wished for the best module in the world, it still wouldn't make your game any better ~ not unless you've learned how to believe in what you're doing.