Despite my love of Fate, the collaborative elements are not a strong draw to me. I tend to run Fate in more of a “trad games” sense, where the GM comes up with the plot and different complications… though I lean more reactive than proactive to begin with, which can be seen as more collaborative. My old group was always very cautious of those elements for fear it gives too much agency to the players to reshape the campaign; my Fate groups rarely seem interested in the collaborative elements beyond spending fate points for declarations (which is only a step removed from stunting ala Exalted or 7th Sea, in terms of adding minor scene elements which don’t dictate the course of the narrative or campaign).
So it’s a bit ironic where the game I’ve been in with the most collaboration between players and GM was in my roommate’s third Shadowrun 4th Ed game.
My roommate had a long and shaky history with Shadowrun; he loved the setting, and it was about the only RPG he’d played in high school, but nobody else in our group was that interested in it. Some players couldn’t suspend disbelief to allow elves and magic in a hard science fiction setting; others preferred Cyberpunk 2020 as their go-to cyberpunk game, due to its Lifepath and brutal combat system. Regardless, he kept wanting to run it, kept trying to run it, and each game turned out to be a marked improvement on the previous one.
After two interesting games that petered out and died when the GM lost focus (and then interest), we had all but given it up for dead when he came in professing renewed interest in a campaign—yet was very open about not having concrete ideas in mind. That’s where things took an interesting turn. Hoping to head disaster off at the pass, another player suggested we run out for food and discuss it.
Over burgers, we found out his idea was mostly generated from reading one of his “new” sourcebooks—Augmentation I think—where the group (three of us at that point) were elite Confederate American States (CAS) spec ops troopers outfitted with experimental cyber and sent off to fight the dirty fights and remain disposable covert assets. One of his problems was differentiating between characters, since we were all “soldiers;” we hashed out some character ideas to give us all a similar baseline, making us combat machines, but also gave us some specialties so everyone had something unique to do. One character was the face and assassin; one was the demoman, medic, and sniper; mine was a combination driver/electronics warfare as I recall. Oh, we all had ultralight gliders or jetpacks or something as well.
Another problem he’d had was how to implement his idea, wherein a group of goons was hitting Aztechnology’s supply line of medical supplies, while we’d be assigned to infiltrate the target and surprise the theives. We suggested a biker gang attacking a convoy of semis, ala the first Fast & Furious movie or The Road Warrior, then hashed out a few other suggestions. He seemed to light up—at the very least, we were finally engaged in Shadowrun—and made the declaration that it’d run tonight. After an hour or so of making characters, we were off.
The first session was a blast; we had a short montage of infiltrating this convoy, and then blew apart some dirtbike-riding goons who jumped the barriers and attacked the convoy, some goons in a car blowing up the front and rear semis with rockets. It was a very fluid game, jumping between our three characters spread out across the convoy in seamless transitions (and at appropriate cliffhangers or exuberant highs, to boot). It ended with our face chasing down the last dirtbike goon via ultralight, for future interrogation, having protected the core of the convoy.
Alas, the second session was pure disappointment. We were determined to interrogate the prisoner, our orders specifying we needed to eliminate their entire operation. Meanwhile, we didn’t have any interrogation skills, and the GM seemed insistent that it’d be a challenge at best to pry information from this guy. After an hour or two of watching our face fail at rolls, one player had fallen asleep and I was on the computer doing homework and wiki-searches; in-game, our boss finally arrived via VTOL and chided us that the job was done, then instructed us that we’d be “infiltrating high society” next.
Well, that never happened. The second session caused us to lose our collective interest as well as the first session had worked to create it. On top of that, the GM realized he had no idea how we’d be infiltrating high society or what for, which lead to the game’s imminent demise after two sessions. Given that the rest of us had some specific ideas on the infiltration part, I have to wonder how it’d have turned out had we pushed more collaboration like at the start. Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure that campaign was unsustainable; if we’d had to have collaborative brainstorms before every session, sooner or later it would have just ended up with someone else running it.
While I’m not averse to a collaborative campaign—having multiple GMs running overlapping Exalted games created our own weirdly inbred collaborative universe—but I don’t see the point of a game that can only survive by the players stimulating the GM with ideas every week. In my view, if the GM doesn’t have enough investment in their own game, that apathy works as a burden and eventually is transmitted to the players. The best games I’ve been in (and run) have had the GM very interested, and when that’s lost, the game tends to die regardless of the strength or quality of player input.