The term “buy-in” when used in finance means “stock up on to keep for future use or sale;” it also has another meaning involving the buying of selling of stocks, but I don’t really understand it.  In poker, the buy-in is the amount of money amount one pays to play in a poker tournament.  So, what does it mean in Role Play Gaming and how does it work?

In what is becoming a very twisted helix, the Games Librarian and I are once again posting about each other’s posts.  (Just for the record, the Games Librarian and I have never met in the physical world and do not know each other outside of our blogs.)  Last week, he was led to post about the old RPGing trope of starting an adventure or even a campaign in a tavern.  He is responding to posts by Shane Runkle and Admiral Ironbombs.  This post of mine is about what intrigued me most in all these posts – The Buy-In.

The Buy-In in role playing is the hook that pulls the Players and PCs into the game.  It is the setup that allows the GM to provide the opening into the interactive storytelling event that we call gaming.  Most of the time, it is a simple matter for the Game Master to provide a little description and introduce the NPC that tells the PCs where to go, so they can do their derring-do and be heroic.  Yet, this is not always the case.  What are some of the ways the Buy-In can fail?

Some call Buy-In “Character Buy-In,” after the question, “Why would [fill in character name here] be doing this?” but this is a lie, it is always Player Buy-In.   It is the idea that a Player has built a Character with certain traits or one that has a specific history that would preclude the Character from going on the adventure.  When this happens the Player often claims, “I’m just roleplaying my character!”  What I see this as is a player who has chosen to play a different “game.”  The Player wants more table time, either because he or she is an immersive role player and truly wants to play a character that has established motivations or because he or she just wants attention.  If one has the first type of Player, then the GM should get with the Player well before the opening game to help the player refine his or her character concept to better align with the planned Buy-In or learn what motivates the PC and alter the Buy-In.  If the Player is the latter, consider getting a new Player.

Beginnings are very delicate times.  Sometimes the opening is boring.  Mr. Runkle makes this point very clear in his post about the “Meet at a Tavern” cliché.  If the GM doesn’t provide something to make it interesting, then the Players are likely to not care about the game.  If the GM flubs the beginning, then it is very hard to get the Players back into the game.  Too much exposition can kill interest.  Too little can leave Players floundering; wondering what is supposed to be happening.  Is it too trite? Is it too innovative?  There is no right answer, because every GM is different, every group is different, and every game is different.  Only time, experience, and a willingness to change things on the fly will get one through this situation.

Occasionally, the GM wants to run a game that the Players don’t want to play.  If the GM wants to run a Lunar Criminal Investigation Service game and the Players want to play a Dungeon of the Week game, then there won’t be a lot of Buy-In.  Ideally, the GM and the Players have their expectations out on the game table and they discuss what they want from a game before they begin.  Other than finding a group that wants to play the exact game that GM sets out, this is the only way I see out of this particular conundrum. (2014.09.28)

I’ve started campaigns in many ways, but the best way I’ve found is to have the Players accept that the PCs are already acquaintances, traveling companions, and/or friends and begin in the middle of the action.  I’ve started campaigns in the middle of combat.  I’ve started them at a dungeon entrance.  I started one with all the PCs being selected by the Crown to part of a secret missions/police force and another began as the PCs were randomly picked members of a team competing for a prize from the leaders of government.  The trick is always the same, get the Players interested and they will accept the Buy-In.

Game On!


8 thoughts on “Buy-Ins

  1. The game buy-in and campaign buy-in seem distinctly different. Obviously, a campaign buy-in should be interactively explained/generated during character creation, to insure invested characters. troublesome player’s ideas are usually easily identified at this phase, and while these players can sometimes be hammered into place, often a bit of coaching can create a fit.

    An individual game buy-in can be a more tricky business if the campaign is not self-propagating, and must be repeated each session. I recall one of our campaigns where you decided to run an “Elven” campaign, and the players spontaneously decided to be a traveling band. One session began with a nameless NPC on the road saying, “Make sure to avoid the ruined castle along the highway! They say it’s haunted!” And, as I recall, our happy-go-lucky band replied, “That’s good advice, nameless NPC! We’ll avoid that!” A classic, but rare, case of buy-in failure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are completely right; they are two different things and I clearly got them convoluted in this post. What interests me about your quite correct anecdote of buy-in failure is that I totally didn’t see it as a buy-in failure. I saw it as my Players “turning left.” You and many of my other Players over the years have often taken a path I didn’t see and I had to roll with it and that is what makes GMing fun for me. I tend associate game buy-in failure with modules, not with my home brew stuff. I guess if I GMed for strangers in single game events, then I may see more buy-in failure in my own work. Thanks for making a great point.


  2. For my latest campaign, I’ve stipulated that all characters must be from the same village, Weeping Willow. I wanted a place where they could return to between adventures, where their families could live. They’ve picked up on it and, after the first few adventures, have suggested their own development on the campaign buy-in. They want Weeping Willow to treat them like a local sports team: always playing away games; bringing glory to the village and deserving of respect and a little sponsorship.

    That will come in handy later in the campaign, when the ‘game’ comes to Weeping Willow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Do your Players use their PCs’ fame to create parts of Weeping Willow or do they just soak up what is provided you, the GM? Please let me know what happens after the Home Game. Thanks.


  3. Buy-in. A good take on the beginning of the evening of gaming. The hook does set the tone for the evening. So the GM can choose up front if it is mystery night or melee till your rolling arm falls off.

    I feel the game is more of an interactive story. And the rapport between the GM and players is influenced by the personal relationships and gaming experience all brought to the evening. And when the hook is personalized, the buy-in is quick. Otherwise it is like the beginning of a cyberpunk story where the setting and tech have to be explained for the story to advance.

    While it can be fun to mess with the GM and his world, the onus really is on the players to buy-in. The GM is providing his creation to be explored and challenged. Otherwise why are the players there. “Reality” has been suspended to be in the game world. I have not seen anyone handcuffed to the table (headboards don’t count), so go with the GMs premise and be entertained.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I absolutely agree. It takes both sides to make a game work and if a GM can make the hooks personal to the Player, it makes the buy-in appealing and quick.. If you are a Player, it is your job to accept the buy-in and roll with it. Thanks for commenting.


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