Thursday, December 18, 2014

Things I Think About Games (After Hindmarch & Tidball) Part Two

I’m still looking back at posts from the blog's first year (’09) and commenting on them. Here’s the second half of a post I started here. This concludes my thoughts on rpgs in the spirit of Things We Think About Games. I recommend that book for any gamer. I present this post “as is,” with comments. These are, as always, personal preference. In retrospect I wish I hadn't been so negative with many of these. I suspect several of these could be turned around to be positive statements, rather than condemnations. 


Things I Think About Games (After Hindmarch and Tidball) Part Two

Big Finishes Can Save a Game
If I'm watching a movie that's slow and lame and bores me, but the ending knocks it out of the park-- that is the part I'm going to remember. The opposite holds true, if a movie's great and then the ending is a letdown. The same thing holds for campaigns, one-shots, arcs and sometimes sessions. No pressure there, I'm just saying. 

Something Every Week
Something should happen every session. After a session, I should be able to point at something interesting that occurred. If there was a fight, something interesting should have happened in that fight. I ought to be able to tell a relatively non-boring story about the session. If not, then we're not doing something right. 

Never Say There's Nothing for Me to Buy
Really-- there's nothing your character wants to buy? You've hit the nadir of your abilities? Why don't I put that to the test then? If you want me to bring my GM whipping stick out and not in a good, “I get time at the table” but more in a “my character's out for how many sessions?” way, tell me this. 

I actually put this to the test with our Libri Vidicos campaign. I began it with an earlier version of our homebrew Action Cards, probably the most robust iteration I’d come up with. That worked pretty well- except it wasn’t really designed for how long the campaign lasted, six+ years. By the end players had really bought through most options for their character. I continually duct-taped new structures on and the whole thing barely held together to the end. So this doesn't always hold true...

Know Who's Playing
At any particular moment, you should know who is talking to the GM or interacting in character with another player. If you're not aware of that then there's a pretty good chance you're talking over someone or interrupting a scene. People zone out, and that's OK, but not when you stomp on other people's enjoyment.
 
Poo Flies Both Directions
Trash-talking and poking fun at other players is a part of the game. However if you go down that path, you'd better be prepared to get some of that splattered on you. In other words, don't dish it out if you can't take it. Obviously there's a question of tone and level to be considered here-- make sure you keep things on the same level or in the same spirit as the other person. 

It is Small Table
You've got a lot of people usually around a table, plus the various books, papers, food, drinks, dice, miniatures and so on. Be respectful of other people's stuff and don't crowd them out. Imagine you're at a nice dinner and keep those manners. If someone ends up looking at your character sheet or stuff by accident, don't get shitty. Most of the time that's an accident.
 
Yes, People Can Read Your Body-Language
If you're irritated, if you aren't enjoying yourself, if you're just a f*ckwit- people will know it. They can see you cross your arms, can see you pull your stuff back close to you and get defensive, and see you shut down. Don't act innocent if people ask about it later. You're in a small area with these people for several hours-- gamers are notoriously oblivious, but they'll pick up on that. Try to relax and get through the moment of what's bothering you. Get up and stretch if you need to-- and address your problem after the game. If it is just that you're in a bad mood, say so at the table and apologize. Being in a bad mood, on the other hand, doesn't give you license to make other people miserable. 

No Plan Ever Survives Contact with the Player Characters
Get used to it.

Change
Some people imagine themselves as iconic heroes, untouched and untouchable by the world. These are usually uninteresting characters. Characters who can't evolve or can only evolve along predetermined lines imagined by the player at the start-- those are boring characters. Be reactive to experiences and see how the unexpected shapes you.
 
I’m not sure this is entirely true, at least not true for some kinds of games. There can be a real pleasure in running the unflinching grimdark detective for a one-shot or short-term campaign. But if you’re going to be running a character for the long haul, it’s worth thinking about how it can develop or change. And if they won’t maybe show why they won’t is a compelling story.

Compromise does not Automatically = Failure
Other versions of the iconic characters mentioned above have to have things their way. They can't compromise their codes and rules. In some cases, that's a good challenge- it brings about questions about those codes in themselves and others. But more often than not, we get Rorschach like characters. Characters who can't adjust and work with a group shouldn't be made up to be played with a group. A game is a back and forth of argument, compromise, solution and progression. 

DramaSystem directly confronts this issue at the table. In any particular scene, we have a petitioner and a granter. Someone wants something and the other one doesn’t necessarily want to offer it. Characters gain bennies through granting requests or being denied requests. These can be used later for force scenes and events. I like how changes up that dynamic and makes intractability a disadvantage mechanically.

Interparty Fighting Sucks
There are some games that encourage this-- Paranoia as the best example. But there are some others- an Amber RPG Throne War or Wilderness of Mirrors. However the bottom line is that these experiences will come over to haunt you. They'll color other games, irritate people, and provide fodder for later payback which can destroy another game. There are exceptions- like one shots. But generally be prepared that even a game that's declared to have that purpose and be isolated has a pretty good chance of coming back to bite you in the ass. And for a normal game where you let this happen, especially late in the game, it can be bad. You may have to suspend disbelief to keep people from going after each other, but you're already operating in a fantasy world-- so what's the problem there. 

You Don't Own NPCs
Other people can talk to them too...don't get upset about it.

Tick, Tick, Tick...
Understand that when you start talking about WoW, a timer starts in my head. You've got about thirty-minutes (plus or minus ten) before I want to move on to another topic. I think that's pretty generous.

On a side note, I’m so glad they don’t play WoW anymore. Though there was a long period of Skyrim extended conversations.

The Future is Now
Computers at the game table were a great idea when we thought about that twenty years ago. Today, not so much. Bonus: yes, it is a little rude when you're playing away with your iPhone constantly when other people are taking their scene. 

Don't Threaten to Burn My House Down if My House Has Burned Down in the Past
If you'd played with people long enough odds are pretty good you know what irritates them. That's part of the art of banter at the table. But you also probably know what really pisses them off. Know the difference and don't use that in the game. 

If You Have Four Magic Swords, and I Have None and I Ask to Borrow One Before the Big Fight...
...lend one to me.

...please? 

Count to Five
If someone asks the GM a question, do a five count before you jump in to answer. Give them a chance to respond, and if they look around for input, then go ahead and speak your mind. Even, if not especially, not rules questions.
 
Wasn't There Another Stone Giant There?
If the GM forgets something bad, don't remind them. On the one hand, they may have honestly forgotten, in which case they'll remember it later, do a face-palm, and pretend nothing happened. On the other hand, the GM may be deliberately ignoring it to move the scene forward or to keep from killing the party off.