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RPGs

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I've been thinking a lot about roleplaying lately, and had an interesting chat about gaming and GM and player styles last night with an old friend who played in one of my games in college. This afternoon after lunch with F&E I wandered up to Pandemonium and browsed there for a while; nice selection of anthologies in particular (I was pleasantly surprised to see Kelly's Trampoline anthology there, for example). Figured I'd glance over their RPG section, and ended up spending quite a while browsing there. There are a huge number of games out there, and many of them look interesting. I was particularly impressed with the Nobilis gamebook—a $50 or $60 book, but with astonishingly high production values. Oddly sized, glossy paper, nice layout and design, art by people like Charles Vess. I have no idea if the game's any good, but zowie, a very nice-looking book.

I was more impressed on a worldbuilding level, though, with a game called Fading Suns (no relation, as far as I know, to Cherryh's Faded Sun): far future setting with a vast interstellar human empire falling or fallen, and alien artifacts, and heroes arising from among the ashes, and so on; looked like it could be used as a setting for galaxy-spanning pulp adventure, but also looked like it could be a nicely serious epic galactic-scale saga kind of thing. Created by "the original developers" of Vampire and Werewolf.

The gamebook was $35, though, and it used some system they made up (I'd only be using it as a sourcebook, since I have no particular interest in learning new systems at this point), and most importantly, I just plain do not have time to run a game at this point. But it was awfully tempting, especially since I think it would make a great setting for a large-scale game that I've had in the back of my head for half a dozen years now.

In passing, I'd like to note that the thing that annoys me most about the current RPG industry is the way every single game must start with a 3- to 10-page fiction piece set in the world of the game, to introduce it to you. That was innovative when the White Wolf people started doing it, but mostly I find it tedious; as a longtime gamer and GM, what I really want is a five-paragraph precis of the premise of the game, and that can be mighty hard to find in among the fiction.

One last thing on this subject before I run off: last night, I came up with one version of Jed's GMing Philosophy In A Nutshell. It goes something like this: Throw together an interesting enough set of characters, played by people who are really interested in roleplaying, and let the story consist of the player characters' interactions, with the GM tossing in unexpected outside stimuli now and then if things start to lag.

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My college campaign that ran nearly 4 years used that philosophy and, thanks to the players, has become almost a folk legend on campus. So I agree with you 100% on your philosophy.

If I could just find a group like that out here in Wyoming...


Concur. That's a lot of what my current group is doing; the campaign's been running for a little over a year and it's been wonderful.

I would add something, myself: a problem-solving element. I love nothing more than a DM that makes me think my way out of a problem. It's just so...satisfying. :)


Gaming has been a mixed bag for me. In the five or six games I've been in, being "really interested in roleplaying" has decreased the fun quotient considerably, whether it be tedious bickering "in character" or players that purposelessly keep secrets and betray each other on a regular basis.

Contrastingly, the games that involved vigorous use of the system mechanics (whether that be combat or other, more creative outlets) have usually been entertaining all around, even for the poor souls who end up dead.

I find this very odd, because I've never liked the hack'n'slash narrative in any context. Maybe it's that I've had skilled GMs who know how to create conflict without making it mindless. It might also have to do with the possibility that people come to the game expecting a toy conflict to play with, and if they don't experience that kind of conflict with the world/GM, they create it amongst themselves.

*shrug*


Re problem-solving: one of my big paradigm shifts in gaming came when I was glancing through a moderns/spy gamebook at a friend's place sometime in late high school or so. It divided gamers into three types: puzzle-solvers, action-lovers, and roleplayers. I had never before understood why I found the puzzling-solving games and the action-combat games so dissatisfying. It's certainly not that everyone fits into exactly one of those categories, but I think many gamers do tend to orient in one of those directions. The problem that I have with most problem-solving exercises in games is that they tend to be puzzles for the players to solve, rather than things for the characters to figure out; it can be awfully hard to solve puzzles in character.

If by "problem-solving" you just meant that it's a good idea to provide some sort of seed of plot or conflict or set up some sort of problem, I definitely agree. I just (as GM) tend to prefer setting up the kind of problem where (a) I don't know the answer ahead of time, and (b) it's solved by social interaction in character rather than by the players' abstract-reasoning and puzzle-solving abilities.

As for tedious bickering in character, I'm not sure whether I would agree with you—one person's tedious bickering may be another's painfully realistic roleplaying. I want many of the same things in a game that I like in fiction, foremost among them being emotional identification with a character; if witty repartee happens, that's great, but I'm nearly as happy with any heartfelt in-character dialogue. I'm at least as happy with game sessions that consist of the characters sitting around chatting in a tavern as with ones in which the characters go out and slay monsters. And I've been in plenty of games in which the combat was done well, by experienced GMs who could make it run smoothly and cinematically—but my favorite combat moment in a game, for me as a player, is probably still the time back in college when I realized that my "first-level fighter," who had never been in combat before, wasn't going to be able to keep fighting after receiving a "minor" (in game-mechanics terms) wound.

My point again being that different people have different things they like in games. It's possible that I'd have agreed with you that that particular bickering was tedious, but in general, I'd just as soon see emotional conflicts among the player characters (up to a point) as physical conflicts between PCs and NPCs. (But yeah, I can see that if the players come to the game expecting the GM to provide some physical combat, and that doesn't happen, they might turn on each other inappropriately. I guess the main question there for me would be whether the actions and conflicts really were in character or not.)

...All this makes me want to get back to my Big Book Of GMing, which I outlined years ago and then set aside. But there are way too many other projects in line ahead of it, alas.


(When I said that people come to the game expecting a toy conflict, I wasn't thinking specifically of physical conflict, just conflict in the "conflict and resolution" narrative sense.)

I think the problem I've run into is that the people I've played with who really like the idea of roleplaying (not exempting myself) tend to fall into playing characters that are idealized and unaccountable versions of how they see themselves. People use "it's what my character would do" to excuse pointless unilateralism. Personality conflicts that exist in the background and form part of the healthy tension of a friendship get foregrounded. I suppose that might be useful in a therapeutic sense, but it can poison the well as far as enjoyable gameplaying goes.

I suspect these are all just examples of inexperienced roleplaying. From your recaps, it sounds like your gaming associates stage energetic, character-driven, and entertaining games, and I'd love to be a fly on the wall (play a fly on the wall?) to see how it's done right.


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