Sunday, 21 August 2011

Some Difficult Truths Pt 3

Concluding from here.

As soon as a game starts to interfere with other areas of life the game is in trouble.
We've all done it. Quitting a game because of another commitment in your life always feels bad. Whether you're comitting to playing every tuesday night or posting in a PbP at least every 48 hours RPGs tend to come with a commitment to bear. Let's remove that. If I'm playing with five friends and one of them only chips in with a contribution once a week he shouldn't feel bad and the rest of us shouldn't miss out. This is a tough one, I know, and believe me I see the problems too. There are solutions, which I'll flesh out at a later date. In my head I'm seeing a few in action. The GM might post that unless someone states otherwise the characters will carry out a certain action. If noone protests the game moves on. If someone pops up a few days later and protests that they wouldn't have wanted to do that, well, we have a situation. The idealist in me sees the players just deciding to see it as a missed opportunity and move on with things but it might not be so simple.

Maybe I've missed something obvious. We're looking at social technology in an optimistic way here and when was the last time you couldn't get a response from one of your friends for days at a time, whether through a phonecall, text message, facebook, twitter etc. Oh sure, we all have that friend who's a nightmare to get a reply from, but I think we can expect prompt replies from most people when they're interested in what's going on. Replying to a facebook post to say "I'll try and bribe the giant with my gold" is a world away from logging into a forum, checking the PbP thread and crafting your next post.

Non-gamers don't want to identify as gamers.
Everywhere I look I'm told that it's cool to be a geek now. Yes, we have our model spokespeople on the edges of the mainstream media but the fact that they're gamers is always secondary to something else. They might be an actor who plays RPGs or a musician who plays RPGs. Gamer isn't their primary badge of honour. They're the more socially acceptable form of geek that I think can be distracting from this topic. The part I want to focus on is that enjoying RPGs doesn't need to be a person's primary trait, worn as a badge of honour or shame. It's just something to do for fun.

Let's look at video games. Their expansion from the nerd's bedroom to the phone in your aunt's pocket is complete. Smartphone and facebook games are perhaps the two clearest examples that our niche hobby can use social technology to spread into the most unlikely places. The mechanics of the games are unimportant. We don't need to take farmville's hyper-addictive reward system or mafia wars' built-in recruitment plan (although that one does warrant some consideration). What's most important is how people play these games. That guy you know who plays Call of Duty online a whole lot. Would you call him a videogamer?

A former work colleague of mine is a woman in her 50s with grown-up children and basic computer literacy. She would spend about an hour or so a night playing on facebook games, chatting to friends on the side, and she loved the Twilight and Harry Potter franchises. She is almost entirely unaware of RPGs. Do you see the untapped resource of players within our reach yet?

GM and Player are completely different roles and many people will settle into just one.
I pondered on this one for a while, but let's face it. Being a GM is often tough work. In this game I'm imagining you're the one that has to know the rules, the setting and how to drive the game in this strange new way.

I think the role of GM in this game is going to warrant a whole post of it's own, but remember one of my goals was to have a newly initiated player be able to run their own game as soon as the hooks are in. Making the game very light on rules is one way to help, but what about learning to guide your players through the world? Learning from the example of a good GM is a good start, but am I really going to make prospective GMs read through a Dungeonmaster's Guide to be able to run things effectively? I want the GM role to be accessible, not a huge burden that one of the players has to bear for the benefit of the rest.

Sharing the burden is something that's been used in other games. The GM doesn't have to write their own material. Remember adventure modules? People really used to use those things, right? But I don't want the GM to have to read through pages of material to be able to run a game. I'm going to make a bold and optimistic statement.

All the information the GM will need to run a game will fit on one page of A4 paper, including rules, character information and the adventure itself.

Too far? I like to aim high. The reality is that I don't envision many of these A4 pages being physical printouts. Think of it more as a guide for the amount of info I want the GM of this game to have to keep on record at any given time, however they choose to do so.

This game will be many players' first experience of an RPG.
In recruiting new players to play RPGs I do hope to deliver a different experience to traditional games. But once that experience has finished, where do I see the players going? Indeed, I can see many wanting to explore the world of more traditional RPGs. Some may wish to stick with this game, but others will want to delve into their desire for in-depth mechanics and use of miniatures. I'm not going to fight that and if I could convert one player from having no interest in RPGs to being a hardcore D&D enthusiast I'd consider the project a success.

Introducing new players to something I see as having a good amount GM rulings alongside some firm mechanics could be problematic if I want to encourage something of a competitive element. Not with each other, but against the challenges of the game. I said before, I want the players to be able to win somehow, and if you feel this falls mostly on the whim of the GM your victory is less rewarding and your loss more personal. Luckily, I've already proposed an idea that I think could help here. The adventure module will be key to this sort of play experience. Here the GM has some pretty clear guidelines for how to run a particular game. When you get killed in the Tomb of Horrors you curse Gygax before you curse your GM.


That was a lot of text to spread over three posts. I hope I've made some of my points clear but after working through these issues out loud I feel much more confident in providing something concrete in my next post. You've put up with the rambling, next I'm going to give you everything you need to try and run this game yourself.

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