Saturday, March 10, 2012

An Elongated Reply, Part:1

I don't normally do this, but as I was typing a reply to Infamous' most recent post over at Cobblestone Chaos I realized that it was turning into a wall of text. Rather than waste his entire comment roll, I'd like to open it up and elaborate here. Be sure to head over and check out his post. if you'd like a little more clarity on what I'm writing.

Before I begin, I would also like to make it abundantly clear that even though I don't agree with everything Infamous says, he has every right to say it and I respect him as a gamer. My intentions here at Warbear are to encourage conversation, not initiate flame wars and trolling.

 I wore my helmet just in case...

I consider myself falling somewhere in the middle when it comes to balancing rules with story telling. I would love the freedom to let anything happen but there's no getting around it: the game needs rules. The player characters have various strengths, weaknesses and abilities; and they take great risks to achieve their goals - no matter how mundane or grandiose. The rules provide a framework to let these things happen; hopefully in a fluid and organic way. In most games the rules are there to tell you what you can and cannot do. In RPGs you can do anything, the rules are there to tell you how to do it.

Example: In baseball a player can only hit the ball with an inspected and approved baseball bat - the rules dictate that the player cannot use anything else. In an RPG you can hit anything you want with anything you like! The rules are there to determine how difficult it is for you to do so. That's a big difference!  

Unfortunately, terms like game and rules produces the unfortunate side effect of misrepresenting the genre. I feel that many folks out there interpret RPG as "role playing game" instead of "role playing game" - if you get my meaning. There is more to RPGs than rolling dice and adding damage, it's the thrill of the story, the glory of victory and the agony of defeat. There's a reason why players' light up when a GM says, "You fell the foul beast in a single mighty swing, a fine red mist hangs in the air where it once stood." It offers a visual reward far superior to "You hit it, it's dead now." Regardless of your intentions, every session of an RPG is telling a tale - with the GM and Players as the authors. Many of the players in my group still tell stories of their amazing deeds from ten or twelve years ago. No one remembers the dice rolls - everyone remembers the outcomes...
Adam: Let me get this straight, it's a hospital bed right?
Me (DM): It sure is.
Adam: Does it have a metal frame then?
Me (DM): (knowing it wasn't written in my notes) Of course it does!
Adam: Ok guys, lets break the legs off this thing.
Ed: Alright, we help him take the legs off.
Noah: How much time do we have? Someone check the front doors!
Me (DM): The barrier you built is holding, but not for long. It shakes violently as the orcs bash at the doors. You've managed to get the legs off.
Adam: We push the bed-sled to the top of the staircase, pointed right at the front doors.
Ed: I try to attach the dead orcs swords to the front with sovereign glue!
Noah: I do the same on the sides with all of their shields!
Me (DM): This door isn't holding much longer guys! They'll be in soon!
Adam: I get on the bed, weapons drawn and ready to shove off!
Ed/Noah: Me too!
Noah: We've built our own juggernaut!
Adam: No, its a BEDdernaut!
Me (DM): The barrier crumbles! The orcs rush in the door!
Adam: I shove the beddernaut down the stairs toward the orcs!
Ed: YOU ORCS BEDDERNAUT (better not) F*** WITH US!
Me (DM): [Begins rolling dice]
From a game circa 2000...

On to more specific facets of role play! I agree that many of these can be bothersome but can sometimes be necessary for a successful game.

Railroading: I get this one, I really do. And I agree! The world is a wide open place where the possibilities are endless and the GM should never stop the players from doing whatever they want. For me, this comes down to an issue of expectations and respect. Every GM is different and they all work in different ways. While some are excellent at creating on the fly, some work much better from paper. I am one of the latter. I put a lot of effort into my games and the group I game with knows it. While I certainly am creative enough to go off the cuff should they decide to go elsewhere, they also understand that pursuing the "objective of the session" will lead to more colorful and fleshed out locations as well as treasure and rewards more suited to them specifically and not randomly generated. I respect the players rights to "do whatever they want" but they also respect the time and effort I put into the creation. To take it a step further, lets elaborate with a fictional example.

 Let's say the players just swore an oath to the King; an oath to seek out and slay the evil red dragon who has been terrorizing his lands. In exchange he has promised them vast tracts of land and gifted them with a weapon of great value: The Shimmerblade. While passing through a town on their way to the dragon's lair they hear rumors of a nearby crypt containing the remains of Nelthar the Great, a master wizard and wielder of a great magical staff. The GM has placed this information here in the hopes of leading to a future adventure but the PCs decide to go now. The Game Master is forced to run an off the cuff adventure and shelf whatever he had written for that evening. The player's journey is diverted for a few days while they seek out and conquer the crypt. They retrieve the item, perhaps they even argue that they only did it to "bolster their strength against the dragon."

Unfortunately, the world doesn't stop because they decided to side quest. While they were gone the dragon continued unchallenged. They return to find the town burnt to a cinder and all nearby settlements evacuated. The King has received word that the party had decided to go elsewhere and is furious, not to mention the alignment ramifications of abandoning your oath and disregarding human lives.

What I am getting at is that GMs should never force their players to stick to a script, but if you play in a group that uses pre-written adventures (especially if your GM writes them him/herself!) you should at least be willing to try them. Players and GMs should be working together to make the game fun for everyone, not just one side of the the screen.

Keep in mind this topic applies almost exclusively to experienced GMs. I think it is important for new or inexperienced GMs to start with linear style (railroad) games. It gives them the opportunity to work on descriptive abilities and to learn the rules in a comfortable, predictable setting. You sit a would-be airline pilot in front of a computer screen long before you put them in control of a functional aircraft, ya know?

!NOTE! This post has gone far longer than I anticipated, so I have decided to break it into multiple parts. In Part:2 we will discuss rule limitations and nerfing as well as player knowledge and meta gaming. Stay tuned!   

1 comment:

  1. You seriously need a pair of wings on that helm of yours... seriously.