As both a player and a GM, I have learned that one thing I like is for the characters to improve beyond their traits and skills. I love it when they build up a network of contacts and resources which make them so much more than an operator in that world – they become a full-fledged part of it. Whether it be obtaining a ship in Star Wars, earning a ‘Mech in Mechwarrior, founding a ranch or staking a claim in Aces & Eights, convincing like-minded individuals to band together as a team to pool resources to achieve a goal in Call of Cthulhu, Mutants and Masterminds, or Shadowrun, or if it be something like slowly gaining sway over a sector of powerful and influential NPCs in Vampire, I tend to feel that the best games involve more than just having one of the players (the GM) working to shape a story or plot. No matter how free player actions are encouraged to be, if they never rise above the level of reaction, and if the setting does not include room for character proactivity, there is nowhere to go but the same old places.
I feel that really playing the game involves going after the tangible and intangible elements of the world as your character would. Relationships, car keys, scrawled notes on the inside of your mech cockpit, a deep-seated hatred of your Public Relations Officer’s ‘Blue Sun’ shirt… What that means is, of course, players and game masters need a level of investment in their shared world commensurate with the level of enjoyment they expect to draw from it. This level of investment can be blocked by any number of things, but ones that I feel can be addressed are passivity, contrariness, and fossilization.
Waiting for something to happen
Nothing can irk me faster as I lurk behind the screen ready to facilitate the fun, than players waiting for the plot to rise up out of the sewers and drag them kicking and screaming into a story. I think a good game will be one in which the story has to search all over town looking for the players and then stand in line behind all the cool stories that the players’ actions are spawning all over the place.
- If you want something exciting to happen to your character; leave your lair.
As a player, if the sandbox has nothing in it but sand, and everywhere I go there is just more sand, and no matter how deep I dig, I find nothing but sand until I accidentally go to the part of the sandbox where all the dragons are buried and I either get eaten for my bad luck or have to make a run for the edge of the map to escape, you can guarantee I will be Sir-Not-Returning in that game.
- If you want me to be a tourist in the static fairy-world of your imagination; write me a story
Being contentious for its own sake
These days more than ever I find or hear stories of campaign pitches being met with caveat-laden acceptances. If I propose a game built on the premise of playing explorers in HEX, or mechwarriors in A Time of War, or psion fighter pilots in Trinity, or salesmen in Merchant: the Haggling, is it unreasonable to expect players to try to focus their creative energies on building characters along those simple lines for those systems? Why do so many feel that agreeing to play and then asking to play a character with a concept unrelated to the campaign pitch, and/or using an alternate system is even remotely reasonable?
Runeslinger: Are you interested in playing in a low-violence Shadowrun campaign I am setting up where the characters are a group of con artists trying to set up a big score?
Player Y: Yeah! That sounds cool. I will make up a character later tonight! Can I make a Rigger with a lisp and really gross burn scars, with his own Courier service and a quirk where he will only speak to people over a comlink?
Runeslinger: Are you serious?
Player Y: Oh! And let’s use this new version of FATE I found mentioned on RPG.net… It’s called FRRAGGG 3.9 and it’s perfect for over-the-top CyberSteamWireFuPunk Action!
Player Y: How about playing this cool new board game I just picked up! It’s awesome! I haven’t played it yet, but I really love it!
- If you don’t want to play the game that is being run; say so
Likewise, as a player, if I listen to a campaign pitch, agree to it, follow through with a character and invest time in the game – I expect my fellow players, including the GM to be on the same page.
If we are getting ready to blow up the Death Star and you stop to humanize the nameless, faceless Stormtroopers and mourn the loss of the cleaners and elevator maintenance men, I swear I will get the guy playing the Wookie to rip your arms off. I will also have his character rip the arms off your character.
If we are investigating a vile cult and have finally found their leader’s inner sanctum and uncovered his stack of blasphemous and mouldering scrolls, and you decide to read one out loud to see what will happen… Your doctor will likely be amazed at the urine content of your mountain dew. Not only that, you’d better start plastering up the corners in your room.
I love character growth, even if that takes a character out of the game and on to other things. I just ask that we all start growing from the same garden.
If we as a group have signed on to play a new game, and no creative oversight was exercised leaving us with characters ill-suited to the game, the campaign, and each others’ characters… what the hell was the point?
- Games often have a fundamental point. If you don’t know what it is, ask.
RPG does not mean Rote Paleontology Game
Are you really going to play that same character concept again, with just the thinnest veneer of a genre-appropriate skin? Is it going to wade through all the life-altering events of yet another campaign unchanged, unfazed, and unconnected to the characters around it? Will you look at us with that same blank uncomprehending look when we hint broadly that trying a different concept, or hell – just playing as if the character had a different personality – might be more fun for everyone… including you?
Are you going to run this cool new game the same old way? Will all the old plots, twists, NPCs, and complications from our Gothic Dance Troupe in the Old West Campaign follow us into our totally new and unconnected game of Velociraptor: The Mistaken Identity? Are you going to make my overlarge dinosaur wear too much eye makeup and dance to a tinny piano? Metaphorically speaking… hmmm.
To be clear, will our spy game have the same feel as our gunslinger game, which had the same feel as our vampire game, which inexplicably had the same feel as our Star Wars game? And while we are talking about it, are we ever going to resolve the events of that damned Star Wars game? Every time we play and set a course for the ‘planet of endless hints’ you stop the campaign for months on end.
We are all getting older. Shouldn’t we be getting better at this?
- Roleplaying games involve taking on roles, and creating strange new worlds. You can have more than one.
If these things can be overcome, or if blissfully, they were never allowed to develop, the games of later life could all come so much closer to those mystical ones we remember from our early days of gaming, where if you closed your eyes, you could almost smell the gramongle berry pies, Half-Ear used to bake at the Vicious Lie Tavern, two streets over from the Street of Pain and Pleasure, in downtown Port Blacksand.
- Improved Roleplaying Through Narrative Gaming from More Than Dice (morethandice.com)
- The Keys To Your Horror Campaign from Jason Richards cannot be trusted (jasonrichards.net)
- The Goals of an RPG, or the R.P.G’s of gaming (Casting Shadows)
- Billy Idol’s Guide to Gaming (Casting Shadows)
Darken others' doors: