If one spends any time at all reading RPG fora, I think one comes away with the sense that like spies, roleplayers, when discussing systems and mechanics, can often be, “a bunch of bitchy little girls.”
Admit it. You know that it’s true.
It goes without saying that some systems are inherently flawed, incomplete, unwieldy, or too complicated to play before earning an advanced degree in theoretical mathematics. You will be relieved to know that not only do I believe this goes without saying, and so intend to say nothing about these games, this entry is not about such things. We can both wonder later about how a topic about which I intended to say nothing, amounted to an entire paragraph all by itself. I digress.
What this entry is about is the less-talked about, but no less present, problem of Premature Imagination (implication intended) which plagues many a male-dominated game table around the world, and dampens fun in much the same way as that other problem some men have.
Picture this, an encounter has heated up to the point where combat is necessary. Weapons are drawn, boasts are made, game-play gets derailed due to a movie quote, more boasts are made, things get back underway, too much fluid intake leads to a quick run to the bathroom, more boasts are made, and finally the group settles down to ‘kill some things.’ Someone gets it in their head that due to the description of the scene they should be able to strike a definitive blow to the head of one of the foes and that the results of this action will be devastating. The dice are rolled, and damage is assessed: minimum damage. Dissatisfaction saunters in, shoulders its way to a place at the table, takes the best seat, and puts its fat feet up. Dissatisfaction is a jerk.
Where did things go wrong? Guys love to have things devolve into combat. Guys love to boast about the terrible things they are going to do to some imaginary thing in an imaginary place and time (real guys, anyway). Guys love going to the… ok, that part of the scenario is more necessity than enjoyment. Anyway – what should have been fun, stopped being fun somewhere along the way. The reason tends to be – in my experience at least – that people forget that in the game, no matter what game it is, the mechanics determine the outcome of the encounter NOT their imagination. In some cases this is a simple Y/N result for success, or it is open to more interpretation, such as in damage determination, but in any case, we are intended to relinquish the reigns of imagination to that mechanic in order to structure the imagination to follow. Many often don’t, leading to premature imagination of the result, and the dashed hopes and limp climax of an unexpected and unwelcome resolution to the encounter. [Yes, there was a discount on metaphors this morning, and I bought a truckload of discontinued ones.]
It could just be my perception of events, but it seems to me that early in the evolution of gaming, when things were run with more charts, and fewer actual rules (and therefore a greater need to interpret results) that this problem happened less often. I am quite open to the idea that this is just the haze of memory playing tricks on me, so feel free to correct me if I am in error. Still, it seems to me that the growth of the artistic side of the industry, and the expansion of flavour text and attitude in the presentation of material has had a certain effect on player expectation of performance. This can be seen very clearly in games like those offered by WW, where the mechanics employed in at least the first, and second editions, and to a certain extent in revised (I got off their splat-bus when nWoD was announced), had rolls to hit, rolls to do damage, and rolls to resist damage not really being seen as a part of the resolution process by the players, but as a gradual alteration of, or interference with, what should have happened. The players had already imagined the outcome, and the dice were telling them, “No. Sorry. That isn’t what happens, THIS happens instead.” There are myriad ways around the curious results one could obtain using the Storyteller system in the oWoD, but instead of availing oneself of them, when in the grip of premature imagination, one tends to just feel cheated.
What can be done? You already know. The answer, amusingly enough, is ‘Don’t Do It.’ Think about baseball… no, not like that – I mean think about baseball in the sense that it really is not over until it’s over. Hold off on deciding the outcome until the last die (or whatever) is read. Then apply that prodigious and masterfully developed imagination to making the results come to life in the game. While this might require more effort in some systems than others, it really is less effort than the opposite, which is to work against the system, or just sitting around the table bitching (like a little girl) about how you didn’t get what you wanted.
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