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Tag: game wish

WISH #66: Pesky players

WISH 66 is about plotting (and, tangentially, the necessity of same):

GMs can spend hours designing an adventure and have their players take off in an entirely unexpected direction. How does a GM handle this—try and steer the players back to the designed plot, or hang back and see where the adventure goes? How does a player handle this? Stay on target or go with the flow?

I’m inclined to disagree with the context of the question. “How does a GM handle this?” Well, which GM?

The No Myth meme currently prevalent over at the Forge rejects preplotting altogether; a No Myth GM doesn’t know anything about the world other than what the players have seen. A failed task resolution check doesn’t mean the players have failed, it means there’s an additional obstacle in the way of reaching whatever objective the players have chosen. And that’s a reasonable approach.

But it’s not reasonable to say (as some Forge denizens do) that it’s the only proper approach. Some GMs spend days designing, not the adventure, but the world. In Brad’s Temple of Elemental Evil campaign, he had the entire world mapped out and spent a lot of time figuring out the actions of the NPCs between sessions. There wasn’t a designed plot, per se; there were NPCs with desires who acted on those desires. The PCs could act and react as they wished.

I don’t believe in a single approach; I believe in behaving as appropriate for the playgroup.

My preferences? I don’t preplot very heavily, so I tend to ad lib when players go off on a tangent. There are more of them than there are of me, after all. As a player, I like free-form stuff because I like the feeling that there’s a whole world out there. Strongly directed plots only bug me insofar as it makes me feel like the world only exists as far as the PCs can see.

Strong genre games can overcome that feeling, perhaps because a strong genre also engenders a feeling of a world outside the limits of a PCs perception. Pulp comes to mind, of course.

WISH 65: Workin' for a Living

WISH 65 asks about jobs and gaming:

Does what you do for a living have any impact on your gaming? Have you had occupational details intrude on your descriptions of how something works? Have you ever dared a player to go “Hotwire a car, then, if that’s how you think it’s done?”

I’m a computer guy, but the answer’s really “Nah.” I’ve played Shadowrun, and I don’t really mind that decking is nothing like real computer work — it’s just an analogy for magic anyway, so I can take it at that level happily enough. I don’t mind if someone gets their hacking descriptions wrong, and I generally assume any modern-day game takes place in a slightly alternate universe.

Now, if you turned the question around, I’d have to say yes. I currently work for a computer game studio, and one of the reasons I got the job is because I’m an avid player of their games. So there’s that.

I also — don’t laugh — attribute some degree of my management skills to spending a lot of time playing Amber online. I know that may sound like rank gamer arrogance. Allow me to elaborate. I think that a lot of management is simply being able to pay attention to what people are thinking and feeling. Gaming doesn’t give you that skill, but it is a good arena in which to practice that skill.

If you’re an insensitive idiot, playing a leader isn’t going to make you any better at it. If you have a certain degree of social eptness to start with, though, it’s just like any other skill. Practice makes perfect. And how many opportunities do you have to practice leadership in a simulated environment?

It’s also a chance to practice sounding confident, and again, practice makes perfect. I don’t manage people by threatening to send their families into exile from Chaos, mind you, but I know how to be direct and reassuring. That skill carries over.

WISH #64: Godtalk

Simple Game WISH question this week:

Name three gods or religions that have appeared in games you’ve played in. Were they good, bad, or indifferent? What made them so?

Off the top of my head, I can only remember one campaign in which deities played a significant on-screen role… no, wait, maybe two. OK, two.

First off, the easy one. Carl’s Babes in the Woods campaign is based on Bronze Age Celtic culture, but the gods are Roman, because the Roman culture in that world was the elves and they conquered everything. I played a cleric of the Traveller (Mercury), Cian, and his restless roguish nature was very defining for the character. Another PC was a paladin of Kore; at one point in the campaign, the gods argued about who would get this new champion, and she got to choose the god she wanted to follow. This sounds like a twinkfest unless you know Carl, in which case you’d be remembering that Greek gods get really petty when mortals deny them something they want.

Which is the key to why the gods worked so well in that game; they were a tangible presence in our lives without being overbearing to the point where player fun was diminished. They had personality. Probably the same reason we like Greek myth so much — they’re fun gods, even if you’d be wary about having a drink with ‘em.

The more complex one: Catholicism was important in UN PEACE, but probably only to me, since my character Paul was Catholic. It’s hard to say the gods were good or bad in that game, since they never showed up (although there was one person claiming to be an angel…). However, Carl did a good job recognizing that religion was an important factor in Paul’s personality and providing roleplay opportunities around that element.

WISH #63: Value adds

WISH 63 asks:

What kinds of game-related things do you do when you’re not gaming? Do you write journals or fiction, create web-pages, make character images, or indulge in other outside game-related business? If you game regularly face-to-face, do you play by email or chat outside the game? Does your GM give you experience or character rewards for your efforts? And if you don’t do any of these things, what are your reasons for not doing them (disinterest, insufficient time, insufficient interest, etc.)?

Oh, man. This is gonna be long.

OK, this is kind of repetition for people who read my blog regularly, but what the heck. Yeah, I do a lot of out of game stuff, just for my own amusement. A bunch of it is on the Web, and I will take this opportunity to link ruthlessly, in roughly chronological order.

Going very old school, from the time I spent in Iowa City, I have Chela’s diary. It’s from an Amber campaign I was in. Fun game, even if the diary is an artifact of a much younger me.

Next, we have my UN PEACE page, a half-hearted IC Web page for Carl Rigney’s UN PEACE campaign. I gave up on keeping it up to date at some point. Man, the graphics on the Vantage Comics page suck. The individual comic titles are links, which is not at all obvious from the design. I put way too much effort into coming up with faux reality comic storylines, not to mention the comic creators.

The Honor Against the Wall page is the only one of these that I created as a GM; it’s for a short-lived L5R game that I wish I’d kept up. I’ll pretend it’s Rob Heinsoo’s fault for moving to Seattle. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Anyhow, it’s a much prettier page.

Lately, of course, I’ve been writing the Dear Brother letters for my disturbing character in Rob’s Unknown USA campaign. I’m very proud of them, which is I suppose why I’ve kept them up. I’m almost up to date, too. They go with the infamous Unknown USA Wiki, which has not only eaten my brain but seems to have eaten the brain of at least one fellow player plus the GM.

I do these things for games I’m really enjoying because it gives them weight. Reese is more concrete to me because of the material I’ve written. The wiki has had the additional, unexpected effect of clarifying a huge amount of in-game material. Hm, and I’ll expound a bit on that:

Our characters have more bandwidth to notice the little things in their lives. No GM can possibly describe all the small setting elements that go into forming a mood; we say the circus tent is scary, and provide a few reasons as to why, but it’s never more than an outline which leaves us to fill in the details of the fear. That’s an effective technique, but it’s very hard to simulate leaps of intuition, because they’re generated by those details.

The wiki provides a very quick-forming context in which multiple players can generate those leaps through a sort of brainstorming process. When you’re carefully filling in all the links between setting elements, you see things you wouldn’t see otherwise — it’s a method of tricking yourself into reviewing all the little hints dropped by the GM. Great stuff.

OK, where was I? I’ve never gotten experience points for any of this stuff except Chela’s diary, but that’s not really why I do it. I do it cause I like writing and I like making out of game artifacts that touch on the game. It’s a way of connecting to the setting, for me.

I sometimes RP outside sessions of an FTF game. It depends on the players and the situation. For example, Carl was running another game in the UN PEACE universe, and my PC had a romance with one of the PCs in that game, so we did some online RP around that. But it’s not something I do habitually.

WISH #61

WISH 61 asks:

Come up with a character concept for one to three other gamers you know. System, genre, stats (if you even bother with stats) up to you. How did the gamer(s) influence the concept(s) you came up with? Would you play the character(s) you came up with yourself?

OK, that’s an awesome question.

So, let’s see. System will be Exalted, cause I’ve kind of been on an Exalted kick of late. And I will pick on the core members of my old group back in California, because I miss them.

Brad gets the old geezer who just Exalted. I think probably Dawn Caste. Brad has an old geezer with lots of skills concept who I’m not sure he’s ever gotten to play, so this seems like it’d be a fun twist. The Charms would have to be a smattering from all over, enhancing his years of knowledge, and then he’s got the kick butt Dawn Caste stuff going for him. Rejuvenated.

Carl gets an Eclipse Caste Exalted, because I like his charismatic NPCs but I don’t ever see him playing charismatic PCs. Or, rather, I don’t see him playing talkers, and I’d like to see it. Also, Exalted might just be big enough to encompass his ability to stretch the boundaries of plausibility. “Sure, you can pick up the warship and carry it overland.”

Gretchen gets a Night Caste who was raised by feral animals, and only really gained self-awareness when she Exalted, for old times sake. (It’s a canine concept and a weapon concept!) More seriously, I very much admire her portrayal of non-human characters, and I like the way she treats the seriousness of killing, and I think that concept would give her room to do interesting things in both fields.

I could play any of these three characters, but none of them are my style per se.

WISH #60

WISH 60 asks:

How do you use different frames of reference or mindsets in your games? In what ways do your characters or NPCs in games you GM think differently from the people around you? What sorts of things make them different (societal, mental, physical, etc.)? Do you feel that you’re successful in incorporating and showing the differences?

I was actually kind of taken aback by this question for a moment. Shifting mindsets is a really basic, low-level component of my gaming. I am, to borrow the r.g.frp.advocacy jargon, an immersive player. I don’t forget who I am — that path is not deeply healthy for me — but I like the experience of mentally filtering reactions through a different mindset.

My ideal roleplaying experience is for me, Bryant, to take in the descriptions of the GM and other players; to then filter that through a sort of perceptual level and translate it into what my character sees; and then to express the reaction in the character’s voice. I’m the one who defines the perceptions, and I construct the mental map from the perceptions to the character, which allows me to figure out the character’s responses without “being” the character.

Maybe that’s not immersive after all. It is in that the effect is the same, but the process doesn’t match what I hear people who call themselves immersive talking about.

In a way, come to think of it, it’s the flip side of the classic GM technique of describing with the characters in mind. When describing a threatening situation to a cowardly PC, you quietly play up the menace: “there are, I don’t know, you can’t count how many orcs.” When you’re describing the same thing to a paladin, you downplay it: “there are perhaps seven orcs, poorly equipped.” Same situation, no dictating what the players are feeling — but what they pick up on depends on who they are.

I do that for my PCs. I filter the descriptions of the world to match what I think their perceptions would be. In Rob’s UA game, if an NPC is talking about occult weirdness, Reese hears the stuff about ley lines and patterns because it fits into his worldview; I mentally screen out discussions of entropomancy because Reese really doesn’t get how it works.

Or, put a third way:

blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah…

WISH #59: Neos

WISH 59 asks:

Name three games you might use to get someone who has never roleplayed before into roleplaying.

Well, it depends on the someone, of course. The games I’d use for my 12 year old nephew might not be the games I’d use for my mom. But, hey, here’s a shot at it.

Feng Shui is a strong first choice. Character creation is really simple, especially if you stay away from the martial artists. The genre is one that’s perfect for cutting straight to the action, and PCs are likely to succeed. The chances of a negative experience right out of the gate are pretty slim. Of course, it’s also a fairly violent game, so maybe not the best for Mom, which leads us to…

Trollbabe. Incredibly simple system that puts a lot of power in the hands of the players. A lot of more experienced players are weirded out by this, so I’m curious to see how total newbies would respond. I think it would tend to provide a sense of ownership. Also, Trollbabes only have one stat, so there’s not much to remember. But the babe factor might be a bit much for Mom, so…

Screw it, I’ll go with Everway. (Thanks to Dorathea for the reminder. I swear I thought of Trollbabe independently!) It’s visually-oriented, which would be good for Mom, and not too complicated. Despite WotC’s terrible marketing, it is nonetheless an excellent game for New Age-inclined types as well as people who just like spiritualism. In fact, I’m now really tempted to make Mom play a bit next time I go visit.

WISH 58: Metaplot

WISH 58 asks about metaplots:

What do you think of metaplots (plots developed in the rules and supplements published by the game company)? Are they good, bad, or indifferent? Have you played in a game with a metaplot? What was your experience?

I don’t really like ‘em. They don’t stop me from buying a game, but I don’t have a whole lot of interest in them when you get right down to it, so space used on a metaplot is space I’d like to see used elsewhere.

Now, White Wolf hasn’t devoted a whole lot of space to metaplots in the last couple of years. Sure, there are 16 page sections about the metaplot, and Vampire Revised had a chunk of metaplot in it, but it’s not been outrageous. I do think people overreact to the scent of the metaplot.

But I also think that this overreaction needs to be taken into account when doing game design. You have to be aware that putting forth a metaplot will instantly flip a lot of people into a certain mode of thinking. Some people will be paralyzed, unable to diverge from the metaplot. A lot of people think they have to follow the metaplot.

Bad roleplaying, not to mention lack of creativity? Sure. But there’s no point in trying to pin blame on the consumer; it’s better to say “OK, how can that problem be fixed?” And of course the easy answer is “eschew the metaplot.” So, yeah, if I were running a game company I’d skip ‘em.

Mind you, if I were running a company that was selling a line of fiction in the form of gamebooks, I’d metaplot all the way to the bank. It’s interesting how many people buy sourcebooks not for gaming but to further their understanding of the game world. In one light, the Vampire line is a lengthy piece of fiction exposed in the form of game sourcebooks; the plot moves slowly, but it does move, and there is a semi-coherent narrative that will come to an end next spring.

So if you’re doing that on purpose, you’d pretty much want a metaplot. It’s a tactic which, consciously or unconsciously, has worked well for White Wolf for many years.

WISH 55: Name a little

WISH 55 asks about names:

How do you choose character names? What makes a good or bad name for a character? What are three examples of really good (or really bad) character names, and why are they so good or bad?

I just kick names around until they feel right. I tend to use baby name books and sources often, thanks to Gretchen’s pernicious influence. I have an archived copy of the Onomastikon which has been very useful for culturally appropriate names. I don’t think my names are ever particularly stellar, but they work.

Examples. Um. I’m still fond of Paul/Emoticon. Paul made the fatal mistake of allowing American reporters to coin a superhero name for him, and as he’s French he didn’t realize how lame a name Emoticon was. (His power was projective empathy, which manifested as glyphs in the air in front of him.) He was always a little annoyed about that, although he refused to show it.

Daevros was a great character with a lousy name. What can I say? I’m not a Dr. Who fan, so I didn’t realize.

Oh, I guess I can admit to the source for Reese Beulay’s last name as my third example. I like David Bowie a lot, and I found the contrast between the song and the concept of backwoods redneck mystics to be amusing.

WISH 54: Background Hooks

WISH 54 is about one of my favorite character generation issues, background hooks.

Do you like to have bits and pieces from your characters’ backgrounds appear in the game? Do you write hooks into your character background for the GM to use in the campaign for your character? Do you like it when the GM gives you a background hook into an adventure or scenario with a previously unknown hook, such as creating an old friend of your character’s who is somehow involved? What are some examples of cases where hooks have worked or not worked for you?

Yes! I love background hooks, I’m big on background hooks, background hooks make me squirm in glee. I don’t write big complex backstory for my characters before starting play, but I do sketch out loose backgrounds, and I invariably put some hooks in. Usually it’s something that would cause the PC problems if it came out.

I also tend to include a couple of strong attitudes. Paul was a devout Catholic, Reese is a bit jingoistic, and Amelia/Andy hates weak women. I’m not sure that’s the sort of hook Ginger had in mind, but I think it provides the same function.

Since I like hooks a lot, I like it when a GM pulls on ‘em. I’m also OK with it not happening. After all, sometimes people go through their lives without their little quirks ever causing serious issues.

Now, an interesting thing about hooks: they’re one of the ways in which you can buy spotlight time during character generation without spending any points or getting high rolls on the attribute dice. Spotlight time is one of the most important currencies in roleplaying. If the GM takes advantage of your hooks, you’re getting spotlight time for free — which touches on Scott’s point about overdoing hooks. Interesting.

Finally, I’m stealing Kynn’s PC requirements for my next game. Cool stuff.