As a gamer, I feel like I've come to a bit of a crossroads. Actually, it feels more like a nexus of crossroads. Choices between directions in different aspects of my roleplaying. I sense that once I work my way through the choices then I'll be able to more comfortably forge ahead in both GMing and Game Design.
The point of this post is to set out for the general RPG reader a question: "What choices do you make as you tread the road to gaming joy?"
In the ongoing quest for the perfect RPG experience (an ideal I realise is unattainable but nevertheless suspect is a worthy goal), these are choices that face us.
I'm curious as to what you might choose differently... and why.
One Choice Made
Astute readers will have noticed that I don't consider myself as an RPG "Player". Whilst I do (very occasionally) play RPGs, I usually have the role as "GameMaster". This was a choice I made a long time ago. Since that time, while I have sat as a player, I find myself far less skilled and far less interested than when I attempt to GM. I guess I feel that I only have time to learn so many skills... and Player is a skill-set that requires a lot of time.
Crossroad 1: The Crunch Continuum
In terms of examples for my continuum, I might place Fate at the lower end of this continuum whilst I would place Rolemaster at the higher end. One has relatively few rules and the other has a great many. Alongside rules, however, we often attribute detail with crunch... but I want to separate the two for now.
Crunch, for the purposes of my own journey, is about RULES.
What do I mean by a rule? I think it's a permanent fixture within a game that allows players / GMs to repeat a way of doing things. If a ruling is an on-the-fly decision made to handle a specific situation, I think that a rule arises out of an actual or predicted desire to remember and repeat that ruling. Rules lead to consistency in rulings, if you will.
Coming, as I do, from a wargaming background, you can easily note that I enjoy tactical decision-making within the context of small-unit combat. Tactics require an understanding of the variables involved in combat... and a game that tries to handle more variables usually requires a heightened level consistency in how the rulings in similar situations play out. Desire for lots of consistent rulings leads to a desire for crunchier rules.
QUESTION: How much crunch do I want in my own gaming?
ANSWER: Quite a bit but not too much.
Reflecting on combat, as an example, I want the ability of the hero to count but I also want the type and quality of his tools to be a factor. That means I want weapons and armour to have some consistent rules. I also like to model injury in more detail. And, yes, I want the training of characters to differentiate them.
But that leads me to...
Crossroad 2: The Action Continuum
Do you want to play games in which the story is contained purely within dialogue and interaction, at one extreme, or entirely focused on a string of tactical combats at the other?
I've played D&D 4e at the "string of fights end" and realised that I was simply playing a tactical skirmish game. The characterisation was irrelevant. I got bored.
I've played World of Darkness games run by a GM who wanted to avoid any fighting and entirely engage us in dialogues and intrigue. I realised that there ceased to be a tactical challenge because all that was required were my own (inadequate) social skills. As I didn't want to verbally spar with the GM - I do this all day for a living - I withdrew and felt bored.
Reflecting on it, I want a game with a fair amount of tactical challenge - but that doesn't mean simply tactical combat. What I want is a game in which there is a need to think tactically and use the various resources available to each character within the scenario. As GM, I am managing the interests of the opposition to some fairly capable heroes; the players are trying to achieve their goals using their own resources.
Action, for me, is the interaction between conflicting goals that requires the clever deployment of available resources. Thus, in combat, it's about using one set of skills and the available combat equipment well; in negotiation, it's about using another set of skills and the available leverage.
Which connects me too...
Crossroad 3: The Resource Continuum
Earlier I asked you to take detail out of the Crunch. Resources are, for me, where the detail comes back in.
Detail in a game is about how much different factors and variables matter. This can range from the level of detail in the weapon choices through to how much it matters what species or ethnic grouping your character is from.
Straight away I'm going to point out that different aspects of detail in a setting will have varying effects: if I am wanting to play a Military SF game then my players will probably expect detail in the military details... down to the model of gun and choices of helmet design. Detail in a classical Fantasy setting might be very different, including lots of Races and detail in the magic system.
I like detail. But I hate detail that slows down the action. Essentially, the "dials" you tweak with detail will have dramatic effects on how things play out at the table.
Why not call it the Detail Continuum? Well... reflecting on it, I realised that details matter when they give you something you can use in a challenge. Something you can use is a Resource.
Those resources, however detailed, are what actually matters in the game. The level of detail determines what resources might be available.
Those are the first three choices. More arise from these but, in the interests of brevity, we'll pause and reflect. Each decision, however, affects the shape of both how you GM and which RPG systems you'll prefer.
As I asked at the start, now I ask again: "What choices do you make as you tread the road to gaming joy?"
Labels: musings, roleplaying, rules