Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What We Play

As you may have guessed from all the writing I do about the games I've run and the games I seek to create, I'm ever on the quest for a better game experience for myself and my players. Now my players are a lot that are largely happy to show up and game, but I'm the sort who sees the "just show up and play" as settling for mediocrity. I want to run the kind of game that has people thinking about it in the time between sessions, that has them showing up early and rearing to go, that truly captivates them. This isn't an ego thing. I'm convinced that when you've got a player base that invested in the game, you're going to get better play, and from that you get a better game experience for everyone.

As it turns out, I've pulled this off every now and again. I ran an elder vampire game in college that panned out brilliantly, and for years afterward we collectively searched for ways to have that kind of play experience again. More recently, the 7th Sea game I just wrapped up turned out to really grab a few people and sang for them. It didn't for me, but I did see that it brought about some character introspection and changes to  how these characters defined themselves. It's rare that we play a game where people become so invested in their character that they investigate them at that level.

So what do we play? One player (Gfen, you met him last post), noted that we often play variants on the same theme. He plays charmingly obnoxious gigolos, someone else plays the executioner, and I always play the man with the haunted past seeking redemption. How this manifests changes with each game so it's appropriate to the setting, but in general terms that's what we're going to play.

Another player put it to me this way:

Most folks wanna just be the star of an action flick or porn video.  The smaller minority who actually read fiction most often enjoy pulp, romance or other genres that give them a simple hero or heroine to daydream themselves into.  The tiniest, most uncommercially-viable minority actually read novels with an appreciation of alternate world-views and the internalized otherness of their characters.  In the hands of a good author we get to do that, if we're true readers -- so why bother about simulating that in a game?
It's that last question that prompted this post. I prefer games with that level of character depth. Sure, I want to beat up the bad guys and pull off awesome action stunts too. Sitting around and brooding nonstop is dull. But the stories that are all plot filled with one-dimensional wish-fulfillment characters at the other end of the pendulum's swing are equally unappealing to me. It's easy play though, and it's what a lot of people I know seem to like. So why try to make the game something other than that, especially when there's such pressure during play to wrench it back to that?

I'm selfish. If I have to put in the time to come up with scenarios, learn rules, and walk the minefield that is scheduling a game, I want to play something I like. Few players I know have a problem saying "I'm not interested in that, so I'm not going to play." I've heard some apply this to whole genres. "Supers? Dude, if I had powers, I'd sit around and get laid all the time and that's it. I'll never play supers." Point out that powers don't necessarily get you laid and I still get "Not doing it." That said, why should the GM be any different?

More and more I'm coming to realize that the projects I discuss in this blog are the arguments I make with game mechanics that there is a middle ground for my group. We can have the combat and the carnal conquests, but there's fun to be had in character development as well. Instead of leaving that in the realm of "just role play it" however, I'm looking to make it an active part of the game. If something's on a character's sheet, it'll get used. If some facet of who the character is also occupies space on the sheet, I'm hoping that'll get used just as much.

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