Oh, I love this question (again, supplied from Tracy Barnett): How did the RPGs I’ve played shape the gamer I am now? It’s a different question from the real question for day, “Which gamer most affected the way you play?” But there is a bit of overlap.
There are moments in one’s gaming life where something clicks and is so profound it changes how you run (or play) the games you enjoy so. Here, I’m thinking about five different games: InSpectres; Buffy, the Vampire Slayer; (a game session of) Shadowrun, 4th Edition; Burning Wheel; and Apocalypse World.
Let’s just run through the highlights of how these hit home.
But first, in yesterday’s entry, I wrote a bit about how a player didn’t put points into his character’s Swim skill and
Because I was a teenager that didn’t understand that the primary purpose of roleplaying games was to tell awesome stories nor did I understand that secret agents were supposed to be awesome at what they do, I naturally ruled that if you didn’t put any points into swim, your character didn’t know how to swim.
The player said, “That’s stupid.” Even though I rules lawyered him, he was absolutely correct. That was stupid. Heroes should be heroic.
So years later, I’m playing Inspectres. And the rule is: if you win, you tell everyone what happened. Now, I’ve always been a great fan of letting players add to the story and some games have taken steps to get that involvement1 , but this was the first time I encountered something that specifically said “Players can make up stuff, too.” Not just that, but the player had the final say as to what that was.2
Around the same time, I was running a campaign of Shadowrun. See, creating characters in Shadowrun can take a whole four hour game session. Creating NPCs seemed to take forever, especially with the small number of NPCs in the rulebook. I needed a faster way to create opposition for the runners. Enter Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. I’m looking over that book and see that while the players have a whole sheet of stuff to play with, the adversarial forces in the game have just three stats that matter — and they don’t map directly to the stats the players are using. That’s when it hit me. I didn’t have to play the same game the players at the table were.
I wound up completely gutting Shadowrun‘s overly complex system, taking those 12-15 basic attributes and boiling them down to just four: Brains, Muscle, Moves, and Cool. They’re playing Shadowrun, I’m playing Ghostbusters.
The other Shadowrun thing is a story I’ve told several times. Sometimes it’s the story of the Worst Player I’ve Ever Had. Other times it’s the story of The Worst Job I Did as a GM. It’s a two-hour long game moment that focused on just one player at the table ineptly breaking into a townhouse with absolutely no plan. The player shut out the rest of the group and I didn’t do anything to get that back on track, leaving the others at the table just watching this slowly-moving train wreck unfold while having No Fun.
I learned a lot from that session, looking back at it, seeing where I should have just asked questions of the player, like the motivations for the B&E; realizing there were several points to turn the spotlight to the other player’s characters; or just skipping over the tedious rolling rolling rolling of mundane skill checks to get the game back on track.
That last point leads me to Burning Wheel‘s “Let it Ride” rule. Just roll once for a thing and only ask for an additional roll if something major happens in the fiction that needs to be rolled. Take a sneaking/stealth check: Roll to sneak into the palace? Just do that one roll. Don’t keep making that person roll when new, minor things happen: guards are on patrol, the far end of the hallway is lit up, moving to the upstairs hallway with the guards outside the prince’s door? That’s all the same roll. Keep making someone with a 50% chance of failing will have that sneaky person failing 94.25% of the time by that upstairs hallway. That sucks.
And then there’s Apocalypse World, which I could write and write and write about, but here I’m looking at one statement in the Master of Ceremonies chapter. Be a fan of the player’s characters. This is the first RPG I’ve read that explicity said that. Everything builds from this: you let your heroic protagonists be actual heroes. Play for the fun and to see what happens to those heroes. You’re not the opposition, you’re there to make the heroes’ lives interesting.
One year ago: Favorite RPG Writer
I went with John Wick, mainly because now that I’ve seen how the sausage is made, when there’s a game product with multiple writers and it’s part of a product line, there’s a lot of stuff going on to give that book a distinct voice. What your favorite game writer writes might not be what you’re reading. John’s stuff is pretty much all John.
This year, I’m going to take a different route. I’m going with Jason Corley, not just because I liked his article for The Fate Codex, but because he’s a good person. I’ve gamed with him3, I’ve worked with him, and I just know him. He organized the first ever4 Gamemaster’s Conference, which were basically TED Talks for people that run roleplaying games. He ran so many things at RinCon, a gaming convention he doesn’t know he helped get started, that I kept joking we’d name the RPG hall the “Jason D. Corley Memorial Gaming Hall” even though he wasn’t dead.
Jason is a fantastic person who also just happens to have written a thing or two about RPGs, so he’s my favorite.
(John’s a pretty cool guy, too.)
Two years ago: Weirdest RPG Owned.
Yeah, it’s still John Wick’s Thirty. Rather than rehash why, just click the link above and I’ll spoil the magic.
- Like Twilight: 2000‘s contacts rule where you could totally know the Butcher of Warsaw. The Hellboy GURPS game had a sidebar about letting players spend some sort of resource token to add something to the game world fiction, but this was different. [↩]
- Also, I was playing Primetime Adventures at about the same time. That game had Narration Rights that did the same thing. [↩]
- And you should too! He’s a fantastic GM! [↩]
- at least I’m calling it that [↩]