January 7, 2008
My group has been playing with an ever expanding roster lately, and we’re up to 7 players. I’ve heard of much larger, but this is the biggest we’ve been. We’re finding that interruptions and out-of-game chatter are strangling the fun. So, an idea for raising awareness. The idea here isn’t to punish or shame anyone, but simply to make people aware of how our game time evaporates.
So, here’s my idea: whenever someone interrupts a scene in progress or makes an out of character comment, they take a poker chip from a pile in the middle of the table.
That’s all. At the end of the session, everyone will be able to see where the time goes and make a conscious choice how to act. Maybe some people will change, maybe they won’t — but at least they’ll be aware of how much game time is devoted to things other than the game and of what it gets spent on.
December 23, 2007
There’s been an ongoing conflict in our group regarding styles and personal preferences. I’m right at the center of it, because the things I’m after are quite a bit different than what people are used to from other players. I’m essentially after “addressing a premise, answering a question” fun, while most of the group members are after “tell a good story, emulate a particular thing, dream the dream” fun.
The perennial argument is about what the responsibility of the GM is in accommodating different notions of what a good game looks like. Because others are used to dealing with each other and have very similar desires, supporting those styles is “easy.” Since what I want is different, that’s “hard” — they don’t have as much practice with it. To them, it looks like I am demanding a lot more from the GM, when really I just want different things.
Yesterday, someone said “But that’s pandering!” when I described my attempts to understand and provide, as much as possible, the kinds of fun that each player was after. I realized that I find the concept of pandering to be self-contradictory. Pandering means catering to other’s viewpoints, and implies that those viewpoints are less valid than the one you already hold. But if your viewpoint is valid without basis, without justification, simply because its yours, then so is everyone else’s, just because it is theirs.
This realization catalyzed a new vision for what a functional group would look like to me: The group members would each take responsibility for providing everyone’s fun, including their own. They would acknowledge that each desired kind of fun is valid, and, in a sense, everyone would “pander” to everyone.
December 9, 2007
To these guidelines for GMing, I would like to add one more:
Instead of planning what the characters will do to the plot, plan what you and the plot are going to do to the characters.
So what does that mean? It’s an expression of the old wisdom “Once players get involved, nothing will go as you planned,” phrased in a way that focuses on what to do about it. And the what is: rather than planning out “the characters will go here and talk to this guy and then go fight whatever,” plan out “this guy will come to talk to the characters and try to convince them to fight whatever he needs them to fight.” And then maybe a fight will happen, or maybe it won’t. Or maybe the whatever will attack them by surprise mid-conversation.
See the difference? Good!
December 5, 2007
How about rewarding the group for collaborative efforts? I don’t just mean in-the-fiction or dictated by the system here either. This could also apply to things like cutting down extraneous chatter, making sure everyone gets spotlight time, or collaborative setting creation. It’s something that can be explored in almost any system, and could be overlaid on almost any game.
December 5, 2007
I have a long-standing disagreement with one of the players in our group, and I’m just starting to make sense of it. We have very different opinions on how to deal with information that either some or none of the characters have a reason to know. One incident that highlights our differing opinions involved a two hour conversation in a separate room in order to keep details of someone’s character background secret form the rest of the group. We had to postpone certain scenes until it was over, and predictably, everyone else was quite bored while this was going on. To this person, the less than desirable effects on the rest of the group were regrettable, but acceptable in order to preserve alignment between in and out of character knowledge. I have never found knowing things out of character to be a serious hindrance to my enjoyment of the game, and I’ve never found “surprising” twists and turns to be critical for me.
It occurred to me recently that one reason for our differing opinions is our differing goals. He prefers to explore the parts of the game outside of his characters, while I prefer to explore the inner life of my characters. So for me, knowing what’s coming up can help me set up situations that explore my character’s motivations and psychological state in interesting ways. For him, knowing what’s coming up ruins his exploration.
On an even more general level, the core of this realization relates to the One True Way. Just as there is no One True Way, there is no One True Goal or One True Technique. Instead, there are lots of equally valid goals, and for each goal, lots of techniques for getting there.
November 29, 2007
During my session last night, we ran into the age old problem of characters spewing out endless streams of new plans without any of them being acted on. In light of last night (and perhaps some of your roleplaying experiences too), this passage from a post by Levi Kornelsen on Story Games seemed worthy of reflection:
“Where collaboration can go south is when it becomes “shallow” and starts to override participation. When I stop really listening to your cool stuff, and start just waiting for my turn to speak, and add my own ideas, then I (and likely others) aren’t actually exploring the ideas already on the table. We’re just making up shit and piling it up. If nobody actually uses those ideas and takes them further, enjoys them, and participates in their exploration, then they are devalued.”
This problem seems to occur both in the planning phase of an adventure, and with the cool stuff contained in character backgrounds that never gets used. This leads me to ask myself questions like:
- How can I explore the ideas already on the table more fully than I currently do?
- How can I encourage others to do the same?
- What sort of concepts from a character background are most likely to be explored by the rest of the group?
- Does it make more sense for me to rely on the GM to link the concepts important to my character into the story, or for me to do it myself? Which one will result in group exploration more often? Which has a higher chance of producing enjoyable, fulfilling, or rewarding play experiences?