Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Triumph and the...

Some people...Mainly people who've never played anything other than hack-n'-slash-fests and the Secret Tomb of Monty Haul...You know if you are one or not... have missed a whole world of honest-to-god role-playing.

See the main problem with that type of gaming is the expectation of abject success. Dead monster=treasure. Hit point loss=high pitched whining, and so on and so forth. The problem is that this squelches any kind of good gaming experience. The players and the GM take on adversarial roles, the GM tries to keep his players from walking all over him and the Players turn into rules lawyers in order to protect themselves from the "Killer Gm."

I didn't realize how sick of all the squeaking and beeping I'd been hearing across a gaming table until I found a group that didn't do it.

You see, I found a group of players that were interested in the writing/role-playing aspect of gaming and who had a grip on the realities of gaming. Hack and slash is O.K. occasionally but it's like eating an entire bag of Doritos and calling it dinner.

The crux of the biscuit is very simply this: Real people fail.

They fail all the time. They fail in business. They fail at love. They fail to hit. They fail to save. They fail as parents. They fail at school. Everybody goes into the tank sooner or later. There is no person no matter how cool or smooth that isn't a fuck up in some area of life, and any character that does not reflect some sort ineptitude is a flat and static cardboard cut-out and not a living breathing character. Realizing that your character is going to screw something up no matter what, gives freedom to the gamer. You no longer have be the GM's enemy and can even go along with what he's planning. Take a few moments and think about your character and compare him or her to a real live person.

-Most people have at least one weakness that dogs their entire life. Some are more serious than other some are alcoholics and drug addicts, some are gamblers and cowards. Some have love troubles. Some have family troubles. Does your character have something like this? Many game systems have some type of Merits and Flaws system where you can pick out problems to add points. Use those weaknesses as opportunities for deeper role-play. What happens when the Mage lets a pretty face get to him? Or maybe the thief's gambling debts earn him a pair of broken hands!

- It might be a good idea to think about your characters mortality. Picture a situation or set of situations in which the P.C. could reasonably get killed and figure out whether or not you can play that out. Usually, this requires some sort of spoken or unspoken covenant with your game master that yes, you could die but not some ignominious,random,or embarrassing death. Decide if there is a situation in which your character would willingly sacrifice his life.

-Instead of hitting every problem head-on and expecting to argue with the GM in order to get your way, practice a little practical cowardice. Call of Cthulhu Gamers do this instinctively. In that game, it is very common for everybody to get killed but at least go down swinging. CoC is generally good at teaching humility

- Deal with the fact that everybody gets hosed now and again. Good game masters do it in order to further the plot and heighten the tension. Bad ones do it as part of their power trip. Once you get used to this idea you can usually tell the difference.

-If the game bogs down for whatever reason, that might be a good time to do something stupid. Perhaps the professor and the doctor are in the library translating the stone tablets from ancient Babylonian. If this is taking forever to do, why not write the Gm a note that says " I'm going to find the nearest speakeasy and get sincerely trashed." Try not to go overboard with this sort of thing. Once every other game session is generally pretty good.

- Walk a fine line; people who have real problems tend to push away people who want to help them, but they also NEED those people. Walk the same fine line with your characterization. Don't play a person so wrapped up in self-hatred that you end up turning off the other gamers. Everybody has good qualities too. I once played a game of D&D where I played a Gold Elf who was the most self-righteous, arrogant,racist prick in the world. (he was fairly young, only 75 years old I think.) but he was very capable, had no personal regard for his own safety, and never forgot a debt owed. He was the kind of guy who would save your life in order to continue the argument you were having before the monsters attacked.

- If your character has a serious problem that affects him the tendency is to think of a situation where his willpower won't break. ("I would never drink on duty." "I never drink alone.") This is fine because real people do this too. But you should also consider situations where your willpower is _always_ going to fail...( "I had a really hard day..." " I was off duty and I figured what would be the harm..." " Well she was pissed at me and then Lauren called and said let's go out so..." " Well, I EARNED a piece of cheesecake today!.")

- Sometimes, a character's greatest strength can be his greatest weakness as well. In my Mage Campaign, I play a character named Rabbi David Solomon who greatest weakness is that he really cares about people and generally trusts them to do the right thing... While he is not stupid or trusting to the point of blindness, his tendency to really care is an Achilles heel to any villain who wants to take advantage of it. Which creates story rather than suppressing it. By being vulnerable, I create the opportunity for drama. By being impregnable I put the kibosh on all that.

See the way it works is like this: Storytelling is a very simple process. You take a guy, you put him up a tree, you throw rocks at him. And then you figure out a way to get him back down. Game Mastering is the exact same thing except very slightly more complicated. You take a guy, you put him up a tree, you throw rocks at him, and if he hasn't been an asshole or done stupid or childish shit all night, THEN you get him back down. I've literally had games where the players spent all night avoiding the tree and basically it caused me to fold up my screen and quit trying. But I've also had situations where a character went down swinging and it brought serious drama to the game.Tears were shed, and the tragedy gave shape to the characters lives. At times it even meant something to the players involved.

Sono Finito.


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