Sunday, February 25, 2007

Gaming as an Adult.

Be prepared for one of those long tedious meandering bits of self examination that i am so fond of.

Take your valium?
Strapped in tight?
Got those pencils shoved in your eyes?

Stout fellow.

Recently, I have been realizing one of the things that i like about the various people that i game with is that they are, for the most part, full grown adults.

Now, you might question this. After all, most of these people are younger than me or about my age and still playing games that most people abandon after college. One has to wonder if arrested development plays a role in each and every one of these lives.

I say to you. I know many people, from many different walks of life. And in this still new century of american living, there are many people who have become soft and flabby from the comforts of American life. There are many who have retreated or adbicated from any kind of responsibility in their personal world. Large is the throng of people who find some kind of release from endless whining and puling on LJ's and Myspaces.

Less Poetical: Full grown adult human beings seem to be in short supply. We've all seen it. The bullshit schoolyard attitudes hardened into full blown neurosis by the time one is in one's teens, and possibly even psychosis by the late 20's.

Life is hard. Life isn't fair. Life can suck and then you die. Or so we are told.

But as gamers grow older. I am noticing an interesting thing. Many of them seem to be growing up.

A game is an evolutionary process. It has a beginning, a middle, and an End. It has rules to define it. Some games are finite. (Like say Baseball or Monopoly) And other games are Infinite. (Like most role playing games.)

The key to gaming as a grown-up, ,lies in the acceptance of responsibilities. Any goof can write up some piece of tripe character, based on the last movie they saw, and fling a few dice around. But there are steps that you have to take in order to be considered adult in our society.

The Weight:
There are many games geared to many tastes and not all tastes fit all gamers, it's true. But, in my completely arrogant elitist opinion. The best kind of gaming is the kind which involves you on an emotional, almost visceral level. Oh sure, there's nothing wrong with breaking out the minis and breaking down a Dragon or two and hauling off their treasure. There's nothing wrong with goofy lighthearted fun. (As long as that's what everyone is down for.) There's not even anything wrong with heavy twitch tactical gaming. (I have friends who play warhammer, and while that sort of thing tends to leave me cold, i don't denigrate it's fun potential.
But, once you've had a taste of a game that touches you on an emotional level. Once you've been in a situation that extracts an honest emotional response from you, then i think that most other sorts of games, seem like living on potato chips when you could be eating steak.
What are the bits of games that you remember the best? Do you remember the tragedies? Do you remember the times when you out-clevered everyone by playing so far above your head that it made you dizzy? Each and every one of the best game moments that i have ever had shared certain things in common:
1) They involved a long running character. One i had made an emotional investment in.
2) They involved a fundamental change in that character, Whether leaving aside a quest for vengeance, or deciding to sacrifice all for the greater good.
3) They involved playing with people who could understand and appreciate this sort of "Deep Play".
4) They moved me or inspired me.

There are people who argue that gaming is not a form of art. I submit to you that if they knew what i know, They'd be ashamed at their words, and ashamed that maybe their words turned someone aside from finding the place themselves. If it moves you. it's art.
And that, to me, is the way to see. The way to go. Have the proper attitude and 90% of the work is done for you. Try, each and every time out to reach that place where the game stops being just a game. Try each and every time out to reach that golden place, where you are the character and the character is you, and the rules and systems just seem to fall away. Realize that each and every character you play is a stained glass window...and that you are the light shining through it.

In the past, i've talked about various ideas and approaches involving character mortality. In contrast to what i've said above, While i urge you to make an emotional investment in your characters, i also urge you to be ready and willing and able to die in the service of a good story. In fact, it's not a tragedy for a character to die, if you don't really care. it's just the dice going the other way.
See, there is a continuum of Emotional Weight that players have to find their comfort level.
At one end of the scale is the player who doesn't give a shit about his character. This is the guy who does dumb stuff because he's bored, or because he figures it's more fun to fuck up another persons good time. This person is ignorant. Not necessarily evil, but you can't rule that out. He may be schooled, or he may be incorrigible. That's up to you to figure out i guess.
At the extreme other end of the scale, is the person who identifies with their character so much, that they really ought to just write a damn novel about the character and have done.
While gaming shares many of the same underpinnings as any literary endeavor or theatrical endeavor, Over-identification with a character is not an active impediment in those realms. In that frame of reference, the death or fundamental changes to that character are up to it's primary mover. In gaming though, You are asked to put the destiny of the character in the hands of another.
And this scares some people shitless on some level. it's why it's so important to find a middle road on this Emotional Weight Continuum. Over-identification can lead to cheating. It can lead to meta-gaming of all sorts.
Another cause of meta-gaming is the competitive impulse. Some people are still stuck in that whole Win/Lose paradigm. They don't understand that you can lose a test, but have it cause a great new wrinkle in the story, and thereby "Win". They don't understand that if your character never loses a challenge, or never does the wrong thing, that you are actually cheating yourself out of better play. Thus you "lose".
Rules lawyering is another symptom of meta-gaming disease. Whenever you encounter this multi-headed Hydra, simply banish it with the magick words. "Systems and Rules are not Fun. Characters and Stories are Fun."

Last, and certainly not least, i would like to talk about what is the one thing that you should definitely understand if you want to be considered an Adult Gamer.
In this uncertain, fast moving world, things can change quickly. There's always some new damn thing coming down the pipe that can demand your attention or pull you away from the gaming table.
I do not, as a rule, tend to be an attendance Nazi for my games. I understand that there are thing that take precedence over a good game. Family troubles, illness, Child Illness, Death,Inclement weather, a serious shot at Sex, These are things that must be payed attention. And i think we all understand that.
But on the other hand, getting together with gamers is a social compact. and in order to tell a story with in-depth characters and interesting stuff like that, you've got to be willing to make the effort, to show up, on time, and be relatively ready to play.
If you can't be there. let me know. Oh, and don't tell me that you're going out drinking or watch BSG instead. That's a slap in my face. You can do that crap anytime. About the only thing along this line that i won't get upset about, is a lack of sleep. Being a life-long insomniac myself, i can understand. Go back to bed, we can do it another time.
Look, all i'm really asking from a player is a simple commitment.
Don't schedule things against my game. You know what night is. Figure it out.
Don't ditch my game for other activities unless you let me know in advance. If you can't figure out how to use a phone or E-mail. I am not going to be very sympathetic.
Don't decide, last minute, that you have something else to do. If there is one thing about RPG gamers that I HATE HATE HATE, it is the tendency to hold all the options open as long as possible and then MAYBE make a fucking decision.
Don't get involved in a game you have no business getting involved in, because of other commitments.
Figure out when you have too many games on your plate.

Ah well. I guess really all this really boils down to is, "Do what you say. Say what you do."

Leave your Drama at home.
Realize that you will allways get farther by negotiating rather than laying on the floor and drumming your heels on the tile in some kind of fool fit. Know that even if you do get your way by doing that, that people will find ways to exclude you from now on.
You can be an asshole. Or you can be an Asshole With Class. Which is the sort that other people would be willing to hang out with?
It doesn't hurt you to be nice. It also costs you nothing. You might make a new friend of of the new person walking in the door. and isn't that one of the freaking points?

Sono Finito

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

How to be Smert! (part 1)

Err. Smart!

Okay, things have been hectic here at the Nerve Center. I've been doing Wanton Wicked Chat, Gearing up for a friends Aberrant Game. Running My own larp, trying to manage a couple of trips out of town to do some Cam larps, and fiddling around with the Mage MET playtest. (I think we did some good work on it.)

But percolating in the back of my head have been some random tips that don't seem to have a home in a larger document. Rather than go any longer without posting any of it, i thought i'd throw it under the rubric of some basic tactic and smart tips to use in play or in GMing.

Stress Statting
This is an idea that i came up with to explain and work around certain disparities in what people can do and know in real life as opposed to what they can do and know in a game world. We've all seen people in larps or Tabletop that seem to have a certain social acumen that they can lean into at any time, even though none of that is reflected on their sheet. I have a character in one of my games, that is Eidetic, and has read multiple books on the occult, can discourse knowledgeably about this material in casual conversation and has zero dots of Occult.
The basic premise of the idea of stress statting is that statistics on a characters sheet only delineate what the character can do while in a stressful situation. For instance, to use a real world example. I am a professional actor, when i step on a stage, even in the face of a potentially hostile crowd, i have enough experience to command a good 4 dots of Expression when i bust out.
On the other hand, while i might be able to play my guitar in my room, or at a party where i am liquored up, with a certain degree of skill. If you put me in front of a group of people to play, my skill is going to drop to 1 dot at best. Do you see what i'm getting at?
Take the example of the guy with social skills playing a character with no dots. Do you have to follow him around and bust his balls each time he opens his mouth? certainly not. His character may be totally sauve while speaking one on one.
But put him in front of a bunch of other PC's or in front of a powerful NPC, and that's where the pressure is on, right?
In the example above, of my character, with no Occult dots, i basically rationalize that as knowledge without practical experience and a total lack of understanding or practice in term of controlling occult powers. Although, in play i've had some experience with the occult and i'm thinking i ought to raise it up some to reflect this.

The Reserve List
This is basically a contract between you and your GM that states what you think your character would have as part of his or her make-up despite what the rules might say about such things. Rules systems can be remarkably frustrating in terms of creating people that are as well rounded and multi-layered as real people. To help with this disparity, i have found that on occasion it's useful to talk with my GM about what sort of skills and abilities that i think would be right for my character even though i can't afford them at creation. At times, if it's a skill or ability that is narrow and has no real bearing on things i'm inclined to give you extra points and maybe a specialty in dutch expressionist painters for free.
If it's something that might be useful in play i might consider point debt. I might allow you to purchase it later without making you go through any kind of rigamarole (He actually had the skill, but now has the dots to back it up,) I might consider that the character's stress stat has gone up. (He always played the guitar, it's just now he's good enough at it that he's confident in a room full of people.) Or even the possibility that it's an old skill that he's just now "Dusting off" (Combat skills are perfect for this, many of them are frangible and degrade if not practiced.)
In this way, you can sort of give the ST an idea of what the fully rounded character looks like even if you don't have the dots yet to flesh it out.

The Methodical Approach to Power
I am constantly surprised and occasionally appauled at the number of people who play in roleplaying games that have no earthly idea of how their powers work. Maybe i'm atypical, but if you hand me a set of powers, especially powers that i'm unfamiliar with, the first thing i want to do is sit down and try to think up and list each and every single thing that that power can do. It saves me some effort of trying to think up what it can do while someone is trying to kill me. It saves my GM some effort if i've approached my GM at some point and asked him, "Okay, this power does this thing...Can i use it to do this, this and THIS?"
I'm serious, if you're a Mage, especially a Forces mage and you don't do this, you are asking to be killed. Make a list. every speck of thinking you do now saves you later when the pressure is on.