Friday, August 22, 2008

Down to the Felt

Posit: There is no such thing as a role playing unless there are emotional stakes involved in the game. Ergo: Other stakes are essentially meaningless.

Life is a gamble at times. There are times when you feel as if you have only one chip left, which is the difference between a steak dinner and a cab ride to the Vegas Airport, or going hungry and thumbing it. Never mind, the problems you'll face when you get home. That one last chip is all that stands between you and utter misery for the rest of the night...

And yet. It is also the one thing that could open the door to getting it all back. This kind of thing could be considered the beginnings of madness, but it could also be that part of the Legend that you decided to step into when you put that last chip down and took the dice into your hands for one last roll.

Gamblers don't gamble for money. Oh sure. money comes into it. but it's not the primary reason. It's the emotional roller coaster. Nothing in their lives seems to have as much punch as the wild ecstatic emotions that you can find at any game of chance, especially when the stakes are high. Problem Gambler have the additional problem of being addicted to these highs and lows, and being unable to find that same wild ecstasy in anything else.

As a player and ST who hews to the aesthetic that Role Playing is a form of collaborative improvisational art, I am of the opinion that Role Playing, as an artform, is all about the emotional lives of the players and the NPC's.

You've heard me go on about investing in your character. This bit of understanding is one of the very basis's of making a character get up and live. And the main reason why is, it's all up to you.

That gun in your hand is meaningless. Unless it means something to you.
Those powers you've acquired are meaningless unless they change something inside you.
That mansion you are watching burn is meaningless unless it was the home you grew up in.
That pulse in your characters heart is meaningless unless you decide to find some thing in the world your willing to risk it for.

Combat is a distraction my young Padawans! The only problem that combat presents is that it if you die in the middle of it, you'll be unable to finish your character arc. You do plan to GO somewhere with this PC of yours, right?
As a result, most combats that don't involve some sort of emotional stakes tend to be dull as dogshit.

Don't even front. You know it's true.
But get a player on the right day, give him a premise that resonates with him, and he might just look up and connect. He might just get all invested in SAVING THE GODDAMN WORLD!

And when that happens. Well, there's just no telling what they'll do. How they'll go.
Whether they'll put that last chip on the felt and say, "Let it ride."

So. The reason why i bring this to you, is because, essentially, i am perhaps becoming a little more permissive in my old age. I still understand the concept of "Game Balance" But it's largely meaningless, except as a kind of fence, to keep unruly players who haven't grasped the larger truths from tearing up the whole sandbox.

Lately, people approach me and ask for things, I am, for the most part inclined to be indulgent. I'm not even really asking much in the way of justification or anything. If it's an off the shelf thing, sure, have one....Hell. have six.
I'm more interested in where you are going, and what you plan to do, rather than what's in your damn pockets. God knows, i'm more than capable of stripping it from you if I think it will serve the story.

And if it doesn't hurt when it's taken away, then it was freaking meaningless in the first place right?

Here's a tip: if you're playing a character that's an orphan with no friends and has no personal hobbies or obsessions, then essentially, your character is meaningless. This is not to say that you can't BECOME meaningful, but some people, equate detachment with coolness. Problem is, you have nothing to hang on you until you CARE about something.

And these days, it's just not cool to care. Which is a philosophy that i VIOLENTLY disagree with. Piss on that cynical crap. Caring is the only thing that enables this world to freaking turn.

And if you don't care, you can't risk. If you can't risk, role playing is much like a broken pencil.

Sono Finito.

Monday, August 04, 2008


As of this writing, i am both a VST in our local Cam chapter AND i've just been named head Storyteller for Wanton Wicked. As something of a lone wolf, i find this amusing simply because my i have a streak of Alpha. I gravitate to positions of authority in my community, but i refuse to compete for them. It's weird, but I tend to find myself calling the shots.

In my Cam chapter, most people know me, and they know what to expect, but my Chat gamers don't know me personally. Well, the bulk of them don't. There are a few that have come to play simply because i like it there and i talked it up. So, Being made Head ST there, and in a relatively short amount of time, i felt it important to make a post in the fora about various ideas and attitudes that i had about GMing. This was to be a basic distillation of my philosophy of gaming.

Yeah. I hadn't really thought that through at all. Clayton busted on me for being long winded, because gamers are famously short on attention span. But considering that i was trying to boil down the basics of my theory of gaming, a topic that i've been writing about for the better part of a decade, i think i did pretty well.

One of the things that came to me in the midst of writing this, was a basic idea that burst full blown into my head while i was writing and in hindsight, it seems that it should have been something obvious.

I favor people.
This might seem like a horrific revelation. Especially when i have preached about favoritism and how destructive it can be to a game. But you know, i may be coming around to a better understanding of the basic underlying social dynamic at work. So bear with me here.

I find that as i get older i tend to fall into the idea of, "You decide your own level of Involvement" It generally means less work for me as a GM. Out of any game you'll find a percentage of players who totally groove on it. You'll find a much larger percentage of people who enjoy the game, but don't think a single thought about it outside. You'll have another percentage who aren't loving it tonight, because they are getting boned. Any group will also have a few folks who come and "play" but are really kind of bored and just show up because they get to see their friends. Occasionally, you'll have people who develop a desire to damage the game and the other player's calm, but most people stop coming before they reach this place.

Now, my natural tendency is to favor people who are really jazzing on the game. I also tend to really enjoy players who bring me really interesting plot-generating toys and storylines. I also like players who are genuinely nice people and make the game a nice environment to play in.
So, if i state flat out, that those things are the sort of things that i'm looking for from my players, then that becomes again, a case of "You decide your own level of Involvement" Doesn't it?

Look: I am far more likely to toss a plot cookie to someone who looks like they are going enjoy it, or who is going to go to some lengths to involve a number of other people in it. If approached by the sorts of players i favor with some wild scheme, i am more liable to be flexable.

I will say, that in major scenes and in combat scenes, i am a great deal less likely to favor players. Frankly i have too much on my mind. I usually like to be clear about this as well. People i favor ought to know that i musn't ever favor them in combat. Also that combat is dangerous and you can get killed doing it. In addition, players that i don't know all that well, or don't like as much ought to understand that I'm still willing to mediate for them. Would prefer it in fact.
Frankly, the only thing i'm liable to favor in combat is cool and unexpected solutions to problems. I have to admit that someone swinging from a chandelier jazzes me far more than someone quizzing me about the total modifiers of a full burst from a kalishnikov with a laser sight on a target with full cover.

And shouldn't you have a lot of that shit pre-figured ANYWAY!

Happily, in many ways. i have been blessed with decent players and i hope that things in the Chat will start to bring out basic understanding in many of the players there too. Lately it seems, the OOC soap opera has been getting out of hand.

I do however expect that all this new found responsibility will generate plenty of grist for the mill here. And also you folks will get to watch what i hope will be a highly entertaining nervous breakdown.
So. Win/win!

Sono Finito.