Sunday, September 06, 2015

Short Attention Span Theater


No. I didn’t die or anything. I’ve been off doing various things.  I just haven’t had much in the way of original thoughts about game theory. Or at least, nothing that I thought was widely applicable. I’ve been mostly a player these days. Had a few brief flirtations with running games but thank God, they make pills for that now.

The thing that is prompting this Crank Report is not to get you hip to the various thing I have going on in various other corners of the web. Although I can certainly do that here:
The Templeton Institute of Advance Human Dynamics: (Which contains links to my Zazzle store and my downloadable books and the one's linked at Lulu. as well as original World of Darkness writings and Aeonverse writings.)
Painted Corners Blog: (Which is a repository for a largely mortal population i'm writing for use in any WOD game or urban fantasy game.)
The Berkowitz Blog: (The Place where Pinky holds forth on whatever he's on about this week.)

No. What’s prompting this Crank Report is a basic idea, that I think needs to be explored.

Ongoing games seem to be going the way of the dodo.
Which is not to say that Ongoing games are bad. They’re not.

The problem isn’t with the games. It’s with us.

I am on record as saying that you never get to game as much as you did when you had no money, and no booze, and you all lived in the same dorm. And that’s certainly true.  RPGamers are an aging demographic.  Video and computer games have surpassed our wildest teenage imaginings and now the idea of hanging out with fellow gamers and playing a game with pen and paper, built solely out of our imaginations seems quaint now, and worse, faintly ridiculous to outsiders.

And as we grow older, we have demands on our time. Jobs which eat up our free time in exchange for miniscule reward. Homes that require maintenance and cleaning. Kids that require looking after, and spouses that may not necessarily understand the deep spiritual need to throw dice and slay monsters.   Hell. Most adulthood consists of being too tired to do much of anything that isn’t heading off, or dealing with, a goddamn crisis.

Suffice it to say, the commitment necessary to make or play a good game is increasingly hard to come by. This is often compounded by the fact there are SO MANY interesting games out there right now that one can get caught up in the new shininess of anything that comes down the pipe and suddenly no longer want to run the thing your currently doing.

I often have the problem of desiring to run something flavored from the last good thing i’ve seen.  I watch a cool spy flick, and I want to do an espionage game. I see a nifty pulp thing and I have the itch to do something pulp-flavored.  Fortunately, they make an ointment for that now and I pick up a tube when i’m getting my Anti-GMing prescription filled.

And this sad state of affairs afflicts players and GM’s alike.  One really slow night at a game and you might consider staying in the next time and drinking instead. Not enough players turning up and having a good time? Why not pack it in? Burnout plays a role too.

And you know, Talking this over with a friend I was reminded that Google Hangouts are a thing, that Roll20 and Skype games and various types of Java-chat games  can certainly take up a goodly amount of this slack.  And that’s true as far as it goes.
Lord knows that I’ve been a fan of pants-less gaming in the past.

But one of the reasons that I enjoy Larps and actual tabletop games, is that I need excuses to leave the house. I have the tendency to live like a hermit when I’m not working on a show. Past the age of 30 a man’s social circle tend to start shrinking. And I want to fight that tendency tooth and nail.

Also: it’s been my experience that games that take place in person are more polite. It’s easier to enforce the social contract when you have a face you can slap.  I have seen over and over how the darkest impulses come out to play when people have anonymity and an audience, and frankly I don’t have the money or the time to get on a plane and dick-punch the players that so desperately seem to require it.

So, with that said, I’ve been thinking on a way to fix the problem. Because you know I’m all about the solutions. I’ve got a good friend who is a BRILLIANT gm.  But he’s seemingly unable to keep a game rolling past 8 sessions.  Hardly worth the time it took to write the game and organize the players into it.

Or is it?

The basic premise i’m laying out here is that maybe a game should only be planned in limited arcs. Like a television mini-series. Run a game that goes from 2 to 6 games as a solid story arc. Build the game as a story with a solid beginning, middle and end. Run it to satisfying conclusion. And you know, taking a cue from Hamlet, you could even work in a total party kill as a WIN.  And if you do it right, you can always come back to that world and tell new stories there.   This way, you’re  always working towards a real ending, and tendency is to not want to stop at a natural resting place, but press on to the climax and denouement.

There are multiple advantages to this approach:
* You get to front load
I don’t know that I’ve EVER had an opportunity to play a character that managed to work themselves into the more powerful powers. You only have to have a game end ONCE, 2 points from acquiring the level 5 power to feel horribly horribly burned.  So, since you, the GM are going to be building the PC’s yourself, you can afford to front-load them somewhat. make them potent PC’s and the kind of people who liable to pressed into service to save everyone’s bacon.

Why are you building the PC’s instead of the players? Because you aren’t playing a sandbox game here. (You can always sandbox later, if you discover that the game has legs)  You’re telling a SPECIFIC story here and that specific story requires specific characters.   Make a spread of about 10 PC’s with different roles in the game to come.  Give your players a choice as to what ROLE they want to play, but make the effort to generate the PC’s themselves with the right talents, backstory, and attitudes for the story to come.   This also can obviate a lot of that whole, “Yes, i’ve come to play this game, but my character is impossible to find, talk to, or convince to come along on the mission” bullshit that I have seen so very often.

What about the PC’s that the players don’t choose? Heck that’s easy. Make part of the story about going to talk to or recruit those unused PC’s. Plus this makes it easy to get them involved with the players and then at a dramatically important moment, you can wax them.  Get all “Whedon” on those players of yours.

Frontloading also has another interesting aspect. Experience becomes less important. As the game progresses, you can gift your players more directly by handing them powers or various merits. Powers and merits that YOU know, they will likely need at the climax of the game. And, if you decide to continue the game at some point down the road, then you can always switch back to a more traditional form of experience expenditure system

*Metaplot NOW!
Fuck waiting 6 game sessions in before introducing the first hint that the conspiracy is moving about. You want to grab your players by the naughty bits and not let go until they are firmly in the business of SAVING THE GODDAMN WORLD.  You only have “X” number of game sessions to make the threat horrifying and the bad guys terrifying. Have those bad guys out there doing bad things.  DON’T EVER USE A WHOLE GAME SESSION FRUSTRATING YOUR PLAYERS!  The clock is ticking and if you have any bloody sense at all, you’ll fix it so that the players can practically hear it in their heads. If your game is scheduled for six sessions, each game session should have a conflict that has to be resolved.(Note: I did not say “Combat”)   In a game that is limited in scope, you don’t really have “No Plot Night”   When you start talking in your GM voice, people should understand that dicking around to no purpose or pursuing goals that have nothing to do with what’s going on right now, isn’t going to go well.
Seriously. In a short duration game it is ALL about pacing.  You cannot afford to bore the tits off your players for even one game session.

* Smash the Reset Button
The problem with most television is the stultifying sameness of it all.  A thing happens, somebody reacts to it. Maybe another thing takes place. Maybe someone learns a lesson or some crap like that, but by the end of the episode the reset button gets pressed and we start the next episode in essentially the same place, with the only major changes happening at the season finale.


You want to get your players attention? Get three hours into the game session and then nuke the city of London. That is some shit that is not going to get retconned and it’s not just going to fade into the fucking background.  If the players dropped the ball and London got nuked because of it, you should haunt them with the fact that the TV is talking about the atrocity 24/7 and now there is a benefit for the survivors and refugees being hastily assembled.  Springsteen’s going to be performing there.  
Do your actions MATTER in this game? 
Yes. Yes they do.

*Joe Bob is in the house.
Joe Bob Briggs is a film critic for the sorts of films that don’t normally enjoy the tender mercies of deep and penetrating film criticism. Horror films and grindhouse cinema and the like.  And Joe Bob is famous for the Joe Bob Briggs rule.
“Anybody can die at any time.”
There is exactly no guarantee that all of the characters will finish the game. There isn’t really a guarantee that ANY of the players will make it to the end of the line.   And you know, maybe that means that the players might have to pull their heads out of their ass during a serious combat instead of trying to succeed in spite of an abject lack of communication, tactics, or strategic understanding.
Good thing you have extra PC’s lying around right?

* “No, Mr Bond. I expect you to die.”
And since we’re on the subject, You don’t even have to protect the antagonist until the end of the line either.  It may be that his plan is such that it can completely continue after his demise.  It may be that his plan is even TRIGGERED by his demise.  I’m not saying make the antagonist into a pushover or even easy to get at.  The players ought to fight their way through mooks, and crunchy second string bad guys before finally bearding the dragon in his den. But there is nothing that gives a player blue balls like the feeling that the Bad Guy is impervious to their best shot.
Of course, it’s always possible that the bad guy they killed, isn’t the REAL bad guy.  Maybe they’ll find it out during the current game...and maybe they’ll only discover it if the game ends up continuing into another arc.

*Once they’ve completed the story. You get to rest.
Someone else gets to take the reigns, and hey maybe they decide to do something like what you’ve done and you get to play. Trying to schedule things against an ongoing may be seen as a social slight or even, in some circles, an act of war. But if most of the people in your gaming group are doing things like this, then having an opportunity to get in and GM something new and interesting is easy and requires less patience.

*People might try things they’d never commit to long term.
You know, back in the day, I had an interest in running all sorts of things. But I could never interest people in trying most of them, for fear of bolixing our various game schedules.  But today, I could probably put up a message to the effect that I am running four game sessions on the next four sunday nights of Victorian Hunter: The Vigil. and have people come out of the woodwork.  But I don’t think they’d do so for an ongoing game of the same. Do you see what I’m getting at here? 
Huge commitment is no longer required.

And that, is kind of the whole point.
More fun, less stress about making the fun happen.

Sono finito.


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