Thursday, December 1, 2011

Role Playing Game (RPG) Week: 4 of 6

by Chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

As I explained in my first part on Tuesday, I was trying to write a simple post about how to run role-playing games, but I realized that my history as a gamer was taking up a lot of space. For this reason, I will probably get to the intended article about running a game outside of this theme week. In the meantime, here is the second phase of my RPG hstory.

After I was married the first time, RPG gaming became less frequent. It had little to do with my marriage. It was a combination of me trying to start a band and me hanging out with people who weren’t interested in RPGs. To this day, the only time I’ve played an RPG with Miguel (unless I’m forgetting something) was because he had bought the Star Wars RPG (published by West End Games who also brought me Paranoia… the game, not the mental impairment).

The Star Wars session was an odd circumstance that involved me, Miguel, my first wife (who I was married to at the time), and her future second husband (it’s not as weird as it sounds). The game was actually going quite well, until we got to a task that required a lot of skill rolls. You see, West End games valued character performance above rolling skill checks. Up to that point in the game we had all been playing the characters, and having a good time. This one section got a little tedious, and Miguel got bored. When Miguel gets bored he’s a little bitch. Sorry not to pull punches on that one, but it’s true. He doesn’t even try to muddle through and get back into whatever. I’ll talk about how to be a good player later.

After a few years of not succeeding at either the marriage or pulling together a full band, I once again started playing D&D with some co-workers. This ended up being my longest run of gaming, even compared to the years of playing with my brother and neighbourhood friends. The DM of the group was my friend Thrasher (his last name is cooler than his first name). The guy was a great DM in my opinion. I learned a lot from him. Maybe not enough, but a lot.

The thing that interested me the most about Thrasher’s DMing style is that many of the adventures he ran us through were modules and other published materials, but he would actually prepare before each session and often made the adventure more about our actual group than it could have been if he played the module unrevised. It was just little things. I think it also helped him to maintain the story between the adventures. It was a nice balance between module play and homebrewed play.

The only other experience that I’ve had since then was a D&D game that I DMed to a hostile audience. Not hostile like they were throwing bottles at me or anything, but that everything I did was scrutinized. Seriously. I rolled up a random encounter on the first level of the dungeon, and I was told that maybe next time I should be prepared before we started. I turned my laptop around and showed them the three pages of notes in the file I had open and the four other files I had notes in for encounters we wouldn’t be getting to that session, and I asked if they’d like to see the numerous pages filled in those files.

One might think that the game would have proceeded from there, but each session became plagued with massive debates about rules and gaming theory that slowed down any progress the players might make. Then they started complaining that they weren’t leveling up fast enough.

This accusation was made by two of the three players one night before the third arrived to play. I simply told them that they weren’t leveling up fast enough because we spent about one fourth of every session in debates about whether I knew what I was doing. I pulled out my notes and showed them the fact that I had the first two levels of the dungeon planned and half of the third. I pointed out that the first level had 23 rooms, and they were barely on the second level after three sessions in that dungeon (four sessions of play as the first was a town adventure). How could they level up when we weren’t getting through the game? Then they questioned other things, and I explained the entire storyline of the dungeon, and how it related to all the clues along the way (including a clue that I had slipped into the random encounter that I was chastised for rolling up during the session).

I explained that there was no reason for me to continue to run a game for the purpose of having fun if my audience wasn’t entertained. They tried backpedaling a little to say that they were entertained, except for not leveling up, but I simply dropped out that night and never played with their group again.

Since then, I really haven’t played much at all, but recent conversations with my friend Adam sparked some thoughts about game play and game creation of RPGs, and that’s where this article came from. The irony is that Adam and I have played decidedly few sessions together, I think mostly due to the distance we have lived from each other most of our friendship; but even when we would visit each other, we tended to do other things. In spite of this, we did manage to play a few games here or there.

We played some D&D a couple of times. We got into a session of Paranoia that ended badly, because again, the game is counterintuitive to most RPG conventions, and I’m still not really too sure how to run it successfully. We also played a game called Reichstar once, which was an interesting game. He ran that session, and did a pretty good job of it. That’s the only time I’ve played that game though.

The bigger irony is that Nathan and I have never played a role-playing game together. Perhaps one day, we’ll have to remedy that. After all, he’s doing a Robotech binge this next year, reading and watching all the material. I think that the Robotech RPG needs to make an appearance in there somewhere. Maybe my brother can come down for a few sessions.

On Sunday, I will do the one thing that you should probably never do, which is tell stories about your games. While it’s typically not a good idea, I think I have a few stories that won’t bore you to tears. See you then.

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