A collection of rambling posts about gaming, running, and politics. (and, in 2009, photography.)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Disappointment in Gaming

So I've been mulling over this for awhile, but finally decided to try to commit it here.

There have been a few times that I've been disappointed during gaming. Its ranged from mild "oh I didnt think they'd do that" disappointment, to more severe "Great, you've broken the game. thanks jerk." disappointment.

I'll give a few examples.

Awhile back I caught the indie RPG bug from Shasticon and got my hands on Dogs in the Vineyard. Its a great game from lumpley games that is set in a semi-historic but fictional west in the 1800's. The players take on the role of God's Watchdogs. They travel from town to town doing God's work - which means they root out sin and pass judgement on the sinful. So its setting is very interesting, but its dice mechanic is also very excellent, and was a total eye-opener for me. I sat Maddie down and we went through character creation for her, really to try out the system, but also to try to move toward being able to play it. Character creation involves a little actual play, as you spend a few minutes developing the character. It went pretty well. We messed up fallout, but no big deal. Aside from the way that dice are used in this game as opposed to "traditional" RPGs, one of the big differences for me was the idea of conflict resolution, as opposed to task resolution. Well I arranged a saturday Dogs in the Vineyard game with Jason, Krissi and Maddie. I've blogged about it, but not in much detail I think. It started out fine, we did character creation for Jason and Krissi. Krissi especially had a hard time buying into the setting ("Its just Mormons!"), and Jason I think was suspicious both of the setting and the mechanics, but we sat down and began to play. Play flowed smoothly for a bit, we weren't really rolling any dice at this point, they were talking to people and stuff. We hit a huge snag though when they encountered a non-believer. Without making the details into a longer story, Krissi decided that this non-believer needed to be converted. And here's where I went wrong. *The story wasnt about this woman who was a non-believer.* See? Right there, between the astericks. That's where I went wrong. I set out in my mind that the story was about something other than this person they were trying to convert. So not only did I have that in my mind, I wasn't willing to budge on this person. Which was my mistake. I thought at the time that the game system had failed me, even that the players had failed me ("just leave the old woman alone, this is not what the story is about" I'd thought), when in fact, I failed my players, and the system a little.

This is a pretty glaring example, but in retrospect, it sure was an educational experience/mistake. The others are pretty minor, but I'll mention them for conversation sake.

Ages ago, as White Wolf was just putting out the New World of Darkness Vampire the Requiem (that's alot of words) I got a few people together to play through the demo. It went really well actually. I had a good time, and so did they. The thing though that I remember negatively, and was suprised at, at the time, was their reaction to an NPC. I wanted them to be cowed and frightened, and instead they were like "wtf do you want", to Mr. NPC.

In a Call of Cthulhu/World of Darkness game recently (CoC material, nWoD rules), I was running stuff from a published adventure. It was difficult enough to shoe-horn the players into it. "No, you cant leave town. There is a blizzard. All the roads are closed. Um.. no, you cant just hike." And at one point one of the players killed someone, rather out of hand, who was sortof integral to the plot. It was near the end, and I just kinda wrapped everything up as tidy as I could and brought it to a close. Sure, I could have either just NOT killed the NPC off. Either through telling the player not to do it, or some ridiculous fiat of "Well she's just not dead." or whatever. But really my disappointment here was that I was running someone elses adventure. Sure there are alot of great adventures out there, with alot of great material in them, but it restricts both the GM and the players. *everyone* is railroaded into following along the story. You may as well be reading a book together and occasionally throwing some dice on the table. The beginning, middle and end are all already written. You just get to create the names and decide how people die along the way.

And finally I'll mention my last real stab at D&D. A long long long time ago I was a big planescape fan. Before I learned alot of lessons about games and gaming and such. Anyway, a year or so ago I got our weekly D&D 3.5 game crew to agree to participate in a planescape 3.5 game on the weekends. I had grand, GRAND plans. I have found, and was reminded at this time, that I love converting stuff. I can spend hours at it. And so I dragged out the 50 pounds or so of planescape material I had and began convering rules and monsters and stuff. I decided that I'd run them through "Dead Gods", a published planescape adventure. A big one. This wasnt a pamphlet adventure, this was basically a campaign. I wanted to be open and everyone to have a great time, so I pretty much said that folks could create whatever they wanted for characters. There was a level limit, though I dont remember what it was. Somewhere under 6 I think. Anyway, we ended up with an interesting assortment of characters. Some were good, others were.. munkin. But we set off on the adventure. I enjoyed it alot of the time, but as time went on, became frustrated.. largely with two things. One was the sometimes extreme munchiness of some of the players. The players (partly my fault, I'll try to explain) were building the most efficient combat/surviving machines they possibly could. This was my fault partly because, well, I killed some of them. See this was the problem, I had a published adventure, that was pretty linear. It had bad guys and good guys, some of them COULD NOT DIE. Not because they were immortal, but because if they died, well, we would be done playing the campaign. So it was *very* frustrating for the players, trying and trying and trying to kill the bad guys or whatever, and not able to do it, and meanwhile though the badguys were fairly adept at trimming them down. This was a big downer about it, and the other was the material - sticking to published stuff. In one scene the players enter a temple, in which there is a Major Bad Guy. Bad Guy sets it on fire, there is a climactic fight (during which the bad guy cannot die, cause, um, he's the whole point of the campaign), and the temple burns down. Well, the problem turned out to be that after 5 or 6 rounds of combat, the story calls for the temple to be burning down and falling down around their ears. Um, which is like 30 seconds after the fire started. So... I remember awkwardly trying to explain that, um, yes, the place just went up really fast, and um, hey you better get out before the place falls down!! Sigh. Lessons learned.

Anyway, all of this is just me thinking "out loud" about the things that I feel like I've learned. Published adventures = bad. For me anyway. Running them straight, anyway. I'd have no qualms about *stealing* from the story. But I'm all about not inviting people over to be spectators in the story. Gaming should be *about* the players. They dont have to be gods among men, or the kings and emperors and all that, but they shouldnt be trapped in the story either. Its illusion when they just think they have control over it, but in reality, you'll use whatever light or heavy-handed methods you have to in order to force them to reach the end of the story that you created or that someone else wrote. How much fun would it be if I invited you over to play Sam and Frodo- through the "Lord of the Rings Adventure". We already know what's going to happen and how its going to end. Maybe there are some differences along the way. Maybe Sam kills more orcs, or Frodo practices his knitting along the way, or whatever, but they're still going to do all the things they did in the story and eventually throw the ring into the lava. Not really that much fun.. not to me anyway.

So the players should have control of the story. During my DitV session, in hindsight, I should have allowed, "Yes, the old woman is converted. Congratulations." and moved on. Instead, I let it break the game and ruin the afternoon for me.

Well, I've run out of steam. I'm sure I could rant/ramble on, but it'll have to be later. Thanks for listening :)

No comments: