In a recent comment on my blog Zak S. said,
"The new school ethos you represent requires everybody be very serious about the fiction that the game creates."
To which Velaran said in my defense of sorts,
"Plenty of his previous posts would seem to say otherwise. BA seems to like a lot of games across the genre spectrum. 'Fiction'? Saying a game generates 'fiction' (rather than anecdotes or memories, whatever...) sounds kinda fringe 'New School-y', don't it?"
I wouldn't be so quick to discount what Zak S. is saying here. As a matter of fact, he is on to something that is further illustrated by my latest failed attempt at testing out a new campaign idea. I throw fish at porcupines until one sticks. Its frustrating but at least I'm not a fish or a porcupine.
The games I run do require a bit more of a buy-in to the universe and/or genre I'm covering then I think most old school and even some new school GMs ask of their players. In many cases, I don't care if you're familiar with the subject's specifics as long as you 'get' what I (and the rest of the group) are trying to create, a shared world to set our games in.
For example, I've said numerous times that you don't have to be a Star Trek fan to play in one of my Star Trek RPG games. If you are, hurray for you, as you'll love all the Easter Eggs and side references I throw in for guys and gals like us. Rarely will knowledge of a given episode or element be mandatory to accomplish the goals of the adventure/mission.
Its not important that you know DC Comics if I am running a 4-Color Superheroes game, even one set in the DC universe. It is important (vitally so) that you understand you're going to be in a 4-color campaign and not a gritty Iron Age one.
Today, I tried running a modified version of Starships & Spacemen, largely inspired by the one run by E. T. Smith at RECESS in NY. Another major influence however was my desire to get a new side Science Fiction game started and to make sure I've given every Space Adventure game ever made a fighting chance to prove itself. Stars Without Number...you're up next.
Now I did make some changes from Smith's version and the classic incarnation. I tried to expand the game into more 'Next Generation And Beyond' territory since that is the Star Trek style mode preferred by many of my players. At the same time, I wanted to keep the old school mechanics and the Sandbox feel that Smith was so good at portraying in the game I played it. Somehow, none of this worked.
Why? Well for starters, the buy-in price was a bit too high. I'm asking a bunch of new school, tech loving, serious business, setting fans to play an old school, limited gear, slightly tongue-in-cheek*, sandbox style game. Not my best plan ever to be certain.
While the idea of a sandbox game is something that sounds good going in, many of my players**, including and especially my good friend Dave, are setting junkies. They need a good setting to get into a game. Telling them that are going to play a Space Adventure game or a Star Trek like universe gets some nods and "ok"s. Staying your going to run Star Trek, Star Wars, 'canon' Traveller or Galaxy Quest is met with enthusiasm. When I asked, "But you wanted to play in my D&D-But-Not world and that's sort of Sandboxy. How come?" I was told, "All the stories you've told us about it from your old groups make us feel like we know enough to want to play there."
It's not about a licensed world or even a familiar one. Its, for many of them, about a world/universe with a history, theme or overarching idea they can learn and get behind. I can understand where they are coming from to some extent but I do miss the world-build-as-you-go style we use to have in our games.
As Dave put it, "I'm about the setting. Supers is one of my favorite genres but tell me Supers and it doesn't excite me. What kind of Supers? What's the world like? Who are the major players? I need to know a bit more then just the genre to get me pumped."
For the most part this is not true for me. Tell me we're running Supers and I'm excited. I love Superhero games. Tell me we're playing TFOS and I'm beside myself. I sometimes find too much setting stifling. World of Darkness drove me away with that years ago (except Changeling: The Dreaming which is just so cool).
RIFTS is therefore popular while I dislike RIFTS.
What is the best buy-in? How do you balance sandbox and predetermined setting? Can you get players excited about a world without giving away too much of it?
I will ponder this some and we shall reconvene. Until then.
*To say tongue-in-cheek may not be quite right. There is however a certain degree of parody felt when playing Starships & Spacemen. You know you're in a no-frills Star Trek.
**Many of my players but not all. Specifically, none of my NJ players or players who are part of that extended group (including my ex-wife Selina). These people are eager to discover and build a setting as the game is played. Having a known setting is fine with them but they excel at contributing to the world building process bit by bit as the campaign progresses.