Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Serious Investment

On Thursday, February the 12th, of this week, I will turn 46 years of age.

Expect a lot of unsolicited nostalgia, and pointless reminiscing in the comings days.

You've been warned.

Time for some personal business:

This month is kind of nuts for me.

It contains my birthday, my ex-wife's birthday, our old wedding anniversary, my Dad's birthday, my Grandma's birthday (Mom's mom) (both Dad and Grandma are deceased), my friend Dave's birthday (though I haven't spoken to him much in the past month or so - reason unknown), and of course, the dreaded Valentines Day (curse you commercially fabricated day mandating the celebration of romance!).

I also wanted to remind everyone that this is Black History Month.

OK, back to the post...

It's insightful, it's ranty, and I apologize for nothing*.

I've come to the realization that my greatest asset, and biggest flaw, as a Gamemaster, is the level of buy-in required for my games.

It's not just that I have a bridge to sell you, it's that you have to believe guys like me own bridges, they sell them from time to time, and you have to really want to buy one for this to work.

Bowery Bugs
Warner Brothers Cartoons - 1949

I think the main advantage some of my older groups had over my current ones was the acceptance of this buy-in.

My old New Jersey group was especially into being especially into whatever new game idea I came up with. I could experiment with different genres, different systems, different ideas, because they would take the concepts I suggested, hug them tightly to their bosom (figuratively speaking of course), and say, "Yes! We get to play children in a creepy orphanage in Dickensian England? It's like Oliver Twist re-interpreted by Charles Addams**? I am so there!"

That was the thing. They were always there for practically anything. Moreover, they got it. They always, intrinsically understood what I was going for. Always. If they only got it a little, they would rent movies, read books, watch TV shows, animated series, or Anime that was said to be similar, and then BAM!, they would get it. Not kind of, or sort of, or just a bit better than they got it before. No, they would now be completely in tune with my head space.

Damn I miss that. So, so, so much you can't imagine.

My games are not for the lazy. I'm not a lazy GM, and I require a proactive, fully awake player if we're both going to get the most out of the game. I put a lot into assembling, and prepping my campaigns, and if the players aren't going to put in the same level of effort, or at least invest the same level of emotion, it just isn't going to be all that magical.

I get that what I am asking isn't always easy. I'm asking a lot I know. When I put forth a premise for a game, it either just hits you, or you get grazed and intrigued, or it's a miss. If it's a miss, what can I do. It's a no go. Better to try something else than beat a dead Tauntaun. If I grazed you though, I'll help you get it, but you've got to try as well.

It seems to me that, all too often, whatever game I am running these days, my current players (not all, and not always) are playing the game that is in their heads. Sometimes I get lucky, and it's the same game I am running, or very close to it. Other times (pretty regularly in fact) it's their own game that features only their character, in a world about them.

This was not supposed to be a post comparing the people I've played with past, and present, BUT DAMN! If there is one thing that frustrates me more than any other aspect of my gaming these days it's this. Right along side this is having absolutely no clue how to fix it.

Here is where I sound like an old foggy.

I think part of the problem with my current campaign groups, and their ability (or inability) to buy-into the genre mind-set of some of the games I suggest, is that they are younger than the average member of my older groups. The current group is generally less experienced, had less exposure to some of the things I think are interesting, and have many other things to attract their fandom-fueled attention that weren't around when I was younger.

It's a different generation. We had no internet, no email, no near instantaneous streaming of movies, television shows, and animated programs. These young'uns have it too damn easy. Although they also have a crapload of awesome.

We had to work to get information. We are used to that. We are well versed in things we were interested in, because it took effort to learn about them. If we saw something, and didn't know what it was, or what it was about, and it seemed cool to us, we looked into it until we knew. We embraced new things, different things, and reveled in what was different about them.

With the ease of access to information we have today, I am amazed at how few people are familiar with...with...SO MANY SUBJECTS!

The members of my NJ group not only bought into my pitches, they brought in their own knowledge, know how, and fields of interest. You could count on one person to make historical references, and know about famous (and not so famous) events in world history that might relate to the scenario. Someone would figure out the science behind some of our Science Fiction scenarios. We had artists so inspired by the games they did artwork (most all of the artwork in my current games is done by me).

The other thing odd about my current mainstay players is that I get emails, Facebook messages, and texts from them all the time about what they're going to do in the next session. They always want to tell me what their PC will be up to, what they want their PC to accomplish, etc.

I never got that from my old groups. Instead, they showed up at the sessions eager to accomplish stuff. They told me what they were going to do when they were doing it.

What my new guys don't ask, or rarely so, is anything about the setting. It's about what they're going to do, not about the world their in. No discussions of genre, no references to writers, or artists who created excellent examples of the milieu, it's themes, or it's possible look.

Buy-in is the key to my best work. Buy-in will always remain the not-so-secret formula to what makes me a damn good GM. I realize that without buy-in, I am good, but not great. I think that's it. The missing X-Factor I've been chasing these last several years. Why my games are good, even really good, but not spectacular. Not the kind that got me my old reputation for being one of the best in the gaming circles I moved in.

Which games over the past 10 years have been that good? The Muppets ones. The Smurf one. Ghostbusters.

The ones with a big buy-in, and people willing to pay.

Barking Alien

* Not so. 

I apologize if what I am saying in this post makes any of my players feel like crap. That is not only not my intention, but it's BS. It just isn't a true reflection of how I feel about you guys. You're awesome. You have your own strengths, your own ways of making gaming fun. In some aspects, you are one of the best groups I've ever had.

Is the buy-in thing an issue? Yes. It is. No denying it. It prevents me from taking the 1-to-10 dial, and turning it up to 11. It's not your fault. Stylistically, there are very few gamers who game the way I wish to. It's definitely a me thing.

For some additional insight check this out: Best Buy...In

** Charles Addams, the cartoonist and humorist whose work inspired the Addams Family television series. Fascinating fellow. Look him up.


  1. Adam - I would like to apologize first for not reading your blog as often as I would like - life seems to interfere much of the time; however, that being said, I think I get what you are saying - we, as players, have to invest in your world that you have created in order for the game to work well. The problem we have been having is that we don't attempt to learn about the genre and the setting if we don't already know about it, and I must admit that it never really occurred to me to do so until I read this post. I would be more than willing to read up on the setting and lore and genre in my free time - I love learning. I just didn't realize that was necessary to really get the feel of the game. I also didn't realize that you don't like us e-mailing you ahead of time what our character is going to do, and I can see how such actions are meta-gaming because we are planning outside of session how best to tackle the situation. Our characters don't have that extra time to plan in-game, so neither should we. So, going forward, I will try and adjust my natural inclinations so that I can buy more into the world you create and not meta-game as much. Thank you for laying all of this out for us - Hans

  2. Hey Hans, thank you for stopping by, and thank you very much for your input. No need to apologize. This blog is easy like Sunday morning.

    Hans everyone! Hans is a member of my current gaming group, a friend, and a truly nice guy. Not too long ago Hans moved away from NY, but continues to play with the group via Skype, and occasional visits. I think I speak for the entire crew when I say we hope he returns to the Big Apple permanently sometime soon.

    @Hans - You bring up some important points my man, but you also identify one of the key weaknesses our group has: communication. Some of what you are saying needs clarification to match my feelings on these matters.

    #1 "we, as players, have to invest in your world that you have created in order for the game to work well."

    If you WANT to. And if you don't, perhaps it's something I am doing wrong. I try to take the character backgrounds, and concepts you give me, and make them part of the world (and it a part of your story). I assumed (perhaps incorrectly), that you would want to investigate the world around you for that reason.

    #2 "The problem we have been having is that we don't attempt to learn about the genre and the setting if we don't already know about it, and I must admit that it never really occurred to me to do so until I read this post. I would be more than willing to read up on the setting and lore and genre in my free time - I love learning. I just didn't realize that was necessary to really get the feel of the game."

    OK, here, we have two different things going on. Genre, and setting are different things. I would love you to learn about the genre if it interests you, but if it doesn't, at all, why are we gaming in it? That's my bad.

    Setting is the world, game, whatever, your PC actually lives in. Research that too much isn't cool, because then there are no surprises, AND that's where it actually gets into meta-gaming.

    #3 " I also didn't realize that you don't like us e-mailing you ahead of time what our character is going to do, and I can see how such actions are meta-gaming because we are planning outside of session how best to tackle the situation."

    Don't know where you got this idea, but I can guess. Again, this isn't meta-gaming. Let's break up these two ideas.

    Emailing me your ideas and plans for your character is awesome. I have NO problem with it. You are especially prone to it, and it helps us both, since you live far away, and we don't get to really talk outside the game very often.

    What you do is not meta-gaming. What you do is discuss your PC's thoughts, and plans, and go over questions she (the character) would have regarding in game elements. You are thinking about what she, the PC, is doing, and thinking about.

    Meta-gaming is when the player, not the PC, is solving the PC's problems using information the player knows, not information the PC knows.

    1. ***

      For example:

      I'm a player in a DC Adventures game. It is set in the DC Universe, with a distinctly Silver Age, 4-Color Comics feel. My character (my PC) is The Krypton Kid. He is not from Krypton, but rather received Superman-like powers when attempting an experiment to neutralize Kryptonite (in order to help his idol, Superman).

      In one of his early missions, he saves the staff of the Daily Planet. Among them is noted reporter Clark Kent. Kent was in a room with Perry White, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and the Mayor (along with some of his aides). Kent had no chance to change into Superman.

      After defeating the menace, The Krypton Kid goes into the building to make sure everyone is safe. As the Mayor, and others come up to greet, and thank him, Clark Kent (especially curious who this young man is) suddenly passes out!

      We then adjourn the game for that week.

      I, Adam, know that Superman is really Clark Kent (and vice versa). My character, The Krypton Kid, does not.

      Now, when play resumes, or even during the interim when I'm planning what I will do next session, I can go one of two ways - play it in character and genre, or play it meta.

      If I play it in character and genre, my PC is startled when Kent passes out, and tries to rush him to the hospital, not knowing why he's unconscious. On the way, he seems to be getting worse...but that doesn't make sense! After dropping him off at Metropolis General, Krypton Kid travels to meet with his friends in the Teen Titans. He asks for help researching whether or not there are any instances of Humans being effected by Kryptonite exposure.

      This lets me, and the GM, do a number of things. It lets me interact with NPCs in the world (the Teen Titans), lets the GM give me clues on how things work here (Is this pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths where Green K doesn't effect Humans at all, or post-Crisis/John Byrne's Man of Steel Superman, where continuous exposure to Green K can give a normal Human cancer?


      I play it meta. I tell my GM, well, since I know Clark Kent is Superman, it only makes sense that he is affected by Kryptonite.

      *Who knows Clark Kent is Superman? Adam does. Krypton Kid does not.*

      OK, so, Krypton Kid immediately realizes Clark Kent must be Superman since he passed out, and got worse on the way to the hospital.

      *OK, less meta, but not as in genre (Silver Age Comic Book Superheroes) as the first, in-character approach.


      As far as timing - you are correct. The one problem with a month of planning is that your PCs don't have that month. They very often have a few hours to a day at best. Luckily, in Traveller, you can have a week in Jump Space with nothing to do but plan. LOL