I would like to point out, before I go any further, that this post is not referencing one of my current groups, or the other. It is about both.
Actually, what it's really about, is me.
It is not meant as a criticism to any party, but rather an 'inconvenient truth', to coin a phrase. Things are as they as are because I made the decision to have them be that way. I blame it on no one, but myself. Still, and all, I am questioning whether or not I made the right decision in how I went about presenting my game ideas. Might another approach be better?
One of the biggest differences between the way I game now, and the way I used to game (say, 10-15 years ago, and prior) is that I am now much more acutely aware of the particular interests, likes, and dislikes of my players, and I try to cater to those so that everyone has a much better experience overall.
And that sucks.
Hmmm. Perhaps some clarification is in order.
This is how I set up to run a new campaign, or even a one-shot nowadays:
I begin with a concept, genre, or specific game I want to run. It could be teens who are going to school to be superheroes, Anime Action/Romance Sitcom, or my particular Blast City Blues setting for Teenagers from Outer Space. How specific the idea is varies.
I pitch my idea to the group I want to run it with. I have to decide beforehand if the group would even be interested at all so that I don't waste anyone's time, including my own. Sometimes, I don't really know if it will go over until I ask. I usually do this few weeks, or even months before I intend to GM the first session. This way, if no one likes the idea I have time to come up with something else.
Depending on the group, I need a unanimous vote. I don't want to leave anyone out, especially the regulars. If I get a positive majority vote, with one, or two naysayers, I will do the following: If those who vote against are regulars, I'll drop the idea, and go for something else. If those who vote against the idea are not regulars, I'll either try to convince them to give it a shot, or hold the idea off until I can assemble those who liked the idea on their own.
This process right here eliminates the vast majority of my coolest game ideas from reaching the table. Getting four to six people to agree on a single concept is tough these days.
Next, the group asks me a few, OK a lot, of questions. Some are basic things about the story, setting, or what have you to make sure they are on the same page. They will largely ignore these answers come character generation time, but it's nice of them to ask. The rest of the questions will be in depth info that I either haven't developed yet, or things that would give away the major secrets of the campaign. I am usually able to dodge, or redirect these.
Without any further information, they immediately start making up characters. These characters often don't quite fit, and a process of adjusting them to the game, and the game to them, begins. Several incarnations of the characters follow, as well as scrapping the characters, and making completely new ones. This occurs an average of three, or four times prior to my running the first session per player.
Here's how it used to work:
I began with a concept, genre, or specific game I wanted to run. It could be teens who are going to school to be superheroes, Anime Action/Romance Sitcom, or my particular Blast City Blues setting for Teenagers from Outer Space.
I met up with my group, having told them only that I want to start a new campaign. I then pitched them the idea. Everyone would say, "Cool!", or "Great!", maybe even an "Awesome!"
We would immediately begin creating characters. Everyone would create a character that fit in perfectly with the basic idea.
Alternatively, I would announce the type of game I wanted to run a few days to a week before I'm going to see them, they would tell me the type of characters they wanted to play, and I would generate their characters for them. Then I would show up on our scheduled meeting day, hand out the characters, and we took about 15 minutes, or so modifying, and customizing them to exactly what everyone wanted.
Then we'd play (yep, that same day), for 6 hours or so, and see if everyone wanted to continue with the game as a campaign.
Comparing the results:
My modern approach has resulted in our Traveller - Operation: PALADIN campaign, which has been extremely successful.
It also created Pendragon: The Lion and The Sea, Bushido: Dark Cloud's at Land's End, Champions: REBIRTH, and Champions: ALL ACCESS, all of which were dismal failures.
The old method resulted in my Galaxy Quest RPG, Ghostbusters NJ, Star Wars: Tales from the Rim, Star Wars: Ever The Brave, Teenagers from Outer Space: Blast City Blues, Mekton: Distant Soldier Herakles, Mekton: Neo-Tokyo Crimebuster - Furiransu Keikan, Mekton: World Guard Tri-Gikura, Champions: Crusaders Vanguard, Traveller: The Corridor Chronicles, Traveller: Trojan Horses, and all my D&D-But-Not / World of Aerth campaigns.
Based solely on this track record, it would seem my new approach is not the best way to go about this process, wouldn't you say?
Ah, but if it were only that simple.
Perhaps it is, and I'm over-thinking it, even over-feeling it, but there are several factors that have lead me to arrive at developing a game the way I currently do these days.
Perhaps the most significant, at least in my mind, is (or rather was) the fact that I did not really know my current players before I started gaming with them.
In nearly all my old groups, we were friends before we gamed together. We either discovered gaming at the same time, introduced a given game to one another, or asked after a time, "So, do you game?"
Another key point is that I have two groups, both of whom I met, and started gaming with only 1-3 years ago. I have one friend in one of my groups who'd known me a bit before we started gaming together, but other than him these guys didn't know anything about me.
In my older groups, if I hadn't grown up right along side of my players, than I came recommended to the group by a mutual friend. My New Jersey group is a good example of this. My friend Nelson, who I'd first met when I was in Junior High, and he was in High School, gamed with me for years before introducing me to friends of his in NJ. The Jersey crew had heard from him, and others that I was a good GM, so they game me a shot.
Finally, my new groups are, hmmm, interesting in their familiarities, exposures, and preferences.
One of them had never seen Star Wars (or any of the Star Wars films for that matter). At least two in one group, and one in another group had not seriously ever read American comics. One of my groups is full of Anime/Manga fans, while the other seems to only have a smattering of Anime/Manga knowledge.
In my previous groups, we all read comics. We all read largely the same comics, or within two, or three degrees of separation from each other. We all watched Star Trek. We'd all seen all the Star Wars movies. We all loved Anime, and some had read Manga (I myself have watched a lot more Anime, than I have read Manga). We all loved Ghostbusters, Monty Python, The Marx Brothers, etc.
We had different favorites, but we liked A LOT of different things, and we were familiar with a comparatively broad spectrum of fandom from what I see among today's geek community.
So, I played it safe.
I took an easy, soft sell approach. I catered to my audience, or so I thought, instead of telling them to sit down, hold onto their seats, and just let me entertain them.
Am I sorry? Do I regret it? Well...
No, not 'regret'. That isn't the right word. We've had fun, created some great stories, and it seems like both groups are getting more experimental as time goes on.
Do I miss the old approach, and the gaming groups it worked with? Yes. I can't deny this. They were amazing gamers, and great friends. They helped me create stories so epic I continue to tell them to newcomers, as well as here on my blog.
Do I wish my new groups were more like my old groups? Sure, sometimes.
Who knows what the future will hold though, eh? New games, new players, new possibilities. I know I've not seen the last of my more avant garde ideas, nor the last of people who will try them.
It's all in the pitch.