Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Self Analysis

Each one of us games the way we do because of various factors that have worked their way into our psyches over the course of our participation in the hobby.

In theory, the longer we go at this, the more the way we do things and the way we like things done develops, changes, and hopefully improves our personal experiences. Eventually, certain things cement themselves in our minds to become what one might call our gaming preferences. We establish a 'style of play' and hope to find other players whose own style of play matches well with ours. 

I talk a lot about my personal style of play, my outlook on what constitutes a good game, a good GM, and good players, and often question the more traditional and widespread approaches to gaming without giving a clear historical context.

That is to say, most readers of this blog know I've been gaming since 1977, which is 43 years. Most know I generally run a 'standard' table, with a GM, players, dice, and a relatively familiar gaming structure. At the same time, my outlook and view points on a number of gaming sacred cows - Adventure Design, Combat, Experience and Rewards, Initiative, PC Death - are quite different from others who grew up in the same era. 

The question I often find myself asking is why? Why is my style of play so different from other 50something+ gamers? Why don't I like Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, and the 'popular' games? Why is it so much harder to find like minded players these days than it was as a kid, in Junior High, High School, College, and even a while after? 

The answer to the first few question is quite simple.

My start in the hobby, my very first session, went a bit differently than similar tales I've heard told by other gamers. We went into it thinking Television Shows, Movies, and Comic Books, not novels. We saw ourselves as heroes, like Superman or Captain Kirk, not adventurers like Fafhrd and Conan. Our characters were out to help the Good King, not to kill monsters and steal from them.

We started our journey from an atypical point on the map and it lead us on a non-standard path from the get-go.

As time moved forward, I found that not everyone played the way that first group did and though I adapted and even enjoyed the more standard approach to gaming for a while, I grew weary of it after a stint, missing the initial joy of that first game.

I also played with a bunch of people here and there who were really enamored with D&D and AD&D in the RAW* and their style of play turned me off to it even further. As a matter of fact, for a long while it was very rare for me to participate in a D&D game run by someone else that didn't feel oppressive, limiting, and just outright terrible. It was during this period, the late 70s and early 80s, that I decided I didn't enjoy playing even half as much as GMing. That feeling would continue to this day, though it's eased up immensely over the last five years.

I began incorporating my alternate approaches and ideas into an Advanced D&D campaign of my own design that ended up becoming my occasionally mentioned 'D&D-But-Not' game. That game appealed to me quite a bit for a while until I discovered...there were other games. Not just other systems but games that weren't about Wizards and Dragons, which only intrigued me so far as they related to old folklore and myths, which D&D in it's various incarnations rarely did.

No, no, there were games about subjects I truly loved like Science Fiction and Superheroes. There was a Star Trek RPG! A Star Trek RPG! Eventually I discovered more and more games that were not D&D and I couldn't imagine going back. Why would I? 

For years and years I experimented with new systems, new genres, and new ways of staging a session. I used elements from film and TV, from Japanese Animation, video games, and other sources to give the games I ran a [hopefullu] unique feel. I focused on the PCs, on their stories, on the world/setting and its story, on the atmosphere and the timing, and occasionally looked over my shoulder to make sure the rules were still there. They were and so I went back to paying them little mind. 

The only way this worked over the course of 43 years was because of my players. I had...well I just had the best players. Some I grew up with and we developed our styles and approaches together. Some I met and found our approaches compatible. Some I introduced to gaming using my outlook and literally had them say, "Wow. I always thought gaming was like THAT. I didn't know it could be like THIS!". 

Sadly, perfect players and games are a zeitgeist we often fail to appreciate. People move, they marry and have kids, they change jobs, they divorce, and sometimes they pass on. 

A gamer who loves to game continues to enjoy the hobby with new groups of friends and new players. I found though that as I cast my net wider, there were many who didn't play the way I did, didn't think about gaming the way I do, and had their own, very different, developmental experiences.

I have tried to incorporate my style of play into games with these newer players and it's either worked or hasn't to varying degrees. In some cases I have made new friends who get what I do and enjoy it, contributing every bit as much to our games as did my old groups.

Unfortunately, that's not everyone and I can't expect it to be. I've modified my gaming style here and there to work with my modern groups and it's OK. A bit of the old me, a bit of the new me, and mixed results ranging from Awesome to wanting to pull my hair out of my head. I am grateful to have what I have of course and it could be worse. 

I have been thinking of illustrating my preferred style of play by recapping my very first campaign ever, a Basic D&D game featuring the DM and three players (one of which was me), that began on August 25th, 1977. Then I realized I have done that already. There are at least three posts that tell that tale.

Instead, I am going to start next month with one of the first game campaigns that I think showed my style establishing itself. Hopefully it will be entertaining as well as revealing, both to my audience and to myself. 

See you soon,

Barking Alien

*Rules As Written


  1. Hey, BA:

    I want to comment on both this and your last post, but I need time to consider/formulate my words. Soon, I hope.

  2. When I first started gaming it was not D&D. It was Champions, and like you said, we were all into TV, comics, and movies more than books. We all seemed to have the same ideas about what gaming was sup[posed to be and at one time our local group was trying to run 8 Champions campaigns a month! (Which brought about the night of the editors!)

    1. The Night of The Editors! No greater challenge could a Superhero possibly endure! LOL

  3. I'm sorry I never got around to posting my comments on this; here's (part) of what I wanted to write:

    Reading back over your prior posts on Gobbo the Halfling, I am struck by how fortunate you were. Not just in having a group of friends that "got you" (and played in a style that resonated with you), but with a DM willing to create a more interesting story line than simple dungeon exploration and that had a rule system (OD&D, I presume) that supported and encouraged the kind of wild and wooly play in which y'all were engaged.

    "Fortunate" I say, because those two things only rarely come together by chance, and are nearly impossible to manufacture.

    Especially the DM part. There are some people who enjoy telling stories as your (DM) friend did. Most of us let the rules and the setting (dungeon, fantasy world, whatever) provide a structure from a which a particular kind of story (not necessarily the one YOU want to tell) can grow organically. I can't speak for everyone but for myself, it would feel exhausting to do what your friend did...if I had that type of faucet of creativity I'd be writing paperback novels instead (maybe).

    The funny part is, you could still play D&D this way using the original edition of the game. It still works for this kind of kit-bashed, free-for-all fantasy. If pseudo-medieval, sword-and-magic was your "thing" (which -- I gather from your other posts -- it ain't). But whatever...we all use this role-playing hobby to provide our own brand of escapism. Your style is NOT unusual, but being so "person driven" it may be challenging to find a system (or the person/s) that best support it.

    AND...I think that's all I wanted to say.
    ; )