Thursday, December 16, 2010

When Gravity Fails

At this point in my experience in the hobby, with 33 years of gaming under my belt, about 90-95% of it as a GM, you'd think it would be pretty hard for me to run a bad session. I know what makes a good Adam game after all, what most of my players likes and dislikes are and what genres I'm comfortable with*. All things considered, I should be able to roll a strike every time I hit the lane.** Running an awesome adventure would seem as inevitable as gravity.

Sometimes, gravity fails.

Why? How is this possible? Is he merely Human like anyone else?!

Um...duh. Yes.***

But let's look a bit deeper shall we? Let's look at the mistakes I make and in doing so, maybe learn a little something about ourselves. Or we could just point at me when I pass and laugh.

1) I'm too soft

Sometimes I misjudge my desire to challenge but not trample the PCs and I make things a bit too easy. I don't do it to my New Jersey group because we've gamed together so many years that I know they can handle the tough stuff and I know there are never any hard feelings for the loss of PC life or limb. With my New York group I think I sometimes go too light. At the same time, I sometimes feel that if I gave them the NJ treatment I'd be facing hurt feelings and a lot of dead characters. As time goes on and we game together more often we'll surely strike that balance that my old group(s) had.

2) If the players don't give me a lot to work with, it's harder to think of ideas

I tend to feed off the ideas of my players, especially when it comes to intergrating their characters into the story and world we're developing. If a player doesn't give me any ideas to work with, I sometimes have trouble getting excited about their character and/or his or her role in the game. This isn't always true but ideas from the players really supercharge my creativity.

Also, while I have a lot of ideas for stories, characters and adventures in Star Trek, Superheroes, Ghostbusters, Mekton and a whole host of other games, in some games and genres I'm less sure of which way to go (Dungeons & Dragons, the Wild West, Horror). If I'm running a sandbox game I usually have a world or universe for them to play around in and explore. If they don't give me any idea of why their exploring it, what their goals are or what they want to see, I can sometimes loose steam after a while. Its a flaw I'm working on but again, I'm so used to getting that from my previous groups that I am occasionally at a loss when a group doesn't play that way.

3) Because thinking matters, I may cause my players to overthink

Since I'll allow a well thought out plan to have the potential of succeeding even if it at first seems harebrained, a lot of my players overthink situations and try to do the smoothest, coolest thing possible instead of just beating stuff up. This happens most often in Sci-Fi, Modern and Superheroes games. Given the crazy technology of, say, Star Trek: The Next Generation onward, most players will apply the technology far more consistently and effectively than the writers on the show did. The same holds true for the abilities of Superheroes.

This results is what I sometimes call "Playing by Remote". Why beam down when you can send a probe rigged to do this thing from one episode and that thing from another episode while we sit safely on the bridge or in a shuttlecraft. This annoys me but it annoys me even more when the player is right and they should be able to do that. Now I always through in complications and limitations appropriate to the situation and genre but what it boils down to is I miss the Silver Age of the Captain Kirk or Spider-Man type hero who was smart but sometimes just punched evil in the face.

4) I can over-describe

I've gotten a lot better at this than I was back in High School and early College but I still do it sometimes. Because I 'see' and 'hear' the game world and the activities in it like a movie, TV show or animated series in my mind I can get caught up on a visual or audio description I'm trying to convey. To overcome time I practice describing the sequence and timing myself. If I can't get it out quickly and clearly its no good to me.

5) Not everybody gets where I'm coming from

And that's cool but it does make it tough sometimes. To be more specific, I tend to play with a variety of people, from a wide variety of background and a somewhat diverse age group. At the same time, you tend to get very similar interests and responses.

Most of the players and GMs I encounter in my own age group are old school D&D guys. Popular games in my NY group include Palladium, World of Darkness and D&D (including Pathfinder - Pathfinder is just D&D. You added pinstripes and reupholstered the seats but its D&D). Most group sizes are between 4 and 6 people.

My personal experience and preferences differ considerably. I don't like D&D. I really like Traveller and Ars Magica and Toon and Mutants & Masterminds. I prefer newer, indie games. Much love for Faery's Tale Deluxe, Monsters and Other Childish Things, InSpectres, Bliss Stage and Risus. My groups tend to be big, averaging 7-9 people but going as high as 12 (though sadly not that size in a least a year).

The end result is that sometimes I pitch a game or an idea and people look at me like I've bitten the head off a chicken. I've suggested games to groups only to hear them request the same old thing. Sometimes people hear about my games or ideas and think their not 'serious' because people don't seem to die often and the players are always laughing and cheering.

Hmm...actually that's a sign of success not a failing. Score one for gravity.

Barking Alien

*I love genres I'm uncomfortable with. Sure I love Superheroes and can run the heck out of it but sometimes I want to randomly pick a game and see what I can do with it. I'm up for a good Zombie Apocalypse (Never ran one), Wild West game (Haven't run one in over 25 years), a traditional, old school D&D game (Just for shits and giggles) or anything involving a random chart. Anyone try Instant Game? So fun.

**I was, at one time, an excellent bowler. I bowled a near perfect game once and had a terrific average for some time. The last time I bowled was nearly 10 years ago. I can only assume I suck now. Which brings me to...

***One might assume I have a rather high opinion of myself. Ah, if that were only the case. The truth is that this is only my online personna. I'm actually really tough on myself and generally suffer from bouts of low self-esteem regardless of what I accomplish. That said there are a few things I can honestly say I feel I am good at.

I am good with animals, especially dogs.
I am a good swimmer.
I am a pretty darn good cook.
I am good'know. Kissing and Stuff. ^ ^;
I run really good RPG games.


  1. From a non-gm perspective, I liked the fact that there were rpg's that I honestly didn't I would enjoy, Trek being one, was a total lesson in underestimating source material and the gm. I mean let's face it, the NJ crew dealt damage to a warship, with a probe & handphasers set on overload. I guess I was feeling the pc taint of STNG. Either way the game and characters were quite memorable. As for harm or death to the main characters, or the party in general, is totally acceptable, I mean hell, I lost, or rather my character lost his leeft hand in the first episode of Waresblades. Which was also a wake up call to me, that the danger in game terms IS real. And not once did I ever feel, "That's not fair!"
    Now getting into the Hoboken GB sessions, yeah even though GB is a supernatural, sci-fi-comedy action, there were times when things got really dark. No complaints there either, I mean after all, the concept of things that go bump in the night, and the agents thereof is one of the oldest and most primal human fears ever. So yeah, it's only natural that sometimes it does get kinda scary. Granted it makes all the more intense, and satisfying, and a relief when the proton packs, and traps are broken out. On the other hand we've also proven that sometimes dealing with ghosts doesn't always require the need to throw streams. Sometimes a really old cellphone will comes in just as handy. Besides with the NJ crew there's always enough Joss Whedonesque humor and one-liners on hand to lighten things up a bit.

    As far all out humor goes, well it didn't get any better than 'Galaxy Quest' game.

  2. I think a lot of gamer misunderstand my use of humor and the potential of comedic RPGs.

    Which sounds like a great idea for a post...