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.
At the risk of reading you wrong, again, I can see where your mate, Dave, is coming from when he says that setting is important. If you say, "I'm running a Star Trek type game", that gives the players a lot of cues as to how to act and react, and what to expect, when they start playing.ReplyDelete
Once they're playing, they'll work out the finer details of the game-verse, but knowing that in ship combat, you need to activate shields, for example, is something setting-specific that the characters would know, but the players may not.
I get the point about Supers games, too. I love four colour supers (though I'm more of an X-Men, Defenders, Avengers fan of the late 60s to late-80s period). A friend of mine ran a great series of games, using Champions, that captured the spirit of those comics very well. When I came to run Champions games, my players kept coming up with looney loners and killers which, while very late 80s/early 90s in concept, where a pain to run and lacked the "chivalry" of the earlier type of game. So, by me assuming that my players would run four colour as I expected, while my players were thinking indie or Dark Horse, we got a mismatch.
I guess what I'm saying is that to get player by-in, you've got to broad-brush the setting for them. Then they can feel comfortable with their characters and comfortable that the universe around them will react in an expected way - usually. Also, they'll have an expectation of the type of game, whether to play things for laughs or play things seriously. We once had a power gamer in our group who just could not get his head around Gamma World done as a Monty Python spoof. We had loads of fun, but he didn't. Eventually, he realised that we were all laughing at him, and so went a bit septic (but no-one likes a party member constantly whining about not having a +2 sword, so we felt vindicated).
"I wouldn't be so quite to discount what Zak S. is saying here."ReplyDelete
I'm a bit confused as to just what you're saying there, unless it's "I wouldn't be quite so quick".
Ah, thanks C'nor. Edited. Good catch.ReplyDelete
@Kobold - You're not reading me wrong at all and as a matter of fact you address the sort of penultimate angle I was going for with this line...ReplyDelete
"We once had a power gamer in our group who just could not get his head around Gamma World done as a Monty Python spoof. We had loads of fun, but he didn't."
OK, first...AWESOME! I love that idea like my dogs loves her bone. I am all over Monty Python Gamma World. Where do I sign up?
Second, and more seriously, practically all my posts for the month of March will be about this very concept. I have an idea for a game (and a series of related game projects) that's so off-beat I doubt I will ever find anyone willing to buy-in to the concept. As such I don't run it. Its a little side project I work on in the my spare time for nothing more or less then my own personal giggles.
In conjunction with asking the players for a bigger and deeper buy-in I realize that I can't ask them to buy-in to something I can tell they just don't get. I'd rather shelve that idea and find something better suited to making it fun for everybody.
You're welcome! Thanks!ReplyDelete
'"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?"':ReplyDelete
You forgot the smiley on the end of that! :-)(The humorous referencing of fiction as output of a game sorta required one, imo. :-))
Oh yeah, I was commenting on your propensity for sustained campaign and one-shots, of whatever sort, and the fact humor seems to play a part in a a sizable number.
A fair number of campaigns(though I'm most familiar with old-school ones[many old-schoolers hold this of a goal, of sorts, ime.]) seem to last for years. Arneson's Blackmoor, MAR Barker's Tekumel, Gygax's 'Greyhawk', Ken St Andre's T&T game in Phoenix lasted 10 years+, I think, loads of gamers mention theirs on their blog, some still going(mine's been around for going on 26 years this May!). Many of them have old PCs as NPCs, and past adventures(and characters/NPCs) are remembered fondly, and some even had major campaign world impact(along of course with the NPCs machinations!).(A 'living' world, if you will, as in '"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.' ) I was surprised(and heartened!) at how many homebrews seem to be represented! That's the kind of buy-in I appreciate(anyone would, I'd say), but I would settle for a (semi-)consistent group of players who simply wanna play every week(and totally get into the game of the moment!)
Generating new campaigns with players who seem reluctant to work with 'undefined' worlds:
Everybody's gotta start somewhere!
'Who are the major players?':
Throw out a few major NPCs and a little back history, and then: it's on them. They'll make their own legends, and someday, somewhere some other people(some players or not), will be measuring themselves against their achievements/utilizing them for inspiration/hating on their overblown egos ;-)/whatever. i.e. this:
'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.'
Thankfully, the above has always been the norm for the majority of my players, others are just along for the ride, and get into the spirit once they see their characters effect the world in even minor ways.(As long as they're having fun, it's fine by me!)
Some players seem to be worried that their unfamiliarity with the setting will hamper their ability to play, ime. They start off slow, and need a little coaching, as in the PC's knowledge assists the player in navigating the world; a denizen of the local town knows the customs, the people, the wares, legends, etc... The player should never be lost when it comes to doing elementary things.(Or finding adventure, but the GM usually nudges that one!)
'I realize that I can't ask them to buy-in to something I can tell they just don't get. I'd rather shelve that idea and find something better suited to making it fun for everybody.':
Of course, some players won't touch certain genres, as they're not at all interested in them. Luckily, most seem to be willing to try pretty much anything that you make SOUND fun, at least. The rules, are of course, a concern, but you can modify them to where most seem to be willing to play, ime. Perhaps you could get a Q/A session going to pin down exactly what they'd like and work it up into something that sounds fun and playable to all?
'I have an idea for a game (and a series of related game projects) that's so off-beat I doubt I will ever find anyone willing to buy-in to the concept.':
Still, try, ya never know!
Monty Python Gamma World is basically the only way I have ever been able to see that game ever since - John ran the sessions over a week back in the mid-80's and we all still get a laugh at some of the pure zany things that came up.ReplyDelete
Like the major NPC with the Hostility Field. I think we met him sitting alone in the woods, looking depressed and surrounded by a circle of shredded little forest animals. He was sitting there, all alone, and the little forest creatures came out to investigate, and the longer they stayed in the Hostility Field, the more aggressive and feral they got - like Tim Burton taking over mid-scene in Snow White - the little forest animals eventually turned on each other.
I think we worked out the Hostility thing and let him tag along (at a short distance) until we got used to him. He was also a crack shot, which helps when barfights spontaneously break out around you.
Some of the psionic abilities were modified, too. The evil Pythonist cult used a Telekinetic Foot, rather than a Telekinetic Hand/Fist, a la Terry Gillan's title animation, and spent an awful lot of time dunking their prisoners in vats of custard. And I recall something about Bang Hampsters, which were launched telekinetically from tubes to explode amongst one's foes.
A later session featured Biker Pigs riding Harleys (Hogs) - John liked his puns - and our Power Gamer friend lost another character by striding out into the street to confront them while the rest of us hid. The Biker Pigs just rode past him, roped him, and dragged him off. John was an unforgiving GM in that if you did something just plan out dumb, he didn't pull the consequences.
Anyway, a bit like charades, I think if you prime your players with genre, degree of humour, and a bit of an idea of the world they will find themselves in, if they know and like what you do, they'll give you their trust. But, perhaps, if it's not quite working as you'd wanted, maybe call a Time Out and let people know there's a problem. If you can get the players tuned into your wavelength, no matter how twisty, they'll start the other half of the RPG creative process.
Hmm...there are some interesting elements to these comments and I'd like to address them but bare with me as the ideas are not all in order. I may be responding to Kobold, I may be responding to Velaran, I may be responding to both or neither (but both or either have inspired the response. Confused? Yay! Me too!)ReplyDelete
As I've previously noted, I've been incredibly lucky over the years to have very flexible players with very diverse interests. For the vast majority of my time in the hobby most of the people I've gamed with would try just about anything in anyway at anytime.
My Jersey crew are the same as they've always been, the Kings and Queens of, "Adam's Running a Game? I'll play!". The don't care what it is, how it works or what the genre is. They are willing to give anything a shot.
My New York players, even Dave though to a much lesser extent than others, start from either a more opinionated and skeptical position or need a bit more a 'pitch' to buy what the GM is selling.
"Everybody's gotta start somewhere!"
Maybe but they may not want to start here, now. Case in point, with my Starships & Spacemen game I tried to evoke that feeling of limited resources, unfamiliar area, new kids on the galactic block, how do you handle it.
Well, in a Sci-Fi setting, Dave's way of handling it involves equipment he took for granted he would have. He said he felt constrained either by the mechanics or by not knowing the universe (or both, he wasn't sure).
I tried to explain that this was sort of the point. How do you explore the universe if you don't have post-Nemesis Star Trek technology or other similarly advanced gear and vehicles.
"I don't," was his response. "In the old school you start off a tiny schmoe in a tiny place with tiny gear. That doesn't interest me. I don't want to be rich and famous and powerful already but I want some water under the bridge and some notches on my belt."
I get that. He and I both feel that IOE may old school games suffer from PCs having the 'Born Yesterday' syndrome. At the same time I sometimes like the idea of characters who are a bit under equipped and/or skilled for the job they need to do.
"I think if you prime your players with genre, degree of humour, and a bit of an idea of the world they will find themselves in, if they know and like what you do, they'll give you their trust. But, perhaps, if it's not quite working as you'd wanted, maybe call a Time Out and let people know there's a problem."
True on all counts and that is the way I normally play but sometimes I've noticed it's more about the buy-in before we start. Once standard a game can fail but often people do seem to enjoy my games a lot so its rare that a full on time out is needed. Of course sometimes people do buy-in and then realize its not what they wanted or thought it was. In that case you need to discuss the game with them in more detail perhaps and get some input that you were missing going in to it.
Kobold I think you of all people may (MAY! mind you) appreciate what I'm going to be covering in March.ReplyDelete
I not 100% I just complimented you but let's give me the benefit of the doubt here and say I did.
'I don't want to be rich and famous and powerful already but I want some water under the bridge and some notches on my belt':
Like starting at level 5? :-) But, in all seriousness, it's kinda varied between groups as to how powerful you are at the beginning.(Going all the way back to the AD&D DMG mention of starting experienced PLAYERS at higher levels if they so chose.) I like starting at the low end of the scale, myself. But not always.
'How do you explore the universe if you don't have post-Nemesis Star Trek technology or other similarly advanced gear and vehicles.
If he's tried a competently run game like this(which he has no obligation to do, of course), and didn't care for it(he's apparently not into roughing it with anything lesser than ultra-tech, huh?), he's probably not gonna change his opinion. Different strokes, different folks. I notice he's been the one you mention(though you've said that the others share his tendencies to a greater degree)the most. He and his compatriots may not be able to be won over to this particular game, perhaps. It's good of them to try, though.
'At the same time I sometimes like the idea of characters who are a bit under equipped and/or skilled for the job they need to do.':
Absolutely. Both history and fiction supply lots of examples of rising above the odds with little or no material assistance. Many people find this exciting in the context of a game. Others don't. Then there's swapping between the extremes, of course. YMMV.
'everybody's gotta start somewhere':
As in the beginning of a new, as of yet fleshed out campaign, not in reference to the character's career experience or posessions. PCs may or may not be 'schmos' at the start of Old School Games(Licensed or self-created), depending on System, GM, World Setting, etc...
'sometimes people do buy-in and then realize its not what they wanted or thought it was. In that case you need to discuss the game with them in more detail perhaps and get some input that you were missing going in to it.':
That does save a game sometimes, ime. Good advice, but it seems you are so enthusiastic about your games, that I figured everybody's fully informed when they start, so there's unlikely to be any miscommunication. It's very likely a preference thing that's causing difficulty. Hopefully, you can come to a fun compromise for all.
Intrigued about your upcoming March posts.
Alright, March better be really shocking, really good, or both.ReplyDelete
On the S&S fizzle, I'm not sure I get it. One of the "things" about a Trek RPG is that it eliminates the need for stuff. I haven't read Starships and Spacemen but does it involve stuff? Even if you were to begin in a smaller scout-type ship that might mean you do a little more running than arming the photons but did it change the flavor of the game that much?
I guess what I'm asking is whether it was that specific game or the concept of the Sandbox?
See the sandbox approach (IMO) means you can have all the setting that you want - what it lacks is plot. The players aren't pursuing a particular storyline dropped by the DM, they're doing whatever they want inside the setting established by the DM. Whether the PC is a Big Deal or nobody, you can still have that kind of game. I think an exploratory sandbox for a Star Trek game is a great way to go. In the best old school tradition just give them a few rumors, err "reports from independent explorers and traders", and turn 'em loose.
I'm not sure I get some of the other mentions either: Rifts has a fair amount of setting and almost no plot within the rulebooks. You can run it sandboxy or on a railroad and PC's can start as utter nobodies or as serious powerhouses. It's very adaptable, it's just cursed with mechanical issues. Heck the setting is the main reason people play it.
To me "Supers" is fairly vague when discussing a new campaign. "Justice League 2100 AD" tells me something, as does "X-Men vs. Terminator - after the big one" those are fairly specific campaigns.
Could it be that maybe they thought it was more literally Star Trek when you proposed it, rather than Like Star Trek?
@Blacksteel - You're sort of describing the opposite of what I was trying to say. I'll use the examples you give to clarify...ReplyDelete
"Rifts has a fair amount of setting and almost no plot within the rulebooks."
Rifts has Craploads of setting. Waaay too much setting. There is no way I'm going to read that much setting and know all its canon which, for the players who each bought the book about their particular class/race/faction/whatever, means I'm jipping them if I exclude the fact that Juicers can increase their perspiration to lower their body temperatures on Tuesday or something. Bleh. Original World of Darkness suffered the same issue. If a setting has too many specifics for me I have trouble finding open space to play in. This is why I love running Star Trek, Star Wars games but not Babylon 5 games.
"To me "Supers" is fairly vague when discussing a new campaign."
It is and it isn't. Its not a Western. Its not Medieval Fantasy. Its not Horror. Its Superheroes. But yes, just saying 'Supers' is vague, so...
""Justice League 2100 AD" tells me something, as does "X-Men vs. Terminator - after the big one" those are fairly specific campaigns."
Very specific. Sometimes too specific. I would rather say, A Four Color Game, A Classic Silver Age Game, A Golden Age game. Sometimes. Sometimes I do have a particular setting idea in mind. Other times, I just want to invoke a certain atmosphere and feel and see what happens.
"Could it be that maybe they thought it was more literally Star Trek when you proposed it, rather than Like Star Trek?"
Nope. Again, the opposite. If it were Star Trek they would instantly get it. Star Trek like invokes a mind of, "So what parts are like it and what parts aren't. How do I know if there are runabouts or droids. 'Cause there are no droid style robots in real Trek. So, there aren't here...or...what?" They understood it was not Trek and therefore had trouble wrapping their heads around it.
I'm personally fine with vague. For some people, especially a lot of gamers, vague is not cool. We gamers are by and large a very detail oriented people (but hard working and industrious with lovely native art).
After speaking with Dave in more detail I think a lot of it was this specific game.ReplyDelete
S&S, like a number of older RPGs, is very mechanical and 'gamey'. We (my group and I) are not. We're much more storytelling oriented and some of the limitations designed to give the game its feel didn't do it for my gang.
I totally get the "old games are too clunky" thing - many of them are, and of the ones I think of as "not clunky" it's probably only because I know them so well I can't see it anymore more than any special quality of the rules.ReplyDelete
Speaking of Rifts specifically the key is limitation: The main book is the starting point, everything else is optional as far as player character stuff and only rumors as far as the background material. Trying to integrate 50+ books by different writers spread across 20 years is just not feasible. Plus it's my game - if I want Australia to be home to robotic life forms from another dimension then that's what it is, not some dreamtime place where everyone rides giant kangaroos - or maybe I use "Mutants Down Under" instead and that's exactly what it is. Don't get too caught up in the "canon" - it's Rifts!
I do think it's funny that you use Star Trek as your counter example though - doesn't it have more canon than just about anything else? Multiple series, multiple movies, novels, comics, games - there's a ton of canon out there even more than Star Wars and some other Big Universes. I think maybe because you know it so well and grew along with it during it's biggest expansion phase that you don't see it as a giant block of canon.
Anyway, hey you wanted discussion - looks like you got it here. I do enjoy talking about the games that failed as much as the ones that took off - there are interesting parts in each.
@Blacksteel - If you go back to some of my oldest posts I note that the key to Star Trek as an RPG has little to do with its canon. What makes it so great as both a franchise and a game is you can keep adding to its canon and don't need to know all of it to run or play it.ReplyDelete
Imagine it like this...you load up an RV with all the essentials you need for an awesome camping trip. You've got your favorite soda, snacks, hot dogs and marshmellows for the cook outs, fishing gear, etc. Now you take the RV and drive to the mountains or the woods. You are in an unfamiliar place. Everything is new and strange. Thank goodness you parked a piece of home on wheels not too far away.
That is Star Trek.
You travel around in a mobile container that holds the canon you want to bring with you. It has Phasers, Transporters, Tricorders and other items you need (I found it interesting you mentioned Trek eliminates the need for stuff. No so. Trek is all about stuff but much of the stuff is free. You don't really need more stuff or new stuff but you need your stuff. - Thank you George Carlin) and may or may not contain Vulcans, Andorians, Photon Torpedos or other similar elements. You than place that container is an unknown sandbox that could contain anything.
Voyager was weak IMHO because it relied too much on bringing in old canon without establishing strong new canon elements. It was always about the Borg toward the end. We knew about the Borg already. Why was their a cool new enemy is this new space (eventually there was Species 8472 but most of the other beings they met were dumb or boring).
Enterprise also failed in this regard, even though the times they succeeded were when they tied into the original series. But why did we need to see a Ferengi, the Borg and the mention of Cardassians over 100 years before we would meet them? Silly and lazy writing.
My "stuff" comment was mainly about the acquisition of stuff. It's a huge part of many of the major RPGS yet Star Trek and Supers (two of your favorites I note) largely do away with it. Even Star Wars at least de-emphasizes the acquisition of stuff. The only time it even comes into play in Trek IME is when you're cut off from it for some reason and have to make gunpowder from scratch or sharpen up a spear for Honest Abe.ReplyDelete
As for adding to canon or knowledge of the show being optional to play , I'm not sure that's unique to Star Trek. I think a lot of that is familiarity with it on your part enabling that ease of play for others. If I know the Rifts universe backwards and forwards then I can run it regardless of what the players know and what books they bring. You talk about bringing certain elements with you in the RV but that does imply some familiarity with camping.
I agree that Trek has about the widest non-fan knowledge out there and that does matter. Star Wars is similar in scale. Both make it easy to tell prospective players what the game's going to be about and ensure everyone "gets it" to some degree.
Voyager was very disappointing and it rubbed me the wrong way from the pilot episode onward. It just felt off and it should have been awesome and creative and set a new standard, yet somehow it didn't.
Enterprise should have been better too, but I liked it more than Voyager. It felt like sometimes they understood what they were trying to do and then in others they didn't and just wrote a generic scifi show.
I think the concept for each show could make a great campaign.
I remember reading somewhere online someone's campaign logs of a Trek game where they eventually ended up in the Star Wars universe for an extended period of time. At the time I thought it was heretical and dumb, but now I think it could be a lot of fun if the GM was into both. Kind of like taking your RV to an amusement park...