Saturday, May 31, 2008

Who to game with? Part II

So, in my last post I presented the gaming styles that I'm interested in as a GM and the playing styles of the gamers in my existing group. There are some clear ways in which there isn't a perfect match between my GMing desires and my players. There are two philosophies about how to resolve these apparent differences. The first philosophy is the first rule of GMing as proposed by one of my friends, "Give the players what they want". In this philosophy I have two choices, run a game that my players want, or get a new batch of players to play the game I want to run. In the second philosophy I observe the wisdom of many collective GMs and prevent burnout by focusing on the game I'm interested in. This doesn't necessarily conflict with philosophy number one, it just trends toward getting the group of players that are willing to play the game I want to run.

The problem with abstract philosophies like this though is that they don't take the human element into account. In my situation it boils down to this: I don't want to eliminate my time with my friends by creating a new gaming group to play out my ideal vision for a campaign style nor am I willing to decrease my enjoyment of my gaming time by totally sacrificing my ideal vision for campaign style to accommodate the first preference of my existing group of potential players (who are also my friends). In other words, my goal in creating the campaign is to find a way to both have the style of game I'm interested in and to generate a game that my players will enjoy. The trick is to find a way of accomplishing those goals and I think that this human principle will be one of the guiding motivations in the subsequent discussions. How can I generate and maintain story deep enough to bring me joy and provide enough power, crunch, and butt kick and that my players motivated in that direction will still be interested.

So are some of the ways I'm hoping this gaming group can come together. (1) The cross over player will be leaving the groups and moving out of the area in a few months. This is a big key because as mentioned he is very opinionated about GMing. Without him in the group, things I do outside of his style will not be objected to immediately drawing more focus and attention of the other power gamers to those points. This will allow me the freedom I need to develop a GMing style outside of his expectations and more in line with my own. Also, without him as the ring leader of discontent, I hope to be able to meet the needs of the other power gamers and to focus on story. (2) I really want to find a way to bring Man 3 from the GM group (remember he's the Method actor/Storyteller) over to the player group. This will add another actor/story teller combo over to the group and balance out of the two remaining power gamers. Even if (1) and (2) don't happen I think it is still possible for me to have the GMing experience I'm looking for provided that I do the following step. (3) Introduction and expectation setting at the beginning of the campaign. I think that this is going to be huge in terms of preventing dissatisfaction and in helping everyone co-create a gaming experience with the same goals in mind. The introduction should include everything from the gaming world, the tone (horror, tragic, or heroic), the power level progression, the presence or absence of character death, the reward system (e.g., storytelling emphasis), and a few more elements.

In order to accomplish this communication, I will have to be clear first about what I want so that I can present it and once I'm clear and I'm ready to bring my ideas to the group, I need to be ready for their input. Again allowing them to cocreate expectations but from the initial position and trajectory that can satisfy my GMing desires. The next few posts will be my process of getting clear about the elements that I'll need to communicate to my group in order to make the expectations of the players fit the campaign I'm willing to run.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Who to game with?

Let me begin with a brief review of the groups that I have been gaming with lately.

The first group is the one that I've been gaming with since 2002. There is only one member, other than myself, that has been with the group for that entire time. I'll call this group my "player" group because I have primarily been a player in that group. Other than me, the group consists of 5 people; that is 4 men and 1 woman. The other group is the one that I ran my last campaign for 3 people all men. I'll call that my "GM" group because I've only GMed in that group. One man is in both groups. I'm going to describe people here primarily according to their gaming style as defined by Robin Laws in his book Robin's Laws of Good Gamemastering.

Player group:
Man 1: Powergamer/Tactician. Cross-over with the GM group. He has years of experience with GMing and is very opinionated about how it should be done. If the GM lets something broken into the game it is his fault and he won't tell you it is broken, on the other hand if you ask him outright, he'll tell you if he thinks its broken.
Man 2: Method actor/Storyteller. Can be counted on for a good character background, to follow the GMs lead in terms of tone and story. Not inept with the crunchy bits of gaming but his strong suit is definitely the story and character element.
Man 3: Powergamer/Butt kicker. Tech guy, likes to build powerful combinations slowly over time. He'll be the one that doesn't pick the obviously broken feat, he'll pick the less obviously broken feat that can actually rend the world in two if built and played correctly.
Man 4: Powergamer/Butt kicker. Boyfriend to the woman in the group, tech geek, years of experience playing mostly D&D 3.0 and Shadowrun.
Woman: Casual gamer. Girlfriend of the man 4, MMORPG background, new to PNP gaming.

GM group:
Man 1: Same guy as Man 1 in the player group. I invited him to join this campaign group for two reasons. First, he is really good at the crunchy bits of gaming. I hoped this would help me with running GURPS (having never played it) and that I hoped his facility would assist the other players in this group who had little gaming experience.
Man 2: Casual gamer. He's played a lot of Computer RPGs, he likes to watch the story progress but doesn't have a lot of intiative on his own for character development or action.
Man 3: Method actor/Storyteller. He had played hack-n-slash D&D 2.0 in college and I invited him to this group because he was a guy at work that I thought I could get a long with. I was right. He likes developing his character and has written poetry (very bad poetry) out of game time to read during game because that's what his character would do. His imagination sometimes runs away with him though; he can forget that his character is in the GMs world and that he can't narrate what exists in the world just because he wants to.

Me: Storyteller/Method Actor. I started gaming at age 25. I had hoarded some D&D books through high school and college but never really played. My first character had a Russian accent, developed in a lot of ways, and finally languished in an unfinished campaign. At the time I was accused of doing things out of character when I tried to help the story go along. Now I see that I'm just a storyteller style player. I'll adapt my character to the world so that the story can continue. But I'm still trying to play my character; storyteller first, method actor second.

As a GM, I've learned a few things about myself.
  1. First, I can't GM evil, annoying, or mean PCs. I can't stand the idea of rewarding immoral actions even if those actions take place in an imaginary world.
  2. Second, I don't like, and am not really good at, prepping for the crunchy details. Man 1 in my groups can GM a D&D creature with 3 templates, weird feat combos from obscure source books and make it all work. Me, I'm lucky if I GM the flying rules right (and I didn't in the last session I GMed).
  3. Third, I like interesting and diverse character interactions. I like it when the PCs have to deal with an unpleasant person and change the reaction deliberately. I like when the PCs turn an enemy into a friend rather than just whack the guy. As a player, I've enjoyed playing many different character but they're all basically good.
As I look over my own parameters, I can see that the powergamers are going to be hard for me to please. I work best as a GM when the power level stays relatively low and the mechanics are simple. Powergamers often want to power level to increase over time until they have magic item+5 and are killing demigods on their native plane. On the other hand, I've used some in-game incentives in this way before. My PCs had gone into a "primitive" society and were soon trading and vying for the symbol of a warrior's status in the society, crow feathers, like they were Pokemon cards in their hey-day. That kind of tactic might work. Financial rewards can often duplicate power rewards (and I'm not interested in building an entire economy to satisfy that impulse). Butt-kicking desires can be satisfied in most games even if I'm hoping to reduce combat significantly.

My leanings toward storytelling will allow both storytellers and method actors to thrive. The casual gamers from either group would survive well as long as I don't make them work too hard.

After all this analysis, I don't feel like I'm any closer to a decision between my options of picking one or the other group, cross pollenating the groups, or just trying to find/create a new group. However, I have hopes that reading this post later will help me see something I may have missed making it obvious which route I should have taken in the first place.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Considerations for my next campaign:
  1. Who to game with. Specifically, stay with my current gaming group or try a new group or composite group of people.
  2. Gaming system. Under consideration are: D&D 4.0, I have an adequate D&D 3.0 library, I'm quite familiar with GURPS and ran my last campaign in that, and finally FUDGE the unknown dark horse system that has me thinking I might actually get to run a game and a campaign the way that I want.
  3. World. I have a well developed campaign world that I ran my last campaign in. I like the idea of using it again but if any guys from my last campaign or the group I'm a player in are in this campaign there may be too many preconceived ideas about it.
  4. Balancing GM goals and player goals. I like good PCs and good missions, I need players that can get on board with that. I also want more story in this game. However, I'm neither used to that nor do I know what to do with powergamers who want more and more shiny gadgets. You can see too that this consideration leads back into the gaming system question above.
  5. Time. Baby, completion of the dissertation, settling in after a recent move, and new job are all taking their toll. Gaming for 12-14 hours on a Saturday once a month may not be as viable as it used to be.
  6. Infrastructure: I may be looking for a new tracking system for combat, world interactions etc., more prepped maps, and more prepped cardboards figures can really decrease prep time later.
With any luck I can take the time to work through all of these considerations in future posts.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

New blog, new dice

This is zerfinity. A combination of the ideas of zero and infinity. One geeks' expression on a concept that plagues him. . . .

First day on the new gaming blog. My current plan for this blog is two fold. First, to blog my experiences as a GM and as a player. Second, to use this blog to work out some of my thoughts and plans for my next campaign. I'm just about to finish a GURPS campaign and am in the early stages of planning my next one (maybe GURPS, maybe Fudge). I've also GMed Eberron. I've played AD&D, D&D 3.0 , D&D 3.5, and Shadowrun. I'm playing in the very beginning of a D&D Eberron campaign.

I recently received an order from and would like to display my latest acquisition. You might be a geek if you buy a bag of random dice not because you need them but just because you like dice. You know you're a geek when you then lay your new dice out on a tray, sort them into columns by color and then into rows by die type. Though, I am thankfully able to stop short of the compulsion to arrange the color columns into a rainbow progression.

I'll be adding more entries soon, more as a way to walk through my thoughts about the new campaign. Once the campaign begins, I've considered logging each session as an entry here. We'll see.