Thursday, May 6, 2010


Firstly, regarding my recent dilemma over the spell paralyzation: I have decided to leave it as is. Characters have it rough enough in the brutality of the older editions; they need all the help they can get. Don't mess around with bards or illusionists... they can enspell you forever.

My previous post got me thinking... why do I dislike "arty" games? I went through an arty game phase, didn't I? I used to view this hobby as one primarily dedicated to the telling of stories. What happened?

I think games are games. They are not mediums to tell stories, or to create art, or to challenge social norms. Look at the earliest of them and it is painfully obvious they were meant to be entertainment, and most of them fairly non-serious.

Now, some people, at some point, wanted art or stories or whatever. Some wanted games that resembled anime. Some wanted games that had the narrative structure of a TV show. Most of these wants had to be addressed by creating games with mechanics that corral the play of the game to fit into whatever conceptual lens the writers were pining for.


Some games state these goals but do nothing, mechanically, to chase them. They use "standard" game design, and thus they tend to produce a kind of cognitive dissonance in the players. My earliest taste of this was when I was a senior in high school and I purchased the Robotech RPG from Palladium. The game uses Palladium's rules set with no allowance for the anime/cinematic context of Robotech. Therefore, you get a Robotech game that looks like Robotech but doesn't play like Robotech.

The argument might be made (and indeed it has in this neck of Blogaria) that White Wolf games claim a desire to be all about story, but mechanically aren't much different from "ordinary" role-playing games. (VtM had Humanity, but that's really just a heavy-handed stand-in for alignment)

I think most failed games/campaigns come from this kind of dissonance between what is expected and what is delivered. Game Masters burn out on games that don't deliver what they thought or that make it difficult for their "vision" to play out as intended. A microcosm of this is the player who comes to the Vampire table with sword wielding badass on the character sheet, ready to play something like Blade or Ultraviolet when the GM is ready to run something along the lines of The Hunger or, gods help us, Twilight.

I think my tastes changed when I moved here and all anyone wanted to play was d20. For three years, I played ball, and while I finally burned out on it forever, I did learn something during my d20 years: the game is a game, and story is frosting on the cake. I found that I enjoyed, most of all, making up imaginary places and people and seeing how people reacted to them. I found that I liked the exploration aspect a lot better than trying to create some kind of soap opera or TV show. I found that a mechanically solid game that you could hang a narrative on was a lot more satisfying to me than a game where the narrative was the goal and the mechanics were specialized to produce this goal. I find a lot of the Nu-school games do just that, and often they are too narrowly focused to hold much interest for me. (Grey Ranks, Contender, etc.) Many of the extreme new school games get a little too close to theater for me, much like LARPing... and hey, there's nothing wrong with theater (I was in a couple of plays in high school and I loved my acting classes in college), but that's not what I'm trying to do when I game, you dig?

Again, anyone who wants to call me unsophisticated is probably right; I'd rather stock a cave full of orcs and traps and let my players romp through it than explore what it means to be human (at the gaming table, anyway.) If you want to make art, then by all means, feel free...but don't save me a seat.

1 comment:

  1. Role-playing games are a tool to allow us to tell stories. Specifically, stupid stories.