You are about to play a supers game, but aren’t into comics of movies. That’s just an example. Do you do anything special when you’re about to play in a genre or system unfamiliar to you?
Thanks to Jim Fitzpatrick for the topic!
The Warden comments on The Problem with Examples
Uh, yeah. That’s GM Tool #2A: Guiding the players. I use examples all the time to help those players with analysis paralysis and (yeah, spoiler alert) subliminally suggest what I want them to do. I’m playing the bad guys here, hello!
I’m actually going through this right now with a new play-by-post game for Pandora. Players get points to create scenes and they’re currently still getting their feet wet in the game and how we’re learning to play it text only. Plus there hasn’t been a lot of history to draw from, so the options are wide open. When it comes to learning a new game especially (and with new subsystems or situations outside of a player’s comfort zone, such as a social scene for a born-to-be-fighter player), players turn to the GM for help and those examples are one hell of a good shorthand.
Game text demands examples. They’re what seal the deal and help solidify the very mechanical text above it. It’s what allows us to lock in what we learned and process it in a plausible situation. Rulebook are just like textbooks but with cooler content – they need to provide examples to help seal the deal and lock that information into our brains.
Louie emails us on some recent episodes
Greetings, Lords of BS!
What a fantastic run of topics you guys have been on lately! There’s so much I would love to chime in on, but I don’t want to take up too much time. As for the Slow Burn Fast Start topic, since playing the original West Ends Star Wars RPG in the early 90s I’ve been a Fast Start kind of guy and have never looked back (that system’s modules were typically great about launching right into the fun). I feel you are absolutely right in that different games deserve different treatment -but even with a sandboxy-fantasy campaign-crawl I feel like the more setting details that can be dealt with “off-camera” either before or inbetween play sessions, the better! When necessary, I write up quite details and rumors about the campaign world on little strips -with multiple strips for the more important/common facts and distribute them to the players based on their characters’ intelligence and position within the game world. For some reason being given 4 little strips is less daunting than a packet of campaign notes. Also, these strips usually lead to a lot more discussion among players which reinforces the campaign material. As for the natural coalescing of the party through play? -Phooey! While “in media res” the GM can simply call for the players to do a short flashback narrating how they got to this point or how they joined up with the others -this becomes way more dynamic than the “describe yourself as you wander into the tavern…” tradition. The takeaway is that backgrounds and other important front-loaded info is more memorable and interesting when divulged through action and play -IMO.
The injecting homebrew topic is one of my favorites. Like many in the hobby I have swung between the positions of, “Prepublished shit? Why do I need any of that? That stuff sucks!” in my youth to, “Man, I wish this system had more published modules, I don’t have time to write stuff up every week!” in my adult years. Now, I am at a happy “zen.” I mostly run pre-published work, but always layer on changes of my own design (tightening up plots that seemed too complex, throwing in some new twists or complications, or adding depth to NPCs that were otherwise bland). I also like to fiddle with modules in order to make one run right into the next -for example having characters leaving the the Dwellers of the Forbidden City module fall into the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan after hearing legends of this tomb complex from the inhabitants of the city… My finally point on this topic is that playing through prepublished stuff gives all of us in the hobby a common touchstone to share in conversations. Maybe my experiences in Tomb of Horror are different than yours, but we share a unified thread as we recount the encounter with the giant devils head or how we dispatched the decoy mummy (anyone who tells you they’ve been past that mummy is a lying sack of….).
Matt B. emails us about the X card
Hey Sean! I enjoyed your conversation with Phil about Forbidden Lands. I had one thought about the X-card and safety tools that neither of you brought up.
Its important to make the X-card (and other tools) as unintimidating as possible. The best way that I know to do this is to ensure that it gets used often, so players get in the habit of using it before it’s really needed.
Obviously it’s not a good idea to frequently and intentionally drop offensive elements into your game to give players practice with the X-card.
Instead, I reframe the X-card as an editing tool rather than a safety tool. Its use is not limited to players avoiding upsetting triggers. At any point during the game, if the direction I’m steering the game is boring or if a player simply has a better idea, I encourage them to use the X-card to take things down a different path.
This isn’t for everyone. Some groups don’t like distributed narrative control or feel like it breaks their immersion (I think you discussed something similar to this in episode 308: Description on Demand). But it works well for me and has enabled some really exciting moments!
Blake Ryan emails us a question
I have a question for you both, which has a bit of a long explanation, so here goes.
Back in the 90s there groups I was in played AD&D, even when we tried Rolemaster and Palladium we still played it like AD&D, charge in, no recurring villains or allies once the module was completed, and no alliance to anyone but ourselves.
We tried Shadowrun and died alot, it seems charging in does not agree with full auto weapons 😛 we didn’t cover our tracks or have backup gear stashes or hideouts. In short we did not play smart because we were still playing AD&D.
THEN we tried World of Darkness and quickly realised hey, this is not about your team role and mechanical function, this is about why you do things and what your character cares about. We approached playing and running the games differently.
After that we played all games differently, we wanted more story and character depth.
So the question is, WHAT game(s) changed how you both played and ran games?
Ray Otus comments on this episode’s topic
Interesting question and kind of a difficult challenge. As a player I love getting those bullet point lists like “seven things you need to know about the world.” Last time I remember seeing one of those was in the front of the Vaults of Vaarn zine, issue 1. When approaching another genre, one that you as a player don’t connect with either from lack of experience or exposure or interest, it is really helpful to get a handful of tropes and big ide of a dog’s mouth.” That kind of voice-over works in movies and books, but it’s internal. So you can sort of get into character that way, but no one expects you to play that kind of smart cookie character. We are going to set it in the 1930s. WW1 is over, except there are still people who are hurting from it. Rural America doesn’t always have electricity. There is no interstate system. Phones are scarce and often in a public spot, even within a home (e.g. a main hallway). The stock market crashed in 1929 causing the Great Depression. But America and Americans are tough. Good things are happening. The government is involved in public works and creating national parks. The Empire State Building was just erected. But owning a car and a good suit is still a status symbol. Ok. Those are a little belabored. I was really hoping to come up with three pithy things like 1. You’ve got to mix it up to find things out. 2. Being cool and witty is a pose that most people can’t hold onto for very long. 3. America is reeling but we are survivors. Maybe those should have been the headers with the details following. This is a mess. I shouldn’t type stream-of-consciousness thoughts. LOL https://forums.gamingandeas down right away.
Let me try this off the cuff. Say the genre is noir/gumshoe. Here are 3 things I would tell you.
- Investigation isn’t about thinking things through from a cozy armchair. It’s about beating the bush. You walk the scenes, talk to people, poke your nose in where it doesn’t belong, and catch a few punches. If you are lucky, you solve the crime and live to collect a paycheck – which just might cover the rent.
- You don’t have to talk like Boggart or come up with Raymond Chandler style language like “It was humid outside. Wet and stinky, like the inside of a dog’s mouth.” That kind of voice-over works in movies and books, but it’s internal. So you can sort of get into character that way, but no one expects you to play that kind of smart cookie character.
- We are going to set it in the 1930s. WW1 is over, except there are still people who are hurting from it. Rural America doesn’t always have electricity. There is no interstate system. Phones are scarce and often in a public spot, even within a home (e.g. a main hallway). The stock market crashed in 1929 causing the Great Depression. But America and Americans are tough. Good things are happening. The government is involved in public works and creating national parks. The Empire State Building was just erected. But owning a car and a good suit is still a status symbol.