HinterBlog

December 31, 2010

Veracity and chasing the impossible dream

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , , — bilbo @ 9:24 pm

I see this most in historical games but it happens in any genre to some extent. The expressed desire that a game be “more realistic” or if it was just more “true to the period”. Sometimes it comes our as “OMG! There is no way that the dino-blaster 2000 could take out a neocybercryoTyanoRex 4500!!!” but it invariably comes down to a question of veracity.

Normally, I would say this is a simple argument of definition.

correctness or accuracy, as of the senses or of a scientific instrument.

I do not believe this is the case with RPGs. Why? Because in our little slice of the world, veracity has become a subjective idea. Yeah, you heard me punk, truth is subjective. Not to go all Kierkegaard on you, but since we are dealing with a fictional work and not one of scientific or non-fiction, you really need to ask a much more personal question, a more immediate question, is it entertaining? It never ceases to amaze me that this seems to be the last thing on many people’s minds when dealing with a game. It seems to them, and rightfully so, that their enjoyment is secondary or some how dependent on the veracity, the externally verifiable truth or factual correctness of a game.

Now feel that. Right there. Your first reaction, you initial revulsion at the thought of a game riddled with errors, impossible to read, sentences that end in the middle. That is not what I was saying. It is the first reaction, a vague feeling that somehow if you have Caesar driving a Porche and shooting dinosaurs with his blaster that the game might be fun. However, add Caesar being born in the wrong year and the entertainment value is destroyed. The game is only good for kindling.

It gets worse. No matter how “correct” the game is, you will always have “errors” in the game. Gamers seem obsessed with this. Designers are driven by a need to try and fill this impossible gap. “Not impossible,” you say,”you merely need to get your facts straight”. I fear this is not the case. It is that subjective truth I mentioned earlier. Someone, somewhere will find something you changed, you made the call on, like how strong a t-rex is or what social changes were important, and hammer them. True veracity, even if attainable, is not a shield either.

In the end, you can only make games that you would play, that you would like. Instead of objective veracity, a designer or GM should shoot for consistency. This is much more attainable, and I believe, far more rewarding not only for the designer but also for everyone involved. With consistency, you have the idea of a thread or theme that persists through out the book. Much like a novel, your character, you world, should not have rules at one point that change at another. Your framework is the basis that you engage the reader from.

Finally, to be clear, I am not advocating inaccuracies in a fictional setting. Far from it, I am advocating creative license coupled with consistency and thinking through the repercussions. So, gunpowder in early Roman Empire is going to have a great deal of far reaching effects on history. However, whether Romans had gun powder in the first century is not the point. If you thought it was, you missed mine. 😉

July 10, 2010

The Practical Side of Brevity

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , — bilbo @ 10:51 am

There is a time and a place to go verbose and profound, and there are times when brevity is better. Brevity can drive a point home or fire the imagination. Let’s look at an example.

The forest is covered in a gloomy fog, forbidding to look upon, the trees dripping with moss. The darkness seems to cling to all areas as though made of molasses. A smell of a an ancient healthy forest gone to rot assaults your senses in waves declaring, “Leave this place or join us!”. At first, the forest seems quiet then you realize, in the back of your head, there is a screaming, a terror that speaks with your voice. You know this wood is evil and will be your end.

The above might be considered verbose and I would agree. However, it is to the point and appropriate. It would decrease the description, the art of setting the mood to shorten it too much. For example.

The woods are evil and will spell your end.

The above does nothing to fire the imagination. However, we could tighten a bit and spin a different feel.

The wood is dark and forbidding. You are not sure why, but it seems there is an eerie quality that warns you to stay out, to fear it. It warns that your fate will be met here.

Brief and it leaves much of the details to the player. Also, and this is important, it stimulate questions.

Hmm, you ask, why are questions important?

Simply, because it engages the players. It engages their curiosity. The first description engages their senses, describing each one by one. This is a valid means to describing interaction in your games, getting your players to ask questions, to mine for more detail. To build that imagery with their own questions int heir own way, makes for the players to make the setting their own.

So, the practical side of brevity:
1. engages the players in a DIALOGUE with the GM and allows them to be involved.
2. Gets the players thinking about the setting in terms of their interaction with it.
3. Helps them define how they can understand the setting through their own methods of doing so. For example, some folks may care little for “senses” and need hard measurements;i.e. how far from the forest are we, how tall are the trees, how long is the grass. This allows them to engage on their terms, not just the GMs.

Good Gaming!

April 20, 2010

“You’re playing that wrong”

Filed under: Games — Tags: , — bilbo @ 8:36 pm

I have never, in my 30 some years of gaming, understood this as it applies to RPGs, especially in the context of “as the game was intended”. I have run WoD with super heroes, DND in sci-fi settings and monopoly as an RPG. I have yet to find a system that you cannot tweak to do what you want or even just play it out of the box but put a different setting to it. I have seen these, I have no good name for them, shall we try systemic zealot, who believes in some sort of holy grail of “as the designer intended” or “goals of the system”. No one has ever shown me a system that can enforce a type of play and short of a seriously broken system, I doubt there is one. All systems are universal. You may not like the elements that system produces or your opinion may be that the system does not support the elements that you believe are necessary for a setting/genre but those are highly subjective and far from a valid basis for declarations that someone is “playing the game wrong”.

Now, you might say, Bill, my demented game designer, what about the designer, surely, he must know the intended form of play!! First off, stop calling me surely. Second, no, not really. Once you have a game, especially an RPG, it is yours. The designer is irrelevant beyond possible comments or explanations of how he viewed it while writing and playing the game but [b]those views are equally as valid as yours or anyone who plays the game[/b]. I know, as a game designer, I am supposed to push the myth that we are somehow the authority. Somehow, we know what is right for our games and that they can never be played except in the manner we conceive. Sorry to disappoint but no dice…er, diceless…yeah.

So next time you have the urge to tell someone “Oh! you aren’t playing that game the way it was intended!!”, take a deep breath and don’t. Just say no.

Hint for those without a sense of humor: The above may be directed at you, but most likely it is not. If it is (and you would be a weird minority if it did) the good, and I hope it pissed you off.

April 9, 2010

Supers Inc and a 10 year old

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , , — bilbo @ 9:40 am

I ran an intro at a neighborhood store the other night and had a range of folks at the table. Amongst them were a 40ish engineer, a 20 something comic fan, a 16 old store attendant and a 10 year old girl. I ran a pretty standard Supers Inc game where they had to do a high profile rescue of a Senator’s son. He was 20 and they were terrorists holding him for the release of a list of prisoners. The team did not know it at the time but their corporate sponsors were broke and were sending them to their deaths to recover the insurance money.

Engineer spent most of the time trying to convince me that my physics were wrong. Comic boy moaned about how this was not silver age and I had it all wrong. Store attendant would rather have been getting a root canal. But this little ten year old girl played it to the friggin hilt. She was playing a 10 year old much the same as here but with intangibility. She barely could grasp the system but it did not bother her, she would do stuff like “I want to go through that car and break the engine” and I would tell her what to roll and she would ask what she needed and get really excited about the outcome.

I want to stress, this is not about “getting Supers Inc” but about getting the game. She was having fun. I think there are just some gamers that don’t get that anymore. I cannot for the life of me understand why you would continue to play if you had lost that joie de vivre that games should give you. This is not work, it should be entertainment.

So, next time you are feeling down about your game, sit down with niece, nephew, son, friends kid, who ever of the appropriate age and get your game on. You may be surprised just how much they get, how much fun they have and how refreshing it is to just play.

March 15, 2010

20 Minutes of Fun in 4 hours of Play

Filed under: Games — Tags: , — bilbo @ 11:18 pm

At the Who’s Yer Con in Indianapolis, I played in a demo by Mike Noorman from the MU Skulls. In the group was a guy who made this statement crystallize and understandable to me. I had seen the elements for years before this but not put it together until that night. This guy was a “Serious” gamer. I have encountered this type before but never connected it to Dancey’s “20 minute” remark. He probably only had about 20 minutes of fun. Now, ask him and it would be a litany of reasons including but not limited to the system, the group not taking the game seriously, the guy who was drinking beer or having the designer sitting in. What it really happened was a mix of game styles, on a fundamental and incompatible level.

You see, he was there to play a game, a certain kind of game, and no other would matter. This could have been defined by system or setting or attitude of the group (are the laughing and cracking jokes about the A-Team or immersing themselves in their character roles) but in the end, it was like he was sitting at the table alone. That is not fun for anyone.

So how do we fix it? I mean, I have seen this problem many a time. I have seen the guy who just takes it all a bit too seriously or more to the point, more seriously than those around him. This can work if it is not too big a delta…or it can make for a guy who is terse, “a dick” or even gets up and leaves early. Unfortunately, the only thing I can thing of is to ask the guy to leave. This is not very practical in a demo game and can be hard to determine in time to make any difference. Unfortunately, by the very definition, it is almost impossible to set up the level of “serious” play that will satisfy the “serious” gamer and not alienate the rest of the group. There may be no solution to this one except for the “serious” gamer to find a group that engages in the same style of play but in the interim, a fair number of games may be destroyed by a bored player.

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