Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The GM as Magician

Just a brief rumination that occurred to me while driving home today. There's a lot of tips about how to GM better games. And that's all well and good. But keep in mind something as you GM - you are like a magician to your Players. Well, I should caveat that by saying that it varies to a certain degree depending on the type of game your running. The more Narrative your style of game, the more Magician you become.

How so? Well you set up encounters. You create Maps. You create NPCs. You act them out improvisationally during the course of the game. No one knows really exactly what is going to happen because the Dice and the Players conspire to change whatever plans we may have had. And so improvisation is required.

But what the Players don't know, and in my opinion shouldn't know, is exactly what's been planned, and what's being improvised. They know its a mix. But they don't know how much of a mix. And that's a good thing, and should stay that way. Because one of the things that brings interest and excitement to the game is the idea that the GM's World is this real "other Place" that you can use your imagination to venture into. And when that works and you achieve some level of Immersion - it's awesome. Provided of course that the GM's World is actually awesome. But that's a different point. What I'm suggesting is that the GM should not divulge to the Players what his 'tricks' are... any more than the Magician will show you how he does a coin trick. The moment he does - the mystery is finished. You may have learned a trick, but you've lost the Immersion.

So unless you are teaching a new GM the tricks of the trade - don't tell your Players anything about what's going on behind the curtain. It's more fun for them, and probably improves the quality of their experience overall.

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Difference Between Computer and Table Top RPGs

Everyone knows that Computer RPGs and Table Top RPGs are different.  And we usually talk about that in terms of graphics vs imagination.  And that's a valid point, of course, and probably the biggest difference, or at least the most obvious.

Another difference, though, and one that I find even more interesting, is that CRPGs are designed from the point of view of Action and Suspense through mechanisms that are wholly different than TTRPGs.  First off TTRPGs are typically (I don't know if there are exceptions) turn based.  They are an offshoot of tactical war-games.  They are Strategic or Tactical in nature.   You plan your moves, you think carefully, you plot out distances and make calculations based on math.  Then you move and your characters take their actions.  The dice are rolled and outcomes are determined and described.

Conversely, in CRPGs you move fast, you run towards the opponent, rapidly assess whatever skill or spell you're going to use or "fire" and twitch your way to ever-loving glory.   It's fast paced fun and exciting.

So between the two games where do you get suspense?  In one you get it from the live action element.  In the other ... and that's the interesting part.  For Table Top RPGs you need to do something extra to gain the element of suspense.  You need to build a story.  You need the Characters to be invested in that story, and you need to build suspense in the Players by cultivating that story in such a way as to make them, at some point, sit on the edge of their seats ... and when you do that, you've achieved a particular kind of mastery in Table Top RPGs.  It's not about system.  This kind of mastery is about story telling.

When I Gamesmaster I try to build up towards climactic events that will along the way create a mounting suspense among the players.  I do it by emotionally involving their Characters in the story.  For example, recently a Character named Hermel was essentially a retired hero.  He saved his town from the bandits, uncovered a mystery or two along the way, helped to eliminate a dangerous gang from the local town, found the girl of his dreams and, well, was satisfied.  He didn't want to take any chances on adventuring his way into self destruction.   Understandable!

Yet the world goes on.  And adventure was calling his name.  Mostly because there is a new campaign brewing.  A very interesting one.  Right near the village where Hermel settled down and started his farm and family.

So one day adventure came looking for Hermel and his friends.  It came in the form of a Town Hall meeting.  Hermel waited outside, not wishing to get himself involved.  At the end of the meeting the bad news was told.   While the town had been prospering after the elimination of the Bandits, and the building of the town wall (at Hermel's suggestion), and the opening of a local sulfur mine (by one of Hermel's adventuring Compatriots Ishcandar's father, the wealthy Mr. Rockerfellah) ... there were problems.  Hermel stood outside patiently waiting.  It turned out that there had been kidnappings recently.  No one knew by whom.  Three children had been taken in the past three nights.  During heavy storms.  Right out from under their parent's noses.

It began raining.

Hermel looked at his lovely wife who was seated next to him on the bench outside the doorway of the the Town Hall.

"Did we leave Peaches (his daughter's nickname) at home?" he asked.  "Of course," said his wife, but before she could finish the sentence Hermel was already running full tilt towards the commons beyond which, at the edge of the village, his farmhouse stood in the darkness.   "Peaches!" he yelled at the top of his lungs as he ran.  "Peaches!"

The towns folk, who all knew Hermel quite well, ran outside.  There was a buzz around the hall, and some ran after him, while others ran to their own homes to check on their own children.  Hermel's wife, Apricot, gathered as many friends as she could quickly muster with a shout and ran after her husband, her dress dampening in the increasing rain.  The wind began to howl.  The rain came down in pelts.

She was gone.

And so Hermel wasted no time in finding the thin trail of odd shaped tracks that lead him and his friends into the wilderness...

And that's how suspense gets built with story.  It's fabulous fun.

And for me, that's the big gigantic difference between Computer and Table Top RPGs.  I can do that with my Table Top RPG.  I can't do anything like that whatsoever with my Computer RPG.