Thursday, April 07, 2022

On Story vs Games in RPGs

You can create a story. You can play a game of chance. But once you are playing a game of chance it is unlikely that you will get the story you want or expect. Because that's the nature of dice. They roll random. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Law of physics and stuff.

Stories, however, the good ones, the one's our players want, are about heroes who overcome desperate odds to achieve incredible victory. In most stories, the one's players imagine they will emulate, heroes take chances, desperate, terrible risks, at each step of their journey.

But there's a 1 in 20 chance the shot will be a critical hit to the forehead and save the girl from the sorcerer with the dagger at her throat. In the Story the shot hits, the sorcerer's forehead explodes, the girl is saved, and the hero is redeemed. Ahhhh, so great! Fun stuff!

But when you roll the 1d20, that only happens 1 time in 20. All the other times the shot misses, the sorcerer stabs the girl and she dies. The hero glares in numb disbelief at the 8 on the d20. There are groans. The player slumps over. It's done. It was all a gigantic waste. She's dead - the quest is over - romance defeated - and so the despair rises from the ruins like a black cloud and covers the world, and the players all sing "My hero has failed, has failed has failed. And that wasn't fun, no no no. Oh great Gamemaster - you suck, you suck, you suck, you suck, all the live long day. You suck, you suck, you suck, you suck, oh doo dah day!"

How did it come to this?

It's all because over the years the players have been infected with an idea that causes them to believe that RPGs are Story Games, and their heroes are "supposed to win". It's a story after all, and in stories the heroes win. The mantra has been for years that GMs are there to fulfill the wishes of the players who want to be heroes - because "that's fun". The other side of the mantra has been "failing is not fun". So if the players fail, it's not fun, and you suck, oh GM. That's been the mantra circulating the tables for years now. And it's had an impact on player expectations. With perfectly predictable results.

But, in fact, this has all been complete nonsense the entire time, imo.

There are stories. And in them the heroes indeed win - against all odds. That's what makes them fun. Absolutely. Yes. You can read them. You can watch them on TV and in the movies. You can write them if you like.

But then there are games of chance, like Role Playing Games. And rolling dice requires taking a chance that you will fail. As soon as you let the die fall to the table there's a chance of failure. And the greater the risk, the greater odds you will fail. But the greater the sense of achievement when your risk pays off in your favor. So for the GAME to be exciting the risks have to be high. But when the risks are high - in the real world of physics where the dice are being rolled - there's usually a far greater amount of fail than there is success (unless every risk is 50% chance of success - or more). That's physics for ya. Dice = Risk = Failures. But people these days' don't want that. They want the Fantasy of Winning - all the time. Every time. And when they fail, they say "That wasn't fun, now was it". Because they've been trained to say that. Their minds have been infected with an unrealistic expectation.

The original RPG, on the other hand, before the corruption insinuated itself into the gestalt, were played with a completely different expectation. "We're gonna die horribly in that damn dungeon." That was the expectation because when you played D&D, original D&D, by Gygaxian 1st Edition rules - guess what? 98% of the time you died. In the one night. By the end of the session your characters were dead. Because the idea that the game is about risk was simply understood. Players didn't bemoan their losses. What did players in those days do when their character where killed in horrible gruesome ways? Rolled new ones. And played again. And again. And again. Because it was fun. The exploration was fun. The danger was fun. The risk was fun. The getting your character jacked up and torn in half by a invisible six arm cave troll was crazy freakin fun. It was the world against the players, and the world was filled with terrible deadly evil monsters, traps, and gruesome mayhem. Yes - that was all part of the fun. In the early days.

But now... well, GMs are expected to buffer for the players. To pad for the players. To pamper the players. To "let the wookie win". Because when they win, that's fun, and when they lose, that's not fun. Because "story".

Players have been fed ideas and expectations that have spoiled the game for them.

My advice: When you want to play a game, be ready to win OR lose. And for GM's, stop pampering your players. Let them die, for Jimminy's sake! And guess what - after they loose a few times, and then take the shot - it's actually terrifically satisfying. Because they took the risk, knowing they could actually lose, and did it anyway - and won. And that's actually fun.

No comments: