More Feverish, Forbidden Thinking…

Okay, so at this point the title is an exercise in hyperbole. I get that and I hope to be back to normal (…) soon. Being sick is officially not fun anymore.

I read another interesting post today from Trollsmyth and it’s exciting how sometimes I find myself blogging about something and along come others writing about the same (or similar) things. I love how that happens. Check out what he has to say for another interesting read (and you can keep following the chain back to the post he was responding to…)

But, to get to my point — I think a lot of what people worry about (both GMs and players) is that heavy-GM involvement in the game will somehow “ruin” the fun. Trollsmyth encourages “situation not story” which I think sums up my GMing style for the best games I’ve ever run, but I also think that it doesn’t go far enough… I think the situation IS the story — GMs set up the pins, players knock them down — and as a game grows up, the players will have more pins of their own in play and can start to be the ones setting up the pins AND the ones knocking them down.

I made mention yesterday to the idea that a big part of my character’s story in the Jedi game evolved out of the GM creating an NPC he felt very comfortable with and my character becoming very involved with that NPC — long-term and romantically. But I have also seen a throw away NPC that was never meant to stick around be latched onto by a player (or a whole group) and become seriously important to the campaign over time. So, take that as you will.

Ultimately, what has me going on and on about this is — I want to run a game with a lot of secrets. Secrets kept from the players. Secrets about their own PCs. I want the game to run similar to the mortals games I mentioned before — the PCs are seemingly normal people, living seemingly normal lives (but they all know that they are different in some way and work together to hide that subtle difference). Over time, the problems start to stack up, they begin to have visions of pasts they don’t remember living, and their weirdness begins to grow — creepingly — until they are ultimately forced to face the unknowns around them. I don’t want to say too much because if potential players read this I don’t want spoilers…

But I’m afraid to run this game. I don’t know that it has any chance of working.

1. If your GM pitched a game full of secrets where you played a pregenerated character, would you be willing?

2. Would you be interested in a game designed to run for a while in order to unravel the layers of your personal mystery?

3. What if you didn’t have any say in your background — but were asked to take up the challenge of playing a character handed to you by someone else?

Sounds pretty daunting. I’ve done exactly that several times and had amazing gaming experiences come out of it — but I’m a gamerholic — I’ll play anything. I see this as a tough sell to most of the gamers I know or interact with on a regular basis. Nothing wrong with them, it’s a lot to ask.

I’ve been thinking about some ways to get around this — doing joint sessions for character creation where everyone defines the group dynamic together and then having breakout sessions with individuals — kind of a riff off of the Prelude-style of WoD.

I could also let each player define some aspect of what the initial “weird powers” of the group are and let them be involved in designing some of their surrounding NPCs (like their families) but this presents its own problems with adding to the player workload.

And then there’s the loss of control when it comes to advancement. Players will have only partial control over “spending XP.” I will be the one manipulating and advancing their powers/weirdness as the game goes on.

So, I’m afraid to try this experiment. I don’t want to front load the work in my already insane schedule for a game that never gets off the ground. I dunno — any other thoughts, ideas, suggestions, wicked condemnations? I’m ready.

Thanks again for reading.


8 responses

  1. 1. If your GM pitched a game full of secrets where you played a pregenerated character, would you be willing?

    Maybe. It would really depend on the setting. DnD? Almost certainly not. Call of Cthulhu? Sure.

    2. Would you be interested in a game designed to run for a while in order to unravel the layers of your personal mystery?

    As long as it didn’t feel incredibly forced, sure. If we flat-out cannot learn anything until X time has passed, then “No”.

    3. What if you didn’t have any say in your background — but were asked to take up the challenge of playing a character handed to you by someone else?

    Probably not. It would depend on the setting, again, and how much room for interpretation we were given. If it boils down to the PCs trying to do something, only to be told by the GM that “No, your character wouldn’t act that way.”, then I would definitely quit.

  2. 1. If your GM pitched a game full of secrets where you played a pregenerated character, would you be willing?

    Yes. However, I’m not sure I would enjoy a game where the secrets turned the PC’s against one another – and I don’t mean that the PC’s just have separate goals, I mean secrets that make the PC’s actively try to work against one another or kill the other characters. For me, I like the cooperativeness of role-playing games. But that’s a personal quirk, and really, I would try anything at least once.

    2. Would you be interested in a game designed to run for a while in order to unravel the layers of your personal mystery?

    Yes. I think there are some game types that would lend to this more (like, I’m not sure D&D would be the right system for this). However, I do have to agree with Paul – anything that’s forced would feel fake and would probably turn me off.

    I do like the idea that there are other forces that are shaping your character’s destiny. I guess it’s more realistic, but more than that, it does introduce more layers that the typical hack & slash cannot provide.

    3. What if you didn’t have any say in your background — but were asked to take up the challenge of playing a character handed to you by someone else?

    I would try to play that character. I know that there are some characters that are just plain hard for me to play, and I wouldn’t enjoy playing (ex. I would never enjoy being the loud-mouth jerk of the group – nothing against people who like playing this character, I just would not enjoy it).

    I do tend to play the same kind of character, so pushing myself to play something against my normal ‘type’ would be an interesting challenge.


    I do think you’re right – this kind of game play is not for everyone. And I think it could be hard to pull off without at least a majority of the group being for it. Would I want every game to be like this – no. I do like the choice that is inherent in role-playing games. But, I think sometimes restrictions upon play can bring out the creativity in people and can be very conducive to interesting games.

  3. @Paul and Mara

    Thank you. You’ve done a great job of elaborating the majority of complaints/pre-expectations that I think many players will have about a game done in this style. To that end, I’d like to address these issues the way I’d handle them to further clarify the goal of what I’d love to set up.

    Thinking about Question 1, I find it interesting that the system would make a difference for a player. I have systems I like and don’t like, but I don’t usually equate system with game style. Of course, I’ve come to prefer much “lighter” systems rather than heavier ones. As far as the issue of secrets are concerned – the types of things that would be mysteries about the characters would not be goals. I wouldn’t really set goals for the PCs, I’d simply craft the general parts of the background to put them in the right place at the right time. It would not be about – “Ha-ha, you learn this and now you want to wipe out the your party.:” The goal would never be to create “Gotcha” types of moments. I’m inclined to say that the secret you all carry together is more likely to pull the party together than apart – because they have so much to lose by revealing their secrets without understanding them.

    Question 2 is a little more difficult because I’m not sure what exactly both players mean by saying “forced” but I assume they mean imposing hard limits on what and how they can learn things even when those limits don’t make consistent sense. My intention as far as revealing the clues to what is really going on is the same that it would be in any mystery… if you ask the right questions or go to the right places or read the right books then you can begin to piece it together. There would be multiple avenues to knowledge and not every character has to spend every adventure looking for all the answers. In fact, it’s possible that some of the PCs may not want to know the truth.

    Question 3 is the easiest fear to allay. Basically, again, when I say background, I mean background. I would be setting up the party, their initial situation, and things like family life, important NPCs, stuff like that – the players still provide the personality. I’d give some rough guides about who the person is through the players interpretation of the events of the character’s past – but the sheet won’t say, “Bob is a sweetheart, he never gets mad. If you get mad, I will take away your character!” That’s not playing – I’m just sitting around the table talking to myself at that point.

    One of the main reasons I’m thinking about this is because of the typical “party-problem” that a lot of groups have. You know, you start a game, tell the players to make a group that works together and you’ll get exactly the opposite every time. This step is mostly designed to strip out the awkwardness of those first few sessions where no one will actually party up – or parties up but only talks to the NPCs…

  4. I’d be up for this. I think there’s a lot of games like this that can really test the limits of RPGs as a form of entertainment, and give the GM a really interesting and challenging task. People should do more of this, and not be afraid to seem pretentious or silly. When these kinds of games come to their conclusion, everyone’s satisfied.

  5. I see this division as being one where you are choosing between a focus on acting a part or playing a character.

    By the former expression, I mean taking on a role as you would in a play, and trying to perform it in an internally consistent way for the enjoyment of the audience. Your own satisfaction is derived from doing so, well.

    The latter expression is meant to convey taking on a role to which you have certain ties, such as writing the character for yourself,. having it written expressly for you, or some combination thereof. Your satisfaction is derived from getting a chance to ‘be’ that character.

    The GM and the story they set in motion, are a set of defining parameters which ultimately determine the ‘fun’ to be had once the preceding choice has been made. If the player has no preconceived prejudice about this choice and so no personal bias against pregenerated characters or a loss of control over development, then only the story matters in terms of fun to be had. If they, on the other hand,. do have that bias, then being forced into a role of a pregen character will either enhance or dimish their fun in accordance with the strength of that bias.

    I personally would enjoy having a GM help me design my character so that I could be realistically surprised by how things develop – but I would not want to take on a pregenerated character in whom I had no interest. Nor would I be able to maintain an interest for very long in a character designed to force me into a role I have no appreciation for – whatever that might be.

    Good post, and thanks for the link to Trollsmyth’s post~
    Interestingly, I wrote my latest entry before checking out my subscription list and reading your last two posts. ‘Influence on Character’

  6. Well — I don’t want the experience to be like playing to a script — but I think I understand what you mean about taking on a role in a play versus making one up yourself.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot more as I’ve worked on these posts and comments and I think it could work very well to have a setup that is a mix of both of the above. Perhaps the GM gets to set the background in terms of parents, situation, stuff like that but the players are involved in the details closer to the present and as I mentioned, have more say in the initial weirdness overtaking the group — the parts they DO already know about themselves.

    This could help avoid feeling disconnected from your character and therefore the campaign…

  7. […] they essentially cannot happen. Since being directed to these threads by another post at The Rhetorical Gamer, I have been trying to put my finger on exactly what I want to say, but while I can think of a lot […]

  8. cauldronofevil | Reply

    1. Only if a really, really trusted that GM.
    2. Absolutely. I prefer it that way.
    3. Hrmmm…not likely. How can I be very invested in a character I had nothing to do with. Even if the GM is really good, it sounds like he’s using me to play a part in HIS story. Limited guidelines for character creation I’m okay with. Being handed an entire backstory I’m not.

    “You know, you start a game, tell the players to make a group that works together and you’ll get exactly the opposite every time.”

    I’ve never understood this problem. By definition, roleplaying is a GROUP story.

    I always tell the players that I am the ‘director’ and the camera follows everyone, but the story is what happens to the group.

    If you make a PC that has no reason to go along with the rest of the player…then fine, go!

    The camera won’t get to you very often and if you’re having your own little ‘solo-series’ then the camera will probably never come back to you.

    “When these kinds of games come to their conclusion, everyone’s satisfied.”

    Unless of course, the GM really IS trying to tell ‘his’ story.

    I once started a game where as a beginning character I was automatically addicted to Spice (from Dune) and pregnant.

    Needless to say I never finished playing that game…

    Could it have turned out really interesting? Sure.

    Did I trust the GM enough to find out? Nope.

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