Diceless Design Burnout…

I’ve been writing a lot about diceless games lately. I’ve been working on my game and taking a game I created previously and turning it back into a diceless game (from the version that currently exists using, er, well, dice).

Unfortunately — from the comments I’ve received — I get the impression that I might be the last person alive who actually wants a diceless game…

While I realize that it’s only a been a few comments (and everyone has been polite and intelligent in their replies, thank you) the experience has let the doubt in about the value of continuing. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t expect to make money (or even more than a 1.5 second blip on the history of RPGs) but it would be nice to know that someone out there would look at it and say “Yes! Finally, someone who thinks like me!”

Or is that asking too much?

Maybe I’m just tired. Working on my Masters thesis and job-hunting has made this summer an exercise in frustration already — maybe the emotional overspill is showing in my creativity?

Ultimately though — I like diceless RPGs. I’ve run them myself many times and gotten the best reviews of any of the games I’ve run, and the times I’ve played in such games run by others have been some of my most treasured RPG experiences. Even more, my experiences going off-the-reservation (so to speak) in games that use dice and having sessions where the dice just sit has proven to be a quality experience for me many times. Writing about the diceless experience the last few weeks has taught me that what I love about the potential of diceless is difficult to put into words — especially when I’m trying to sound like “I know what I’m doing” and not simply shining the honest light of my love for these games out through the blog…

Diceless seems to be a trigger word for some that sets up certain expectations for some players and in many ways, I suppose, despite my own experiences I am a little naive about certain aspects of this phenomenon.

First — Diceless does not (or at least, should not) mean/equal GM Fiat. If diceless meant the game was resolved solely, or even largely, by GM fiat, then what need would we have for the game rules at all? I mean, I can sit in a circle with a bunch of friends, tell them to start telling a story and that I’ll interrupt them sometimes to dictate something I feel they didn’t narrate right or that I think should work differently, but that’s not really what’s going on in a good diceless game. Note that I said good.

To be honest, I’ve written about the “blame the GM syndrome” that invades our hobby before and I feel very strongly about it. I’ve been in bad games, I’ve been in good games, I’ve been in great games. I’ve also run all of these as well (I’ve run a few truly sad sessions in my time, I admit it freely). But when a game is bad enough that I feel the need to complain about it? I quit. Gracefully when possible, with a minimum of conflict, but I leave. Why stay in a terrible game if you’re just going to harp on the experience for years and put that baggage on the next GM you meet? You don’t want that kind of GM? Don’t play with them.

I’m a story-oriented gamer. No, that’s not true enough. I’m a character-oriented gamer. I care about the stories of the characters and when I’m playing, I want to have a great story for my character (and for the group as a whole) that we build. I’m a proactive rather than reactive player and a much more reactive rather than proactive GM. In my experience, diceless systems empower this type of gaming. That’s why I want to write one. That’s the design goal. That’s where this is going. I want decisions to matter more than dice rolls, in every part of the play experience.

I’m going to quit — because this is starting to sound dangerously close to a rant and I don’t really want that. Burnout sucks, but I’ll be back at it this weekend — I might just take a day or two off and breath a little.

Thanks for reading — and if there are any diceless, Amber-lovin’, proactive folk out there who want to throw a “go diceless comment!” my way, I’m not above shamelessly asking…

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8 responses

  1. I’ve enjoyed all of the Amber games I’ve been in. I have the firm belief that diceless games rely on a trust with the GM that many other games (which encourage a competition mindset) don’t foster.
    In the few games that I have tried to run I have found that I tend to look to the players to be proactive in the story. I build the world design the schemes of everyone and then let the PCs loose. Sometimes they miss the plot threads in the beginning and wonder aimlessly until they stumble upon the plot later and sometimes they jump upon it and refuse to detour until they’ve gotten to the end of it.

  2. I say, take a break from the idea for a week or two and then come back to it. That’s what I do and something I beat my head against for two months suddenly just falls into place. Of course it did take me five years to get done with one of my sourcebooks that way and I’m still not done with that novel. Still I like how things turn out when I give things time.

  3. @Ryan
    Hey, glad you like Amber, thanks for the comment! I suppose that trust with the GM is an issue a lot of people do associate with diceless play, but for me the GM trust issue is present in all games, I don’t see diceless as particularly worse in this regard, but I think it gives the perception of being more at the whim of the GM.

    @Emmett
    Thanks for the suggestion. I don’t know if my personality will let me wait a week or two, but I’m definitely taking a few days. You are absolutely right. Thanks for the upbeat comment.

    1. Well I usually have so many pans in the fire I’m happy to let one or two of them go for a while. 🙂

  4. I’ve been a diceless GM since Amber first edition was published. “Diceless” indeed is a trigger word for some roleplayers, but not more than any other word (“OSR”, anyone?).

    That being said, I agree with Emmett: Take a couple of weeks off, and then see how you feel about your project. Personally, I think there are *too few* diceless games out there.

    Be strong!

  5. @Norbert

    Thanks. I appreciate the shout of support. And you’re right. I committed the sin of “taking it personal.” Hence the desire to walk away a bit. I will keep plugging away at it. Some of the moving parts already work well, some are insidiously frustrating.

    Thanks again.

  6. Realize that “diceless” is a very niche style of roleplaying. But, you are by no means alone. Do you go to the Story Games forum (I don’t have the URL handy, but Google should help you)? I think you would find a lot of kindred spirits over there. You may also find a lot of existing games that might fit your interests (My Life With Master, PrimeTime Adventures, Mountain Witch, etc.).

    The beauty of the internet is that no matter how obscure your interest, you can probably find ten websites already catering to people with that interest. You just have to figure out the right search terms.

  7. :0) Thanks for the suggestion. I appreciate that but it seems you and I keep having funny crossed wires… I’m not a fan of the story-games forum. I’m not really a fan of “story-games” (how funny is that right?) I seem like a perfect candidate. Oh well.

    I know that it’s somewhat niche. I just made the mistake of taking it personal for a day or two because I was stressed with other stuff. This all helped me get perspective back and get back on target.

    I want to say though, whether we agree or not, I appreciate your continued interest, your continued posting, and I’m looking forward to your own writing about this.

    Thanks again.

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