Gaming My Way

14 Nov

RPGs: Rules, Fun, and Vision

There’s a lot that goes into making a memorable game. However, some people get too caught up in certain aspects of a game to really enjoy the other aspects. As you might have guessed from the title, there are three major aspects of a game I want to talk about: the rules and mechanics set out by the designers, the fun that both the players and the GM have playing the game, and the vision the players have for their characters and the GM has for the campaign. Also, these views are relatively new for me, as I used to be a very hardcore follow the rules kind of person, though I do still have an appreciation for them and their importance. I see a balance of these as more important now, and it’s not an even balance either.

Let’s start with the rules. I think the rules should serve primarily to arbitrate disagreements amongst everyone, whether those people are the players or a player and the GM. Ultimately, the GM still has the final say, though this ability of the GM should only be used if the rules are unclear, or unknown at the time. If unknown at the time, the group should figure them out so everyone knows what to do next time the situation comes up. In general, the rules should simply be used to clear up any given dispute… such as whether someone is hit or not, if they’re dying or not, if they can trick any given npc into doing something for them, and so on. In fact, most of these “disputes” about what happens will likely be between the player and GM.

If you look at rules in this light, it’s even more important than usual to have the GM outline any house rules before the game starts, rather than during the game. With this view, the rules become about fairness for everyone including the GM, so it’s not really fair to the players if the GM changes the rules in the middle of the game.

Next up, we have the vision for the campaign and the vision for each character. It’s very likely that the players will have visions for their characters that conflict with the GM’s vision for the campaign. Each player’s vision for their characters might even make it difficult for other players to pursue their own visions for their own characters as well, if the characters are radically different. For instance, the GM has a vision of a stealthy group of spies piecing together some riddles to find a villain who wants to take over the country. However, one player has a character who wants to aspire to take over the country, and another player wants to be a Vin Diesel style action hero or something. These are not likely to mesh together well if you just run with it.

Now, you could actually work all this together though. The player of the action hero could agree not to mess up stealth missions too often, though he might do everything with a flare that makes the missions more risky. As an example, he might shoot locks off doors instead of picking them. The GM will give the action hero a chance to do full on combat once in awhile as well, perhaps in a mission in which the PCs are betrayed. And the player who wants his character to take over the country might have stopping another person’s rise to power as one of the stepping stones of his own rise to power.

If the GM were to fight the players at this point though, it could lead to the action hero blowing all the stealth missions, and the PC who wants to take over the country allying with the villain from the outset. For some people, this might be fun, though it would likely just end up dragging the campaign down. Particularly the GM, who would see his campaign devolve into a high action, low stealth game.

So getting everyone to work together can lead to everyone’s vision being mostly met, and everyone having a good deal of fun. Which naturally leads me to my last point. The fun of everyone involved is more important than any one person’s vision or the rules of the game. If people aren’t having fun, it doesn’t matter what your vision is, since no one will want to play the game next time it runs. If the GM has no fun, he won’t want to run the game himself next session.

Now, this fun part is where those pesky rules I mentioned earlier come back in. What happens if the GM’s idea of what should happen and the players’ ideas of what should happen are different? You go by the rules, roll all the dice, and see what happens. Then you accept the result and move on. You also do this for any point in the story where you want uncertainty for everyone involved, such as a fierce combat. But, for things that are dramatically appropriate, you just let them happen as long as everyone is in agreement. In this way, it also behooves everyone to make compromises and let other people do cool things, because if you do, they’ll be willing to let you do something cool when you think of something you’d like to do that the dice are likely to say you can’t accomplish. If everyone agrees it’s appropriate though, you get to do it anyway.

So, those are my new thoughts on how to run a story driven game. Put everyone’s fun first, by realizing it’s a game, and compromising on the vision of the game and characters each person holds, and using the rules set out in the game to arbitrate any disputes that come up between the players and GM, as well as to keep tension high for everyone. This is how I hope to run my next game, which I hope to start relatively soon, so I’ll see how it goes when I get to start it up. Naturally, these views don’t hold for all games or gaming styles, but I think they should work well for telling a cooperative story.


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