Tuesday, 20 March 2012

On Predilections and Predications

Normally I don't like to get involved in OSR vs Story Gaming as it invariably leads to nothing good. However this post by C at Hack & Slash. interested me enough to throw my own tuppence at the faceless masses of the internet. (I know the context is set against different ways of playing D&D specifically, but it got me thining about gaming in general).
Now I will preface this by nailing my 'Story-Gamer' colours firmly to the mast. (Ironically I do this largely via the medium of one the oldest and least changed games in the industry.) I'm not above messing around with dice-rolls and fixed encounters to facilitate interesting circumstances (the proverbial quantum Ogre). I am upfront about this with my players though and make sure they're fine with it before we start playing. I have only been roleplaying for about 18 months seriously, but I have learned that 99% of problems come from a dischord between expectations. Usually dischord between GMs and Players.

That said, I have only been playing for a short while and the prevalence of the OSR in the blog-o-sphere (is that even a term anymore?) has piqued my interest in that style of gaming too. I like to think (erroneously I suspect) that I am open-minded enough to try some different types of gaming. I have played almost exclusively investigative type games up until this point*, so as clich├ęd as they might be to everyone else, dungeon crawling is not something I'm particularly familiar with. Now, I can't see much appeal in the genre from a purely mechanistic point of view: kill-monsters-get-treasure-get-power-to-kill-more-monsters. Up until today I thought, 'Why not just play a video game?'. But what I saw from C's post is that so much of this game is determined by the player attitudes. What I had been taking as preachy from a lot of gamers was more honestly just 'Here's why I like what I like'. Unfortunately a rather vocal (primarily forum-based I find) minority are determined to knock all other play-styles.

So, what are my aims in a game?
1) Enjoyment

That's it. It sounds trite but I play not to experience a particular thing or even play a particular thing but to enjoy what I'm doing. Rather more accurately, the specifics of what I'm looking for vary from game to game and even session to session occasionally. Sometimes I want a nice monster-of-the-week game that ends with a shoot-out, and sometimes I want complex and intriguing investigation that culminates in foiling a plot without ever raising a weapon. It all comes down to what the person C was discussing with says:

"...in the OSR having your dude be a meeple isn't a bad thing..."

Both camps have a tendency to take the core characteristics of the other and then use them as insults, when actually they aren't. It's just a matter of disparate opinions. WHICH IS OK. And nobody should need to justify it (though it's probably helpful to be able to of course) it's just how you like to play.

This is why I don't think I'll ever be able to get on with public gaming or con gaming, because I judge a lot by knowing my players and what they may or may not enjoy in the current mood and what I feel like running this week.

Moreover, both my recent revelations and C's above post have shown me that game-selection both in tone and (though I suspect to a lesser extent) system need to be informed choices. Not because any is inherently better than any other (sorry D&D players ;) ) but because they are each focussed differently. It's why I need to play some different games and as I said before, the best way to improve a game is to ensure that every decision is a conscious decision and not a default decision even if that means nothing changes. The game will be better purely for you knowing why you are doing everything you are doing.

Thus, this shall be my mid-year's resolution: I resolve to play a greater variety of games so I can at least learn about why other people like them in practice. I've no doubt there will be at least one game I walk away from and never go back to, but that's ok too. The aim isn't to like everything, it's just not to dislike everything on principle.

Wow, this had a much more positive outcome than I was expecting when I started. I admit I was expecting to sort of dissolve into a dribbling polemic against the internet.

*Incidentally, I would be interested to now how often this sort of game crops up outside of games that are specifically geared towards it (CoC, GUMSHOE et al.). That being detectivery, rather than just investigation in the sense of exploration.


  1. There's not as big a divide between indie story gamers and the OSR, and that's why you see some folks able to slide back and forth with aplomb. Story games that give a lot of narrative control to the players are not that far away from the free form, sandbox style so prevalent in the OSR crowd, which put a premium on player agency and player-driven games. But the key thing in OSR style play is not fudging dice or circumventing player choice; instead of implementing your own story, you've got to be willing to let the story emerge from the results of the player's choice.

    I liken it to a postmodern experience, or a memoir, where a series of otherwise meaningless events become a story in retrospect: the 1970's sandbox as a post-modern experience

    1. I am seeing this more now. As I said I'm still learning and the OSR is a big beastie to try and tame.
      I'm definitely seeing the appeal of no fudging at all. And I know that players don't like being restricted too, I recounted in one of my other posts how one of my CoC players kept checking if he could do things because when he did them with his regular CoC GM they broke the game. That's not the sort of thing I think anyone really wants but at the same time I can see the appeal of having certain immutable timelined events that the players have to react to as well.

      I think to be honest, a lot of this comes down to my own inexperience with RPGs in general, which is why I am glad people like yourself can point out when I'm talking out of my ass ;)

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. You weren't talking out your ass, just pointing out that running a wide open investigation is actually quite a bit like running a D&D sandbox - you never know what the players will choose, you might have to do a bit of improv, think on your feet, that kind of stuff. D&D is remarkably good for this because it has good built in tools - random tables help a ton, and dungeons tend to keep the choices manageable. A good non linear investigation is a lot like a dungeon.

    1. Ah, ok I see what you're getting at better now. I must say that one of the things that drew me to the idea of running a sandbox was some of the parallels to the investigations I'm used to running so I think that is definitely a good point.