Saturday, 3 March 2012

An Open Relationship With The Story? (and other quirky questions)

As I'm trying to settle into the routine of posting regularly, my post topics have been all over the place. I'm trying to aim for quality over quantity of course but I think what I need is a project to focus on. By no means will this be the sole focus of the blog but just to warn you that I'm going to start preparing a sandbox world for an MRQII game that will materialise at some unknown time in the future and as such there will be an incoming stream of posts about this, along with the OPD competition entry...

Anyway, here's several meta-questions that are more attitude than mechanic-centric to counter-balance yesterdays post. This was mainly inspired by people bandying about questions about attitudes to gaming on the blogroll, forums and in the Real Worldtm, so this gives me some general answers I can direct them too. If it inspires you to think about your style as well then so much the better!

1. Do you fudge dice rolls? The GM in me says occasionally it's ok, the Player says no. In general I don't because it seems to defeat the point of rolling.

2. Do you play with a GM screen? I never have for purely practical (i.e. space-related) reasons but I've never felt like I'm missing out. I'd like to try it though as it's an iconic sort of image...

3.Improvisation or Strict adherence to prepared material? Obviously improvisation has to be a huge part of any game (to avoid plot-train syndrome) but I like to follow prepared material as I am very much still amateurish in my attempts to riff off my players. That said, I like to think I'm improving and that's a large part of what the sandbox project is going to be about. That and my passion for worldbuilding...

4. Roleplaying or Rollplaying to solve problems? This is an age-old question which I think addresses quite a large flaw in mechanics such as searching for traps (in D&D) or Spot Hidden rolls (in CoC). If theplayer specifically states they look where the trap (or clue, item, enemy etc.) is, but fails their roll, do they find the thing? In my book, yes they do. I'm very much about promoting player (as opposed to character) ingenuity as much as possible in my games, so yes they do.

5. Story gamer or dungeon crawler? While this is pretty much a false dichotomy, I tend to do both. Having cut my teeth on Call Of Cthulhu's heavily plot-driven scenarios I have a soft-spot for a good storyline, but I have also been the victim of GMs who enforce their storyline to the hilt, and thats no fun. So I have overarching, background machinations but mostly for me, the players don't need to be restricted. I had this driven home for me, last weekend in fact, when one of the players who was used to a different CoC GM kept asking if the things he was about to do would 'break' the scenario because he'd done them in another guy's game and the GM had flat out said if he did that they may as well go home, the adventure is over. That seems wierd to me...

6. How much random/procedurally generated content do you use? I guess this ties into the previous question, but at the moment not a lot. Many of the blogs I read wax lyrical on the wonders of random encounter tables though so I'm very tempted to implement in a game somewhere. I have an interesting idea for a procedurally generated game bouncing around in my mind, but I'm sort of stuck on how to implement it without it becoming boring after the novelty wears off.

7. Do you actually ENJOY GMing? This is a weird one. I've heard so many people say "I only GM because no one else wants to" that it's become almost my standard assumption, but I find it hard to believe that the people who spend hours preppig for a session are doing so just for the sake of their fellows. I enjoy GMing Call Of Cthulhu very much so, and I don't think being a player in that game is ever going to hold appeal for more than one or two sessions because I've seen too much behind the curtain and I'd miss the little bits of knowledge that make everything hang together behind-the-scenes. That said, there is a particularly sad kind of heartbreak that comes of having players stomping through your meticulously prepared world...

8. How detailed do you want characters? Again, this varies between GM and Player me. GM Malik wants specific details that he can use as plot-hooks and similar devices. Anything else is nice because it gets the player invested, but superfluous for my own purposes. Player Malik isn't particularly bothered about the character history. Don't get me wrong, I've nothing against those who devise whole family trees and so on, but it's not for me. What I like is the personality of a character, the quirks, the hooks, the habits, something that really influences what he does so that other people will be able to almost predict what he's going to do based on his personality not mine and they'll remember him and his actions. That said, these tend to be minor traits as hugely quirky characters tend to clash with the party and the GM. This probably stems from my psychological background I admit. If players want to write up long backstories I'm good with that and it definitely helps player investment, and some people like reasons for their behaviour.  As I'm writing this, Wrath Of A Zombie has written an interesting piece on this exact subject here. An alternative point of view is covered here.

9. Do you use props in gaming? This varies humungously, based on the game. In CoC I do, a lot, because handouts are cool and tangible clues are the best in a invetigative game. Also decipering them shuts the players up for a while. In other games I suspect I won't as much, though the occasional visual puzzle will inevitably pop up here and there.

I've covered worldbuilding before and so suffice to say that I enjoy it immensly but feel it often goes to waste as players ignore half of it anyway. That said, if it makes the world more believable and helps you with your roleplaying NPCs (it does for me) I think it's an excellent idea. (BTW, I know that post and my current sandbox idea are a little at odds, but that was referring to maps in the context of campaigns where there is a specific objective, because I'm a largely new-school story-gamer as noted above, hence why I'm trying to broaden my horizons).

Anything else you want to know about, please ask!


  1. Very good article Malik. Have you thought of creating your world and getting it published as a campaign setting? I am thinking of doing that with my campaign world Verdenheim on Obsidian Portal

    1. Hmm, Obsidian Portal looks interesting must make a note of that somewhere.
      I've considered it, but this will be the first full-on creation I've done so it'll be very much dependent on how it turns out.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!