People have asked me how I GM. People have asked me how to play in my games. By a kind of ontological fusion, this document answers the questions of both groups. It’s amazing.
There is no “plot”, and we are intense
The heart of my method is improvising — I am making this shit up as we go along. That’s my default position. My default model of “run a game session” is that I have no plan or knowledge of what will happen. The players could do anything and it might seem reasonable for anything to happen. That is where I start from, and any prep work I do to is to support that. This is probably the key to my success.
There is thus no “plot”, ever. You are free. But that comes with responsibility — as a player you must make the game work. Good drama has ongoing themes, good drama goes somewhere. So you need to have direction, to be going somewhere, and to stick with that at least some of the time. You need to try to change the world, or at least try to change your position in it.
Example If you start out looking for your brother, you should keep looking for him until you have good reason to give up.
Side-jaunts are not a problem, just so long as you get back on track eventually. But my runs are usually short — 10–12 sessions is typical — so “eventually” is quite soon.
A twenty-four page zine by an independent author will never provide as much detail as an encylopedic tome from a large corporate producer. But I’m not sure the additional detail in those larger books actually gets used in games. … Setting material like [Dirge of Urazya] leans into that idea and gives the players – all of them – both the encouragement and the tools to customize it, rather than present lots of “canon lore” and then a vague statement about feeling free to “change it if you want”.
Patrick Stuart has started a discussion on his blog with the question “What do you think of art in games?”. As you might expect from his circle, the quality of the replies is excellent, with lots of clever, creative people scrabbling around trying to make sense of their heads.
Every time they rolled anything less than a 6, I’d load ‘em up with consequences. I had no place to put consequences other than the characters or the fiction, and the whole thing ended up looking more like a game of Fiasco than smooth Ocean’s 11 style criming. The reason of course is that you need clocks as a place to put consequences other than the characters and the fiction.
I particularly like how he talks about “places[s] to put consequences” — consequences are, of course, a type of currency, and they need to be accounted for. If you’re generating too many (or too few) for the sinks available, you’re going to have problems. Put another way — I understood after reading this that there are, give-or-take, “consequence points”, and the Blades mechanics only work well if the maths for those points is right.
The problem — too many ideas, and they scatter to the wind
The basic problem is that I generate lots of ideas and thoughts, for games I’m running and games I’m not. I’m fairly good at writing them down, somehow and somewhere, but I’m not so good at getting them to the point where they are actually used in play. I think I miss a lot of opportunities to put the fruits of my mind into a position where players can experience them.
Now, sure, there are some irreducible constraints on this. Play can’t always provide good context to bring in all the ideas you have — you may well generate ideas that require too many entirely different games. And even if everything lines up, you might produce more ideas than can ever be fitted in the playing time you have. Some ideas will fall on stony ground because the world is just like that.
But some losses are accidental. Sometimes, you’ll get an opportunity to use an idea, but miss it. This might be because you forgot it entirely. Or it might because you remember the general idea but you forgot important details (and can’t find them fast enough to not break game flow). Such losses can be minimised if we’re clever about it.
What I want to do is to be as efficient as possible at getting the best ideas from the seething ferment of my mind to the actual world where players can suffer them. I want maximise my ratio of (effort put in) to (amount and quality of ideas that make it to play).
“… most RPG systems don’t actually carry a lot of weight, and are indistinguishable from each other in terms of the type of weight they carry.
In theory, as we’ve discussed, there’s really nothing an RPG system can do for you that you can’t do without it. There’s no reason that we can’t all sit around a table, talk about what our characters do, and, without any mechanics at all, produce the sort of improvised radio drama which any RPG basically boils down to.
The function of any RPG, therefore, is to provide mechanical structures that will support and enhance specific types of play.
… What I’m saying is that system matters. But when it comes to mainstream RPGs, this truth is obfuscated because their systems all matter in exactly the same way.”
There’s a robust simple procedure for running Into the Odd
(from an old G+ post I found while looking through my G+ export)
For some people, the idea of progress in RPG design is threatening — they like the games they have, and they don’t want them to change.
For others, the idea of progress in games is associated with assholes using it push the games they like, or the games they are selling (cf Vampire in the 90s, some of the Forge crowd in the 2000s).
For yet others, they see the counter-evidence to any simple story of linear hobby-wide progress. For example, the recent resurgence of OSR play as a reaction to the plotted-epic-story direction D&D took in the 90s and 00s.
I think progress is possible, and is happening (on multiple stylistic fronts, which as S John Ross points out in [his now-unavailable G+ post] it must do). But I’m not surprised when people don’t believe in it, or don’t like the idea.