I do the inverse of this. We have a standing game night every thursday, and if everyone except me wants to play e.g Terraforming Mars (yuck) I just say “cool, I’ll stay home”. However some in my group don’t understand this, and they want to meet up on the day and sit and decide what everyone wants to play. I’d much rather play a game I like than everyone sit around and play something they tolerate. Or that one person be sullen cause they game they wanted to play wasn’t picked. I’d much rather decide ahead of time what we’re gonna play and the people who want to play can show up.
So here’s a topic that crosses my mind, but I’m not totally sure where to go with it if anywhere at-all.
Acquisitions Incorporated, Critical Role, and Matthew Colville are all pretty popular at the moment. I know people that watch Critical Role that have never played an RPG. Twitch and youtube are making things way more accessible. I love roll20 and I imagine digital table-tops are going to keep being a big thing going forward.
That said, there’s some differences between what pen and paper RPGs were and what these things are. For example, I always enjoyed Acquisitions Inc at PAX, but it’s like the professional wrestling version of D&D (and that’s totally cool). Perkins takes short cuts that might be good for show, but those same shortcuts would “rob” some of my games of some of the things people come to the table for. Critical Role is an entirely different beast because you’ve got a whole lot of talented “performers” essentially doing a show for the crowd. I bring up Colville because I’m kinda hoping his future streaming games kinda showcase something more like my own tables, maybe as more of a gateway into “deeper” RPG exploration for people.
Having been a bit of a student of the hobby for years and years, every edition seems to have been a reaction to the conversation about the previous one. On that topic, I’m seeing a much larger interest in sort of “paint by numbers” gaming. Show up, ham up some limited non-consequential roleplaying, and have two combat encounters with a segue in between. And that’s fine and fun once in a while, but it’s not my main reason for being into the hobby. I was similarly mislead early on (2nd edition era) into thinking pen and paper RPGs were mostly about pretending your way through novels (dragonlance era, record of lodoss war, birthright). I eventually came to understand that this is a fine way to play, but there are a myriad of other types of roleplaying.
5th Edition was the first one in a bit to include codified “backgrounds” as a mechanic in the core rules. A friend asked me today to help them write a more traditional background that their GM was requesting of them (like a page of actual character history) and they were struggling to put more than three sentences down. I balked a bit because that’s the easy stuff to me, but I’ve been playing for twenty-five+ years… and I’ve been GMing so coming up with an entire character by the seat of my pants is old-hat. But I think this points to some of the things that might be the “reaction” to 5th edition down the line. I think we’re going to see more paint by numbers character history, motivation, etc. Probably some of that on the DM’s side as well.
Once again, not saying any of this is good or bad, but it’s different, and like anything else any time you adjust a game to be better at x, you can also end up sliding some other scales of y and z intentionally or unintentionally.
I’ve generally found that the more elaborate and non-mechanical someone’s backstory is, the more annoying they are at the table.
Specifically, I found that they tended to have the future of the character similarly elaborately laid out, and thus set their game expectations rigidly. They would have a lot of trouble handling anything that deviated from the canon they’d imagined and take negative character situations oddly personally.
You’ve nailed it. There’s a difference between playing rpgs and playing rpgs as entertainment for others. And because of the audience, liberties are taken to better entertain that audience, to the possible detriment to the rules of the game. The players are presumably on board with this, right? They had to have known when signing up.
Knowing what you want out of a game and out of your group is, basically, Gaming as an Adult.
Every game is dated by the game mechanics it was published with. D&D is an outlier in that it’s been out so long and initially defined the rpg hobby, but even D&D is a function of what’s going on in rpgs at the time. Inevitably that has to include the previous editions, since D&D is the biggest game around.
I’ve certainly seen that happen a few times before. I recall a campaign three years back or so where someone I had known for years came to the table with this entire plot-line of the campaign they wanted to play through essentially, and in practice they often wanted to do their own thing and if the party wasn’t on board drama followed.
I can sort of understand where people like that come from, they were taught a lot about being “in character” and that RPGs let you do whatever you want in some sense. The difference is most people are socially aware enough to cooperate with the other people at the table towards the goal of collective entertainment.
I personally do not mind when players bring me a character concept and want to have a character arc or some kind of development or personal story. I am more than willing to cooperate with them to work it into the campaign. Of course I will never let their story take over the whole narrative but collaboration on deeper characterization is great in my book.
I don’t care for overly elaborate backstories in my characters unless the GM is specifically looking for them. Part of the reason is I don’t like have five levels of character development in a first level character.
I can understand a GM wanting characters hooks to personally invest my character in the story he’s running. (The FFG RPG has this a design feature.)
I’m more of a fan of organic character development, where the events in the campaign shape the character the most. Right now, I have a Starfinder Society character than I started playing at MAGfest. Mostly because I wanted to try out the system, and because I’m game for Sci-fi play. After about five sessions, I decided that he’ll become a Video personality, who V-Blogs his adventures to their version of the internet.
I’m lazy, which means I’m also lazy at defining my character’s backstory more than the bare minimum necessary. I think that’s partially why I really like character creation mechanics that partially define who the character is and their history. Although I do think that what happens during the play is most important, it’s still easier to get into the character when you have some idea who they are or have been thus far and it helps as a GM too, to know what things are probably important to the character and interesting to the player.
There’s an entire approach to RPGs where you have heavy player buy-in and elaborate characters. Go to a panel some time where you’ve got the GMs with 20 and 30 year campaigns and you’ll see it from time to time. The key though is everyone at the table had to put forth that level of investment to make that work, which is uncommon. Jobs, families, life choices, etc all get in the way.
Then you’ve got people that were really heavy into that “side” of things, but maybe not so much into the “playing a game” side. I think of things like Malazan where you had essentially two authors spring from their homebrew. It’s not so much a RPG at that point… but it is something that can come from them sometimes.
More likely you see a lot of people that think they want (A), but don’t have the commitment or can’t discern the real problems, or people that want (B), but want to drag some other people through the mud to get there. Occasionally you find a sycophant in either of those categories that will talk about how great the game is and how you’re the best gm ever that may feed the cycle.
I’m also not a huge fan of convention games/shop games. They have their place in the grand scheme of things, but if I want to play in those mediums I feel like there are systems I find more fun. Dread, Paranoia, Fiasco. Stuff that naturally flows with a social pick up game pace. I do sort of get the desire to have a “living” game, but I don’t think any of the big players hit the niche for me. One of my old projects was Living EN World, which was meant to be a persistent setting with multiple gaming groups going at once in it so characters from dead games could “continue” their story. This was back in the 3.5 era and it also gave some semblance of reason to build a crafting character to then provide services to other PCs. It worked pretty well for a time, but I took an extended hiatus and when I came back it seemed like playing the game had taken a backseat to directing the world and approving homebrew stuff. Which is also fine, but just different than what I was setting out to do necessarily (I wanted PCs to be the movers and shakers, not the players/gms themselves).
I’ve put down to run Burning Wheel scenario The Gift at the UK games expo and with 5 weeks to go it’s sold 6 places of the 8.
I’ve also put down to run Inheritance and the organiser has arranged for it to be played in the replica viking village that comes to the con, but it’s failed to sell a single ticket so far…
It’s just out by itself on a little Larp tab on the website.
I think I’ll just have to let it be and if fizzles out so be it. It’s starting to bug me.
Aww man, the UK is a bit far to go for a single game but I’d jump at any chance to play a game of Inheritance.
Yeah, you don’t want to do that. It’s a big generic gaming con. I’d have chosen other conventions but I live so close to this convention centre.
I like how this article frames its thesis, and think it’s broadly correct. It’s easy to understand what the mind flayers are, and it isn’t fucking tragic. Though I think it leads to a potential minefield because I can see Mearls’ point being read from the DM’s perspective.
Because, end of the day, if the person telling the story can reach into that dark place, understand really what makes these monsters tick, it can help tell a better story. But understanding isn’t empathy. We don’t have to accept their narrative of their history, but knowing the story they tell themselves helps frame their actions. But I’m coming at this from a writer’s / DM’s perspective. You need villains in some stories.
Nor is empathy the same thing as accepting or legitimizing someone else’s narrative. I agree with the thesis as stated in the title, that “some villains don’t deserve sympathy”, but I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with empathizing with even the worst villains, as long as you do it carefully.
I agree with the article in that some villains don’t necessarily need to be the “hero of their own story”, but I don’t think it’s inherently wrong to expose your audience to the perspectives of a villain, nor even their emotions at the level of empathy, as long as you also demonstrate why those perspectives and emotions are fundamentally misguided.