Saturday, February 1, 2014

Yes, And...

Admittedly, I really struggled with coming up with a title for this blog post. I settled on a term that many gamers and GMs love to toss around these days. I can’t count the number of times +Jerrod Gunning  has used it while describing gaming and running styles. He’s also used numerous times in the handful of games I have been luckily enough to join in while he was running. Yes, Jerrod runs a lot of games, but my schedule tends to be a bit goofy. Anyhow, moving right along.

I was fortunate enough to sit in on a play test of D&D Next being run by +Tom Morris . I’ve had the playtest documents and played a few games, but everything had trouble getting off the ground. Tonight, I was a little late to join in the fun myself, but I was invited to sit back and watch. +Cavin DeJordy  was there with his natural impishness—he’s a lot more macabre in game than I remember. Then, +Shoe Skogen  was playing a character that was just downright brutal. +Lloyd Gyan was there with a proper and studious healer. The fray exploded early amongst these and other players.

I realized a few things here. Over the years, I have played an enjoyed a great many games—everything from Dungeons & Dragons Advanced Second Edition to Rifts (yes, I put them next to one another on purpose), Rolemaster, Fate, and so many more. Over time, my tastes have changed somewhat and in some cases, it was really because I didn’t know what I wanted. I found on more than one occasion I found an RPG I didn’t know I loved until I tried it, like asking someone if they enjoy chocolate when they have never had it. +Joshua Macy's SFX is a perfect example of this.

With DnD 3x, I enjoyed feats and skills, but it became clunky. I later experimented with +Mark Knights  running Pathfinder and I finally realized why I moved away from d20. D20 and DnD are built off a single, simple rule, a roll of a d20. However, there are literally hundreds of rules exceptions. Fate Core came out and I enjoyed it, but there was a lot of applications of rules—it was like peeling back an onion. With SFX! everything revolved around “does this makes sense?” Genius!

My point is, I’ve been trying a lot of games out over the past year and I have seen what I live versus what I don’t like. What I have really been doing is testing systems to see what they could and couldn’t do. I really wanted to push the envelope for what I was used to seeing in tabletop games. I wanted the high flying cinematics without having to memorize a thousand rules or find a way to make it work within a system—have it just work out of the box with just a roll or two, without and fudging or modifications. The cool trailers we see for video games—yeah, that’s what I want our characters to do…all…the…time.

Take a look here for a perfect example of what I mean (especially the archer dude near the end):

Watching this game of D&D Next get played, however, I was seeing the exact opposite. Testing out rules, you play a system as designed. You ignore the golden rule of gaming to “use what you want and discard the rest.” I heard more than once that the system simply wasn’t designed to do what the players wanted it to. Players pleaded with the DM for another player to be able to do something just because it would be cool. They worked something out, she did. It was awesome. They tried to encourage it to be more awesome and my take away line for the night was “There are no suplexes in Dungeons & Dragons.”

Meanwhile, I look at games like Fate where people are supposed to have fun making their characters and what their characters do “more awesome.” SFX is build the same way. The difference being in Fate, there are some pretty solidly established ways to do things. In SFX, you determine your desired end result and roll for that, everything else is just window dressing. +Adam Dickstien has a modified version of D&D he’ll hopefully run for me soon that, every time I hear about it, it makes me drool. He says that your characters are supposed to be mythic fantasy heroes. Meanwhile, D&D is often built more around what you can’t do.

At the same time, I heard a lot of meta gaming going on in the D&D Next play test. The healer of the group was trying to figure out how many hit points his companions had so that he could do cool stuff. Fate suffers from this a bit as well, as you make decisions based on Fate points. That’s thinking out of game. As Macy will tell you, just as in SFX, gaming should be done from the character’s perspective. What would they do or what would it make sense for them to do in certain situations? You shouldn’t be worried about this otherwise non-existent arbitrary facets that are included by the rules. Now, I still like to roll, so I’m not a diceless roleplaying guy. I don’t enjoy Gossamer & Shadow or Fiasco. I do, however, enjoy being in the moment and not worry about how many HP or or power points my character has and dealing with some archaic, otherwise intangible currency.

So, “yes, and…” makes a lot more sense to me now than it did way back when. I’m seeing the flaws in the games I grew up with. I still enjoy them for what they are, but I also find myself looking toward what else there could be. I have taken situations and videos to GMs and designers from different games. How would you do this with XYZ system? I get answers like it can’t be done or that you have to either ignore certain rules or follow a laundry list of rules that add so much table rolling, you can easily get lost. Then, I also get answers like “that’s easy, just blah, blah, blah.” So far, however, the only one that has really held true and made sense for me is SFX’s rule of “does it make sense.” Trying to work that into other games now, and I’ll have to see how the players respond to it, because it does require a certain bit of arbitrary ad libbing. And, even I am one who likes codification. It is an interesting conundrum with two diametrically opposing forces needing to play nice with one another.