#RPGaDAY Day 13: Describe a game experience that changed how you play.
  • #RPGaDAY Day 13: Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

    It’s August and that means that the annual #RPGaDAY ‘question a day’ is here to celebrate “everything cool, memorable and amazing about our hobby.” This year we’ve decided to join in the fun and will be canvassing answers from the ENWorld crew, columnists and friends in the industry to bring you some of our answers. We hope you’ll join in, in the comments section, and share your thoughts with us too… So, without further ado, here’s Day 13 of #RPGaDAY 2017!

    #RPGaDAY Question 13: Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

    Michael J Tresca: Playing with six players under the age of 12 has greatly simplified my approach to game mechanics in my 5E D&D Star Wars campaign. There's no initiative, we go around the table; for all powers that use a point pool (Force, maneuvers), we have one physical system involving papercraft Force crystals they throw into a box when they spend it; I created cards to clarify the use of all their powers. This is all for sanity purposes with a chaotic group, and the chaos has diminished with each session as a result.

    Angus Abranson: I found this question really tricky and was almost going to pass on it. But then I really had a second, third, fourth… think on it and I think I’m going to go with two games that came out within months of each other that both introduced our group to the concept of Players being able to directly mould, change and take charge of the storyline and almost act as secondary Gamemasters in some ways. Now obviously players are pretty much always changing the story and moulding it to their own, but in both Torg (1990) and Amber (1991) we found games which enabled the players to directly change plot elements (Drama Deck) or move the story (through the use of Shadowshifting) to completely different pastures.
    The Drama Deck in Torg not only gave the players ‘preferred actions’ that if they could work them into the story they’d get bonuses for doing but also gave you ways to ‘change’ the story… that big bad NPC that’s been causing loads of problems… well they’re actually an old friend of one of the PCs and owe them a favour. With Amber any character that has walked the Pattern can ‘shadowshift’, changing the reality they are currently in through subtle manipulations and changes to be able to move to ‘elsewhere’… be it virtually the same place but with a few minor differences all the way through to anything out of the characters wildest imagination… everything that may exist does exist somewhere in Shadow… Thus the characters could go literally anywhere and anywhen.
    Amber Diceless Roleplay also introduced loads of new ideas to our group – from roleplaying without dice and to keeping character diaries to taking much more control of the game than we were used to in previous games. It was truly one of the most revolutionary games around.

    James Wallis (The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Paranoia): During an all-day session of Empire of the Petal Throne towards the end of the 1980s, I became aware that the GM wasn't in the room. He'd gone to make lunch for everyone. The game continued without a break for almost an hour: plans were made, deals were done, an expedition began. It was a revelation about the way group-play can function if the game's structure is flexible enough to permit it, and it's influenced my thinking on RPG design ever since. Also the lunch was terrific.

    WJ MacGuffin (Paranoia XP, Unknown Armies): Back when I first started playing RPGs (D&D basic set 1977, yes I'm that old), I played to roll dice and kill monsters. As I grew up, I started taking roleplaying more seriously. I delved into my character's personality and passionately argued over the rules. ("But my character wouldn't do that!")
    Then I discovered Paranoia and ran "Me and My Shadow, Mark IV" for my group. Oh, my.
    That game experience taught me two very important lessons that I keep close to my gamer heart.
    1) Rules are not the Word of God. Instead of arguing over them, keep the game going. Being "right" is nowhere near as important as playing.
    2) The whole damn point of gaming is to have fun. That needs to be the focus of every single game session. And if some rules or die rolls need to be fudged to keep people having fun, that's a good thing.
    Sure, you could argue over how to define "fun," but after spending a few hours killing Troubleshooters around Mark IV, I realized that I was taking RPGs too seriously. I could deviate from the rules on the fly if that made the game better for players. I could change my die roll that killed a PC into one that kept the player in the game. I could even change a published adventure without worrying about balance or "what the designer intended" if that meant more smiles 'round the table.
    When I got back to running D&D, I threw out rules for rations and encumbrance because no one liked them. (If you do, that's fine! I'm not telling you how to have fun!) Someone wanted to play a full orc? There are no rules for that — but what the hell, go for it. We'll make some up so they enjoy their character.
    For a while, I forgot games were supposed to be fun. Thanks to that game experience, I won't forget that ever again.

    Mike Mason (Chaosium; Games Workshop): Many years ago, I was running a Call of Cthulhu campaign – Masks of Nyarlathotep in fact, and the investigators were dying by the dozen each session. It got repetitive and dull. The players lost any sense of connection they might have had with their characters and the game stalled, thus prematurely ending. I was simply following the directions in the campaign, but these did little to help actually play in a campaign style. I was frustrated, as I wanted to enjoy ‘the whole’ campaign (having spent the money on it), just like the players had wanted to do. From that point, I resolved to run campaigns like a novel or film, where there would be a clear end point, with a dramatic a journey to get there. Yes, there might be set backs and the odd player character might die along the way, but I would avoid and rethink any potential for multiple and repeated character deaths. This didn't have to mean dumbing things down or reducing the threat levels of encounters; it meant using them intelligently by focusing on the drama, horror, and tension, while reducing senseless combat or over-the-top opponents. Since then, I always get to the end of the campaigns I run – and everyone enjoys that far more.

    Ian Sturrock (RPG writer and game design lecturer): In college, over the course of a weekend-long binge play session, I played a lazy Halfling Thief in a game of D&D 2e (The Temple of Elemental Evil). During a break in the action, the party returned to Hommlet for some R&R. My character decided to try and joint he local Thieves’ Guild and was tasked with breaking into the local bank. He succeeded in spectacular fashion and was able to procure more than enough wealth to buy into the Guild. Instead, he decided to take the wealth and return home to live out his days. It was the first time I intentionally chose to retire a character because it made sense for that character to do so.

    Aaron Hubrich (Jetpack 7; Gods & Goddesses): I think the online services and services that allow you to see the game play out on a full color screen are very nice. To be able to play with other people hundreds of miles away is amazing to me.

    Wes Otis (Plate Mail Games, Realms of Rothaen): Many years ago, I was running a game at a con, I believe it was GURPS Old West, and I had 6 players, one of which was female. During the game one of the players made a rape joke about a situation in the game, and our female player, rightly, got very angry. At the time, I was ignorant to why such a joke would be a trigger for her and I did nothing while she yelled at the other player and left. We looked at each other like she was crazy, but we were the jerks in reality. Since then I have learned from that mistake and why it was not acceptable. You must respect that you have not walked in anyone else’s shoes. You can’t know what others have dealt with in their lives. If you’re male you do not know all the things a female must contend with day to day and you can’t be dismissive about their feelings. Joking about such things is flat out wrong and as a GM, I should have backed up my female player. I understand that now. The table is for everyone, and we need to respect all those who sit down to play.

    David Donachie (Solipsist, Starblazer Adventures): The first time I played Shock! was a revelation. It showed me how deep, and emotional, a game could be with only a handful of scenes. I was used to multi-year campaigns, where characters and conflicts developed slowly, and the concentration of action really blew me away.

    Rich Lescouflair (Alligator Alley Entertainment; Esper Genesis 5E): Playing Paranoia for the first time showed me how much fun it can be for your character to die, especially if it all goes off the rails.

    Federico Sohns (Nibiru RPG): I think storytelling and reading through Changeling the Lost (my favourite game) for the first time really opened my eyes to how deep RPGs can get. The whole game had such an impact in me, on how it portrayed its worlds, themes and characters, that it really set the bar for what I deem as great overal design in an RPG, and it probably evolved into some of the most enjoyable campaigns I've played.

    Simon Burley (Golden Heroes, The Super Hack): I have two. Firstly, I re-entered the RPG world in the early 21st century by travelling to Games Conventions to test/promote my Trad SHRPG - Squadron UK. Great game but fully Trad. Figures, mapboards etc. Crash, bang Superhero battles. I travelled up to a wonderful games convention in Scotland (Conpulsion) which took hours and cost a lot of money on the train. Carrying all the gear that far was a pain. I later found out it was actually cheaper - as well as faster - to FLY to Edinburgh from Birmingham (go figure) but that was hand luggage only. Paying for all the gear made it more expensive again. So I designed a lighter - more narrative - "theatre of the mind" SHRPG - The Comics Code. This I could throw in my overnight bag. Then a player pointed out that the rules were so light they could easily be adapted to other genres. I've since produced iterations for SciFi, Steampunk and Anime and am working on Fantasy and Horror. I've all but given up on playing my fully Trad games at the moment.
    The second was when I, and some other GMs, were invited to a COMPUTER games convention to promote tabletop RPGs. There was a communications snaffu and - when we got there - it turned out that the space was being paid for by a trade stand and they only wanted us playing games they had on sale - which was basically Pathfinder. I've had my issues with Pathfinder in the past. Add onto that, when we were asked to run the one hour Pathfinder demonstration games I thought "there's no way you can demo RPGs in an hour." I was wrong, of course. The demos were short, effective and quite charming. That turned me onto the idea of running one hour demos at various geek conventions (SciFi, Anime, Boardgame, CCG etc.) which I've been doing ever since.

    Darren Pearce (EN Publishing; Savage Mojo): A game experience that changed how I play. It would have to be when I first ran Feng Shui, seeing how that game worked changed the way I tend to do action scenes — I’m a lot more freeform in the things I expect players to do and more lenient. I favour a cinematic approach to a lot of it.

    Mike Lafferty (BAMF Podcast; Fainting Goat Games): In a D&D 2e game a few years ago, my room-mate and I were developing a contentious relationship between our characters. We were big believers in the “roleplay is better than roll play” stuff – and, unfortunately, this could lead to in character roleplaying that was not always conducive to everyone having a good time but was tolerated (or even praised) because we were “staying in character”. In one particular session, it looked like our in-character bickering was going to derail things. To prevent that – we spontaneously decided our characters were quarrelsome brothers. One had become a priest, the other a warrior. They fought a lot – but it was how brothers fight. This one narrative change deescalated the squabble and made it possible for us to continue our in-character bickering – but do it at a lower intensity that didn’t tank everyone else’s good time.
    This taught me that the better path is to collaborate in a way that lets everyone have a good time. Since then, I’ve generally tried to look for opportunities to set the group’s fun as the first priority and try to help facilitate everyone having a good time at the table. It doesn’t always work – but it’s a better position to start from (as opposed to trying to grab the spotlight and chew as much scenery as possible.)

    Eran Aviram (Up to Four Players; City of Mist): I'll be strict to the letter of the question, and describe a game experience - only it wasn't mine (Is that cheating? Someone ask the GM please). A few months after Dungeon World first came out, a friend of mine who wanted to translate it to Hebrew asked me to help with the editing. So I started reading the system, and it opened my eyes - but it wasn't until I watched a recorded actual play (it was in the days before *streaming* actual plays became a thing), and watched in awe as this interaction unfolded: "Is there a wizard in this town?" asks the player; "I don't know, is there?" Says the GM. And my life changed.

    Stephanie McAlea (Stygian Fox Publishing, The Things We Leave Behind): Continuum. I went from rolling dice to roleplaying/amateur character acting.

    Simon Brake (Stygian Fox): Fiasco encouraged me to inhabit my character more. As there are no character sheets there’s more reliance on role-playing over dice-rolling, and it got me more comfortable expressing myself, even if I still struggle to inhabit characters significantly different from myself. The same is true of many other rules light games and, all in all, I prefer games that highlight the character over the character sheet.

    Originally created by Dave Chapman (Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space; Conspiracy X) #RPGaDAY os now being caretakered by the crew over at RPGBrigade. We hope you’ll join in, in the comments section, and share your thoughts with us too!
    Comments 10 Comments
    1. TrippyHippy's Avatar
      TrippyHippy -
      Again, as a formative experience, Stormbringer was the second RPG I played (and the first I subsequently bought). It wasn't eye-opening in terms of system particularly, but largely because the GM kept faith with the stories by having all the PCs killed off by the end of the campaign. It was eye opening for me because it underlined that a narrative can actually be memorable and enjoyable to play when you're characters don't just accumulate experience and power and 'win' all the time.

      I guess other people experienced similar revelations through other games, like Call of Cthulhu or Paranoia. But for me, Stormbringer was the first experience of this sort of shift.
    1. Brodie's Avatar
      Brodie -
      As a player, it was playing L5R as Matsu Ken. As a GM, it was running a d20 Modern session I had planned out, only to have to throw out most of what I wrote as my players did seriously unexpected stuff. That taught me to be more flexible in my adventure design and allow for the unexpected.
    1. rknop's Avatar
      rknop -
      Mike Lafferty's experience should be required reading for all roleplaying groups.

      When I first started playing PBEM games (which have evolved mostly into PbP games) back in the early 1990s, I got the impression that every campaign would eventually devolve into bickering between the PCs. It seemed that most of the time this happened because somebody had a character with a strict code of some sort of which they would brook no contradiction. The "can't read social cues" nature of online communication made this a bigger problem there than it did in in-person games.

      Always playing true to your character, starting with motivations and figuring out actions, isn't necessarily the right way to go. Sometimes, you need to figure out why your character would want to do the thing that from a metagame point of view is best for the game.
    1. Madmaxneo -
      I have two such experiences I can recount right now.
      The first is when I started a new Rolemaster group back in the mid to late 90's. I found an alternative initiative system in either RM companion V or VI called CEATs (Combat Environment Action Tracking system). It is basically a real time combat system. I introduced it to the group and we decided to go with it. After a few sessions to get used to how it works and not using a turn based system, the group loved it. In fact they liked it so much a few of my players wanted to take it and use it in the games they ran with other systems. Unfortunately it has ruined my taste for archaic turn based systems as they seem so outdated now. I have created a similar system that is easy to use and can be adapted to any RPG, but it is still in the play test stages.
      Another time I was looking to play a RPG at the local meeting place. I ran into two groups running games, one was D&D and the other was one the guy made up. Regardless both games sucked. So I grabbed about 5 people (mixture from both groups) and decided to run an adventure myself. I had not run D&D in a long time at that point but everyone had D&D characters of course. So I grabbed a Dungeon magazine I had and decided to run a horror scenario. It was probably the best pre-made adventure I had ever run at that point and since then horror scenarios are my best run games period. Everyone (except one guy who wanted more hack and slash) from this group actually joined the Rolemaster game I mentioned previously in this post. I have run a few scenarios since then and have inspired nightmares in people....lol.
    1. Simonpaulburley's Avatar
      Simonpaulburley -
      Quote Originally Posted by Madmaxneo View Post
      So I grabbed a Dungeon magazine I had and decided to run a horror scenario. It was probably the best pre-made adventure I had ever run at that point.....
      Can you remember the scenario/issue?

      My "go to " from Dungeon is FALCON'S PEAK from way back in Dungeon #3.
    1. Madmaxneo -
      Quote Originally Posted by Simonpaulburley View Post
      Can you remember the scenario/issue?

      My "go to " from Dungeon is FALCON'S PEAK from way back in Dungeon #3.
      Ha, probably not. It has been about 26 years since I ran that scenario....lol.
      The scenario: The characters are traveling together when a bad thunderstorm hits and they are miles away from any shelter. They come upon a house that is all boarded up and when they get inside they find corpses completely drained of blood, all holding religious symbols. The place reeks of garlic and some corpses are staked through the heart. In the back yard there are several freshly dug graves and a few of them are occupied, one with the body of a child that is also staked through the heart. Little creepy things happen as the characters start to investigate, someone sees what they think is a dark figure watching the house from the forest line when lightning flashes, and they hear creepy sounds that they begin to believe is someone walking through the house. Every so often a cold drop of water will run down their back probably from a leak in the ceiling. The funny thing is they find no puncture wounds on the victims although the bodies are completely drained of blood. Then one by one the party starts to fall.
      In the game I ran the party started running through the house every time something odd would happen to hopefully catch the vampire. Then they started accusing each other. Finally when they were down to like 3 characters one of the characters dropped right in front of them, the last two noticed a weird pool of water that seemed to be moving on it's own. They were eventually able to kill it (whatever it was) and that was the end of the adventure. It lasted at least 4 hours if not longer and I started with something like 7 players.
    1. Wednesday Boy's Avatar
      Wednesday Boy -
      The switch from playing D&D to playing L5R. Suddenly what I said, who I said it to, and how I said it had much more weight and carried with it concrete, immediate consequences (a loss of honor, a loss of your head, etc.). This prompted me to consider my actions more and consider my words more carefully, which in turn improved my ability to act in character and encouraged me to consider my character's motivations. The changes that it caused carried on to the rest of my roleplaying career.
    1. Tony Vargas -
      A GM in a Champions game asked "Do you think this would be an appropriate way for your character to die?"
    1. mflayermonk -
      Thirty years ago, I was playing (at a convention) with group and we got ourselves in some serious combat trouble.
      We were all yelling at Rory, the cowardly halfling that never fought, to help us out.
      A player had to leave and Rory took over the crazy Dwarf with the Axe. Rory came in axe-swinging and bailed us all out.
      Post combat, Rory went back to the cowardly halfling, but this time I appreciated the halfling much more because Rory was playing the character, and I didn't really understand how to do this until this combat.
    1. Jhaelen -
      Too many to (re)count!

      I've been reading and collecting a lot RPG books and I keep finding interesting tidbits that find their way into my games, no matter the system.

      There's rarely been an experience that had a revolutionary impact on my gameplay, though. It's more like a slow trickle of experiences that continue to shape it.
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