Playing God #4 - Putting it Together

Alright, after the last exercise our playstyle is known. What do we do with that knowledge? This is where we go shopping for systems. Choice of system is really vast today, compared to past times. Everything from Champions, one of the most detailed point based games to WuShu a very slim fast moving game.

The first thing is the choice of system itself. Is there an overwhelming leaning in a particular direction by GM or group? If everyone is a butt-kicker then a game with very high tactical options is something you want to look for. If everyone is a method actor, you want a game that leans to rewards for roleplaying and supports making all decisions in character, rather than outside of character with out of character knowledge.

One of the biggest of playstyle approaches, and the one that likely gets the most discussion (and argument) on the net is the G/N/S split. Some games work well for one type, but not for others. Finding the right system can take some looking – review sites here at ENWorld, and other places make a great start. Many game creators and authors are also fairly available to fans with questions.
So from there – you have either picked a system that mostly does what you want, or the game you are already playing handles things very well for you, but not quite. The next step is to use the knowledge of playstyle preferences to make changes to the game you play. Some can be made easily; others require serious system hacking skills.

A simple example would be in a game of 3.x D&D, the game is one the group is comfortable with, but the players want a bit more impact on the world directly during play, notably to environment and plot. They also want some scene and drama editing type abilities. The first thing to do is not to create something all by yourself, but take a look and see what similar things are being done. One of the strengths of the 3.x/Pathfinder game is the vast collection of third party material released over the years. This give a vast library of subsystems, add-ons and variant rules that are available.

So, in our example, take a look at games that have a stronger narrative focus, Fate for example, and see what they do. Fate has “fate points” that players can spend to get bonuses and impact the scene. Drama points in some of Eden Studio games do similar things allowing players to change the plot. In the vast array of d20 books there are many different implementations of this – Action points, Hero Points and such. The GM taking a quick overview of these systems can choose a good way to implement that kind of subsystem in his game to change the tone to a more narrative focus; this can be done by adding a full subsystem from another game, adopting a variant rule published for his game, or a hybrid of the two approaches.

This approach works well if there is a solid leaning in any one direction by the group. But many groups have people leaning in multiple directions – the GM cannot just add a simple subsystem to fit everyone's approach. This is where the work can really come in for the GM. It is a subject I won't cover very much here, as there have been many articles written about how to GM general player approaches and types. The basic rule is to make sure each player gets something that they enjoy – a solid fight for the butt-kicker, roleplaying opportunities for the method actors, puzzles for the mad thinker and so on.

Another way that knowing your playstyle is a tremendous help is when you are creating a campaign, or setting up the rules – though unfortunately most people don't know (or don't apply) the knowledge of playstyle when setting things up. You can use your analysis of your playstyle to see what you may not like about a system, or where a previous game or session went wrong. And knowing what has gone wrong helps make sure it doesn't happen again.

As an example, in the authors group, a new player joined – well new for the group, in this case meant playing with us for a year or so– and he wanted to GM a game. He put together something he liked, and would have been fantastic for his old group, but it pretty much died about 5 or 6 sessions in. The GM was a tactician/mad thinker – he loved the tactics of combat, seeing the player's outmaneuver and out-think the villains. The rest of the group, while interested in the tactical aspects of the game, were primarily method actors or storytellers. It wasn't too hard with a bit of analysis to see why the game died. The kind of challenges the GM set up were not the kind of challenges the players enjoyed, and instead got frustrated with, which led to actions that were not tactically sound, but completely in character.
Knowing your own preferences and the preferences of the players at the table can help keep those kind of misunderstandings from happening. If they do happen, it gives you a tool to figure out how to minimize the impact of them. This leads to better gaming, which is really the main thing we all play for.
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