Sunday 21 August 2011

Some Difficult Truths Pt 1

Continuing from this post.

The Difficult and Questionable Truths of this project.
In my planning I made a list of the things my brain shouts at me when I consider this topic. I'm by no means saying these statements are completely true, but they're things that come to my mind. Some of them aren't pleasant to hear, but they'll all need to be addressed to do what I want to do with this project.

People don't want to play RPGs now.
Perhaps the hardest truth of all. Sure, you can draw in new initiates to the hobby with traditional RPGs, but this is mostly through hard work on the part of the GM. The fact is that most of the masses that played D&D at its peak don't want to play it anymore. Most other people are aware that gamers sit around a table and play an RPG with character sheets, funny dice and rulebooks, and generally they don't want to get involved. This is the reason I want to build a play experience from the ground up. Something isn't working.

People don't want to learn rules.
This is very simple. The players will not learn any rules. They will consider the situation they are currently in, say what they want to do and let the GM do the rest. The GM is solely in charge of the rules.

People don't enjoy number crunching.
As mentioned above, there is no number crunching for players in-game, but what about character creation? Everyone loves rolling some stats, right? Sure, but here I think it might be best done another way.

The player states interest in playing and the GM asks them some questions about their character. These questions are subject to limitations the GM has randomised and require no knowledge of the setting or rules. These limitations will either make the question multiple choice or else suggest a few clear choices immediately. Think "As a child were you more brainy or brawny?" or "Your character was conscripted to join the army to fight in a way they thought was unjust. What did they do?". Certain assumptions about a character's background will be implicit to the launch of the game. In D&D terms think "you will play a group of miners trapped underground" or "you are the employees of a wealthy noble".

Luckily, RPGs are not about rules or number crunching.
Picture some people playing D&D around a table. Just like in the good old days. The GM describes a situation to them and the players say what they want to do. There's some die rolling and the GM looks at some stuff behind his screen before explaining what happens. Hopefully this is fun!

This is what an RPG is, at it's core. This is what I want to do with my non-gamer friends. Painstakingly creating a character by choosing from a thousand options, moving miniatures around a grid to carry out tactical combat and flipping through rulebooks to check if the GM's using the vehicle rules correctly are not part of this experience. These are parts of some RPGs and will remain long into the future, but these are not the parts that are going to draw in new people on the scale that we should be doing.

The unique selling point of RPGs is that moment when the GM says "what do you want to do?" and you consider your options. This isn't multiple choice. This is infinite choice. Forget about using one of the powers on your character sheet. Forget about working out the quickest way the four of you can kill the dragon. This isn't "what rule are you invoking to do what you want to do?". Strip it back. "What do you want to do?".

Fantasy and SciFi are only popular with nerds and goths.
Some of the most popular films of the last few years have been Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Avatar, Iron Man. Tell me these don't fit into fantasy and scifi. If we look at 2010s highest grossing films we see Toy Story, Alice in Wonderland, Inception and How to Train your Dragon. 2009 has 2012, Transformers 2, Twilight, Sherlock Holmes, Angels and Demons and The Hangover. 2008 has The Dark Knight, Wall-E, Quantum of Solace and Indiana Jones. For the releases aimed at children I'm assuming they must have also appealed to adults in some part.

For a moment put aside the quality of these films. I've listed a few obvious scifi and fantasy settings, but what about Inception, The Hangover and Wall-E? All these films had clear mass appeal amongst non-gamers. Can you imagine playing an RPG based around each of these settings? If you can't, try harder!

If RPGs are going to grab your friends then you've got to strongly consider whether you use a setting that feels like something that came out of 2011 or one that came from the 1970s. This may be tough to hear, but maybe save Greyhawk for the second game. It doesn't have to be as radical as modern-day Las Vegas, just consider your choice carefully. Is your player going to have to read a setting wiki or look at a hexmap to understand your setting? If so, you've just lost a player.

I love reading a hardback book of setting info, but your friends are going to need to be eased into that. A few sessions down the line they should be asking you for a map or more info on the world they're playing in. Let it grow, don't force it.

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