Metagamers Anonymous is a young podcast that I discovered while sifting for gold on iTunes. Lo and behold! I found it. These guys, and girl, are knowledgeable, well spoken, and creative. Their bi-weekly podcast has become one that I find myself waiting for.
A little while ago, I wrote them an e-mail, I’m posting it here for all to see…
In previous episodes, you’ve brought up the concept of “organic
roleplaying,”and, indeed, this seems to be a key principle in your own game
play. While this is a valuable tool around the game table to be sure, I feel
that “organic roleplaying” tends to reward those on the player’s side of the
screen more often than the GM.
Now, before you send me a “Dear listener, Please go [smurf] yourself” letter,
please allow me to explain.
Most of the time, players are experiencing the game world and all of it’s events
through the eyes one character. This means that every bit of role-playing
energy that the player puts into the game is being used to define the emotions,
attitudes, actions, and reactions of one individual, as opposed to the GM, who
is responsible for what goes on in the heads, hearts, and hands of everyone else
in the game world. Because of this, it’s more difficult for a GM to become as
deeply rooted in one character’s persona than it is for the players.
So what then, does a GM get out of a game with “organic roleplayers?…”
…The opportunity to take advantage of another gaming concept…”dynamic
While a GM may be hard pressed to get down to the nuts and bolts
of every NPC’s emotion and motivation, he can use every descriptive tool at his
disposal to create a vibrant and immersive world around the PCs. The GM’s reward
for having good roleplayers is that he can tell a story and be confident that
his players will pull every but of excitement and fun out of any tale he tells.
It’s my point of view that, the more believable and dynamic the world and it’s
inhabitants, the more fulfilling the game.
That’s the concept that’s been bouncing around on the ping pong table of my mind
lately… player immersion. If immersion is the ball, then “dynamic
storytelling” and “organic roleplaying” are the paddles. It’s been my
experience that, while player immersion is a simple thing to define, it is not always
an easy thing to execute.
So here is my purely hypothetical question:
Which is more important to achieving player immersion, organic roleplay, or dynamic storytelling?
Once again, great show! Looking forward to the discussion.
The on-air responses and discussion can be found on Metagamers Anonymous Episode #7.
With the exception of their divulging of a weird furniture fetish, admitting to using Facebook in a manner in which, I’m sure, Mark Zuckerburg never intended, and something about a gazebo, the discussion went pretty much as I expected. Some tug o’ war occurred between the two sides, both with valid points. However, ultimately, I think they came to the same conclusion that I did….
RPGs take place, almost exclusively, through the cinematography of the minds eye. Therefore, a GM can “dynamically” tell a story until his lungs collapse, but, if he does not have receptive players, he may as well be reading them a grocery list. Conversely, a good organic player can allow his or her character take the wheel, steer, and role-play Tic-Tac-Toe if they set their mind to it.
But we’re talking about immersive role-playing. Throw out the dice and rules, and you get down to the quick of what our hobby is about…
playing make believe.
In the imagination of a child, it’s easy for a pencil to be a dragon-smiting holy sword, or a small patch of dirt in the backyard to transform into an arid wasteland that travelling heroes must cross to save the world. While a good GM can keep his players well stocked with pencils and dirt, he can’t give his players the sight to see them for what they really are. Only the child inside can make full use of such valuable tools. Children are, hands down, the most immersive gamers, even if they aren’t as refined and rules saavy. We were all there at one time. As role-players, most of us strive to reach, in our games, that point of full immersion we used to achieve so effortlessly as children. With that goal in mind, we’ve quantified every aspect of “make believe,” and in turn, those rules and the fiddly bits of whatever system we may be playing, can keep some of us rooted in the world in which we exist, while the immersive gamer soars in the world that they imagine.
It seems to me that player immersion exists with or without dynamic storytelling and organic role-playing, these concepts just help us achieve it by giving our inner 9 year old more things to play with.
With that bit of conjecture, I must go. But, you can all rest easy tonight, as I have recently purchased a new pencil sword and, as soon as I don my
beach towel cloak, I’m off to save the world…..again.
- The Nondenominational GM
Posted in: Dan WhorlThe Nondenominational GM
The grizzled electrician takes the corner a little too tight as he enters the parking lot of 32nd National Bank, the under-carriage of his old, light blue, service van chipping the curb just slightly further up than the last time he was here. He squares the front of his baby blue beater with the “handicapped” parking space directly across from the main door. Flicking his Pall Mall out of the driver’s side window, his hand moves toward the gearshift….
Just as the cigarette lands on the blacktop, exploding with a tiny, incendiary flourish, the van takes off. Like a confused rocket, it shoots off in reverse, speeding toward the large, glass, double doors of the bank. One patron, Mr. Giordano, looks up from counting his “Vegas” money just in time to see the bright orange “How’s My Driving?” sticker as it crashes through the glass and steel. The powder blue wrecking ball turns the bank’s sleek, professional, (and streak-free if you ask the janitor), entryway into an eruption of twisted and mangled door frame accompanied by a barrage of shattered glass, death, and sky blue destruction.
The bank manager, Mrs. Pikney, steps out of her office and takes in the scene. She gingerly steps over Mrs. Baumgartner, being careful not to ruin her shoes, and hurries over to “Ol’ Frankie”, ecstatic that he’s “finally showed up to replace that light fixture. And…where is the janitor?”
So that’s not how that really goes down…
“Ol’ Frankie” pulls in, parks, goes to the back of his van, grabs his tool belt and the few tools that he knows he will need, and a couple “just in case” rather than bringing all of them. He then, goes inside, fixes the light and leaves. Everybody’s happy, and no bloodshed.
By now, you’re probably asking “What does all of this have to do with GMing?”
All Gms have what’s called the proverbial “GM toolbox.” The amount of tools you have in your toolbox directly correlates with how long you’ve been practicing the craft and how much research you do. These tools include everything that you know about running a game, designing a game,world building, adventure generation, story-telling, and anything else that comes in handy at the game table. This list also includes gaming ideas that you haven’t tried yet, story and/or villain concepts, variant mechanics, gimmicks, etc.
While these things are all wonderful additions to your gaming repertoire, they must be used sparingly! You will not need everything in your “GM toolbox” every session. This is why you need a “GM toolbelt.” This is the group of tools that you need to bring to the table to get through the session that you have planned and a few “just in case” tools because your players will always surprise you. If you want to put a gimmick or a new concept in your game, just make sure that it doesn’t ruin the concept that your players have of their game.
There must be some form of continuity in your game and some measure of player comfort around the game table in order for players to be able to appreciate a new concept or gimmick that you bring in. Too many gimmicks, or constantly changing mechanics can make a game feel very disjointed to some players. You should try to establish some constants in your game. The lullaby of familiarity only elevates the level of impact that a skillfully executed surprise mechanic or gimmick can bring to the table. However, the opposite can also be true. If every time you sit down to prepare for the next session, you’re planning on using “this new gimmick,” you can create a situation where the players are constantly on their heels and uncomfortable with the game as a whole.
You’re saying, “This is totally gonna blow their mind!”
They’re saying, “I hope we run into an old man at the inn. Maybe he’ll give us a map, and we’ll head out for a dungeon crawl.” or “Hopefully the King needs us to rescue the Princess again’”
A GM who constantly tries to cram new concepts or mechanics into a game, regardless of story or setting continuity, runs the risk of destroying the foundations of his game just as effectively as “Ol’ Frankie” and his sky blue van.
In the next few posts, I will be discussing some of the tools that you can find in a good GM’s toolbelt. Some of these will be old concepts with a new face, but I may throw in a few of my own tricks.
But, for today, I’ll leave you with this advice: (worth every penny you paid for it)
Approach your sessions with a toolbelt full of things that allow you to get the job done in the most efficient manner. While creativity, novel ideas, and new gaming concepts are what make this great hobby as diverse and entertaining as it is, overuse can break the flow of any game and ruin the experience for your players. Remember, it’s their game too!
So, don’t ruin Mrs. Pikney’s shoes, and don’t get in the way of old Italian men doing whatever it is they do with “Vegas” money.
-The NonD. GM
Posted in: Dan WhorlThe Nondenominational GM
Hello and welcome to my blog!
I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Dan, and I am The Nondenominational GM. I’ve played with a lot of colorful characters in my time, both in and out of the game. My current gaming group consists of my family:
Elaina (13), is a casual gamer who prefers light-hearted games but enjoys the occasional table top RPG.
Aaron (15), is a hardcore gamer, he enjoys more intense and involved games and would sacrifice breathing if he thought it would increase his damage per second.
Jacob (18), is a free spirited gamer who is always ready to play anything, but doesn’t wander too far into the pandemonium that is gamer geek fan-dom.
Brandon (21) was the first of our children to be pulled into the hobby, having grown up, he isn’t as active in our family gaming as he used to be. He has his own circle of gamers now and is creating his own gaming stories.
Kate (?) my beautiful fiancee, is a casual gamer that enjoys the time spent with her family, however, she lacks the patience to play the longer games. Although, there was a time when she role played a fox who was an inspirational speaker with a black belt in karate in a QAGS game that my ,then, 12 year old daughter ran. She was fantastic!
I love them all, and words can’t express my appreciation of their enabling of my gaming addiction!
As for me, I’ve been gaming for nearly 25 years, everything from Chutes and Ladders to D&D. It all started when I was 8 years old. I was at my sister’s house for the summer, and the kids next door were on their front porch playing some kind of game with pencils and paper and some little Christmas ornaments that had numbers on them.
I was mesmerized.
I watched them for what seemed like hours, trying to absorb the rules of the game by proximity alone. I went home and began tearing open every game box we had in the house looking for some of those weird shaped dice. A huge mess and a little while later, I resurfaced with all of the 6 sided dice in the house (Yahtzee was like finding a pirate’s treasure!) I then began to write my own game on a piece of notebook paper. It was going to be the greatest game ever…Mad Max-Beyond Thunderdome RPG!!! Of course, I didn’t call it that, I wanted everyone to think I was a genius. My first
victim player was my sister. Although I’m sure that she would have rather drank a glass of barbed wire than to suffer at the hands of her little brother’s first GMing experience, she was a good sport. I had a blast, and a GM was born.
-The NonD. GM
Posted in: Dan WhorlThe Nondenominational GM