Gaming Style and how it informs system choice.

edited January 2014 in Play Advice
Hi All,

Does anyone else find themselves gravitating towards games that require less work/setup time over time? It all started for me with Prime Time Adventures which taught me about scenes and themes and the power of thinking like TV. This has carried over into the way I play everything.

Looking at what I've played recently:

The Sundered Land.
Contenders.
Cthulhu Dark.
Fiasco.
Frontless Improv Apocalyspe World Hacks. (DW/IW, MH etc).
Fate Accelerated (If we'd known about Tiny Fate, we would have used that).
Life on Mars.
The Few.

Looking at what I'd like to play in the next little while:
Road to Lindisfarne.
A Flower for Mara.
The Climb** (This is probably an exception but I'm keen to try a Larp of this Nordic/American type).

I've very much moved away from games with complex storylines where I have to keep and refer to notes in order to run them and onto lighter games with (somewhat ironically) deeper and more challenging subject matter. (I crave the bleed that most gamers seem to want to avoid)

Sometimes I feel like I must be missing out on something but every time I hear about my partner's WOD game (she's a trad gamer, we can't game together...yes this is funny), it's like they play in slow motion rather than cutting scenes and moving between drama points like I do.

Anyone else feel like this or have anything to share?

Comments

  • Many GMs have things they do over and over. For me, it's the Convoluted Family Tree. This probably comes from a combination of rereading Lord of the Rings several times and playing Call of Cthulhu the year I was lonely and away from home. Sorcerer with its R-Maps, probably cemented that.

    So, I go for a lot of Lovecraftian games. But, I also go for games where connections between characters are important. Many flavors of Fate build that in. I want to try Hillfolk / DramaSystem. I am sad that I didn't click with Smallville -- we were using the rules and creating our own setting, and somehow, I slammed into the wall of system that had looked so easy when I was reading it, slid down to the ground with a thump and birds flying around my head, and never did manage to get back up. I've got the Cortex Plus hacker's guide and am hoping that'll help when I try it again.

    I fell hard for Over the Edge when it came out, and that means that games with levels now feel off to me. That said, small things can help, at least when I'm playing and not GMing -- I had a blast playing Fate of the Norns, so apparently, a bag of runestones and a chart I can put them on combine well with the setting to make me enjoy what is a level system, even though I will stick my fingers in my ears, deny it, and hum loudly.

    I bounced off Marvel Diceless. I bounced off it even when I just took the system and ran a single Unknown Armies one shot, even though the players had a blast. I can probably play it just fine, but I can't GM it.

    I bounced off Feng Shui's system, specifically the initiative countdown. But, when the GM gave me plastic colored rocks to keep track of my shots, everything was good.

    I don't like countdown initiative -- but Call of Cthulhu pretty much uses that, and I can run CoC.

    I really don't like countdown initiative combined with rolling initiative each combat -- but that's what DresdenFiles and Kerberos Fate use. I played DresdenFiles without a problem, and I ran Kerberos Fate for two years, using the initiative system and zones (which I also didn't like) because the game is set up so that these things matter, and I'd be screwing players if I didn't use them. And, that was fine, because, hey, Fate. Also, comedy of manners, great players, pulpy fun, and my tangled family trees.

    I'm not usually the person you want running science fiction. My science fu is weak (or, in Cyberpunk terms, my Tech score is 2. Well, maybe 3 or 4 by now, but not high). If it's science fiction that's pulpy / really fantasy with a different hat, that may be different.
  • edited January 2014
    Does anyone else find themselves gravitating towards games that require less work/setup time over time?
    I'm more about treating roleplaying games as boardgames nowadays. Not in the way of how they are played (usually tactical) but in what kind of preparations that I have to endure. I want to have no idea of what to play but bring some suggestions to the session, and then - on the spot - decide what to play and just start playing. If we have to do a prep, lets do it together. Like creating characters, relationship maps or just brainstorming story elements that will occur while playing the game.

    The game should be easy enough to describe the context of it in a few sentences, the rules can be either described while playing, coming with cheat cards or can be described in 2-3 minutes - just like a boardgame. Also, I prefer roleplaying games that takes around two hours to play. If we want to play longer than that, then we can play the same game again.

    I've read a lot of roleplaying games in my days, but now I seldom read a roleplaying game that's longer than twenty pages. If you don't have the decency, the vision and, most of all, the self-control to write a short game, I'm not interested. (Why does AW has to be 320 pages?)

    I'm currently writing This Is Pulp, that should take around 70-90 minutes to play and my aims is that you can play play it right after you unwrap the game. The game is three pages long.

    What I would like to see is a roleplaying game that has only one way of playing it, just like a boardgame, but each expansion brings another way of playing the game. I have plans for it for This Is Pulp but I will have to wait and see how well it's received.
  • Hey Stu,

    I just think it's cool that you know what you like and have found games that work for that. I've sort of done the same, though I never find any one style of game that gives me all the things I love about RPGs, so I have to alternate.

    Like you, I dig bleed, but unlike you, I find that hard to achieve in low-work games. Playing in slow motion like your partner does is integral to my sense of transportation and my ability to connect emotionally to the fiction -- moving quickly leaves me feeling like more of a distant author, and not even the weightiest topic affects me much in that stance.

    I mostly play light games now -- I love the convenience, and have never enjoyed memorizing or looking up oodles of rules. At the same time, I miss 50-session campaigns of elaborately prepped material.
  • edited January 2014
    I want stuff from both worlds really. There are many traditional games I like but I do often use some techniques like cutting scenes for example, getting out of the slow motion a bit to normal, without speeding it up into a montage.
    I do play games that require preparation and notes. Studying of sourcebooks too or research in other sources not especially printed for it. But I am a historian and that is what I do for fun ;) But the product would if I were the only one to decide not be a 50 session campaign but one between 4 and 12 sessions.
    With one of my groups I am running pretty much trad, but I introduced them to some framing scenes, cutting ahead or taking direct input from them into the world. With that group I am GMing a very long and epic campaign. Because that is what they want to do, see the characters progress from level 1 to 2X. Which I can play, but sometimes I wish we could just start with a fresh cast of characters and another premise. It feels like a show in it's very later seasons, dragging lots of baggage. Still I feel like The Dark Eye is a good choice for that kind of play and gives a compelling background. Even if the rules are annoyingly complicated.

    For my other group I am not alone in my indy ways and together with another player we are getting our friends to try out more new stuff and play some different styles. Even if we do get back to trad systems and running them in a pretty traditional way every once in a while. We are coming from a long campaign there and thus he time for experimentation is there again. In this group the indie games I introduced them to were Fiasco, Monsterhearts, A Dirty World and Monsters and Other Childish Things which we all played sucessfully. Part of that is some of them hitting genres we all enjoy well.
    So part of my system choice is finding common ground with my players. Since I like to play with friends. For convention play I try to look for the more indie stuff usually and probably rather rules light or with rules I allready know. It is my testing field after all for new games.


    On a sidenote to Rickard. I know many boardgames that take way more preparation than that and that you can't really play with a "explain the rules as we go along" approach. Or at least you can't really play it with a chance of making right decisions or winning. Which for competetive players makes it not really playing. So you more or less have to go ahead and study the rules book or play a whole session as an intro and then play it for real again. Which in those cases both amounts to a few hours. But maybe my circle of friends just owns some very involved boardgames. (Agricola and Puerto Rico come to mind where I had that experience). Some Boardgames, usually cooperative ones, make the introductionary session where you learn the rules part of the game. Legends of Andor for example. But if you are not going to do the first scenario the preparation time would be higher too. It is just hidden preparation I would say. That allready has game character.
    Tools for explanation of course are pretty important for roleplaying games too. There is a difference between a rules book and playing instructions as well. In more complex boardgames those often are different booklets even. I feel that especially in traditional rpgs instructions are missing, on the other hand Ron Edward's Spione is a pretty indie case of lacking instructions and there are many RPGs that you learn more easy by just playing instead of studying the book. Fiasco is one of them for example.

    If we count Magic: The Gathering I spend more time preparing for boardgames than for roleplaying games. But that again is something competetive, so there really is a "training" aspect to the whole thing. Instead of a planning ahead for the next game session or learning the rules aspect. For many boardgames there is that kind of preparation too though, reading up on theories and lines of play. Making a plan ahead of sitting down at the table. But those again are competetive, yet it is hidden preparation time needed to play it at that level or at all.
  • On a sidenote to Rickard. I know many boardgames that take way more preparation than that and that you can't really play with a "explain the rules as we go along" approach. Or at least you can't really play it with a chance of making right decisions or winning.
    If I talk for myself, I'm usually a competitive player and the first time I play a boardgame, I never count that as a real session. Because that session is just as an introduction for me (or the group) to learn how to play it. I never assume that everybody should be able to grok the game while playing for the first time but you should be able to play it without having to read a thick rulebook. There are some exceptions, when the boardgame is more like a wargame, and where having turns consisting of 15+ phases is not uncommon. But that's exceptions, and I think they can exist too. I would love to play Twilight Imperium one day, as an example.
    There is a difference between a rules book and playing instructions as well. In more complex boardgames those often are different booklets even. I feel that especially in traditional rpgs instructions are missing,
    I feel that too. Personally, I even feel that those instructions are more important than the actual ruleset.

    Note that I don't think there should only exist 3-5 page roleplaying games, but I would sure to find more than three of them out there. I would love to see more consideration to why people are putting stuff in their books. One thing that makes the size of the book expand is that designers think their game must be "finished", offering a whole range of »stuff« to do. Writing a whole world, is one example of this tendency. Having different subsystems is another.

  • If I talk for myself, I'm usually a competitive player and the first time I play a boardgame, I never count that as a real session. Because that session is just as an introduction for me (or the group) to learn how to play it. I never assume that everybody should be able to grok the game while playing for the first time but you should be able to play it without having to read a thick rulebook. There are some exceptions, when the boardgame is more like a wargame, and where having turns consisting of 15+ phases is not uncommon. But that's exceptions, and I think they can exist too. I would love to play Twilight Imperium one day, as an example.
    I think that can be compared to RPs too. The ones that are more wargamey like D&D 3 and 4 do need a big rules book for their complex rules and probably and introduction session, just to get used what is going on. Or a longer learning process over multiple sessions. I remember some games that came with a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure like introduction that explained the rules and made you use them. Not as clever a teaching instrument as the first scenario for Legends of Andor but at least it is a tool for more complex systems.
    The work that goes into building characters in games like D&D4 and trying out multiple builds, planning your equipment and levels ahead of time could be compared with the work that goes into competetive Magic or Chess or other games where you have to plan ahead and anticipate. Building Army lists in wargames are the same. And to come back to the original topic, if you want to do that can tolerate it is for sure a question of gaming style and system choice. I sometimes do like that stuff, building an optimized character, seeing what is possible within the rules. But I like stuff like that in my boardgameing as well.

    But for many, especially indie RPGs you usually do not want to use a whole session just to grok the rules. Since many of them are made for one shots. Those need to be easy to explain I agree or state it outright that they assume everyone has read the book. For games like that a short introduction that in turn helps to teach other players seems very important.
  • edited January 2014
    I agree with the rest, and the remark I'm doing now is not really what you're talking about. This is also off topic.
    The ones that are more wargamey like D&D 3 and 4 do need a big rules book for their complex rules and probably and introduction session, just to get used what is going on.
    I actually made a roleplaying game on two pages that I feel has far more emergent complexity (depth) than D&D4. Emergent complexity, as in Chess, where the interaction of the different parts of the game creates an emergence where the outcome is hard to predict. Rather than complexity like you have to read through a lot to understand the game. That's just complexity in form of work. (Adding numbers is also a complexity that's mostly just work.) So you don't need a brick of a rulebook to create complexity. That's just a faulty design decision that I see in many games - and I blame AD&D for that, for showing the roleplaying game designers the "wrong" methods of designing complexity.

    But D&D4 has it's fun, even if I feel it's more like Football Manager, where you build up a unit (through a concept) and then send it out to the battlefield to see how it works. Not unlike how Magic or other CCGs work. And I do agree with that those kinds of games needs their introduction session. Heck, I would even say that even indie games need their introductory session. It was common in my group to play indie games and then sit afterwards to analyze how it went and why.
  • edited January 2014
    Many GMs have things they do over and over. I am sad that I didn't click with Smallville
    I completely empathise with this one and feel much the same about Fate. I really like the people that make the game and the attitudes in general, I really like the community and the spirit therein, I just can't get the game to work for me. Aspects seem cool at first and then just seem to get in the way of the flow of the conversation in game. I'm pretty keen to try Cortex Drama myself.
    Stu.

  • edited January 2014

    I'm more about treating roleplaying games as boardgames nowadays.
    Also, I prefer roleplaying games that takes around two hours to play.
    If we want to play longer than that, then we can play the same game again.
    I've read a lot of roleplaying games in my days, but now I seldom read a roleplaying game that's longer than twenty pages.
    Well I think you just summed up the majority of my original post with "I'm treating RPGs more like boardgames these days". :)

    I don't prefer RPGs that take only two hours but that's usually the amount of time that I have so I kind of stuck. We've had multiple games of Life On Mars but this game barely seems to fit in 3 or four hours and it seems to kind of break for us when taken over one session. I think 20 pages is a little low, but I'm certainly closer to your camp than the 300 page camp. Don't forget btw that Apoc World is about half filled with the playbooks reproduced in the text.

    I want to play Twighlight Imperium one day.
    No you don't, you want to play it two days because that's how long it takes to play. :)
  • edited January 2014

    Like you, I dig bleed, but unlike you, I find that hard to achieve in low-work games.
    For me, it's just a matter of picking the right game. My post a couple of weeks ago about my Life on Mars game detailed some of the most bleed I've ever experienced.

    Playing in slow motion like your partner does is integral to my sense of transportation and my ability to connect emotionally to the fiction -- moving quickly leaves me feeling like more of a distant author, and not even the weightiest topic affects me much in that stance.
    So playing minute to minute helps keep you in your character's skin? Ever since all my games started being structured like TV shows where we move from drama point to drama point, emotional connection for me has gone up rather than down(perhaps due to frequency of exposure to stuff that actually matters?). This is interesting that your experience is the opposite!

    I miss 50-session campaigns of elaborately prepped material.
    I often think that I do and then I go and play or watch these games and realise that I really don't. People with the luxury of this kind of time don't play with any kind of economy of drama/time at all. I find it boring. It's a bit like the creator of the Simpsons explaining that as the seasons went on, the jokes had to come faster and faster to hold the audience.

  • edited January 2014
    I want stuff from both worlds really.
    I find this difficult in practice with my gaming people. If I cut scenes for the Trad people, they find it jarring and if I don't cut scenes for the new school folk they get bored.

    Like Rickard, I wish more people would treat RPGs like boardgames in that you follow the rules as written and don't bring in material from other games. Of course, this is easier when games aren't 400 pages long requiring significant investment of their own just to understand them.


  • edited January 2014
    So playing minute to minute helps keep you in your character's skin? Ever since all my games started being structured like TV shows where we move from drama point to drama point, emotional connection for me has gone up rather than down (perhaps due to frequency of exposure to stuff that actually matters?). This is interesting that your experience is the opposite!
    I miss 50-session campaigns of elaborately prepped material.
    I often think that I do and then I go and play or watch these games and realise that I really don't. People with the luxury of this kind of time don't play with any kind of economy of drama/time at all. I find it boring.
    If the only two options were punchy light games and ponderous complex games, I'd go for punchy light games too! Fortunately I've figured out how do the slow in-character stuff and also cut the scene as soon as we're done with the stuff that actually matters. All it requires is the will to mind pacing while immersing (though reminders like this can help).

    ...not that I know exactly what pace you consider "slow" or "fast", so my techniques might still live outside your happy zone...
  • edited January 2014
    I'm in the same boat: I enjoy some fast and punchy games, but my favourite games are slow and detailed. The difference between that and the ponderous, failed 50-session campaigns I've seen is that, despite the pace, we are focused on the stuff that matters and moving towards the drama. Just like a good movie can be thrilling even if things aren't happening quickly - a light touch of the heroine's hand on the old wooden staircase, narrated with care and attention to detail, can add to a dramatic scene just as much as rapid-fire action.

    So I suppose my dream game has tight framing and a deliberate economy of "screen time", but still takes the time to lovingly establish details, impressions, and characters. Most of the games I've played recently moved a little too fast for me; I would have preferred a little more attention to detail. Where a lot of "trad" games failed for me was in the placement of detail -- too much time spent on things I didn't care about -- not the fact that the detail existed at all.

    Of course, as Dave points out above, there's no way to know just from this conversation whether we're even talking about similar things or entirely different things!

    However, I've never understood why "indie" games get conflated with a fast pace of play whereas many "trad" game styles are considered to mean slow, deliberate, and detailed play. Many trad games allow you to resolve things with a single roll, or skip over certain material altogether. Most indie mechanics can be applied at a slower pace or on a smaller scale, no problem. I've played fast and furious one-shots of trad games and slow and deliberate sessions of "indie" games (although I haven't had a chance to play a long-term campaign of a "story game" yet, mostly due to moving around too much to have a steady gaming group).
  • For bleed, larps tend to have a fast return, as most standalone larps these days are four hours or less. Well, most larps of the type I play I and write are four hours or less.

    Some larps require more reading, both background and system, from players than others. Sometimes it's worth it -- I will read mountains from a particular GM team. Some are more trouble than they're worth, and which those are depends on your taste.

    But, there are many that, for the players, are pretty much pick-up-and-go. Hand me Penny Banzai in a Buckaroo Banzai larp, and I know what to do. Hand me a one paragraph character in Panel: The Larp, and I'm up and running.

    Hrm. I think I just said that one shots make for faster bleed. This certainly applies to convention RPGs.

    Of course, the fast track is for the players. Authors, whether of larps or convention one-shots, are doing a hell of a lot of work beforehand, bless them all.
  • The bulk of my gaming over the past year has been at cons and the London Indiemeet, which has lead to a great many very happy one shot, 3-4 hour experiences, but left me with an itch for more long form play. In terms of long form, I think my preference is for 4-6 sessions as opposed to 12+ sessions however.

    I'm very keen on simple systems that tell a certain type of story very well. Despite, or possibly because of, my unhappy background in GMing abortive trad games that nobody seemed to enjoy very much, I find myself almost allergic to too much complexity; I really struggled with Fate for example and find Apocalypse World is about my limit. That said, I'm keen to push this this year.

    I agree with the whole "treat story games like board games" thing. I love that my Quiet Year bag is about the same size as my Love Letter bag and I can whip it out and start playing it in much the same way. Apocalypse World might be 320 pages, but there aren't much more than 20 pages of rules in there. I'd love to see more designers focus on making their games more accessible and easy to bring to the table; every time I see a phrase the along the lines of "this is for experiences gamers only" in a rule book, a baby owlbear dies (especially given that, with a bit of care and effort, it is almost never true).
  • Hi All,

    Does anyone else find themselves gravitating towards games that require less work/setup time over time?
    Nope!
  • edited January 2014
    Yeah, I definitely want focused, ready-to-run games that get to the point quickly, just like euro boardgames. I always liked rules-light and concise, that's why story-games attracted me in the first place.
  • edited January 2014
    There are some interesting, although now wholly applicable parallels between the euro games explosion and the story games development over the last 15-20 years. In both cases I think there has been a lot of focus on system, of paring the game down to its essential qualities. There's also been a much wider variation of theme and a step away from the standard Ameritrash* focus on combat and the acquisition of stuff.

    Where they differ is that I think there has been a much greater focus on component quality and the "look and feel" of a game in board game development, although I think that to a great an extent the reason for that disparity is largely economic and the fact that the two are working on completely different scales.

    * As a major consumer and fan of Ameritrash board games, this term is used with affection and not meant to disparage.
  • Yea gravitating toward less work/setup I'm up for that.

    I would add,,,,,,looking for less character or world abstraction,,,,, more visual displays of,,,,, and descriptions more visual than factual,

    Take for example Haiku Poems, they are short visual and possibly immersive ? here's an example :

    Lightning flash—

    what I thought were faces

    are plumes of pampas grass.


    What games do you know that support visual and immersive play ?

    I remenber Feng shui actively encouraged players to think up items within a scene. Not for mechanical gain but for visual displays of fu action.
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