Encountering the Random and Mattering System

A few game related thoughts I’d had since my last post. One continuing my thoughts on random encounters, one regarding an idea I’m poaching from tatterdamelion for the kids game (which the random encounter thoughts reminded me of) and one regarding a quote from the White Wolf team on game design.

The thought occured to me that the key difference with the Werewolf game, as opposed to your usual D&D style random encounters, is that these weren’t necessarily combat situtaions. Generally it seems like a random encounter in a game like D&D involves a randomized list of things that will want to kill and/or eat you. The encounters in the Werewolf game were just that: encounters. They were just things we ran across and could interact with as we felt necessary.

From the glimpse I got of the list the GM rolled off of, it looked like they were only broadly described situations of only one or two words. So each of these encounters were just keywords to trigger the imagination of the GM for something we might run into on the road.

In a way it reminded me of the Fortune cards from Everway which, if I remember correctly, were used as a semi-randomizing influence to provide ideas for the GM regarding what sort of consequences the event would have. There is much to consider with this. While I don’t know that I’ve got quite enough motivation to make up a full fledged chart, some other randomized source of inspiration might be good.

Tied to this is that tatterdamelion had each of his players in the D&D game draw a card from a Celtic Shaman Deck. I guess he normally does this with tarot cards, but he thought this deck would suit the feel of the game better. But the card you drew was supposed to represent how the universe responded to your character. I haven’t gotten to see it in play, but I like it conceptually.

I’m considering doing the same for the kids game. The automatic idea would be to use the Mage: The Ascension tarot deck I have, which is the most obvious deck for a World of Darkness game. I think we also have the Vertigo tarot deck, which suits the vibe of “Bringing Crazy Back,” but I’m not sure if that’s mine or my wife’s. If the latter, I should probably ask permission. I could also do something else whacky, but I don’t have much in the way of non-standard decks in the house. I think I have an Egyptian oracle deck that I got off a friend when I was more interested in Egyptian mythology and religion, but I don’t know that it would necessarily suit the game.

I’m open to suggestions if anyone has them. I may also use it as a plot generator for times when I’m having trouble coming up with ideas.

I can’t say that I follow the “Behind the Lines” posts on whitewolf_lj very closely. I mostly follow their community to see updates about upcoming game books, so as much as I’d love to say I’ve been immersing myself in their game design philosophy since I’ve pretty broadly enjoyed their approach to game design, I’d be lying if I said I did.

But eskemp had this interesting post about being willing to break “rules” established in previous World of Darkness books. But the really great line I got from reading it was this one right here:

Ultimately, gaming groups are such a deeply individualized mix of interpersonal chemistry and preferences that there’s no way we can write from a perspective of knowing your group. Therefore, we have to write from the perspective of being the most useful to the greatest number of groups.

This succinctly sums up a lot of my problems with the “system matters” doctrine. When I’ve talked about “what my games are about” in the past, it occurs to me that I’ve mostly spoken about what I want them to be about when really it’s just what I want out of a game personally. The reality is that “what the game is about” is the product of what everyone puts into it. In conventional roleplaying, even where the players presumably have the same style of play they are all going for (such as “a roleplaying intensive character driven game”) you can still end up with a wide variety of tastes. And this then results in a variety of differences between players in terms of what gets focused on or what sort of stories get told. This often seems to be less of a problem with story games, perhaps because it comes from a more detached approach and you have less ego wrapped up into your assumed persona. (Well, that and people who aren’t going to like something like a story game is going to figure out pretty quickly that it isn’t their bag and stick with conventional roleplaying games.)

This serves to emphasize that what I mostly want out of a game is a flexible toolbox that allows a wide range of play and is easily ignored as necessary. If it provides a mechanism I like for encouraging character development or good roleplay, then I’ll probably like it. If it’s easily poachable, it will warm the cockles of my heart.

The other snippet that I loved?

Back in the old days, we put the Golden Rule in every rulebook we put out, and we stressed the hell out of it. If you came on board post-Vampire: The Requiem and haven’t seen it, the Golden Rule was essentially “Break and change any rule you want. Your judgment trumps all.” We stopped doing that with the release of the Storytelling system because that had gotten to be a bit of a crutch. It wasn’t an excuse for putting out shoddy rules that we liked and expecting people to come up with something better. We wanted to do rules that made sense the first time, and we didn’t want the Golden Rule to be some kind of safety net. We wanted the rules to work the first time.

Two words: Amber Sorcery.

3 thoughts on “Encountering the Random and Mattering System

  1. tatterdamelion

    The Vertigo Tarot Deck (the original, slightly over-sized one), is my personal deck of choice. I don’t do game things with it. The deck I DO use for the games was picked up at Marie Laveau’s shop in New Orleans about 3 months before Katrina.

    I’m happy to see the “How the Universe thinks of your character” idea working into another game.

  2. admin Post author

    I have the “Adult Content” flag turned on. Something that seemed like a good idea at the time in case someone objected to my language or something. It prevents anyone listed as being under the age of 14 from accessing the page. If you access without logging in, then it will also give a warning label.

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