I’ve been mulling around the idea of sparklypoo GMing lately. Also, it has occured to me that I don’t think I’ve ever explained my sparklypoo theory at any length outside of my private blog, and even then only in the comments of a post. So here are assorted sparklypoo thoughts.
Since ACNW ’07, Amber has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve also started re-reading the Amber series. I’m in the early part of Guns of Avalon as of this morning. I’ve been thinking about what I’d want the next Amber campaign I run to be like. It’s also prompted me to look up some of the old maxims that people have posted over the years, such as those posted by Arref and Sol.
Assorted thoughts behind the cut.
In the last couple posts I made about Amber I mentioned the challenge of subjective viewpoints when running (or playing in) Amber Diceless campaigns. And really, other games aren’t immune from this problem either. Any time you get into something not explicitly covered by the rules (and sometimes when you do come across something explicitly covered in the rules), there is some punting involved. The extra challenge with Amber is that the rules really cover very little so there’s a lot of punting involved.
Sometimes you feel stonewalled because the GM hasn’t provided enough information to keep you from chasing after a dead end. Sometimes you just think the GM is being unrealistic (or, if you’re the GM, the players may seem unrealistic). The person viewed as unreasonable likely doesn’t think they are being unreasonable, and perhaps if all the cards were on the table they would realize where things went wrong. But in the GM/player relationship there’s often a degree of keeping stuff back for dramatic effect. (One guide to GMing I’ve seen insists that the worst thing you as a GM can do is show weakness to your players. What kind of assholes do they play with?) Clearly some better way of communicating is needed, but what could that be?
I’ve been on both ends of the miscommunication gun. (And often the gun fires both ways at once.) I have no great answers. I thought I’d toss some examples up since it’s a slow day here on the eve of Thanksgiving and I can’t work on my NaNoWriMo wordcount. I’m going to try and avoid picking on GMs that have frustrated me and mainly draw any examples from screw ups I’ve made. I’m open to input on ways to work on these.
In my big “things that piss me off about running Amber” post, blue_monsta said, “I am eagerly awaiting the next post to read what you think should be done to fix these issues/problems.” I felt a little called out. I always hate it when people bitch about a situation without offering solutions, and that’s really what I was doing. I had no real intention of presenting solutions. I was just venting.
So here are my thoughts on solutions to my hated aspects. I’d started to work up something that covers all of how I tweak Amber to suit my needs, but decided to pare this down to just the stuff that addresses the aspects I hate.
This is the second draft of this. I’d tried writing up something before and it didn’t really address Amber specifically. So I tried to think about what I like in an Amber game and what feeds in to making that sort of quality Amber game. And really, they are the same things that feed into making any game excellent. (Or, rather, my idea of excellent.) Amber just provides a minimal system that makes what I like in gaming even better. The challenge, though, is that the same thing that makes Amber awesome can also lead to a lot of suck.
I’ll warn you that at times this becomes a little ranty. If you feel like you’ve been called out anonymously in this description, keep in mind that in none of the cases where my frustration is with focused more on the players is it a matter of just one (or two, or even three) people who have frustrated me.
Had dessert with ogremarco, sirriamnis and Mrs. Z last night. ogremarco has gotten pretty amped on indy games lately and is trying to encourage me to write a game. Having been down this road a couple times before, I’m a little skeptical. But I’m trying to keep an open mind. He did bring up some points that got me thinking about my own games and how I tend to run them. So here’s me musing on what I want my games to be about and what I’ve poached in order to accomplish that.
Our group was a little smaller than usual this last session. Two players got plucked away by PAX and so there were just four people for me to torment. I thought it went fairly well. I managed to dump a lot of info onto the players and did so in a fashion where they couldn’t really help but share the big chunks. I think the only thing that nagged me was one player who managed to get himself a bit orphaned. I never know what to do in those circumstances.
I started this post a while back, but with my recent schedule I haven’t been able to finish it.
In response to my previous post, arrefmak had pointed out that an engaged group of players that are not on camera can also serve as an audience. I’ve had mixed experiences with that in the past and I’m not really sure how to adapt that, from a GMing point of view, to other ideas I’ve had about engaging the players.
The crux is that sometimes, as players, you are totally into the whole damn thing and at other times you aren’t. There are times where you’re really digging the other players and their characters, everything is all very exciting, you’re on the edge of your seat for fear of what will happen to other characters. There are times where you are bored to fucking tears and you just want to bring out the book you’re reading.
When we talk about games and game design, we use a lot of occult language. In other words, I use literary terms and he talks like an actor. I talk about theme, metaphor, and plot. He talks about breaking the fourth wall.
“It’s more than just addressing the audience,” he tells me. “It’s making the audience feel as if they’re a part of the event.”
“What about the fifth wall?” I ask him.
I smile. “Making them feel that they are the event.”
— John Wick, Playing Dirty
Thought I’d open with another Wick quote. I whipped this one out a while back on my personal blog, and colomon felt that there was a flaw in it because… well, there’s not technically an audience in roleplaying. I gave my response to him briefly then, but since then I’ve been mulling it around since then. The notion was fanned a bit recently by a friend complaining about his attempts to run games for his usual D&D/Champions friends and not feeling like they roleplay much. They make their character and then they show up to be entertained. I’ve had similar problems in games as well. (And I’ve likely been that player more than once.) And talking to him about this made me think, “There’s the audience right there.”
One of the not-so-dirty secrets I’ve learned of being a good GM is you run what the players want to play, not what you want to run. Remember this rule, and, as the Umpa Lumpas sing, you will go far.
— John Wick, Play Dirty
Came across this gem in my PDF copy of Play Dirty, the collection of John Wick’s articles from Pyramid Magazine. I agree with that quote… mostly. I’ve had my fair share of games that have tanked because no one was really interested in the game in question. They signed on because I was running and… that wasn’t really enough to keep them interested. Or, worse, we headed in a direction that the players really didn’t like or the players constantly frustrated me by not really fitting well with the game in question.
The problem I really have with that bit of advice is that… it’s a little too cut and dry. And even the Wick indicates that he doesn’t follow that guideline to the letter. He makes that comment after saying that he is running D&D for some people, a game which he rarely has anything good to say about. But he follows his advice with, “The game isn’t your standard hack ‘n’ slash campaign, though. Oh, no. I’ve got something much more interesting in mind. At least, interesting to me, and hopefully, interesting to the players.”
And that’s where it gets a little stickier.