Been up to my ears in actual honest to goodness role playing gaming this last week. Three different sessions that lined up thusly:
D&D 5e with my usual weekly group. We wrapped up the first scenario at level 3 and the guys have voted for more.
Savage Worlds in Glorantha GMed by Gaz, our very occasional exploration of the setting with a slightly rotating cast of pcs.
Into the Odd with six players, from scratch, to explore the game for the Smart Party podcast.
Now, I enjoyed them all, and for different reasons. One of the things I liked most was watching the dynamics of the players as each session unfolded, seeing what decisions were taken, and why. Basically, the point of role playing games, you never quite know how it’s going to turn out. One of my faults as a GM is to try to second guess the players a bit too much, and to add explanations to their actions. I’m trying to improve them in my mind, but of course it can come across as smothering other people’s ideas. I can watch myself more readily these days, and playing in someone else’s less game always helps.
In each of the three games, options were offered to the players. Sometimes it was a matter of left or right, sometimes it was ‘what do you do?’ and sometimes it was a pause after an NPC had stopped talking which prompted a response. What I find fascinating is the differences in reaction from the three games. Yes, there were different players and systems, but actually I think the setting prompted different reactions and turned each game into something a little unique.
In our D&D game we are playing in a setting I made up, which is simply a sub-tropical, slightly piratical, Wild West smash up. It has all the basic D&Disms and the party contains a Druid, a rogue and a paladin. We all know the generic D&D world really well, and it means we can act within it with confidence. When presented with a big black dragon, in a dungeon, we knew what the world expected from us. When we had a bunch of deviant lizard folk chanting in a debased temple, again, we played with assurance. The setting reacted as we expected.
In Glorantha, all the players are new to the setting. Gaz is our guide, and we’ve explicitly signed up for a grand tour. For me, that makes us travelers and explorers first and foremost. When the setting interacts with us, I’m less sure of my responses. Does my cult get on with their cult? What do either of us think about the Lunars? Are troll kin suffered to live? Basically, when is violence considered appropriate and what are the consequences? I’m learning as we go, without having to do homework, and things are clicking now.
Lastly, Into the Odd, a game that looks like fantasy from the outside but with exotica like ether and gunpowder. The players and I explored the setting through a ‘dungeon’ scenario and explored the characters at the same time. There is simply no right or wrong to actions taken, and that became quite clear quite early. In this game, you can kinda do what you like, and precedent doesn’t count for much given the custom nature of the expeditions. I found it fascinating to see how quickly it came to guns, and how readily it came to looting. Not a problem in the slightest, just interesting to see what the default adventurer behavior is.
All these games are essentially exploration games, which are my favorite. And I think my favorite way of playing these, is with a basic understanding of boundaries, but with lots of possibilities within them. Basically, murder hobo as lifestyle choice works well. Or a nicer term, adventurer. I like games that allow you to be an adventurer, and give you adventures to go on. That sounds like every game out there right? But I don’t think it is. And I might bang on about that another time.
*a long running thread title on UKRoleplayers.com that has gone untouched for a while unfortunately.