Saturday, September 12, 2015

What you want, what I want

So...Adam at Barking Alien wrote this.  And then some guy who actually thinks you have to type out accented English like you're Chris Claremont writing the X-Men Banshee commented on his post.

Only not that charming.
The issue, and I feel like I can say this without too much concern about misrepresenting Adam, is that over the years Adam has found that he has engaged in more interaction with his players when it comes to building his campaigns than he did when he was a wee lad and he felt more free to run what he was genuinely loved and players would just trust him that it would be good.

Slipped in there is a bit about how players sometimes ignore what the GM is proposing in terms of tenor and theme for a campaign and create something totally out of whack with the campaign.  I know exactly what he is talking about.  It's the guy who wants to play a werewolf in Vampire the Masquerade (happened) or a no-costume mercenary in a four-color superhero game (also happened, although it worked out).  Here's his quote:
Depending on the group, I need a unanimous vote. I don't want to leave anyone out, especially the regulars. If I get a positive majority vote, with one, or two naysayers, I will do the following: If those who vote against are regulars, I'll drop the idea, and go for something else. If those who vote against the idea are not regulars, I'll either try to convince them to give it a shot, or hold the idea off until I can assemble those who liked the idea on their own.
This process right here eliminates the vast majority of my coolest game ideas from reaching the table. Getting four to six people to agree on a single concept is tough these days.
Now, here's his contrast with how things used to go:
I began with a concept, genre, or specific game I wanted to run. It could be teens who are going to school to be superheroes, Anime Action/Romance Sitcom, or my particular Blast City Blues setting for Teenagers from Outer Space. 
I met up with my group, having told them only that I want to start a new campaign. I then pitched them the idea. Everyone would say, "Cool!", or "Great!", maybe even an "Awesome!"
We would immediately begin creating characters. Everyone would create a character that fit in perfectly with the basic idea.
 Now, ignoring the possibility that Adam might be suffering some rose-colored glasses about the past (or ruby quartz, to continue the X-Men theme), what he seems to be suggesting is that as a grown adult, he's having to work more with his players to get them on board, and losing something about his creative je nes sais quoi in the process.

Man, Cyclops is a jerk.
And I think he's probably right, although I'd argue that might be a natural evolution of the changing environment in which he is gaming.  Adults, I think are actually more finicky than teenagers, especially when it comes to this kind of interaction.

When you're a teenager, you're still experimenting with your identity, still trying out different things and generally being open to new experiences.  A friend comes along and says, "hey, I just saw this new Japanese television show" or "I just ate this weird food" or "I just picked up this RPG that looks really cool," the teenager, I think, is more likely to give it a go.  And more likely to view it kindly in the process.  Don't believe me?  Just go back and re-experience something you thought was really cool as a teenager, e.g. a book, a movie, or even an RPG.  I will bet that in at least some of those instances, the adult experience is not as enjoyable as the teenage one.

And why is this?  Because as adults we have done our experimentation and we know what we like.  We are less likely to take risks, especially with something as precious and rare as our free time.  We are also less of a follower (although sadly at times, not enough) and are more critical of following people into the unknown.  That seems sad at some level, but the upside is that as adult you're probably making some more mature, sensible decisions about your own contentment, and are probably being more responsible in the process.

But RPG's are low-risk activities, in my opinion.  I think that players should be more willing to trust GM's when they say they have a great idea, and should risk more in life when it comes to things that might open up their horizons.  And I'm saying this as a person who has sat through some clunker gaming sessions run by GM's who were clearly enjoying themselves.  But I also understand that to get adults to play, with their more critical perspectives and their less copious free time to waste on shots in the dark, you need to work with them as a GM to get their buy-in as well.

I hope this makes sense.  Comments welcome.


  1. I think the thing of it a young child, a grade schooler, and even into middle school I was picky, and finicky about a lot of things. Food, what I wanted to do, where I felt comfortable, etc. But not games. Games were an area where I always wanted to try new things, solely because they were NOT that last thing I tried.

    As I got old, I got less picky. I was more open to eating, talking, and being outside my comfort zone. While I developed favorite games, genres, etc., that chance to try a new game because I hadn't played it before never ebbed.

    Now, sit me down with a bunch of other open minded, flexible people, and I just know it going to work. Even if we decide we didn't love the game, that session would still be pretty fun, and we'd all learn something. If the group, and I did grok the game, it could easily turn into a campaign.

    They key is, the pitch was easy. The idea that I would say, "Hey, let's try this", and a group of people would, was priceless to me. Moreover, this was my group until about 2003-2004. I'm 46. Most of the players were older than me, so it's not just a teenage thing (although that made a lot of sense, and I'd acknowledge it as a truism). It's an "I'm open to new ideas, and I trust that Adam is going to feed me crap because he's my friend" thing.

    Now, the players are more particular, more picky, and finicky, and perhaps less trusting.

    That bottom line of my post, which I feel failed miserably in its intentions, was "Did I (Adam - The GM) create this condition of distrust, and pickiness, but coddling the players in the pitch stage?

    Did asking them, "Is this OK with you? Would you like or dislike this?" give them, the players, the inclination toward being finicky, and limiting the raw energy I use to have when running with groups I didn't hand-out so much.

    I apologize for the long comment, but just last night I had a situation with one of my groups where a player, who as a GM constantly berates splitting the party and being a loner maverick type, did nothing but go loner, and find excuses not to work with the rest of the party. Oh, in a campaign we decided from the start, before we ever even started the game, would only last three sessions. Now four.

    I miss my old crew something fierce, but I also notice I've lost some of my mojo. I need to find a way to get it back. If I can, when I do, do I waste it on groups that are just going to suck the fun out it? Is there something, anything I can do, to prevent that?

  2. This is the great compromise of being the guy who runs the game: Do you run what _you_ are most excited about or do you run what everyone can agree on? One risks having fewer players (or no players), one risks a less than full motivated GM. I don;t think there's a set rule or a best approach, but if you're feeling boxed in it might be time to go with the other approach for a game.