Monday, August 17, 2015

Yes, I'm That Kind Of Gamer

Hello, puggerinos. As all of you know, I play a lot of tabletop RPGs. If you don't know what one is, it's where we sit around the table, rolling strange polyhedrons in an attempt to summon Stan.

But I figured you already knew that.

I am hear to admit that I am that shameful form of gamer. My gaming group knows that if certain things come up in a game, they can count on me dropping everything to sate my hunger for it. We could be pursuing a turtle dragon that has kidnapped the local princess and is now flying off to his castle in the distance, but I will literally focus my energies elsewhere if certain things happen. These triggers may include...

  • An ancient mural on the wall depicts the rise and fall of a forgotten civilization, including a calamity which ended it abruptly centuries ago.
  • A long sword of strange design and made of unknown materials hidden away in a horde of common artifacts.
  • A tribe of lizardfolk that fight to the death to defend their totem, a giant carved skull that appears to be blocking a hole into the Earth. The lizardfolk plead for us not to release the evils within.
  • A derelict starship from an alien race that has phased into a nearby mountain, and whose audio logs are scattered about.
That's right. I'm the kind of gamer that must know more about the world he is playing in, from the minutae of what gnolls eat for breakfast to the famous plays storm giants perform in their keeps on top of mountains.

I don't know why. Maybe I read too much growing up, or maybe I've been spoiled by deeply detailed settings like Glorantha or Forgotten Realms. I just know that if there is a chance to learn more about a setting, I usually leap for it. Just as throwing a handful of sand in the air can cause a vampire to stop and count them, I will want to learn more about the religion of the warlocks who serve Lord Muckity Muck.

(That's right. You didn't know the old myth about vampires, did you? Aren't you curious what else there could be about vampires that you do not know? Do yourself a favor and Google the Eastern European legend about vampires and see where the legend differs!)

Maybe it's a little bit of snobbery to say that I just can't stand bland settings when I play. Maybe I have played too many RPGs over the years but if we sit down to play a fantasy setting and there are Orcs raiding a Human caravan with names like Blork, Blabba, and Blideboo I'm finding my interest waning. I want my world to have more detail than playing a Warcraft 2 game. All tabletop games are played partially on the board but mostly in the mind, and nothing disrupts my mental images more abruptly and harshly than "It's an orc. He's got a sword. He swings at you."

The same applies to games I run. At my last con game of Wu Xing the players learned little details that they later told me helped them adjust to the setting. Whether they were sipping Akaba, a sweet rum produced by the islanders on Ankh, or when they watched from a distance as the Uga Clan diciples performed their Haka as they tried to drown the Will of Iron ninja they had been sent to find, they liked how they could feel more of the setting.

Obviously, this can get out of hand quickly. Players sit down to play, not to have me extol the virtues of the Uga to them. A player might be interested in why the G'wai in System Crash choose their names, but they do not want to know the recipe for Hedgehog Goulash, especially if it just distracts from the setting. 

Peppering your setting with even the littlest details can make it more vibrant and alive in the same way that adding small amounts of certain spices to a meal make it more flavorful. Give a recurring villain a strange accent, have a pickpocketed wallet contain a grocery list for strange items, or introduce random dialogue that people on the street may say if the players are trying to gather intel. For more extreme examples, consider a dwarven funeral procession in the street, a crazed old man saying he is from the lost Tanuki clan, or even a notebook from America's lost sister colony of Columbiana declaring they are rebelling alongside them in the Americas Revolution can make players more interested in the setting and want to seek out these mysteries. 

I know some people would say that you need to play a game system that supports this kind of roleplaying, and I absolutely agree that there are many games that help in this regard. Numenera is the first that comes to mind. In Numenera, you are exploring Earth in the Ninth age, an age where previous civilizations have come and gone and there are relics from the past scattered across the planet. The purpose of the game is to explore, and the system lends itself well to that kind of mentality.

Remember that just like spices, moderation is the key. But challenge yourself to make your world larger and unique. Players can get in on this as well when they make their characters. Perhaps your character always wears a special braided knot on his scabbard for luck, or maybe you come from a dwarf colony that lives out on the sea in a massive iron sailing ship. Perhaps you are a visitor from a strange land, or perhaps you worship a different deity from others. Just as with the GMs, don't go overboard because you want to make the world bigger, not introduce Gundams into a fantasy setting.

The first step to fixing a problem is to admit you have a problem, and that's where I"m going to lie and say I don't have a problem. If you run a game from me, I will want to know more about your world. Do not take that as an insult; if I have a vested interest in something, I tend to obsess over it, and if you make a world that draws me in I will be the happiest gamer around.

Now, in other news...

Pulsars is chugging along. We are going to start our Kickstarter in over a month, and I am waiting on some last confirmations before we go live. Ryan Schoon and Ben Woerner have been extremely helpful in this, along with my fellows in the IGDN. I have some anxiety over running a KS, but I've been fortunate to have some of the best tutelage when it comes to running Kickstarters and I hope the gamign community will like what they see.

I've been pondering doing a podcast of The Smug Pug Games that would talk about game development and minis, while probably incorporating pop culture as well. Is that something you guys would be interested in hearing? Let me know at JKMyth at Gmail dot com! 

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