Friday, April 19, 2013

How to pick your next rpg campaign or system

Castle Falkenstein what a great game. Should it be next?

If your anything like me you love rpg's. You have a mass of them, you read and like and want to play lots of different ones. So when it comes to your next game it can be problematic and present a difficulty picking what to play. This can be further exacerbated by our gaming friends, their likes and dislikes and essentially their level of trust in you and your game management. Something  John Harper observed.

So how do you pick a game? How do you make a decision? And how will you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it is the right one?

Or do I go with an Age of Sail game? Flashing blades anyone?
Your lucky in life when things are black or white. So its easy to make decisions. A train is speeding towards you. You want to live. Jump out of the way and you know unequivocally you have made the right decision.

Or maybe retro scifi? Sabers and Lazers any one?
But when it comes to gaming choices its less clear. should you play a D&D or 7th Sea? Should you play this with the original rule set or Savage Worlds?

Many of these types of decisions are ambiguous. Sometimes both decisions would have been right or wrong… to some extent. If we wait for absolute certainty before acting then we may never act. So that mean your likely to miss out on some good gaming opportunities. Fun times with friends.

Its time to realize sometimes there are no 'right' decisions, only different or alternate decisions. Trying to make the 'right' decision assumes that life is always simple or even simplistic. After all this is just your hobby time why anguish over it.  However some people - I include myself - respond to decision making time like a rabbit snared in the hunters spotlight.

Don't create unnecessary anxiety by worrying about what to do. There are five common traps to watch for:
  1. Wanting too much certainty before acting. Perfectionist types with simplistic ideas of right and wrong go for this one. They don't feel it is reasonable to act on a decision while still having doubts about it. They want a certificate to come through the letterbox telling them the right decision has been reached and officially approved. As this doesn't happen, their minds go round and round in circles and they actually think too much. 
  2. Believing a decision can only be valid if ratified by other people. This approach often comes out of fear of making an entirely independent decision. It may be a sign of reluctance to "rock the boat" or be responsible for a sub-optimal/bad outcome. 
  3. Constantly making the same mistakes because of failure to learn from the past. If you know that Rolemaster doesnt work for the group due to its complexity, or that FATE is something your players cant understand, or Runequest is too off-beat for the players, then recognise these patterns and incorporate them into your decision making. 
  4. Making emotional decisions based on a whim. Try not to make an entirely emotionally based decision type to understand the context of the decision and where it will lead. Interestingly current research make this type of decision making less of a "trap" then was previously thought and honestly in the context of role playing games this could be a fine way to go. Your passion may just carry the day and the game.  
  5. Not making a decision is a decision. The trouble is the which game which system 'problem' your trying to solve isn't maths. Your treating the problem of what to do for role playing as if it were algebra. You have to not sweat the small stuff. Moreover its preventing you from getting what you want from your roleplaying sessions. Its your hobby time and you should strive to making as enjoyable as possible. 
Ohh yeah THAT's what I'm talking about!!!
So what to do? First off don't sweat it. Don't get worked up. You may even have to give yourself time away form the decision. If your lucky enough to have a secondary GM in the group let them have the stage for however long they want need it. Or play board games for a while. If you dont want to do this then make sure you have something prepped for the next session of what ever it is you are playing. focus on combat you can rarely go wrong. Do a Chandler and have a revolver shoot through the door. The essence is don't worry about what it is - just have something. That will do for now and lets you enjoy your friends and your hobby time.

Don't feel locked in to the current game or system your running for your group. If you have to change let them know there is change coming. There is an unrealistic expectation on the part of many players in rpg's - I find particularly prevalent in people who don't or rarely run games. The Long Term Campaign. Its sort of unrealistic to expect this to just happen. Even with an entire Adventure Path, framework in which we have fun. The goal is fun. The secondary goal is fun adventuring and exploring in game drama.
She needs saving get to it!!!
Mega Dungeon or Packaged Campaign it just may not click for you or for that matter a number of the players. When one works its the nirvana of role-playing and is a truly great experience. It is NOT however the ONLY valid from of role-playing. The emphasis of any session should be on  getting together with friends to have fun over a game. Lets examine that and thing on our roleplaying experiences in the past...the game provides a

Don't dither; trust your gut instincts! When decision making gets tough – trust your gut instincts. Research published in 'Current Biology' shows, in some instances snap decisions are better than endless pedantic pondering and logical weighing up. People were shown a puzzle and asked to pick the one odd symbol out of more than 650 identical symbols. Interestingly they performed better when they were given no time to linger and were forced to rely on their subconscious to select the correct answer.

Big Gun. Check. Sword. Check. Sexy Woman.

Dr Li Zhaoping of University College London said: "You'd expect people to make better decisions when given time to look properly, but this was not so." He explained: "The conscious or top level function of the brain, when active, vetoes our initial subconscious decision – even when it is correct – leaving us unaware or distrustful of our instincts."

So thinking too much about a decision can leave us worse off. So the famous Milton Erickson's injunction to 'trust your unconscious' is now backed up by research. Your conscious logical brain doesn't always make the best decisions. Clearly logical thought has its place in decision making, but logic is a tool and not the only one in the box! Which leads to the question: are some people just too sensible when it comes to decision making?

So how to make that decision? To make good decisions you need to:
  1. Learn to trust your instincts. Don't always insist on 'logical' reasons for everything, such as why to chose Savage worlds rather then Traveller. Learn to say: 'Because it feels right.'
  2. When you do base decision making on weighing up the pros and cons, use your imagination. Really sit down and envisage living with the decision. How does that feel? Will the game work at the table. Can you commit to your own decision? You should be able to do so. If not propose a "one shot" or "short-run".
  3. Don't be overly tempted by strong emotional attraction to a game or system. Intuitive decision making works best when the distorting effects of emotion are kept in context. Revisit the rule above.  
  4. Remember, some decisions won't make sense to other people – and that may be OK. Most advances (Flight, open heart surgery, the telephone) were instigated by people who decided to follow what seemed like crazy ideas to others at the time. Be prepared to adjust to the needs of the group as things progress. If people balk at your game choice a) inform them your committed to a X length of play, b) passionate on the subject and more likely to create great in game fun and c) prepared to take feedback after three sessions about the game choice and its continuance.
  5. Don't beat yourself up if you do make a 'wrong' decision. You can learn from it and hey – you are human! And well you all got to try a new game. Whoot!!!
The important thing is that you play at the table with friends - everything else is secondary to that goal. The Play is the thing, not sitting agonising over the perfect game setting or system. Get your friends over and roll dice for adventure and fun!  
Yep there is my next game, right there!!!

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