Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Consolidating Role-Playing Game expectations

We are now familiar with the Tanks, Flankers, Healers, Range Attacker and  Spellcaster set up. Of course this is not the only way to play a game, The doctrine/the manner of play really depends on the GM and the players. There is no limitation to the kind of formula one may choose to use for their game, the only important thing to consider is expectations.

Consider what you want to be doing most of all in a Game? Would you want to move pieces around in combat or do you want Role-Play, Puzzles (strategic or mental), or do you want to solve problems? The mixture is never completely homogeneous. There is no single kind of play because there are diminishing returns to enjoyment in each, and the diversity sometimes compliments the utility of other kinds of play.

What gives the group the best utility, or what utility can the GM best offer. Communication and understanding, a dialogue, would be best to know what players want to be doing most of the game and trying to diagram to narrow down what would bring most utility or the GM diagrams what he can best offer in terms of Activity.
Ex. As a GM I admit that my tastes for games have changed a lot as I got older. The Traveller Game I've prepared for shows my current likes: 50% high level problem solving - problems similar to what we face in the real world but equipped with the abilities of highly competent individuals (the game of bosses), 30% strategic/tactical/logistic activities - this is a quick narrative of actions and activities where I, as the GM, use direct adversarial activities (combat, social maneuvering, and opposed rolls), and 20% drama and role-playing. 
Back in the day I used to be 80% combat, and the rest role-play.
In a combat heavy system, having roles organized and a doctrine or a dominant strategy set up helps set expectations. In a problem solving game you have a different set of character options: you have Force, Diplomacy, Deception/Obfuscation, Intelligence Gatherer (information superiority), Technical Superiority (logistics or technology), and Alternative methodologies (put here criminal, magical, and anything other method that is not the mainstream means of solving problems). A "balanced party" in a problem solving game has a lot of options available and the ability to mix strategies. 

Games are not only Problem Solving and Combat; there are games of Intrigue where there are a variety of roles to play and a particular mix to draw from: The Honorable diplomat, the manipulator/tempter/seducer (applying manipulations on the weaknesses of others), the Truth Seeker (detectives, investigators, empaths etc.), the Dealer (exchanging favors), and those who use Force or Money. 
Ex. in 5 hour game expect the following:
  • 2.5 hours problem solving - I would be facilitating the PCs plans and throwing murphies based on the die rolls. Players ideally adapt and quickly change their plans on the fly. (think of it as a fun team work exercise but your characters have a lot to gain)
  • 1.5 Some little combat (hand-to-hand or vehicular), and some social maneuvering. 
  • 1 hour of drama intertwined between - character's baggage comes up and gets in the way of things. If plans are not made to tailor-in or avoid character weaknesses baggage gets much worse. High stress situations always trigger mental disadvantages, even those little quirks. I keep track of stress levels and the players juggling the problem solving must understand that to solve any problem their character are in a high stress position (long hours, distractions, internal conflicts) and these manifest. The way this gets resolved is when players act out their character issues and personality. 
To address players expectations, I guide them in character creation to optimize their options and variety of strengths. but my expectations cannot be completely inflexible, i have to consider player input. I guess I have to average it out; at the same time "sell" my strengths to the players. You can't just give the players what you can do, you have to give them a chance to get to know your style prior to play. At least buffering expectations.

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