Day 3: #RPGaDay 2018 – “Endurance”

Week One: WHAT? Prompt: What gives an RPG staying power?

Some people of my acquaintance have stayed with one or just a few games over their time as enjoyers of the hobby, but most of my gamer friends prefer to roam a long buffet of delightful options. Like at a buffet, however, there are certain options which leap out at you meal after meal, demanding inclusion on your heaping plate. No matter how many passes around that table you make, no matter how many returns you make to that restaurant, those menu items grab a piece of real estate in your heart and stomach.

What gives an RPG endurance at the table? For this answer for this third day of #RPGaDay 2018 it’s time to veer sharply away from system…although it does matter.

The List
  • the people (see Day 1)
  • the system (see Day 2)
  • the alchemy between the people, the setting, the characters, and the system

Do we intend to turn vague detail into an art-form? Haven’t we already done so?

Soylent Green

The biggest individual part of my response is, like in Harry Harrison‘s great work Make Room, Make Room, the people. Without the unique elements that each player brings to the table, the special alchemy of interaction we will discuss below becomes inert and ineffective – without meaning.

The interplay between the players as friends, between each player and each character, between each character and each other character, between all of these and the setting, between all of these and the specific events of each moment in each session, and perhaps most of all their anticipation for “what comes next?” is the prime ingredient, the motive force, in what keeps a campaign going and going and going…. like this sentence. Wow.

Friends old and new getting to know each other better, out-of-character jokes and banter, in-character jokes, banter, and deeds, the sharing of common experiences, the traditions seeming all groups develop over time… even after twenty years I still miss ordering donairs from King of Donair, and even after 30+ years I still miss rehashing each moment of the game on the walk to school, and even though it is recent and Star Wars is still a part of our gaming lives, I miss gathering at Zoo Coffee for that campaign. There is a magic in the connections between people, but we will talk about that after we look at the largest connection they have in common…

Neue Regel?

Like the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in Paradise before the predictable fall of humanity to its current base state, the presence of an ever-growing number of intriguing systems is both an inspiring and corrupting influence on the longevity of any given RPG at the table in my experience. The lure of submitting to a new order of things and once again being lit from within and without by the fires of new creation and new discovery is a temptation that it is hard to resist. Other factors weigh heavily of course, such as that old thief, Time, and the needs of work and family, but for me over the years, there comes a time when a campaign and its attendant game start to feel like they have reached a point of completion. A time when it is time to move on.

The counter to this incredible current in the tides of play is of course the nature of the play itself – and that owes a debt to the system we play. Our love of how that world is brought to life mechanically, and our growing skill at interacting with it ever more seamlessly and adroitly is a key part to keeping a game firmly in a dominant position at the table.

While eventually, as with all things, entropy will take hold…. how long it takes can be impressive. I have a tendency toward long-form play over many years, sometimes with several games at once. The primacy of people-first in my reasoning stems from the fact that the power of the group can overcome a less-appealing or troubled system, the reverse does not tend to be true – no matter how cool the system is. My longest running campaign was 6 years in the World of Darkness, and it simultaneously had other attendant Chronicles and off-shoots. There was a of life in that group, and until I chose to head to Korea “for a year, maybe two” twenty years ago, entropy had no hold upon it even though system comments were commonplace.

Chemical Weddings

In the end, however, the thing which gives a game its staying power is, in my opinion, that union which makes the whole greater than the sum of its individual parts. It is a combination of factors which seems simple yet is arcane enough and capricious enough to defy description, categorization, and predictable prediction. It is the union of the group within itself and with the system that makes or breaks a game, I feel.

System teaches the characters to dance, but it is the mind of each player which provides the notes – each from their own unique instrumentation – that during play create the music which calls us back to the table like some dice-dappled Pied Piper.

Tomorrow

The #RPGaDay prompt for August 4th concerns your most memorable NPC. This could be one you have portrayed as a GM, one you have been assigned for a scene as a player, or one you have encountered. I have had a lot of NPCs that I have enjoyed portraying through the years, and more than a few have stuck with me after that first encounter. For this year’s response, however, I might go with a survey of my current face-to-face group…

#RPGaDay 2018

This is the first week of the fifth iteration of the monthly roleplaying gaming celebration launched by Autocratik for all forms of social media. Share your responses however you prefer to share. If you want to get involved, grab and share the infographic with the prompts and jump right in!

@willbrooks1989RPG-a-Day 2018 High Contrast

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