Thursday, October 25, 2012

All About the Benjamins (Part 2)

[sorry this has taken so long to get back to this post…you can read part 1 here. I started writing the follow-up post about five weeks ago. I’m finishing it up today]

Fall in Seattle…definitely my favorite time of year. Still sunny, but the air is getting cool and crisp…long sleeves and jeans (my preferred mode of dress) but jackets not yet required. Flannel shirt weather. Lumberjack weather. Football weather.

And school’s back in session…which for me means having access to the internet once again. At least during the day, as my normal workload permits. Wouldn’t want to get in hot water with the regular job, job-type job.

‘Cause that’s what it’s all about, right? Keeping that gig, earning that paycheck, making that mortgage payment, and keeping the running beagles in kibble. If you can’t do that (and can’t keep the fridge stocked with beer) then it’s hard to enjoy your evening narcotic of television. Hard to care about the woes of the local sports team when you’re having a tough time putting food on the table.

It’s all about the Benjamins.

That’s the epiphany I had the other day with regard to game design…or rather, with regard to fantasy adventure game design. It’s the state of affairs that really drives the Old School style of role-playing; the thing that makes D&D (at least as originally conceived) so damn successful. MONEY…it’s the ultimate carrot, the thing that makes the world go ‘round.

At least from a GAME perspective, it’s the ultimate motivator. But, here…let me back up the train for a moment and give everyone a chance to get on-board with my usual meandering thought process:

[and just before I begin, please realize I know and understand that REAL LIFE humans are motivated by far more things than simply money. Love, family, work, art, nation, God, etc. all can and do drive people in real life at least as much, if not more so, than simple piles of cash]

A few weeks ago I asked folks to submit to me their desire as to which project they’d like me to work on. I, in my normal whimsical fashion, completely disregarded these suggestions and started writing a brand new freaking game (actually, “completely disregard” is a little too strong…I feel very guilty and have the list of suggestions…with tally marks…still logged into my phone. One day…). The idea for the game came (as they sometimes do) pretty much fully formed into my brain after an afternoon nap with the beagles. I woke up with an idea and started scribbling furiously until I had something with some semblance of playability, semi-ready for testing.

Well, as I mentioned in my earlier post I DID have a chance to test it and there was a lot of good stuff and fun things to take away from it, but there were also issues regarding the motivation of the characters and the game mechanics associated with them. See, I’ve gotten more and more into this idea of “no useless mechanics” over the years (who doesn’t like that idea?) and yet to this end I’ve repurposed some traditionally useless mechanics (like “alignment”) to make it useful…by incorporating it into a reward system that encourages a particular play-style and behavior in game. To put it more simply, I want to encourage role-playing mechanically though in more real, concrete, specific ways.

Why? Because it’s fun and it’s one of the main, cool advantages a tabletop RPG has over a computer RPG.

[now this post isn’t about role-playing, so if you need to grok my particular philosophy on role-playing, what it is and isn’t, etc., you’ll probably want to check out SOME OF THESE OTHER POSTS, because I’m not going to bother to explain it here]

Anyway, in creating this new fantasy adventure game (or “FAG;” let’s just get that unfortunate acronym out in the open, shall we?) I tried to incorporate some of my thoughts, reflections, and theories into the design, particularly with regard to:

a)      Personality mechanics that had tangible in-game effects,

b)      Reward mechanics that ran based of behavior,

c)       All working together within the logic of the game and its setting.

This is something I’ve done to a lesser extent with CDF and my B/X space opera projects, but I really wanted to get it wired in and refined for this new Lost World game. And the end result (in testing) was mixed at best: it worked…and it didn’t.

What I TRIED to do was think of all the possible motivations an adventurer in the setting would have for going out on an adventure in the first place…

[this ends the section I was writing in September…here’s the completion of the thought]

The MECHANICS of the Lost World game worked fairly good…we ended up creating surprisingly rich and interesting characters, with motivations and backgrounds “built-in” in a very short amount of time, simply based on the chargen process (i.e. the rules do not require a huge amount of player input in the same way as, say, a White Wolf RPG). But then, we got to the adventure (a re-purposed X1: Isle of Dread…hey, the game has a B/X base and it’s about dinosaur lost worlds!) and everything fizzled.

That is to say, the PLAYER motivation fizzled. Or, rather, the player SELF-motivation fizzled. 

How many GMs have experienced this before: players show up, interested and raring to go, but with absolutely no idea what they’re supposed to do? Their characters are like race cars stuck in neutral…they look great, they can rev their engines by stepping on the gas, but they don’t actually GO anywhere. And if they (individually) step on the gas too hard, they blow their engine.

Ugh…maybe that’s a poor analogy; let’s try something different. I guess I’m going to have to start a totally new post after all!

[part 3 of this post will go up after I manage to offend some sensibilities with my segue post...sorry for the delay...]

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