Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Your Comfort Zone is Evil

Of course, of course, in the grand scheme of roleplaying games you've tried a great many systems. You are an encyclopedia of game mechanics, the go-to guy for the way any given ruleset works.

But how many different ways do you play? Because if you interact with all those rulesets with one type of character and demanding only one type of action, your repertoire isn't nearly as wide as you think it is.

But First, Let Me Tell You of my Past Financial Indiscretions…

Or, let me tell you how I spent a little money. Because as time wears on and I come to appreciate what I did, it feels less and less like an indiscretion. This is a tale of two Kickstarters, both for roleplaying games.

(Side-note #1: Thus far, I have only contributed to roleplaying game kickstarters. And there have been six of those total. The other four are a tale for another time.)

(Side-note #2: I still regard Kickstarter as a refuge for the desperate and the cowardly, even despite its past successes, but that too is a tale for another time.)

The one about the henge and the small town

One of them was for Golden Sky Stories, a translation of a Japanese RPG to Western shores. It's about animal spirits, and helping out around a small town.

If you're now asking the webpage "what, that's it?", then you see what an uphill battle this game might have for acceptance. But you might not see the problem.

The one about the other small town

The other was for (hang onto something) Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine. Yeah, it's nowhere near as big a mouthful as Lacuna, Part 1: The Creation of the Mystery and the Girl from Blue City, Second Attempt, but it has its own velocity and a few stumbling blocks.

That one is set in another town, actually calledTown, which is broken up into several areas and supports several different styles of play, including one called Pastoral, in which the game proceeds week by week with people doing things like learning to cook or getting to know the neighbors…

And again, you might be asking yourself (or the webpage again), "Who could possibly find anything fun in that?" If you are, then once again you see an issue with the game but not the problem.

The Uphill Battle for Acceptance

These two games, frankly, have it rough. In TFOS terms, they'd be "Not Very Near Games" or possibly "Real Weirdies." They're both diceless, which means you spend from pools of points to make things happen.

But the real problem is the style of play each prefers. There's nothing wrong with them as such; they're perfectly capable of emulating their style.

The problem is that players might not accept or be willing to handle the style of play. Face it: If you rolled your eyes or reacted in ways I described above when I talked about each game, then there is indeed a serious problem, and you are part of it. Golden Sky Stories above calls itself "heartwarming" roleplaying. Meanwhile, I know people who couldn't warm a heart with an omelette pan and the fires of Mount Doom itself.

Up, Up, and a-Hurrrr!!

There's a habit that some gamers get into, where they're taken with one type of character, or one type of action, and then try to recreate that character or sample that action in any game they approach.

Long ago, I'd known someone who was an incredible Wolverine fan (and yes, that's Marvel's). Now, he didn't want to play Wolverine in every single game he ran across, but if he couldn't have retractile two-foot-long claws and a healing factor that could bring him back from the purée setting, he didn't want to hear about it.

I know someone else who hadn't been roleplaying for a while, and has just restarted. Consequently, she's got one or two character concepts that she and her husband know by name or a few bits of description when she creates them in different games.

Even I do it from time to time, but I'm now trying to mitigate it. I'm calling the stand-by the Retarded Superman. This is what I'm calling the paragon of physicality paired with the mind of a child or idiot. I'm not sure how it began, but I've produced a lot of characters like that. The most recent instance was dreamed up for a friend's Fate Core game (which by the way was another of those Kickstarters, and due for a review). I'm officially putting my foot down on that and changing the character type before it's too late. He'll still fill the same approximate dramatic function in the group (that of combat specialist), but he'll at least have a different flavor.

Yes, even Monstrous Types are Types

I'd made a statement some time back about people playing monsters. You know the sorts, popularized by White Wolf—vampires, werewolves, mages, a myriad of misfits—and some people prefer to play these monsters among people because "they like the challenge" of playing someone that has something separating them from humanity.

But what if they do it all the time?

Then guess what: They're still playing in their comfort zone. It just so happens that their comfort zone is occupied by monsters. They want a challenge? Challenge them—to play straight-out humans. Then stand back so you don't get hit by the sputtering.

A Game of Boxes

Playing different games is all well and good, but are you also playing different ways? Different character concepts? Not doing so is claiming you're thinking "outside the box" when you take the smaller box (character) out of the bigger box (system), set the smaller box somewhere else, climb back in, and play there.

Going into a game expecting a specific type of action isn't such a bad thing. Expecting the same type of action from four or five different games, however, is pushing it. See the "thinking outside the box" analogy above.

What's more, there are some games which are radically differently shaped, such that your favorite box might not fit into it. I mean, after a dozen different systems where you play hack-and-slash dungeon-crawl fantasy, the likes of Golden Sky Stories or Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine would be utterly foreign. Do you climb out of your comfort zone and play the game the way it's designed, or do you disparage the game for not supporting the sort of action you prefer? It saddens me to know (not think, know) how many otherwise intelligent players would rather do the latter.

In fact, this goes far to explain the rift between "story" RPGs and traditional "gamey" RPGs. Both sides are stuffed with players who can't see playing the other way, therefore they see a problem with those games rather than their own myopia. Their box won't fit in that box, therefore that box is wrong. Never mind that their box doesn't belong in that box, or that they even insist on having their own box in the first place; the problem is that box over there that their box doesn't fit.

(And yes, I suppose it is nice that I found a way to feel superior to them both. But in this case, that's not difficult.)

Roll taoD6.

Am I suggesting that you should throw aside your preconceived notions when encountering a new game? No. I'm flat-out telling you that that's what you should do. The game wants to be played in its own way. Trying to shoehorn your own prejudices and anticipations into it does both it, you, and the other players a disservice. At the very least, you don't get to realize your potential if you play the same type of character you'd played in half a dozen other games.

Let the game present the experience it was intended to. Understand the way it works and how it does what it does to present the kind of experience it does. Until you do those, don't try and change it. You might end up doing very bad things to it.


  1. Wait -- you mean Little Timmy is never climbing out of that well?

    1. I won't say never, but it won't be until I've had a chance to play many other character types first.