Saturday, May 31, 2014

Introductions All Around

How well could you introduce someone to the games you play?

This one is almost synchronicitous1. A posting on G+ referencing a blog post on the subject, a certain local store's smorgasbord initiative... I feel I must join in. And I do have some stories to tell.

What's This? What's This?

It may happen that you visit your Friendly Local Game Store, and it may happen that you browse the shelves (if you're lucky enough to have one; you may have to settle for the likes of IPR or DTRPG) and find some games you've never played before. And you may pick it up and peruse it and have your mind tickled with new ideas, or just the same old ideas chopped, mixed, and presented in a way that adds freshness and vibrance.

And you may think to yourself, "How did I get here?"2 "This looks interesting. I gotta show this to my friends!"

Or you may be playing your game of choice outside your home, either at that local Friendly Local Game Store or at a convention, and friends who don't play that game come up and ask "That looks like fun. How do you play?"

Are you ready for the next step?

Do you even know what the next step is?

I probably won't get to it in this post, but at least I intend to demonstrate a need to plan through the whole introduction-to-game thing.

New players? New games? Old hat!

  • Link #1, "Rant:Why People Don't Play RPGs, on the page associated with the Call of Catthulu game. It makes one or two points, but I think it swings a little wide of the mark.
  • Link #2, Scott Rehm's post on Google+, I find I agree more with, and in order to elaborate on my own ideas, I'm writing here. But that's for a little later.
  • Link #3 dovetails nicely into this topic, which is interesting because it came at least two and a half months before either links #1 or #2.

I have some of my own anecdotes to contribute to the discussion, but until the cranial hyperlink becomes a thing, I can't link directly to them. You'll just have to keep reading and hope I describe them correctly.

But let's go through the links one by one and talk about what's happening in each. I'd still suggest reading them, so I'll synopsize.

Link #1: Wisdom from the Cutting Room Floor

Long story short: "Mr. Joel" has published a rules-light parody game called Call of Catthulu, and is writing another book called the Cat Herder's Guide which looks to be more about running and playing games than any game itself. The blog post is an excerpt which had to be cut from the book due to size constraints, but which the author felt he still had to share with the world.

And truth be told, he does make some very good points, about how some people new to RPGs approach games with a sense of wonder and mystery, and the presentation of the game to them does not do either the game or their enthusiasm justice.

I do take issue with one particular element of his argument, though: This doesn't just happen to people who are brand-spanking-new to RPGs. This can happen to anyone, regardless of their level of experience, and a badly presented game can put even hardcore players off unless they approach it with the right mindset.

Link #2: Scott Rehm's Response

I linked to his Google+ post, but I'd probably do him justice to link to his blog, The Angry DM. He makes a number of additional points that I agree with, and one that I frankly find a little shocking.

Igor, on my mark... Blockquote Engage!

Now, I'm not sure the spirit of the original author because this post is actually an excerpt lifted from another book, but what I have seen is people sharing or retweeting this post as an indictment of particular game systems over others.

If that's true (and I currently have no reason to believe it isn't), then it sounds like a lot of people are using the first link to bludgeon games they don't like. Why? Isn't it enough to simply not like the games they don't like? Must they lie to make up reasons for other people to hate them? That's not "responsible gaming." That's "being a dick."

Sadly, I also have a theory. I even talked about it in my previous post (August 2013... damn, that was a long time ago), "Your Comfort Zone is Evil," and scroll down to the heading "A Game of Boxes." Some people just don't like some games because they can't fit the way they want to play into it.

There's another possibility, and that's that the story-gamers are knocking or mocking the crunch of more mechanic-heavy games. The problem, they say, is that working with the numbers interferes with "immersion," and that it's hard to stay "in character" if you have to keep doing math to determine if your character succeeded at doing something.

Either way3, they shouldn't be trying to do that. And I fear that's what's happening here.

Now let's shift gears and get to the good news...

Link #3: FLGS to the Rescue!

For the record, let me say that I love my Friendly Local Game Store. It has role-players, it has miniatures gamers and painters, it has board game fans, it has Magic and assorted other card game players... it's a very, very accommodating store.

Anyway, they started this thing where before any given quarter, they'll announce three games. For one month of weekly sessions, they'll play that game. In the first week they'll create characters, and in subsequent weeks of that month they'll play through the game. Now, they only have four slots per game because the GM (a store volunteer) has to keep the game at a manageable size, but still, they're getting to demonstrate uncommon games during store hours, and players are getting a chance to play them.

I think it's a great concept: Every month they feature a different game. In April they did Gamma World (the latest TSR edition). In May they did Monsters and Other Childish Things. And in June they're doing Numénera. (They have four slots per game, and those are already filled for June, sorry.

The concept's still in its larval stage, and it further spurred on the question of how to introduce people to games. I had some recommendations based on my participation in the May Monsters run. And those continue to percolate, so much so that I'll have to write about them.

And then there are the personal experiences

For instance, a group I'm invested with now, that plays on most weekday nights depending upon player availability...

They had for a very long time run various campaigns with TSR's Marvel system. Of late, though, they had been collapsing. Players unhappy with certain other players' GMing, characters designed to little more than annoy... Bad scene all around, really.

A desire to participate as something more than a player spurred me on to introducing them to Hero System, specifically the superhero variation branded as Champions but in a brand spanking new world with its own problems and cosmology.

(Note that this is a separate group from the one for which I was running Champions previously. That one is on Thursday nights, and "my" game is in the rotation. I run for a while, then someone else runs for a while, then someone else blah blah blah you get the idea. While I was running that, I had the idea for some perverse reason to run another, completely differentChampions game. If you think I ought to have my head examined, you're not alone.)

I voiced my interest and intent to that group. I showed them the books. And lo, did the screaming hissy-fit commence. The evening that I was going to start character creation, one of the players had an honest-to-FSM panic attack and nearly drove his SUV (and two of the other players riding with him) off the road. The launch was a little rocky.

I know where my mistake was: At the time, "my books" consisted of a two volume set containing almost one thousand pages between them.

That game is running fairly smoothly now, by the way. How that came to pass, I think I'll reserve for the next posting. Consider this an introduction.

  1. That is a word. Seriously. It's the adjectival form of "synchronicity."
  2. Roll a Will save vs. 10 to resist the ear worm.
  3. And crossover between the single-style-players and the mechanic-haters cannot be ruled out...

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