Sunday, September 6, 2009

Helmsman's RPG Preferences

In response to a neat little rundown by Stuart at Robinson Games about preferences in playstyle. His focus was on the various versions of D&D but I believe they're relevant in most any RPG, so like many others I've decided to post my preferences.

Comprehensive Rules(1) vs. Minimal Rules(10)


I want solid fundamentals that make sense. That means comprehensive, but a good game system maintains simplicity through good fundaments. An example of this would be having a good system for weapons rules with a bit of mechanical leeway included. A system like this a player can pick up a fence-post and swing it around and the GM simply rules that it's roughly the same stats as a quarterstaff only with less accuracy and slightly more damage. The rules didn't have to include "fence post" in the weapons listing which would have just been pointless bloat but allowed for that scenario simply by way of solid fundamentals.

High Power Fantasy vs. Low Power Fantasy

Depends on the game.

There are some games that I've absolutely loved the idea of finding a dungeon and literally approaching it like some medieval archeologist/grave-robber hybrid.

"Shiny runes on the walls you say? Well let's get out the ol' chisel and remove this section of the wall. I know lots of rich folks who'll pay big money for this kind-of wall treatment." This requires an exceptionally low-power design but can still be fun if the game allows for tricky solutions like creating cave-ins on monster's heads and that sort-of thing.

The other side of the road is Exalted, which is one of my favorite games, and you don't get any more high-powered than Exalted. However, there's a caveat to that. Exalted incorporates setting assumptions and responses to that power level which most fantasy games don't. The setting doesn't disassociate that power-level, so the lowly NPC's that are obviously less powerful than the PC's are OBVIOUSLY less powerful. This means social structures assume this rather than some elderly inkeep treating level 25 adventurers like he would treat any other armed mercenary that walked in. No. If you're a guy that can beat-up gods literally then you are treated as such, and that makes for interesting gameplay and moral relativism. I like that too.

Narrative Mechanics(1) vs. Simulation Mechanics(10)


I almost always prefer simulation mechanics because simulation mechanics arbitrate conflicts more effectively. However Narrative mechanics have a place as well, mechanics like character backgrounds which grant the character a monetary source even though he might not role-play gathering that money every game. Or saying the character has a friend who can help, even though there might not have been any prior in-game interaction with that friend. These are narrative mechanics that have meaning and value in any game.

Strategic Chargen(1) vs. Simple Chargen(10)


I'm generally a fan of more options and toys to play with to tweak and fiddle with a concept.

Tactical Encounter(1) vs. Strategic Adventure(10)


This is just personal preference on the way I run things rather than a statement on the validity of either approach which I consider both quite valid. I run games with story and dramatic feeling first and the actual cut-and-thrust of combat second and I find too much reliance on tactics in combat bogs down the game. Plus I don't prescribe to some arbitrary notion that all the critters in the world are automatically an appropriate challenge for the PC's. Some of the best games I've ever run and played in are games where the PC's took on a vastly more powerful adversary and won the day through cunning, be that by enlisting allies, cleverly evading or luring the adversary elsewhere to achieve the objective. My players have indicated that they enjoy this as well.

Combat Balance(1) vs. Adventure Balance(10)


I advocate simulationist sandboxes which I use story and various lures to manipulate my PC's into doing fun stuff, but for the most part I let them choose what to wade into. If a PC get's fixated in the princess at the top of a tower around which a known psychotic baron utilizes an infamous and deadly army, I'm not going to suddenly decrease the army's capabilities to match the PC group's. The player knows what he's going up against and should plan accordingly or do something else. The same goes for fighting a powerful dragon, I don't just inexplicably put a dragon somewhere to stumble across, I leave clues in the narrative that THERE'S A DRAGON here. If the land for 30 miles around the dragon's lair is charred and uninhabited then the Players know what they're getting into, if they choose to continue fine, but I'm not balancing the encounter to counter their expectations.

On the flip side, I believe it is the responsibility of the GM to be trustworthy. Throwing a vastly overpowered ambush at a party with no chance of escape better have narrative justification that promises greater reward in the future as the PC's are captured and taken before some evil dickhead. Otherwise the GM is simply being an asshole and deserves to have his game abandoned.

Balanced Encounter vs. Balanced Adventure

Neither. See above-two reasons.

Wargame Combat(1) vs. Abstract Combat(10)


Combat is fun and abstractions often create inconsistencies which to me are unfun. I want my players to feel they have the opportunity to attempt most anything and the system should be able to tell them if they pull it off rather than some arbitrary ruling of the GM who might not know anything about guns or swords, or armor or anything to do with the game setting. Abstractions of course have to exist to a certain degree in all RPG's, but having to justify why or why-not something works because of my personal beliefs to my players is something I generally try to avoid.

GM as player(1) vs. GM as referee(10)


I prefer the GM to be the guy telling the story and the system it's self to be the referee. Doing things in this way I believe empowers the players to use the system to find their own solutions to the obstacles the GM places in their way using the system.

Fantastic Characters vs. Common Characters

Again depends on the game. I like fun. Sometimes a common game with a compelling story is fun, and sometimes riding on the bow of an airship while juggling vorpal swords is also fun.

Established Setting(1) vs. DIY Setting(10)


I do write my own settings... but I don't really prefer to run them which is messed up.

Resource Optimization(1) vs. Creative Problem Solving(10)


I really don't find resource tracking fun at all, but find creative problem solving to be hugely rewarding as both a player and a GM. However you do need resources to solve things creatively, and those resources have to be effective, but I like enough versatility that the resources I have access too can fit a concept long before I examine it's overall effectiveness within the game.

So those are my current preferences which for the most part are subject to change at my whim. Maybe someday they will be something official and be taught in RPG schools as would be befitting of my future greatness. As it is now, I hope they're legible and not too terribly boring a read.