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Masters of the Night Coming to Retail

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RPGs and the Social Contract

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03 Dec 2019 00:05 #304716 by thegiantbrain
It was a curious feeling to realise you have moved...

It’s Sunday. I’ve woken up late, had some breakfast, played some computer games and now I am looking at my week ahead. Wednesday is my regular games night. I sit down to prepare for the next part of the Warhammer Fantasy Role Play (WFRP) campaign we have started having recently picked up the starter set. I find myself looking for almost anything else to do. I don’t want to prepare or run this game. I love WFRP. Actually, I loved WFRP.

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03 Dec 2019 07:35 #304717 by jur
Replied by jur on topic RPGs and the Social Contract
Excellent take. Not a huge RPG player myself, but sometimes I get the idea that some players are only out to derail the game. That quickly kills off the fun in gming. On the other hand I see gms with waiting lines, as they are so popular and groups playing campaigns for years or even decades.

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03 Dec 2019 10:11 #304722 by Shellhead
I started role-playing in the late '70s. There was no social contract, and my whole group consisted of smart teenagers with poor social skills. The only guidance that we got was from Dragon magazine. So we made all the usual mistakes: Monty Haul (overly generous loot), Killer DMs, allowing broken characters from "my cousin's campaign", backstabbing, powergaming, min-maxing, you name it. One campaign stalled out after the first session ended in a PvP massacre with only one survivor. Certain players delighted in trying to break the game or de-rail the adventure.

We got better over time. By high school, we stopped trying to wreck games and adventures, and got better at cooperating to have fun. Our social skills even improved. By college, we had campaigns where people would take turns running the game and expanding the setting. When I moved away in my mid-20s, I soon found myself running a weekly GURPS campaign for 11 players, and attendance was even steady for the first six months. Over the course of my life, I have probably role-played with 80+ different people.

Some of the best role-playing experiences involved diceless systems like Amber or Lords of Olympus. The style of play strongly encourages players to improvise setting details on the spot. Diceless game masters tend to allow everything unless it is directly opposed by another character. They generally encourage action by either recognizing success or else allowing success plus a new complication, instead of letting the action fail. By giving players more influence over the setting and encouraging success, it tends to keep the action moving with everybody more engaged.

I wrapped up my last major campaign in 2016. It was the Ptolus setting with the D&D 3.5 rule set. The detailed combats were very entertaining until they became somewhat exhausting by 12th level or so. Since then, I have run a few Call of Cthulhu one-shots and played in some diceless sessions at a convention. But otherwise, I am still taking a break from role-playing. When everything comes together right, with a good group, a good adventure, and a good game system, role-playing can be great. More often, it can tend to drag with players obsessing over logistics, tactics, and excessive planning for the unknown.
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03 Dec 2019 10:58 #304725 by DarthJoJo
I’ve always wanted to open a campaign with a game of Ben Robbins’ Microscope. If it’s an original setting, go nuts from the foundation of the world to its apocalypse. If it’s a known setting, limit it to a single city or country. Now everyone comes in with a similar sense of the place’s history, important people and mysteries. Then the GM doesn’t need to waste time with an NPC explaining why the elves and dwarves are gearing up for war and who their leaders are. There’s already buy in because the players probably set this war up.
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04 Dec 2019 17:29 #304768 by thegiantbrain
11 players? That must have been quite a task to keep going. Never tried any of the diceless systems and whilst I understand the appeal I like a little bit of crunch to my system.

I've heard of people doing exactly that DarthJoJo, and I think it is a great idea.
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05 Dec 2019 10:12 #304778 by Shellhead
A few months into that GURPS game with 11 players, I was at the top of my DMing game. Despite an average of one PC fatality per session, players were very engaged. At one point, I was conducting three simultaneous sidebar discussions with three different players, with total knowledge of the intricate GURPS 3rd edition rules. I carefully orchestrated a maximum of two quick fights and one major battle per session, knowing how long each would take. For the first year after I moved back to the Twin Cities, GURPS filled up most of my free time, until I burned out.

Less than a year after starting the campaign, I manipulated players into a big PvP conflict that caused a falling out between both characters and players, just to get the group down to a more manageable seven. It worked, and it even took me months to regret my actions. I should have just split the group into two separate bi-weekly groups.

When a similar situation arose a decade later with my Legend of the Five Rings campaign, I made a better choice and recruited one of the 11 players into a co-DM. Then we split the group in half and divided the players by geography. Both groups continued playing for another year before moving on to other games.

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