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RPGs and the Social Contract
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.
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.
I've heard of people doing exactly that DarthJoJo, and I think it is a great idea.
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.