Monday, June 18, 2007

Expanding Horizons, part II (Game systems)

I'll continue my thoughts from yesterday, and hope people don't mind my rambling on too much.

I think the willingness to take a chance and introduce new styles rather than just new settings or mechanics is what impresses me the most about some of the newer generation of games that I've been reading. The small press games, indie RPGs, or even larger companies that are willing to give something else a try. Some of these games are written in such a way that it's like they come equipped with a pocket GM to show you a new way of playing. I know there have been games around that offer these things for a while, but somehow I managed to let them slip by while I picked up the same kinds of games that I have been collecting for years.

Certainly they're not all for everyone, and many of them don't really even fit my personal style, but there is definitely something to be learned here, and in that some are truly brilliant. For most, I think it comes in a subtle shift in paradigm from adventure to drama. Certainly there is still adventure involved, and depending on the game it is still likely to be a huge part, but the story now comes from drama, often personal or group based, not just situational.

Of course a lot of us have played games that way all along, but for me the breakthrough came in the form of a more-or-less total, and permanent, shift in focus. A number of games have rules that not only reinforce this idea, but encourage players to really press forward and take a chance. The mechanics themselves give players a reason to create and feed off of the drama, not just of the situation, but of the characters themselves.

I know I'm not describing it well, but I personally found it very neat. It's like a whole group of game designers are working hard to teach stogy old gamers like me that there are new ways to play the same old games. Best of all, if these games don't work for us for whatever reason, we can still take the tricks we learned back to the games we've always played, and use them to give us new weapons for our arsenals, rather than just using the same old formulas.

Not that there is anything wrong with the way we've always played, heck right now I'm running the fairly standard assortment of Shadowrun, D&D, and Scion, but I love having new tools to draw from.

For example, player conflict has long been verboten at my table, but then I sat down and read through Cold City, where trust and betrayal are central themes, and I've reconsidered the rule a bit. I'm not ready to start letting my D&D players toss fireballs at one another, but I'm intrigued at the idea of conflicting character backgrounds. I also mentioned in my last blog that I tend to run games for years at a time, and while I have run one-shots before, it never occured to me that you could really get into a character in the course of a single night until I read through Sprit of the Century, which gets a ton of mileage out of the basic premise that you shouldn't hold back, because next session simply may never come.

I know it's not for everyone, but to me it was a breath of fresh air. Its something I simply hadn't gotten enough exposure to until I was given the chance to judge the ENnies this year.

Now I guess I'll drop the long-winded commentaries, and return you to your regularly-scheduled useless ramblings.

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