With the completion of the A-Z April Blogging Challenge, I find myself waxing philosophical about gaming. In particular I’ve been thinking about those fond memories of my first gaming sessions, and why they seem so magical.
…but Jackie, I have a +5 Holy Avenger
I always thought that I’d see an episode of “That 70s Show” where Kelso said “…but Jackie, I have a +5 Holy Avenger.” Granted, I haven’t seen every episode, but it was something that I thought would happen.
This imagined excitement of Kelso reflects my early excitement about role-playing games; They were a means of stepping beyond my humble small-town and going on a grand quest. My exposure was also at a time before video games, in particular the first person perspective games, were prevalent. In this way role-playing games were the only game in town.
The games were something that I could fixate on, both while playing and not playing. While playing, I could immerse myself in the character I had created (or the story I was creating) and demonstrate my technical mastery of the rules. While “not playing” I could read into the surrounding fiction of the world (or build the world in which the story would happen) as well as delve deep into the rules.
Which brings up the two components of role-playing: the Rules and there was the Narrative.
The rules provided the constraints of what how things are framed and resolved. That is, how is a scene setup and played out to a point of resolution. In most cases, there is a whole lot more to the rules (i.e. a character’s attributes and abilities). The rules are where the mechanical complexities lie. Will I choose the right tool for the job? Can I possibly overcome this obstacle?
The narrative component of the role-playing game is the part where sense of danger, wonderment, and humor reside. Are we trying to prevent the army of the Red Hand from marching on the Nentir Vale? Are we on the run in a stolen spaceship trying to eek out our place amongst the stars?
Merging the Two
The rules provide the skeleton on which the narrative can be fleshed out. The rules model the world in which the narrative will occur. If you want your story to have blasters, then you best make sure there are rules concerning blasters. Conversely, if there are rules concerning blasters, then it is a safe bet that there will be blasters in the story. In this way, we have a feedback loop. If there are rules for “leveling up a character” (i.e. the training montage) then you can bet there will be tougher and tougher adversaries. These two components are not necessarily at odds, but the rules system will steer the setting and style of play.
What I’m after in role-playing games is to recapture that sense of narrative immersion, but also the exploration of the underlying system on which the narrative was formed; What it was like to roll up my first character, then for better or worse, play the role of that character. I want to participate in the collaborative story-telling process. Excitement is not found in rolling a dice, it is instead found in the narrative build up to the dice roll as well as the resulting consequences of the roll of the dice.
This is why I’m so very excited about Diaspora, and it’s sibling Fate-based games (e.g. Dresden Files RPG, Legends of Anglerre, Starblazer Adventures, and Spirit of the Century). The rules are very solid, but strongly encourage collaboration both in character building as well as during play.