I’ve been busy teaching children to die well with make-believe swords. More importantly, I’ve been busy showing them that “winning” a sword fight doesn’t make you the most interesting or coolest character in the scene. Relatedly, I died a lot.
Near the end of our adventure game, shortly after I had led the campers in an oath to continue my mission (defending the land from dragons), I died to the big bad. It was a scripted death. It was also, if I may toot my own horn, a good one. I was lucky enough to have not one but several people come and pay their respects afterwards. I think a few of our campers have realized that they can have a good time and make good scenes with each other, improvising a good scene rather than struggling to win.
Pokemon X/Y comes out tomorrow. So today I am going to talk about my favorite monster collecting game. No, it’s not Pokemon. In fact, my favorite game in the “collect, raise, and battle” genre is a spinoff of the well-known series Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest. The game is Dragon Warrior Monsters (DWM), and while I have not played it through as many times as I have the original Pokemon, I have loved it a great deal more, and spent more energy on it. It is rare for me to actually write stuff down in a notebook for a game, but for DWM I found myself recording my findings in a notebook for future use. This is due to its unique take on how you collect and battle your little monster minions, even if you raise them just like most other RPGs (yay grinding!)
The story for the first game (yes! There are more than one!) begins with your sister getting kidnapped by a strange monster. Immediately after another monster shows up and offers to help you get your sister back. He takes you to another world and introduces you to a king. Apparently there is a tournament soon, and the prize for winning is a wish. Before you can participate you must train up and qualify, and so begins your journey (which includes other stories as well). I am honestly terrible at plot-synopses because I don’t like to give anything at all away (I believe part of the joy of a story is going into it completely blind). So as per usual I am going to focus my reviews on mechanics.
So now that we have a setting, let’s add in some details! One thing that can derail a campaign most are details. Why? Well, because details are at once meaningful and arbitrary. That is, details have to be consistent with your universe, and they shouldn’t establish any themes which your universe/story isn’t tackling, but they also aren’t always important. I once had to name a tavern at random. So I decided on a color and an animal/cooking object. After all, Black Bull, and the White Swan, or the Red Ladle, are all perfectly good tavern names. And this is how I ended up with the Red Bull Tavern, something Henry was so nice as to tease me about it here, and I’ll probably never hear the end of how I named the Mayor ‘Hamer’, which was intended to be pronounced “ha-Mare”, but ended up being called “Mayor ha-Mayor”. So it is important to make sure to make sure that your random details are unobstructive. But how do you craft important details that are meaningful?
We’ve been talking a lot about improvisation and working with your players, but we haven’t given you nearly enough background for the topic. There’s a book that I found years ago called Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering, and I lend or recommend it to every one of my friends who asks me for tips on how to be a good storyteller. I like it so much that when I started looking through my old copy again while I was starting this article, I had to stop myself from simply quoting the book word for word. It’s more than just a good place to start; the book has an impressively down-to-earth approach that will give you a basis for campaign and adventure design, for preparing easy improvisation, and for reading and managing your gaming group’s social (and problem solving) dynamics. It also offers a very simple gamer typology that should allow you to identify what drives you and your players and what rewards them most in the realm of RPGs. If you’re interested in gaming or in group dynamics, I couldn’t recommend a better read.
In my last post, I talked a lot about what roleplaying is, and – surprise! – it wasn’t just one thing! That is part of the beauty of roleplaying, it’s full of options. What are these options?
Well, first, we have the three qualities talked about before:
Roleplaying, Storytelling, Mechanics. To keep in line with the existing literature on Gaming Theory, I have slightly renamed the categories I used in the previous post. I have renamed ‘Mechanics’ as ‘Competition’ (it goes by ‘gaming’ in GNS Theory, but I find that to be a bit ambiguous of a term); it essentially refers to how much of the experience of the game is rooted in competition. Storytelling will be referred to as ‘Narrative’, and Roleplaying will be expanded slightly to ‘Simulation’. Simulation refers to how much of the setting goes to recreating system-internal realism. Note that this realism does NOT have to be actual realism. For example, many unrealistic things happen in Star Wars, but there is an assumed set of rules which governs things like lightsabers. Any given game will have a balance of the three, like so: