Friday, January 13, 2012

Mechanical Stories

We've just released Issue 33 of the Troll's Tusk. You can subscribe HERE. In the Tusk we talk about trollish things but also pop culture, movie reviews and industry news. This week I talked about the concept of RPG mechanics vs. RPG storytelling. Here's the essay from the Tusk.


Mechanical Stories

News has hit the streets that 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons is coming our way. I wish WoTC all the luck and hope that Mearls and his team can bring the dragon back to the dungeon. But whilst reading the announcement in Forbes (well, to be honest, reading the Forbes online article) I noted a theme that has been prevalent in the table top community for awhile.  

Do people want mechanics or do they want story telling or do they want a game that seamlessly brings the two together? I read that concept in the Forbes mag and have seen it recounted innumerable times. I am probably guilty of it myself if I were to think upon it rather hard. 

However, allow me a moment to be the devil's advocate, and let me be a little dystopian about the games and the games we play. 

Not long ago I had the opportunity to run a game for a bunch of 10-12 year olds. The party was made up largely of girls. None of them had ever played a TTRPG before but they liked the concept of role playing as they had done it on such games as Star Doll, etc etc. One of the young gentleman explained to me that he and his online buddy get on the game Red Dead Redemption and before they begin their wild west forays they invent stories for their characters and then play them out online. He was role playing. So everyone was primed for role playing, much as I had been back in the 70s after spending so many years playing with my awesome marx toy sets. D&D was a natural outlet then and C&C is a natural outlet now.

So reluctantly (I was rather tired) I agreed to run the game. Quickly I realized that this would not be any normal game. I let them make characters, explaining only the basics of the siege engine, attributes and the dice. They equipped, armor and weapons only, and made names for themselves and we were off. I began with a simple flooded river crossing to allow them to make multiple attribute checks and get the hang of it.

Castles & Crusades is simple enough and they all picked it up in a few minutes, and the game was off. We played for several hours on Saturday and again on Sunday. The same group migrated to Mac's (co-author of PH) house and forced him to play and now again tonight I'll be running them. Long of the story is they loved the game and loved the role playing; from the shop keeper where they finally bought rope, food and back packs to the battles where they clobbered an ogre.  

But I noticed something in running this game. These kids were really playing it. Really playing. Not just waiting for the expected fight/role play encounter and trying to weigh the CL of presented challenge, charting ability scores and the like. These kids didn't care about any of that, they left all that to me, wanting only to chose their own path, right or wrong and move forward.  

That's when it hit me. Its not about mechanics. Its not about story. Its about fun. Its always been about fun. And what's more fun than role playing, good story or bad. C&C, like any RPG, is a game. Its a game with rules. But the rules are dynamic. When you open up Monopoly there is a set of rules in there that tell you how to do things. When you open up an RPG, there is a CK, GM, or DM there to tell you how to do things.

So let the CK run the game, if the rules don't work, they'll fix 'em, if the story is dull or bogs down, they'll fix that too. Keep the rules behind the screens. The rest of us need but role play and have some fun. So the trick isn't about mechanics or storytelling. The trick is letting the GM/CK/DM (the rule book) run the game, they can open up a landscape of fun and excitement for those playing it.

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