Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Different Strokes

No, not the TV show. What I'm talking about, at least today, is the different ways people see and enjoy the RPG hobby, and how hard it can often be to bring people with differing viewpoints together. Most RPGs I know of tend to involve two important parts in their production - the 'fluff', or writing about background, setting, characters, and such, and the mechanics, the rules that make the system work.

Fluff is very important for some people. I would imagine it is important to most RPG players to some degree, but some people find a lack of compelling story a game-breaker. I have at least one friend who likes to play RPGs, but she is really turned off by games centered on mechanical ideas, and I don't mean robots. She understands, at least on some level, that some games, like 4th edition D&D, are balanced specifically on mechanical concepts, so no one character or class is severely overpowered compared to another. But that doesn't really interest her; she loves to read, and knows that in lots of traditional fantasy, you have characters of differing power levels. she likes the story-telling portion of the RPG, and prefers games that can kind of leave the mechanical aspects in the background.

Mechanics, however, are what get other people up in the morning. They want an internally consistent rules system, one that makes sense and tries to balance out the levels of power that various players have in play. These people understand that while traditional fantasy can be about the untrained farmboy who rises to become a great warrior or wizard, that having one character in a group wildly overpower the other PCs can make the game very boring and unenjoyable for the players who don't have great powers. I think this is a category I tend to fall into, because I love reading fantasy, but in a game, I tend to feel that balance among characters makes for a more fun game, and I see story-telling as a separate, though also important, concern. For people like this, it is the game aspects that are important.

This is actually two branches of a popular gaming theory - the GNS idea, of Gamist, Narrativist, Simulationist. The first I described is Narrativist, the second Gamist, and Simulationist players are those who feel that accurate simulation of a fantasy world in both mechanics and story are ore important than the mechanics or storytelling alone. They would feel that having hobbits in a Middle-Earth game be low-powered would be OK, as it fits the setting, while their cousins, halflings, in the D&D setting of Eberron are more suited to a nomadic, almost barbarian level of living. Despite the two being similar in appearance, the fact that they come from two parts of the fantasy genre means, for the simulationist, that the mechanical and story changes are fine as long as they don't affect the simulation of that particular world.

As a guy with Gamist tendencies, I find that the easiest way to try and work things out and be cool with players of other interests is too not take things too seriously. It is, after all, a game, and arguments over how to play the game should never get so heated as to make people refuse to play with each other. The three ideas aren't so unbending that they can't accommodate people of other playstyles, so if I have to move the mechanics into the background a bit more to help someone become immersed in a game, that's what I try to do. I just find it is helpful to try and identify the concerns that players have and address them before a game is driven off the track.

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