RPGaDay 2018, Week One: WHAT…

RPGaDay 2018 infographic

RPGaDay is an annual celebration of tabletop roleplaying.

I’m back with RPGaDay again in 2018. It was a cool experiment last year, and I got some good posts out of it, so it’s worth another shot. However, I didn’t like that the sheer volume of posts seemed to take over my whole blog. They swamped the front page and even now it takes too long to scroll past them if you’re trying to look at my earlier stuff. So, this year, instead of one post per day I’m going to group my answers together into weeks and weekends.

First up is Week One: WHAT…

  1. … do you love about RPGs?
  2. … do you look for in an RPG?
  3. … gives a game ‘staying power’?

1st: What do you love about RPGs?

This question gave me a brief existential crisis when I couldn’t immediately think of an answer. “I don’t know why I love RPGs. Do I love RPGs?” Well, obviously yes, I love RPGs. Why though?

I love getting a chance to experience lives and worlds more incredible than our own, I love spending time with my friends doing a thing we love together, and I love being able to tell stories collaboratively that no single person could come up with on their own, where nobody knows exactly how it’s going to turn out until it does.

2nd: What do you look for in an RPG?

For every RPG I come across, I look for something that sets it apart from every other game on the market. If it is designed to give the same experience as another game I know, then I don’t see why I would need it (unless its hook is that it can deliver it better than any other game, but that’s hard to prove and rarely sufficient incentive to try it in the first place).

I generally don’t consider setting to be a suitable hook but here are a few things that can make decent selling points:

  • genre and type of the stories that you can tell with the game;
  • tone;
  • innovative game mechanics;
  • intended emotional experience for the players;
  • simplicity or complexity of mechanics;
  • flexibility in the game design;
  • support provided by pre-generated material or mechanics; or
  • the types of characters you can play.

Note that the selling point might be a combination of these. For example, a game has a specific genre and tone, which might be served by other games, but this game provides more support through the mechanics to deliver it. And I’m sure there are others I couldn’t think of from the top of my head.

3rd: What gives a game ‘staying power’?

Tough question. Does this mean ‘game’ as in system (i.e. what makes you use a system overand over again), or ‘game’ as in a specific campaign (i.e. what makes you stick with a game that is already in progress)?

If it’s system, then staying power is almost entirely a result of flexibility and the possibility of getting a novel experience from an existing system. This could be new mechanics to engage with (e.g. playing a new character class or fighting new enemies in Dungeons & Dragons) or using the same mechanics to tell different stories (e.g. creating a brand new setting in Fate Core or Microscope).

If you’re talking about a campaign, on the other hand, the key things are investment in your own character (particularly if other players enjoy and play into your interpretation of your own character), investment in the other characters and their stories (which, as above, feeds back into the other players’ investment in their characters), and a gaming group that you enjoy spending time with.

With a campaign, you can also get away with a less flexible system as long as it’s functional. For example, I’m probably never going to play The One Ring again after my current campaign ends, but I’m still going to see the campaign through to the end because the other players are a lot of fun to be with and because the characters and the story we’ve got are fun too. However, a few years ago I was in a game of Wild Talents and that system could have tanked the campaign no matter how much I liked the other players; fortunately, we ported everything over to a different system and were able to keep going. The campaign survived a bad system (albeit by getting rid of it) because the group was invested enough to keep going.

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