Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cultivating FUN

by coddog
Cultivating FUN
by Tobie Abad
Written February 2012

In any game, the point is to have fun.  Whether fun means winning, or enjoying the challenge, if a game is not fun the point of playing it quickly fades away.    Surprisingly, many gamers out there seem to think having fun means having to see the Storyteller as the antagonist rather than a collaborator in making the game more interesting.  And sadly, this mindset tends to be because the Storyteller seems more determined to throw new challenges rather than work out with the players what they would want to explore.  Many games highlight the concept of choosing proper challenge ratings rather than communicating with each other on what can make the game more fun.  Here are some easy ways you, as the Storyteller, can encourage players to open up on what they'd want to explore without sacrificing the fun for everyone.

1) Talk to your players BEFORE the game officially begins

It sounds very basic, but surprisingly many seem to skip this step.  I have had experiences where a player contacts me with this seemingly innocent opening statement, "Hey, I got this concept I want to play for (insert name of game here).  Are you running (the said game) soon?"

As much as it can feel ego-boosting to know there are players who are so excited they can't help but start creating character concepts that early, this kind of a set-up can quickly lead to players finding either one character too "out of place" in the game, or the other players finding one character too self-absorbed in his or her own preferred story line.

This is why talking as a group before character creation starts is vital.  Talking allows you all to set what expectations and gaming styles are to be explored.  There's no point in having someone play a politically savvy manipulator if the game is supposed to be about treasure seeking adventurers out to find a lost civilization.  Likewise, a geared-for-combat gun addict would feel sorely out of place in a game focused on political debates and maneuvering.  While I'm not against players choosing challenging roles, this should never come at the expense of other players having fun.

2) Gather Intelligence
by leadfoot

A common practice I do when prepping for a game is to ask new players three key questions:
a) Name three shows or movies you would love the game to feel like
b) Cite three kinds of situations you'd love to possibly explore in the game
c) Cite situations or events you don't feel you'd be comfortable exploring in the game

The first question clearly gives the Storyteller ideas on what moods, scenes, challenges and atmosphere the player likes.  A player who loves Fringe, for example, would be psyched if you throw a story that hints at a possible multiverse.  Another who claims to find the Wuxia films and the Matrix movies to be a favorite would clearly indulge in having fight sequences that go over-the-top.   Anyone who mentions a romantic comedy as an example deserves to have a love interest in the game.

The second question allows you to fine tune further the scenes you'd want to throw at your players.  And even better, allows you to see what key points/situations among the players nicely match up.   I find this second set also allows me to let players explore certain situations individually without ruining the fun for everyone else.  If one player talks about wanting to have a scene where his driving skills are pushed to the limit, while two others talk about wanting to explore a hostage situation, a good storyteller can easily weave both points into a combined sequence that becomes a shared fun one for all.

The last question I feel is most important when dealing with new players.  To be aware of what ruins the fun for others allows you to tailor scenes to avoid such incidents, or if they are scenes that are unavoidable (like how I once had a player who cited not liking scenes that were too violent, and yet we were about to play a Dark Ages Vampire game with a Tzimisce and Brujah players in the game) a chance to talk to the player beforehand and explain the direction the game likely will take.  If the player doesn't feel comfortable, a safe word can be established when the scenes need to be turned down.  And as a last resort, the player may be asked to reconsider being part of the game if the unwanted situation is really unavoidable.  Again, finding the win-win resolution to this would be ideal.  But at times, you might just have to accept that some games might not be best run for certain people.

3) Make the Villain WORTH hating

Having a very memorable enemy can make a game even more awesome.   Stay alert for who the players really feel hatred towards in a game, and cultivate that NPC to becoming a true villain worth defeating.  I recall a Mage game I once ran where I mapped out the whole story to have this old geezer of a Nephandus as the main villain.  To my astonishment, as the game progressed, the players loathed more and more the Hollow One underling who was always seen as the one pushing the old man's agenda.  While they clearly wanted to bring the Nephandus down, they REALLY relished each encounter with the Hollow One and gleefully enjoyed messing up his plans.

So I did the switcheroo.  At a key point in the story when the Nephandus succeeds in calling a greater Umbrood into the world to serve him... the Hollow One shot the old guy in the back and took over.  The players all started, mouth-agape, as the Hollow One proclaimed himself Master of the World and took off to the sky with the Umbrood as his steed.

Boy did the game get a boost after that scene.  Players constantly muttered about how, "They could have stopped him sooner" as well as how, "The bastard has a lot of grudges against them."  They felt the conflict quickly become a personal agenda rather than just a scene in the game and they made it clear they were going to take him down.  And I didn't have to threaten any of their loved ones to make this happen.

4) And lastly, the best way to cultivate fun is to make sure every one wins in the end.

No, this doesn't mean everything ends happily ever after.   Nor does this mean no player character dies.  This means in the end, every player hits the key point they wanted to achieve one way or another.  Maybe one finally defeats the big bad guy he devoted his life to bringing down.  Maybe the other successfully saves the city he loves from destruction.   Maybe the last one hears the "I love you" he has been longing to hear just before the game ends.

by Alex E Proimos
That's winning.  That's the players hitting their high points and ending the game with a triumphant feeling.

This does not have to come at the cost of the game's genre however.  The bad guy being defeated can vow revenge as he falls to his doom, which is a perfect cap to a pulp game.  The saved city may eventually be forgotten and merely be part of myth and legend in time.   Or maybe the "I love you" is finally uttered merely as the last thing the vampire player character hears as they both die with the rising of the sun.

Tragedy can still happen.  Loss can still be there.  Epic doesn't have to be happy.
But it does have to mean the player still feels he "won" in the end.
He has to feel all the effort and sacrifices he did meant something.  He has to leave feeling he accomplished what he came to do.

Or else, the game stops being fun.
It becomes something more like real life where losing is what happens 50% of time.   And while there are gamers out there who actually like that, I'm not one of them.  For me, gaming is a good escape from the ordinary.  Gaming is about indulging in story and fantasy and finding pathos.

And pathos means feeling you can win, no matter what.
So, yes in my games, I'm making sure we all have fun!

What about yours?
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