Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Fun vs Rules, Some Thoughts

Some rules systems are very “crunchy”. By this, we mean that they are full of lots of tiny, detailed rules. Think of “crunching numbers” as an idiom and you’ll get what I’m saying. Like all of gaming, and of life, this brings both good and bad. 

The good of it is that there is consistency. When you cast this spell, this is what happens. When you meet up with that monster, then these are the things that it can do. If you try to buy a new suit of armor, or a horse, you can look up how much it will cost you. It also means that the game master doesn’t have to guess at so many things. They can just look up the rule and go.

There are some problems with crunchy rules, though, and one of them is that it creates the need to look up things. “You’re throwing the Fireball at the wall to try and blow a hole through it. Hmmm. Let’s see. I have to look up the Fireball spell. What level is that?  Ok, here it is. Hmmm. OK. Now, I need to look up how much structural damage that wall can take. What book was that in? Oh, yeah. Over here. Let me look in the index. Here it is... Wait. Is this wall brick or stone?” Do you see how that can significantly interrupt the flow of the game? 

Another problem it creates is the rules lawyer. This is a challenge when the player challenges a judgement the game master makes. Then the two dig into the rules books and begin pointing out variations and nuances of the wording of the rules to prove their points. The story grinds to a halt as the two try and hash out the results.

Also, it can be a problem when the GM creates an encounter, and the player immediately looks up the monster’s stats, abilities, and weaknesses. 

I’m not saying clarity of the rules is a bad thing, but there should be room for variation, and for the sake of the story flow, some calls should just be left to the common sense of the game master. 

The game master should, also, be willing to listen to a certain amount of appeal or explanation from the players, but should also quickly roll with a decision and move on in the story.

I think this is particularly important when dealing with younger players. They may not remember the details of the rules, but they will remember the excitement of the story.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

How to Make Family Game Night Fit in Your Schedule

This is an excerpt from the upcoming book "Roll Dice, Build Character: How to Use RPGs to Help Raise Great Kids"

Keep coming back for more excerpts and for publication alerts.


Remember how I said that one of the greater evils of RPGs was the time suck? Remember how I said that if you let it, it will rob you of focus and balance in your life?  That’s a very real danger.

So, to start with, make sure that you set up ground rules so that gaming becomes a good, fun, and healthy part of life, rather than something that takes over your whole life.

I recommend that you start by setting aside regular times. Mark it off on the calendar. Make it a part of the family consciousness. Weekly, biweekly, monthly, whatever your family schedule can fit in. For us it works to do it weekly, with exceptions. That’s important as well. All of us realize that the game will happen, and we try to schedule things around it, but that if an event with extended family, or some important school or work event comes to happen on gaming nights, we will skip game night. The family and extended family is very important to us.

If you have to miss several weeks in a row, that can get to be problematic, too, though. It’s easy for memories to fade and then you lose your place in the story. Don’t let too many empty weeks go by.

Also, if one player or two of the party has to miss a week or so, what do you do? One way we have handled this is to simply magically “blip” their character temporarily out of the story. We would joke that that character is “visiting his sick grandmother” that week. That can mess with your story, but it does keep the story flowing. 

Another option is to do a “one-off” adventure or a side quest. This is a short, one-session bit of fun that doesn’t have to impact the main story line. It can even have a different GM and different characters. At one point, I told all of my players to make extra characters so there would be something to draw from if we suddenly needed to “pick up” a game.

While we’re talking about scheduling, It’s also important to find time within your own personal schedule for prep time, if you’re going to be the GM. Gaming sessions can be improvised, it’s true, but they’re never as good as a well-planned storyline. We’ll talk about this more, later.

Blocking out a couple of hours for prep and a full evening for playing each week is a pace that works very well for us. At first, I was doing all of the GM duties, but over time, I’ve allowed my kids to take their turn. Their friends have come into our group as well, and have found friendship and belonging among us. As I’m writing this, one of these friends is our current GM. We’ve made scheduling accommodations for the friends, too, but often we just have to set the calendar and say, let come who may.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Why we love fantasy

Why we love fantasy

Early childhood is a time of wonder and learning. Everything is new, and it’s easy to slip between the world of imagination and the world of reality. During this impressionable time, many of us grew up hearing classic fairy tales, either in their original form, or revisited as a movie. While a lot of us outgrow that, I think for most of us we hold a spot in our hearts and minds where we love to imagine.

As we grow up, we discover that these stories were just made-up tales, but we still love them. Then, as we approach adulthood, we start to fill them out with other things that we’re experiencing in the “real” world. Some of these aren’t so pleasant as well: darkness, unkindness, selfishness, social disorder, and more. The villains become more villainous because we’ve seen more villainy around us.

That also makes us yearn for heroes more and more, I think. It’s like we still want someone to come in and make it right. We still want to believe in justice and kindness, and even love.

And so we need stories.

That’s why we love going to movies, why we watch so much TV, and why we read so many books. Recent years have shown rapid growth in the popularity of the fantasy genre of stories (with all of its subgentres and subsubsubgenres) in popular culture. I really think this ties into our childhood love of fairy tales. Yes, our stories may be more complex, with conflicted heroes and layered villains, and our settings may be grimdark dystopias, but it’s still essentially a fairy tale.

And we love it!

Sense of Adventure

A song by my one of my favorite bands starts:
“Well I get up at seven, yeah
And I go to work at nine
I got no time for living, yeah
I’m working all the time
Seems to me I could live my life
Much better than I think I am
I guess that’s why they call me
Call me the working man!”
-Rush, “Working Man”

I think it captures perfectly the day-to-day drudgery of most of life. Some might have wonderfully exciting and challenging jobs that they love, but even those have their days of dullness.

How do we cope? We try and find ways to escape it in weekend and after hours activities, hobbies, vacations and, of course, stories. Fantasy, as a genre, offers a complete escape. In these stories, we’re inserting ourselves into a whole other world, not just a distant city. We’re discovering new societies and cultures. Like a tourist from halfway around the world, we look around in wonder at the new sights, sounds, and smells. We can forget our own troubles for a bit and be immersed in somewhere else.

A "Safe Place"

And sometimes, we discover that these new places have some problems that are very similar to our own. However, instead of breaking our adventure, that makes us a little more comfortable. We can still relate to the new people we’re meeting because they do have some similarities. 

As we look around in this new space, we can open ourselves up to seeing some of the problems of our own world in a new way. By looking at them in this new world, we can see from a new perspective. Since this new world is, really, just a madeup idea, just “a silly fantasy”, it’s suddenly safe for us to consider what would be a difficult pill to swallow in our own reality.

The fairy tale becomes a way for us to learn about ourselves and grow as individuals and as a society.

So, from the seeds of frivolous imagination, sewn in our childhood, grows into a tree whose roots sink deep into our cultural souls and make us reach higher to the sky as a people. That’s why we love fantasy so much.