This is How I Rule

Nowadays I mostly use SFX! and its variants (a system of my own devising), though I do use Stars Without Number for a science fiction game with the kids, and a homebrewed version of D&D when they want to go dungeon delving. I also recently ran a one-shot of Old School Hack.

As a player I play in my friend Mac’s homebrewed D&D game, and in Russell’s homebrew he calls brew 20, as well as the SFX!-based campaigns my friends are running: Russell’s Surf City campaign using Argh!, and Dan’s Warhammer 40K campaign that recently converted to Zap!

In the past we did a bunch of Savage Worlds, D&D third edition, FUDGE, and others too numerous to mention.

This is How I Role

When it comes to sitting on the player side of the table,

  • I prefer games with a lot of scope for player initiative and planning.  I don’t insist on Sandbox worlds, but I really dislike railroading.
  • I tend towards playing Mad Thinker types; even my brutes tend to have flashes of So Stupid It’s Brilliant insights.  My favorite parts of the game are when the brilliant flashes of insight pan out, followed by PC interaction, then PC-NPC interaction.
  • The mere process of grinding through combat until a foe runs out of HP is fairly boring; adding fiddly bits to make the combat “more interesting” mostly makes it more tedious.  I prefer combat to be made more interesting by giving the players scope to do stuff that doesn’t involve invoking obscure rules or counting hexes, and by making the stakes more interesting.
  • Adding fiddly bits that directly let the players push the story around usually annoys me as a player, though I don’t object to it as a GM, and as a player I don’t object to having input into the direction of the story as long as it happens outside of the game.  It’s having story-manipulation resources that I have to track that gives me the pip.

This is How I Roll

Following Greyhawk Grognard and Big Ball of No Fun, here’s a post of my preferences in RPGs:

  • The rules as you play should all fit in your head, with maybe a cheat sheet or a character sheet to remind you.  Having to stop and look something up in the middle of a combat is a failure; having to try to remember which book to look in for the rule is beyond the pale.  I’ll make allowances for things like character generation or leveling up that are done in the downtime, but even then I’d rather not have the players passing around books, or waiting until somebody’s done with the book that has the part they need.
  • It is not the GM’s job to prevent the players from having too much fun.  If things are going the players’ way and they’re enjoying themselves, the GM doesn’t have to suddenly throw something at them to rob them of their victory or teach them the game-world is a harsh place.
  • The only thing that’s important to balance is spotlight time. It simply doesn’t matter if one character can slay a dragon in a single blow while another can be taken down by an angry toddler as long as the time spent in play and importance for the character goals is balanced between dragon fighting and diplomacy or whatever the other character is good at.
  • Game mechanics should get out of the way as much as possible, they’re there to support role-playing.  RP shouldn’t suddenly stop so you can play a miniatures skirmish game, or a card game, or a game of jenga.  Play those when you’re in the mood for them, not as resolution mechanisms for the action in an RPG.
  • If you want to write a novel, write a novel. RPGs are games, and they have to satisfy everybody at the table.  That means the GM doesn’t get to say this is my world, and your role is to admire it and provide bits of improv color while my grand narrative unfolds.  By the same token, players don’t get to try to turn it into collaborative fanfic about their Mary-Sue character.  If everybody has agreed that it’s a game set in a relatively realistic version of medieval Wessex, don’t try to wheedle the GM into allowing you to play a ninja, even if it would be cool.
  • Use dice, and let the dice fall where they may.  It’s the best, most reliable way to have events happen in the game that surprise everybody; unexpected triumphs and setbacks are much more interesting than ones the GM has planned out even before the players sit down at the table.  Corollary: don’t roll for anything if you’re not willing to accept a random result. If the adventure can’t proceed if they don’t find the hidden door, and having the adventure end right there isn’t acceptable, just have them find the door.
  • Talk about what you want.  Don’t try to handle out-of-game problems and clashes of preference by tweaking in-game rules and events in the game-world.
There’s a bunch more I could say, and have in other posts, but those are pretty much the core of how I approach RPGs.  They are my preferences, and I don’t expect everybody to share them. If you don’t, you’re not playing wrong, though there’s a good chance I won’t really enjoy playing the games that you like the way you like them.