Gaming Tonic

An Element of Deception

I found gaming in my late teens, a fantasy geek at birth, it was a natural fit. Like many of you I was weened on stories of Leonidas and Patton, Telamonian Ajax and Vercingetorix. From the first tales of these heroes I couldn't help but see their trials as puzzles, how would I fight the Nemean Lion; did William Wallace get it right? Imagine my surprise when I find others willing to draw the maze, construct the scenario, for me to work through. I fell in love, and like anything I'm passionate about I put a lot of effort into it. As I strove to get into the best games (read most immersive) I became convinced if I clearly defined my character in my mind and knew how that personality would react in most situations I was doing a good job. I was told I was doing a good job, we were having fun. We were wrong. We were role-playing.

What we should have been doing is called group co-operative storytelling. When we game from a narrow perspective we feel loyal to the idiosyncrasies and ideals we've written for our characters. What we should be loyal to is best place for the story. Everyone engaged and working together to create scenes where all have a place to shine. The parable of Earth Elemental Matt is what my group refers to when we bring up this lesson.

lavarockEarth Elemental Matt, (EEM) was a new addition to our weekly D&D game at our local game store. His character, a young earth elemental, had a below average intelligence and very little experience with the mortal world. We were excited, the fish out of water routine was a new idea. It was painful to watch, painful to be around. This player used character complications as feces smeared punji sticks for other players to step on. Want to comport yourself according to elven custom?  EEM would pick up an elven holy relic and crush it out of clumsiness. Ask him to guard the door? He lets the goblins into the halfings hovel because none of them attacked the door. Once or twice and it's endearing, but he was happiest when he was smashing someone's plans.

What would have been better is if he turned those moments into scenes where the other characters teach him something. Make an amalgam of the other characters world views, take some fighting techniques based on what other characters have told you. It's not that high-concept gets in the way... this was a poor application of it. Serve the story; it belongs to everyone. Call me a communist, but ideas like a rotating GM, compelling an aspect and player created NPC's will do for gaming what Wolverine did to silver age comics. As people age and traditions form it's easy to lose touch with new thoughts on old ideas.

Am I taking a good thing and making it too much work?
Does high concept get in the way or is it the next step?
Are there evolved gamers out there making it work now?

I know somebody is playing Steve Long's stuff. (System wars aside it's the best source material I've ever seen; and before anyone says GURPS, don't forget I can take a bullet in my 6E Players Guide hardcover.)

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  1. Once the lesson of, “how does my character help everybody else’s character look better?” is learned then we take a step forward in making our games have some pop. Trust me I love to be the center of attention but have enough wisdom know to let others shine. We should always serve the story.

  2. I remember when I had a character in a GURPS game who was a gentle giant and was determined to uphold the law. In this game their was an “accident”. A knight from the south went “missing”. In fact he had been murdered by the other gamers. They had set aup a meeting with him without my character in order to conduct shady buisness. My character would have totally ruined this meeting and had he known who the killers were, he would have felt obligated to turn them in. My character was no where in the game for about an hour (I guess) and I was totally ok with. I was so involved with the story. I agreed with everyone else when they decided not to bring my character along. My point is that it’s fun to be a badass, it’s fun to make others look like a badass, but it takes a real love for the story to be ok with just watching for awhile. Keep that in mind the next time you are vying for the center of attention.

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