Monday, August 6, 2018

#RPGaDay 2018 Day 6: How Can Players Make the World Seem Real?

This is the first question on 2018's #RPGaDay that really made me think.  I spent hours thinking, speaking out loud into a voice recorder on my phone, and writing and re-writing sections. 

Today's topic,  "How Can Players Make the World Seem Real?" seems to bookend tomorrow's  "How Can the GM Make the Stakes Important," but the difference comes down to one action by the players:




Yep, I'm going all Matrix in and up this whole joint....
The gamemaster can come to the table with binders and binders of material,  but unless you come to the table with an open mind to take the information, react to the world presented to you, inquire on those things that interest you, and attempt to actively embellish on factors that matter to you, you might as well play some abstract board game with no start and no end. 

Whether you're moving a figure square by square on a grid mat or exploring the existential angst of being a marionette in Des Moines, the players should be absorbing the setting and attempting to add something to the world, rather than simply reacting combatively to what the GM has put out before them.

Games Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) have really seemed to given some of the reins from the GM to the players, and sometime that can result in gamers stuck in the Matrix, full of paralyzing fear. Once a player gets comfortable, they can see the guidelines and descriptions by the GM not as restrictions, but new plot folds waiting to be developed and expanded.   The world is the door, but it's the players' jobs to see what's on the otherside... from their perspective.

I first discovered Spirit of '77 and PbtA two years ago with an actual play that effectively started with, "Why are you guys stuck in a high-speed chase, driving an ice cream truck?"

That's a pretty big thing to drop on most gamers, but by each player collaborating on separate questions to set up the scenario/encounter, you've owned your responsibility to the game and create a unique experience for the group that's only real to them.  By embracing these open-ended questions/situations, the characters become more ingrained with the campaign world of the GM.

The biggest caveat for embellishing the details of any opening the GM gives is to balance the level of selfishness.  The embellishment should seem beneficial to the GM first.  It should be something GM can develop upon and fill in some details that he left open. 

This is not mandatory "Yes, and..." handwaving by the GM.  The basic PbtA resolution mechanic allows a "Yes and," for a full success, a "Yes, but," for a medium, and "No, but..." for a near failure.  Gauging the embellishment on that scale and adjusting shows a willingness to compromise and a smart GM will be far more lenient if you provide a negative consequence.  You ideas should fall within the later two ranges, tempered by how much of a hero the character is.  Even in fantasy games we all might benefit from a little cynicism or failure to make those actual successes so much sweeter.

But free your mind, go through the doorway the GM creates for you.  Allow your choices to expand, and try to work with the GM to share the story he's trying to weave so it benefits all. 


  1. I was thinking along similar lines of: a little research and buy in goes a long way. Knowing the fluff. Whether that means reading game books and/or novels for a published setting or history of the time period – or just asking detailed questions about a world that a GM has devised and coming up with a detailed background that connects the character to that world – with real-world relationships.

    I tried to force the players to do this a bit when I was running a Savage Worlds Cthulhu game set in the early 1920s, for a time I told them they'd only get their three bennies for the session if they came with three unique events that happened the week the session was to be taking place and I thought it worked pretty good - giving the game a bit more context.

    One of my favourite moments in role-playing was a few years back when I was running the old original Dragonlance adventures with Savage Worlds and in the second or third session one of the player characters made the exclamation: “By the hairy balls of Kiri-Jolith!” and I thought – “Holy CRAP! This dude is actually cursing in game using the actual deities of the setting to take in vain!” It suddenly made a ridiculous setting seem suddenly a little less ridiculous and a little more real. I had not really talked about the deities at that point, so he had clearly done some research on his own - or has simply read a lot of the novels in the past...?

    1. I'll be honest, last night I got a call that my mother-in-law fell, just five minutes into the online 5e game I play with my friends. Luckily, it's a quick drive over to her house, she was uninjured, and we got back home in a few minutes.

      However, in that time, the other players got involved in some sort of derelict ship investigation in the weird Aether Flyer world we're in. Flustered and annoyed, I definitely didn't "keep it real, homey" and Falgor the Mighty, Champion of the Havarii, spoke in a completely anachronistic diatribe calling down the wrath of a very Judeo-Christian deity.

      By the time the crew of the ship got themselves into some shenanigans, Falgor was back to the raging, "What is best in life" elf everyone else is accustomed to.