During my youth, one of my favourite hobbies had always been playing RPGs. I started playing them almost as soon as I could read. As I grew from a child into a teenager RPGs became even more fun. I had lots of time to put into my games and my intellectual capacity was increasing, which allowed me to derive a lot more enjoyment from my play sessions. As I grew into an adult and joined the working world (this would be around 2006) I ran headlong into a wall. It was no longer possible for me to keep playing RPGs the way I used to--in fact, I was finding it harder and harder to play them at all anymore.
The main reasons were:
- I lacked the time to do the research and setup required to develop interesting fictional worlds and characters.
- On those rare occasions when I did have the time to play, the fun-to-work ratio was not high enough. In short, I wasn't enjoying myself anymore.
I put some serious thought into how RPGs worked to try to figure out what wasn't working for me anymore. Here are some of the issues I came up with:
- The fictional world must support a group of PCs. Typically, RPGs are played with 1 GM and 3 or 4 players. Therefore, since each player has one character the fictional world must support stories that can involve more than one main character. Unfortunately, many of history's greatest stories only involve one main character. It's also very common for works of fiction to switch the focus back and forth between different groups of characters. This is very difficult to do in RPGs. Switching the focus around means that some players will actually be playing while others will be left idle for extended periods of time.
- Campaigns require significant time expenditure for all players (usually 4-6 hours per week) plus several extra hours per week for the GM. This is not a problem for a child or teenager with lots of free time, but for a working adult those free hours are rare and precious.
- One-shot adventures require even more time expenditure for the GM. In one-shots an entire story is played through in one sitting. At least for a campaign the different sessions are related to each other and so story material can be reused, and only a part of the story needs to be developed for each session. With one-shots, the stories, characters and even the game rules can differ dramatically from session to session.
- Campaigns require all of the players to attend. If some of the players miss a session, it can be difficult for the attending players to accomplish their in-game goals and annoying for the absent player to catch up next time. Again, attendance isn't a problem for children and teenagers, but working adults tend to have very busy and inflexible schedules. It can be atrociously difficult to get the same group of 5 working adults together for a 6 hour period on a regular basis. You can mitigate this issue by running the campaign less often, but then a new problem arises: players start forgetting what happened last time. Furthermore, since at every session it's been about 2+ weeks since the players saw each other last, half (or more) of the play time will be spent chatting about real life events. You're still having fun, but at this point the gaming is more of a distraction than a hobby.
- Campaigns are exclusive. After the first few sessions it can become very difficult for new players to join into an existing campaign. It's also tricky for drop-in friends (who are there just for the weekend, for example) to join in. New players become an annoyance for the existing players since they have to learn the rules, create a character, and learn about what's been going on in the overarching story.
- The story is an emergent property of an RPG. In other words, the story is generated spontaneously from the player's actions and is not something that's crafted directly. Consequently, it can be hard at times to create a fun story. It's also rarely clear exactly why a particular session went well and another did not.
Has anyone else here experienced these issues too?
With some help from my friend Paul T (who's a regular on this forum AFAIK), I was delighted to learn about the new renaissance of gaming that's going on. New games and new kinds of games are sprouting up like mushrooms. I figured that maybe something there would help me keep gaming and maximize my fun, while cutting down on the time requirement?
One game that caught my attention was Baron Munchausen (a.k.a. The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen). It's actually a fairly old game, more of a precursor to the new revolution than strictly a part of it, but it really sparked my imagination. In that game the players would tell tall tales one at a time, around the table. I liked the idea, but wondered if it could be brought even further: what if all the players were creating the same story, and that story could be about anything?
At the time (again, circa 2006) I didn't know of any game that I really liked that did these two things. So I set about designing such a game with Paul. After about 5 years of working on it, lots of discussion and playtesting, and about 25 (!) different rules iterations (including one premature attempt at publishing 3 years ago), I think that we've finally succeeded at making a game that's really fun and easy to play.
The game's called Muse, and it's available for free download on the official website.
I welcome your questions or comments!