Roleplaying as a Kid - where does the magic go?

edited February 2017 in Story Games
There's a conversation going on at G+ about someone observing teenagers playing a roleplaying game together. Looking at them, the observer is profoundly moved by the depth of emotional engagement going on. Yeah, the game doesn't *sound* like it would be that much fun, from an outside perspective, but those kids are in it 110%.

I have some amazing memories of early roleplaying experiences - the willingness to suspend disbelief was just so strong.

Paul Czege commented, and said that aside from a first few experiences, he's never felt that gaming was really an "escapist" pastime. Rather, for him, it's a creative outlet.

I've always thought that was one of the "unspoken" reasons people drop out of the hobby as they get older. It's not just social pressure and lack of time, etc - it's also a different attitude to the game itself which makes it less fun.

When you live a relatively controlled life, and the game is your only way to experience agency and have adventure, it packs a very different punch.

To a kid, playing an RPG gives you control of your fate and puts important decisions into your hands. To many adults, the level of freedom and responsibility might be far less than in real life. Why, then, play an RPG?

I think that, for me - and probably many others - gaming can be part creative outlet and part a quest to recapture some of that early wonder, that immersive magic.

I suppose I have a similar relationship to books, as well.

What has your experience been like?
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Comments

  • Interesting topic. The phenomenon is real, but I don't think it's about life control, as you posit; rather, to me it seems (based on observing younger players, and memories from my own teenage years) that it's mostly a simple novelty factor. Older gamers don't get the same rush because they're used to the things that rpgs offer, and take them for granted. It doesn't feel so "magical" because you have a clearer understanding of how the sausage is made, and a good sense for how different choices you might make in the game will pan out. People who play for the first time as an adult may also not get quite the same rush, but that's just because they have less free time and more distractions in their lives, and thus they are less likely to really concentrate in the gaming.

    A quest to capture that early magic is a really common creative inspiration for gamers, too. Of course, being as how I believe the magic to be simple novelty, I think it's largely an illusionary errand. Nevertheless, there are ways to get closer to that mindset, and they overlap some with generally useful artistic attitudes: I think that a roleplayer who participates in the game with an open mind, drops their preconceptions, practices mindfulness and focuses on the fundamentals will capture at least a little bit of that early feel.

    The concept of "immersion", and the associated artistic movement of immersionism, is largely driven by these sorts of early experiences, I think. The immersion-seeking gamer desires the "magic feeling" and chases after it - essentially constructs their game around the activity of attempting to achieve the magic.
  • edited February 2017
    For me tha "magic feeling" was more of a result of being a kid, all make-believe was more immersive and I could "live" more in my imagination. I remember playing a game with friends where we had two clubs ran by different friends that would play against each other. All we did is pretend that our pointed finger was a gun and if we saw another person (like when hiding in a bush or sticking our head out around the corner of the house) we would pretend to shoot the other person and whoever was shot first would play dead and be out of the game. We would play this game until there was only one person left and everyone else was dead. This game occupied or imagination for hours and hours and hours; we probably played for a year or more. I think that the reason we were so immersed was mostly because we were kids and that's when you can get really immersed in your imagination. I remember being a little kid and wishing the world was like D&D, and how much better it would be than the real world. So I started D&D in grade school and I think it was just being a kid that made it magical. At least for me :-)
  • I feel like both arguments of novelty and being a kid may be closer that we believe on this subject. Despite the differences, both share a common point: the inexperience. A seasoned adventurer is less proned to be surprised when a beholder appears in front of her. She will probably think of her options and tactic in a colder way, comparing it to the first time she faced it. It doesn't only limit to in-game experience, but to real-world experience as well, and familiarity with how fiction works in general.

    The older we are, the easier is for us to see (due to our experience) all the mirrors and smoke hiding and distracting us from how the magic is done, so believing in magic and getting amazed by the act becomes harder.
  • edited February 2017
    I think the magic starts to disappear as the game aspect becomes more of a focus than the play aspect.

    To an extent, this is a result of novelty, as noted, but that often coincides with an age element, due to the fact that people often start playing these things relatively young.

    This is my experience with this stuff. Some other folks maybe can relate.

    I started with D&D relatively youngish, a preteen. I had Play Pretend under my belt. I had some boardgames under my belt. RPGs were a very cool combo of the two. I could still Play Pretend, but since it was a game, it felt a bit more adult.

    And feeling a bit adult is important to a kid.

    Eventually, in a few short years, I was digging more and more into mechanical systems. More was better, ore realism/intricacy was Good! I was mastering it all, and Mastery of something is also very adult! This too is Good!

    And with age, came changing subject matter. Obviously Vampire was better than D&D! It was system mastery + not-kiddie topics! Capital-G Good once more!

    Somewhere along the lines, I started getting into what is usually termed a System Doesn't Matter mindset. This may be the first indication that I was moving away from the need for game. I was older, I'd mastered these mechanics of different systems, and I was starting to value play once more, and more than I valued game.

    After all, I had proper games to play if I wanted them. The draw of RPGs was the play aspect, regardless of where a particular game fell on a spectrum of goofy<->serious topic matter.

    [Now, I've come to understand what people mean by "System Matters", so leave that aside for a bit. ]

    For me, this little journey in the hobby and changing attitudes isn't so much a circular journey, as more like a spiral or spring coil. It only looks like a circle if you're viewing it straight down the tube.
  • Yeah, I'm going to throw my support to the "novelty" angle as well; It's not the same thing, but Everquest was AMAZING when I knew nothing about it, and had no idea what was over the next hill or what the next zone over even was or what I might find there, and no MMO since, even though I'm SURE they are better games, has come anywhere near to capturing that experience.

    You can't go home again.

    Actually though, this is one of the reasons I love BOOKS. Books can produce that beautiful novelty over and over, for me, as long as they are crafted well. Some games can approach this as well.
  • I started in my twenties and I think I felt the magic wane a bit like 5 years ago, perhaps less. I went through a burn-out stage as a DM and when making a comeback as a DM with a full reengineering of my DMing style, met a mixed reaction from my players. Tried playing on a friend's campaign and couldn't really relax and enjoy it due to a trauma with the system.

    Perhaps it doesn't have much to do with age as with poor/bad experiences with the game?
  • I'm inclined to the novelty argument as well; particularly because I've found my interest in roleplaying games rekindled repeatedly as an adult whenever I find new games/communities/play styles that are significantly different from the ones I've become accustomed to in the past. Sometimes the situations of regular long-term play can encourage settling into a safe, comfortable rut.
  • I think you hit on something important there yukamichi: the impact of long-term play, especially if it's one single system and the play is very long-term and regular play.
  • Stumbled upon something that may or may not be relevant, from David Graeber's "The Utopia of Rules" (emphases my own):
    In fact, if it were possible to come up with a workable definition of “play” (this is notoriously difficult) it would have to be something along these lines: play can be said to be present when the free expression of creative energies becomes an end in itself. It is freedom for its own sake. But this also makes play in a certain sense a higher level concept than games: play can create games, it can generate rules – in fact, it inevitably does produce at least tacit ones, since sheer random playing around soon becomes boring – but therefore by definition play cannot itself be intrinsically rule-bound. This is all the more true when play becomes social. Studies of children’s play, for example, inevitably discover that children playing imaginary games spend at least as much time arguing about the rules than they do actually playing them. Such arguments become a form of play in themselves.
    ...
    [T]here is also something potentially terrifying about play for just this reason. Because this open-ended creativity is also what allows it to be randomly destructive. Cats play with mice. Pulling the wings off the flies is also a form of play. Playful gods are rarely ones any sane person would desire to encounter.
    Let me put forth a suggestion, then. What ultimately lies behind the appeal of bureaucracy is fear of play.
    Could our shift away from "the magic" be a pragmatic one, even if we lament the things we lose in the process? Are we instinctively trying to set boundaries for ourselves as a kind of defense mechanism against "failed play," and/or as a necessary part of creating the social conditions required to keep playing/gaming? Is the magic just another example of "20 minutes of fun" that we should get over? Is it paradoxical to try to recapture the magic by creating rules that encourage rather than stifle play (in Graeber's sense of the word)?
  • edited February 2017
    If children do argue half the time in imaginative play, they still have a higher Fun:Not-Fun ratio (1:1) than in the phrase "20 minutes of fun in 4 hours of gaming*" (1:11).

    [*I've generally assumed the phrase was an exaggeration for effect, and the ratio was never quite that bad in practice]

    I guess those kids are doing okay after all!

    I certainly remember people presenting RPG rules as a way of putting an end to those sorts of argument in imaginative play especially when I was young. And, like many kids, that had a great appeal. Who wouldn't want to do imaginative play without the arguments? I mean, think everyone remembers those unhappy arguments as much as all of the good, fun times where it didn't occur. Heck, many of us probably remember an example of that more clearly than all the times we played and there were no problems.

    Having bought into the argument about the necessity and desirability of rules in RPGs to prevent these things, I can't say the rules I encountered early on ever really were built to address why those arguments in childhood imaginative play occurred.

    I mean, really, what's the classic, go-to example?

    Little Jimmy:I shot ya!
    Little Billy: No ya didn't!

    [Argument ensues]

    RPG rules are like some dude stepping in and saying:

    Rule-Dude: Now Little Billy, according to the physics of this situation, Little Jimmy did in fact shoot you, and here's why... [ draws diagram on wipe board, uses maths in examples]

    Little Billy: Oh! Now I get it Rules-Dude! Little Jimmy really did shoot me I guess!

    [film reel fades to black on our PSA]

    Gah! Little Jimmy didn't misunderstand the modeling of the physics!

    Little Jimmy thought that accepting being shot would lead to sucky, in-fun play for him. Or, maybe, even no play at all for him, at least temporarily.

    It took me rather a lot of time to understand that second bit, long after I had grown up, and to see implications for game design coming out of that insight.

    Arguably, RPG rules, even those early rules I encountered that I'm referring to upthread, were never actually designed to deal with the real problem Little Jimmy and Little Billy are having, but they got "sold" to you KomradeBob that way. And a lot of other folks as well, I suspect.
    _____________________________________________________________________________________

    As for RPGs as a creative outlet as an adult...well, yes!

    They're a great hobby for using all sorts of creative talents you have, that you may have no interest in developing and then monetizing, but simply enjoying.

    Society can have a very strange view of that concept. You have a talent, but you have no intention of developing it to aid you in gaining money and/or sex? What are you thinking? What's wrong with you???

    People can be weird that way. Even people who also have some hobby/creative outlet of their own that they aren't actively trying to monetize...
  • If children do argue half the time in imaginative play, they still have a higher Fun:Not-Fun ratio (1:1) than in the phrase "20 minutes of fun in 4 hours of gaming*" (1:11).

    [*I've generally assumed the phrase was an exaggeration for effect, and the ratio was never quite that bad in practice]
    As an aside: that phrase is totally not an exaggeration - I don't know who coined it originally, but at least in my experience it describes a real, existing phenomenon with no exaggeration whatsoever. I've been in game tables with roughly that ratio (let's say it swings between 1:10 and 1:20 every session in practice) so many times and so reliably that I can usually tell when it's going to be one of those games after the first ten minutes.

    Heck, I actually just returned from a 4-hour session of Call of Cthulhu that fulfilled this description. It's one of those side games you end up engaging out of courtesy, and the only way for me to count more than 10 minutes of fun out of that session is if I consider relaxed daydreaming while waiting for stuff to happen to be "fun". It was the fifth session of a campaign, and every one's had roughly that same ratio. (Yes, if somebody's wondering: I am that patient, if this is what it takes to get an old friend back into GMing.)

    Of course, because "fun" is subjective, it'd be difficult to point to an objectively quantifiable example of actual play that everybody agreed was like this. We'll just have to believe in people's self-reporting on something like that.
  • I, too, have experienced this. (In fact, I was in a game a few years ago where I had so little to do - they had me show up in the fifth scene, then tied up my character and left her in the trunk of a car - that I timed the entire session, taking notes on what was happening and how long things took. I don't remember the *exact* ratio, but I still have the notes somewhere and there were a lot of hour-long conversations or arguments which had to take place before we could finally play out a short segment of something.)

    komradebob,

    I think that's a great insight! RPG rules have been fairly clueless for some time, in terms of understanding what it is they do and why they do it. That's a great example.
  • Huh. I've never lost that early wonder and immersive magic. Contrary to yukamichi and k-bob, I find that campaign play is the key. Novelty is exciting, but that's a less sustainable form of engagement than "I spend time inside the skin of a character I know well, and I can't wait to continue pursuing their goals."

    I am also happy to play with folks looking for a creative outlet, though, and I've had an easier time finding such folks lately than I have immersionists.
  • Gah! Little Jimmy didn't misunderstand the modeling of the physics!

    Little Jimmy thought that accepting being shot would lead to sucky, in-fun play for him. Or, maybe, even no play at all for him, at least temporarily.
    I kinda knew this in my teens... but I still thought the only possible solution was the right communication of the right modeling of the right physics.
  • I play infrequently, but the discovery of story games (or however you want to describe the games popular here) in my late teenage years unlocked the kind of magic/wonder that I'd previously thought I could achieve by building a better D&D. I have a lot more fun gaming now than I did when I was a pedantic and frustrated 11 year old.
  • My fun with rpgs is also greater now than it ever was as a teenager, due to increased proficiency.

    Picking more at the sense of wonder we collectively remember, I think that what really makes it is novelty, intermittent success and a patina of nostalgia. Smoke and mirrors, in other words.

    However, as smoke and mirrors is our stock in trade, there's no particular reason why we couldn't try to recreate that magic with deliberate game design. I suggest the following recipe:
    * Stop gaming for five years. Cold turkey.
    * Start gaming again, except do it with kids. Preferably your own, makes it easier to have patience with them. Don't expect consistent fun, and remember: the success will be more cherished once you stumble on it for a short moment at some point.
    * Wait a few years for the nostalgia to set in. Reminisce about how fun it was. Perhaps mix in some delusions about how your kids liked you more before they grew up and became teenagers themselves.

    See? Easy :D

    More seriously, though, there's a surfeit of convincing observations in this thread. Jeff and Bob's stuff about childhood imaginary play being different has merit, I think: I recommend that if anybody here is working on an immersive game design, consider those points well.

    One thing I'd like to add is that while some people really go for the nostalgia thing as a creative drive in their roleplaying, some other people seek a similar fix from other sources. For me personally the fix comes from advancing my gaming art, which makes me think that the novelty factor is a major ingredient in the sense of wonder: my experience last year when I got Paranoia to work correctly was similar to the sense of wonder in my first successful Call of Cthulhu session in '94 or whenever it was. They were both similar to the feeling of a fully accomplished old school D&D campaign in 2010, or my first game of Zombie Cinema in 2006, or Dust Devils in 2005, or My Life with Master in 2003... every time I've played a new, fresh type of roleplaying game in a highly successful manner, the rush has been somewhat similar.
  • Huh. I've never lost that early wonder and immersive magic. Contrary to yukamichi and k-bob, I find that campaign play is the key. Novelty is exciting, but that's a less sustainable form of engagement than "I spend time inside the skin of a character I know well, and I can't wait to continue pursuing their goals."
    I think long term campaigns have positives and negatives.

    On the positive side, I do think they're the most likely type of game to ease a player into the concept of immersion-fun, and really well developed characters, if that's your inclination ( or more likely, you discover this is something you enjoy as time passes). I think this is further supported by the way the setting naturally also evolves and becomes fleshed out at the same time.

    So, that's a solid positive.

    Here's where I see the negative. The above is such a strong positive that it begins to define the ideal for gaming culture and choke out all other options in gamer-mindspace.
    I mean that in both design-style and in general gamer attitude.

    Leaving design-space aside for a moment, it tends to create a situation that I've experienced where gamers simply outright refuse to try any game/system/setting that doesn't promise that situation and will even refuse to play a game that does promise that if they can't co-ordinate a certain minimum sized play group willing to devote themselves to that end indefinitely.

    With design thinking, it gets into mutual feedback cycle.

    So that's my reasoning anyway.

    How it relates to the thrust of this thread:

    I think that this style of play inherently brings in a certain level of "seriousness" over time.

    As play evolves naturally from lightweight and even stereotypical, very surface, to something more idiosyncratic through play, it does hit a space of peak balance, but then it lives a bit beyond that really good balance and that's when you start to see things like GM burnout and "zombie" campaigns where people show up, but have a kind of nostalgia for their own campaign and its earlier stages.

  • For me, it was the novelty, the cameraderie, and the great stories, and finally being the hero. It was living in another persons skin, having experiences i could never have in real life.
    Then, after having been a rather traditional player who liked having some rules, even if we ignored them when they stood in the way of doing what we wanted to do, I decided to try something new.
    I started to sign up for games I would never, ever want to play. Thus I discovered jeepform, bleed, and later, Nordic Larp.
    Nordic Freeform was old hat because we'd sort of always played that way (always being about a decade before the term was coined).
    Then, I rediscovered campaign play, and rediscovered my frustration with old systems, because everything took such a bloody long time. Create a character? Sure. It'll take six hours.
    And then I discovered PrimeTime Adventures, and it supported telling great stories instead of hindering them.
    And the Monsterhearts. Oh.... my.... gods!!!! A system that not only supported, or enabled, the telling of good stories. It assisted in telling them. It helped!!!
    I still play parlour larps, freeform, Black Box, jeep, fastawood... But campaigns have suddenly become more fun again. Now, if only someone who was not me would take the GM'ing duties....
  • At Dreamation this weekend, someone was telling me about running Witch: Road to Lindisfarne, with someone who had never tried story-games before, and how she totally brought it and helped the game be really dramatic, etc. This led to an interesting discussion on this very topic. I posited that what happens to more long-time gamers, in part, is that they simply have more bad experiences that make it harder for them to open up and be fully vulnerable and creative.

    Sure, some of it is just the inevitable "you can't go home again" effect, or the natural outgrowth of what happens when you learn to GM, for instance. But some of it, I argue, is running up against barriers *that shouldn't be there in the first place.* GMs shutting down genuine creativity that should be contributory, mainly.

    FWIW, I had <5 minutes of fun in a 4-hour session on Thursday. :-/

    But the thing is, I had some real moments of amazement and fun and wonder the rest of the con, in at least some of my games, including ones I was GMing. Precisely because I knew exactly what had gone wrong in my Thursday game, that one bad experience didn't really hamper me in any sort of long-term way. So I do think it's possible to "level up" *past* the point where you become jaded by bad experiences, if you can diagnose and get past them. Eero's description of the bad CoC game sounds similar.
  • edited February 2017
    Jeff and Bob's stuff about childhood imaginary play being different has merit, I think: I recommend that if anybody here is working on an immersive game design, consider those points well.
    I'm on it, man! I mean, I don't know what to do with Jeff's observation about finger-point gun-fighting -- just because I can flex my imagination like a kid doesn't mean I'm quite as easily entertained -- but I do think K-Bob's on point that the experience is more about play than game. This is why I easily wrote all those comics for Delve on how to play nice together but am stalled out on the rules -- when my groups are immersed in being there and experiencing the adventure, the last thing we're looking at is dice and sheets. Rules are needed, but mainly as back-up plans when pure in-the-moment roleplay hits a snag.
    Here's where I see the negative. The above is such a strong positive that it begins to define the ideal for gaming culture and choke out all other options in gamer-mindspace.
    I think you just said, "The problem with character-immersed, setting-exploring play is that it's so awesome that players really want to keep doing it."

    I agree that it's awesome! Plus, I think anyone who suggests replacing it with something crunchy or gamey or storyboardy is nuts! The only negative I see is when fans of the first thing aren't open to trying the other thing as a completely different type of fun. Polaris is fantastic, but only if everyone's clear that it's not any more of a substitute for your epic D&D homebrew campaign than a game of football would be.
    I think that this style of play inherently brings in a certain level of "seriousness" over time.

    As play evolves naturally from lightweight and even stereotypical, very surface, to something more idiosyncratic through play, it does hit a space of peak balance, but then it lives a bit beyond that really good balance and that's when you start to see things like GM burnout and "zombie" campaigns where people show up, but have a kind of nostalgia for their own campaign and its earlier stages.
    I agree that this often happens. There's another thing that also often happens, though, where the same group plays in the same world long enough that their experiences within it become so reinforced in their memories that every moment of play is resonant with its echoes. Three sessions in, an eye-roll from one PC to another means little. Sixty sessions in, it makes the whole group burst into laughter because of how this PC used to do that all the time before this epiphany which he was just teased for, but then also everyone remembers that one time it was done to fake out an audience and on and on...

    Just like any long-term activity, whether it gets better or gets stale is up to the participants, IMO...
    I do think it's possible to "level up" *past* the point where you become jaded by bad experiences, if you can diagnose and get past them.
    Yeah! Like that.
  • Here's where I see the negative. The above is such a strong positive that it begins to define the ideal for gaming culture and choke out all other options in gamer-mindspace.
    I think you just said, "The problem with character-immersed, setting-exploring play is that it's so awesome that players really want to keep doing it."/>

    I agree that it's awesome! Plus, I think anyone who suggests replacing it with something crunchy or gamey or storyboardy is nuts! The only negative I see is when fans of the first thing aren't open to trying the other thing as a completely different type of fun. Polaris is fantastic, but only if everyone's clear that it's not any more of a substitute for your epic D&D homebrew campaign than a game of football would be.
    Yeah, and that's the problem I see.

    It's a bit like someone who gets introduced to TV entertainment, falls in love with a US style program that is designed to go on without end (until it eventually dies and is cancelled), but just can't get into movies as a medium, because they're "too self-contained" and they can't get into the plot or characters because 2-3 hours is just too little time for them to appreciate the thing.

    Except, that's everyone in the viewing public, and the art of making a movie, creating a self-contained 2-3 hour story, never gets developed.

  • edited February 2017
    Agreed that it ain't ideal for the evolution of related-but-different art forms.

    I wonder, though, if more players felt they'd completely scratched that immersive campaign itch, and it was no longer a thing they were seeking with intermittent success, if that might calm things down a bit. "It's okay to dabble in Polaris, because we all get our classic D&D whenever we want it," y'know? I suspect the hostility to alternatives -- not the calm, "I tried it but I like my other thing better," but the angry opposition -- is somehow tied up in the insecurity and defensiveness a lot of gamers have (especially the "20 mins in 4 hrs" folks).

    Or maybe it's just a marketing thing. Plenty of D&D players also love boardgames. Maybe they'd love story games too if those games weren't calling themselves RPGs.
  • edited February 2017
    FWIW, I also consider story games different from RPGs, even though know that's a point of controversy, as there is so much overlap.

    Edited to add:
    David Berg:

    I'd like to think it isn't so much defensiveness on anyone's part as a perception that all games have a huge amount of commitment, work, and mastery involved, crossed with the idea that if you don't have those things, then it isn't a "real" RPG experience.
  • I'll have bad experiences sometimes, sure, but I think I'm getting way more out of playing now than when I was a teenager.
  • edited February 2017
    I think you just said, "The problem with character-immersed, setting-exploring play is that it's so awesome that players really want to keep doing it."
    No, that's not what he said, and you've just done what bothers me most about immersionists - they think so wholeheartedly that their experience is the most amazing thing ever that they just automatically assume that it's what everyone wants as their A1 priority, to the point of co-opting statements (as you did) or belittling other games (which I am glad to note you did not.)

    Honestly, this behavior is very frustrating to me and I see it a LOT.
    I wonder, though, if more players felt they'd completely scratched that immersive campaign itch, and it was no longer a thing they were seeking with intermittent success, if that might calm things down a bit. "It's okay to dabble in Polaris, because we all get our classic D&D whenever we want it," y'know? I suspect the hostility to alternatives -- not the calm, "I tried it but I like my other thing better," but the angry opposition -- is somehow tied up in the insecurity and defensiveness a lot of gamers have (especially the "20 mins in 4 hrs" folks).
    I submit that it's because immersive play with traditional systems fails so much. They've either experienced it a few times briefly and don't understand why they can't get it back, or they've been told by people (like you, sorry) that it is the most amazing thing ever and they are frustrated by their inability to get there, so they feel a need to defend themselves, rather than admit failure and try something else. Though yes, I do concede that a portion of it does also appear to be rooted in the fact that they feel like they can't try anything because they believe that new things take weeks to learn and years to experience, because how can you immerse yourself in anything less?

    FWIW: I am not a particularly immersive player as far as I know (but how the hell do I know, because I've never been anyone else, so I don't know if I'm just as immersed as everyone else and it's just not as exciting to me, or whether there's something else at work) and I don't play a lot of super "story game" stuff... but my success rate for fun at the table is probably over 50% for "bad" sessions, closing in on 100% (I'm not really convinced 100% is a real possibility.) for the good ones.

    FWIW#2: My most immersive experiences lately have been with the types of games that everyone says it's impossible to immerse with - short form games where the rules are all about story and nothing about physics or "what should happen." My Fall of Magic sessions recently are probably the most immersive gaming I can remember.
  • edited February 2017
    @Airk, my bad for assuming way more context than I actually expressed. I think K-Bob and I are communicating just fine, but I don't wanna be insular, so here's what I really think:

    It is possible to immerse in almost any type of RPG play, especially given that few people agree on a precise definition of immersion. Even leaving that disagreement aside, it is even possible to get the same type of immersion -- e.g. character embodiment -- using all sorts of different games and approaches.

    Just because it's possible doesn't mean all approaches are equally immersion-facilitating for all people, though. For some players, it's all about the rules -- are they quick to use, are they realistic, are they familiar, are they clear, do they reward IC or OOC thinking? For other players, it's all about the situation -- is there something compelling for my character to do here? Some players rely on character -- do I know how my character would react to this and what they would care about, or are they kind of rough-sketchy in my mind? There's also the perspective that to immerse in a different person and place, you need to get to know them, making immersion a slow-burn phenomenon that requires campaign play, or at least more than a one-shot or two-shot.

    In my experience, the more of these questions we answer in the most obviously immersion-friendly way, the more immersion-seekers we'll please. Give me a developed character, something compelling for them to do, a system that rewards me for doing it as that character rather than as Dave At A Game Table, a long-running game, and a group that wants to immerse, and I like my immersive odds! If you give me just the "compelling thing to do" and "group goal of immersion" parts, honestly, I still like my odds, but I think a lot of other people don't. Sometimes character or system or duration is very, very important to people on this front.

    As for the appeal of immersion, I think it can vary in degree from "nice bonus on top" to "primary reason to roleplay". People discover, and try out, and fall in love with roleplaying for all sorts of reasons, but a major one seems to be a sense of transportation, leaving their sense of being their real self in the real world and instead experiencing something else. It doesn't surprise me that many gamers get really into that aspect of play -- it's intuitively appealing to me in a way I can't concisely explain, but I think kids' "play pretend" and the popularity of first-person videogames give us hints.

    Well, when that's the part you're most into, that's the part you want more of. If a different game or group or setting or type of character or whatever doesn't get you that same sense of leaving reality behind and being someone else somewhere else, then you still have that itch unscratched. There's no need to hate on the new thing you tried, but it still makes sense to go back to the old thing you want more of.

    For players who latch onto some aspect of roleplay other than immersion, you see a similar phenomenon with the part they like. Players who fall in love with tangible progress systems like XP and level-ups can be dissatisfied by games where characters don't evolve that way. Players who fall in love with puzzle-solving can be bored by character exploration; players who fall in love with character exploration can be bored by puzzle-solving; etc. I don't know if there's anything special about immersion on this front -- maybe it's harder to pin down, agree upon, and thus collectively pursue? (Or maybe not -- I've seen folks pursuing "meaningful story" fail to agree on what that means aplenty! And I've seen folks who love both immersion and Good Story contend that both should emerge naturally rather than being actively pursued!)

    So, that's my take.

    Sorry if I gave a different impression earlier. I probably should have used a tongue-sticking-out emoji or something to make it obvious that I was just messing with Bob in a friendly way.

    I'm one of those people who loves immersion, but I love other things too, and I'm happy to play unimmersive sessions or games, and I readily acknowledge that many many gamers have great play experiences without my kind of immersion, or without any kind of immersion. Of course they would! Just because I love yams, does that mean I should expect everyone to love yams? Of course not. Or that every meal should involve yams? Hell no! All it is, is that, if I haven't had yams in a while, I want me some yams! And I can understand it when other folks are in the same boat. Mmm, immersion and yams...
    I submit that it's because immersive play with traditional systems fails so much. They've either experienced it a few times briefly and don't understand why they can't get it back
    Are you saying immersive play with traditional systems often fails to immersive, or often fails to be fun? I'm sure the former happens too much, but the bigger problem I've seen has been latter. Groups who are so intent on not spoiling anyone's immersion that they completely cut themselves off from useful tools to communicate or troubleshoot or make the game exciting -- this seems unfortunately common. And then the immersion itself, while still sort of in operation, is diluted, because how riveting is it really to be deeply inside a fiction that's boring or frustrating?
    or they've been told by people (like you, sorry) that it is the most amazing thing ever and they are frustrated by their inability to get there
    It's true! We all talk about the moments we remember and love best, and most of mine were very immersive! Check out these yams, y'all! You gotta try 'em! I have devoted a decade of design thought and intermittent work to sharing it with others. I see that experience of frustration you mention as emerging from a very confused history of play that immersion-lovers should strive to put behind us. Games should provide better tools, groups should communicate more before play, and players should be less fussy. I think we can do it! My success ratio running Delve at home is pretty close to 100%, and at cons probably upward of 70%, despite being one-shots in loud rooms etc.

    (I certainly would not push Delve or immersive play any harder than I'd push yams, though.)
    so they feel a need to defend themselves, rather than admit failure and try something else.
    Yeah. It can get ugly. I wish people started looking to the rules and procedures, and maybe their own tastes and desires, rather than viewing immersive play as a personal victory or failure. I suspect the defensiveness comes out of the player-GM split, where both "sides" feel some urge to blame the other. This is why I define immersion as a full group goal in Delve, with the GM basically on the players' side in most facets of play.
    Though yes, I do concede that a portion of it does also appear to be rooted in the fact that they feel like they can't try anything because they believe that new things take weeks to learn and years to experience, because how can you immerse yourself in anything less?
    My best guess is that the "too much investment to learn a new approach" expectation comes from most people starting by taking 6 hours to make a D&D character and many sessions to gain system proficiency and then thinking "so this is roleplaying". But perhaps you're right and it's more about campaign play and immersion or other traditionally slow-burn virtues.
  • David Berg: Internet yammersionist.

    FWIW, I'm someone who played a shit-ton of story games, of the most out there sort, very aggressively for a number of years, say from 2006 through about 2012-3. And I still play them quite a bit, especially at cons, but even sometimes at home with friends. But I do crave that long-playing campaign experience, though preferably with a more modern system. In a certain sense, although certainly story-games are fun in their own right, they also serve as *training* for how to be a better roleplayer, how to understand systems better, etc., which I can then take to running 5E (or even BW, which, for all its goodness, is helped immensely by having a broad-ranging familiarity with other RPGs, for my money).

    So in a certain sense, the traditionally-structured campaign has always remained my goal, despite departing from it in my actual play practices quite thoroughly. For me, there's a specific magic that I've still never, after all these years, managed to capture: play D&D from 1st level, and have the game go to a moderately high level and then end in a satisfying way. I've done it as a GM, but never as a player. Maybe someday I will.

    Not sure that has anything, for me, to do with immersion. I can get pretty deeply into a character's headspace reasonably quickly in the right kind of game, often a LARP.
  • I think I would like long-running campaigns better if they were based on an episodic set-up rather than a continuously running concept ( and I do think this has implications for design).

    I'm fairly sure episodic has a specific definition, and I may well be using it wrong, so here's what I mean.

    Older TV programs I watch are episodic. They have a set up, core characters you are introduced to ( the equivalent of PCs), and while, over the course of time, those characters get more fleshed out, they don't generally change a huge amount. Each episode has a problem, the characters tackle it, and it's largely a re-set next episode.

    I've been binge watching Perry Mason episodes recently, so this is on my mind. And that seems to have been a fairly common approach to TV programs really up until the late '80s.

    In terms of an RPG, this would be closest, I guess, to module play. Here I mean older modules. The PCs get involved, play through it, and are done. On to the next module. In practical terms, the players are unlikely to play through the whole thing in one sitting ( it'll probably take 3-5 sessions, but probably not many more than that), but once it's done, the thing is wrapped up, and we reset for the next module.

    The nice thing with this concept is you have long-running and the benefits of that, but you can break open space for other games to be played, especially if they're either one-off ( lots of dirty hippy games are good for that), or also fairly episodic themselves ( Call of Cthulhu comes to mind, as do lots of older Superhero games).
  • Thanks for clarifying, Dave. That helps a lot. A couple of comments:
    Are you saying immersive play with traditional systems often fails to immersive, or often fails to be fun?
    Well, both in this context, because we're presumably dealing with a group of immersion seekers who define their fun as immersion, but who probably don't realize that their immersion is connected to their fun the other way too, so when the game doesn't work, it's a fail across the board.

    I'm sure the former happens too much, but the bigger problem I've seen has been latter. Groups who are so intent on not spoiling anyone's immersion that they completely cut themselves off from useful tools to communicate or troubleshoot or make the game exciting -- this seems unfortunately common. And then the immersion itself, while still sort of in operation, is diluted, because how riveting is it really to be deeply inside a fiction that's boring or frustrating?
    Yeah; I've definitely done this. I was actually in a d6 Star Wars game where at one point all the characters just... got jobs on some random planet. It was dumb and boring and not really any fun, but doggone it, it "made sense" and we didn't know any better, and our quest for doing everything... we didn't have the word "immersively" but rather just "the way our characters would" made for a terrible game. Maybe we were immersed, but who wants to be immersed in that?
    I see that experience of frustration you mention as emerging from a very confused history of play that immersion-lovers should strive to put behind us.
    Yes. The problem that is that the people I see being MOST attached to old games with dubious processes is the immersionist crew, who seem to (hyperbole warning!) think "Because I successfully immersed in an OD&D Game once in 1978, that that is the best system for immersion, and everything else is a problem." I exaggerate, of course, but these are the people I constantly see claiming that they want the most "get out of the way" rules possible, and generally equate that with games like early D&D editions.
    My best guess is that the "too much investment to learn a new approach" expectation comes from most people starting by taking 6 hours to make a D&D character and many sessions to gain system proficiency and then thinking "so this is roleplaying". But perhaps you're right and it's more about campaign play and immersion or other traditionally slow-burn virtues.
    I'm not super sure about this one. I think it's a combination of things, but mostly:

    * The sense that "a new game system" is minimum three Very Large Books and will take a long time to master
    * That once you choose a game, you are committing to play it Every Tuesday From Now Until FOREVER.

    Character gen time may factor in, but I don't feel like it's as substantial as the other two.
  • our quest for doing everything... we didn't have the word "immersively" but rather just "the way our characters would" made for a terrible game.
    Yeah. It's only safe to let internal fictional causality run the ship if the ship's been prepared just right. My very first character creation instruction in Delve is "make characters who want to do supernatural investigations together!" That's the only way the game -- wherein the fun comes from supernatural investigations -- can allow the characters to do "what they would really do" and still work! I wish Star Wars had said something similar to your group.

    Even when it's set up right, simply following the characters around as they do whatever they'd do next is rarely ideal; there needs to be some awareness of what to focus on and what to fast-forward through or skip over. I find that plopping a big ol' "pacing dial" on the table to indicate speed can help on this front.
    Yes. The problem that is that the people I see being MOST attached to old games with dubious processes is the immersionist crew, who seem to (hyperbole warning!) think "Because I successfully immersed in an OD&D Game once in 1978, that that is the best system for immersion, and everything else is a problem." I exaggerate, of course, but these are the people I constantly see claiming that they want the most "get out of the way" rules possible, and generally equate that with games like early D&D editions.
    I really don't know about whose emphasis on immersion and OD&D is founded on how much success or failure, but I do think it's a shame that every ounce of gross bathwater appears to have been kept with the baby. My own rough take is that, if a group already knows how to have immersive roleplay fun, then OD&D gives them an excellent opportunity to do that (provided that they enjoy danger and exploring and fights). But if the group hasn't already ironed out that sort of fun on their own, I haven't seen an OD&D book that's going to show them the path.

    I've also encountered a frustrating resistance to serious consideration of new ways of doing things, and yeah, it often seems mixed with some "I'm already doing it fine, the problem you're trying to solve must be a problem with you!" stuff. It does sound like defensiveness to me. Whether that's based on unfulfilling play or just on too many internet arguments with other people who assumed the worst of them, I don't know.
    I'm not super sure about this one. I think it's a combination of things, but mostly:

    * The sense that "a new game system" is minimum three Very Large Books and will take a long time to master
    * That once you choose a game, you are committing to play it Every Tuesday From Now Until FOREVER.

    Character gen time may factor in, but I don't feel like it's as substantial as the other two.
    Yeah, that analysis makes sense to me. Inferred degree of commitment. Maybe the reason why some retroclones succeed is because they reduce that.
  • edited February 2017
    Man, you guys are having a great exchange!
    Yeah. It's only safe to let internal fictional causality run the ship if the ship's been prepared just right. My very first character creation instruction in Delve is "make characters who want to do supernatural investigations together!" That's the only way the game -- wherein the fun comes from supernatural investigations -- can allow the characters to do "what they would really do" and still work! I wish Star Wars had said something similar to your group.

    Even when it's set up right, simply following the characters around as they do whatever they'd do next is rarely ideal; there needs to be some awareness of what to focus on and what to fast-forward through or skip over. I find that plopping a big ol' "pacing dial" on the table to indicate speed can help on this front.
    This reminds of an old thread where JDCorley was talking about running VtM successfully ( something I'd never accomplished despite how much I wanted to like the game).

    IIRC, one of the things he pointed out was that even old 1e VtM basically told the GM to do what you just described here, David. His take? If you didn't do it, and you didn't get good results because you'd skipped it, well, what did you really expect?

    And I had to admit he was right. To me though, it's an example of failure to systematize method. That GM stuff was advice that didn't rise to the level of required procedure much less rules.

    No surprise I'd skipped it, and yet skipping led to repeated failure.
    Yes. The problem that is that the people I see being MOST attached to old games with dubious processes is the immersionist crew, who seem to (hyperbole warning!) think "Because I successfully immersed in an OD&D Game once in 1978, that that is the best system for immersion, and everything else is a problem." I exaggerate, of course, but these are the people I constantly see claiming that they want the most "get out of the way" rules possible, and generally equate that with games like early D&D editions.
    I really don't know about whose emphasis on immersion and OD&D is founded on how much success or failure, but I do think it's a shame that every ounce of gross bathwater appears to have been kept with the baby. My own rough take is that, if a group already knows how to have immersive roleplay fun, then OD&D gives them an excellent opportunity to do that (provided that they enjoy danger and exploring and fights). But if the group hasn't already ironed out that sort of fun on their own, I haven't seen an OD&D book that's going to show them the path.

    I've also encountered a frustrating resistance to serious consideration of new ways of doing things, and yeah, it often seems mixed with some "I'm already doing it fine, the problem you're trying to solve must be a problem with you!" stuff. It does sound like defensiveness to me. Whether that's based on unfulfilling play or just on too many internet arguments with other people who assumed the worst of them, I don't know.
    Okay, roughly, the Lumpley Principle says there are really two parts of System. One part of the System is what everyone everywhere agrees is definitely system, that is, the rules mechanics, right? But the LP also says that a whole bunch of unwritten stuff is also part of System, all the methods, social understandings, and so on.

    My strong suspicion is that the second half is really what makes Immersion work. hen someone says: "I want the rules to get out of the way", add the phrase "...of all of our successful unwritten system stuff" mentally and the whole thing begins to make sense.

    And yeah, I do see a whole lot of resistance to examining, cataloguing, and discussing what those unwritten, but highly important system bits are, much less consider formalizing them. Failure to do so, and write them down, makes it much harder for other people to follow the trail to successful immersionist fun, unless they're already in touch with a group really into immersionist fun and doing it consistently successfully. It becomes an odd sort of apprenticeship. Really, it's a bit like becoming a Mason or something.[j/k]
    <<blockquote rel="Airk">I'm not super sure about this one. I think it's a combination of things, but mostly:

    * The sense that "a new game system" is minimum three Very Large Books and will take a long time to master
    * That once you choose a game, you are committing to play it Every Tuesday From Now Until FOREVER.

    Character gen time may factor in, but I don't feel like it's as substantial as the other two.
    Yeah, that analysis makes sense to me. Inferred degree of commitment. Maybe the reason why some retroclones succeed is because they reduce that.


    I've found retroclones hugely advantageous in introducing old game buddies to different stuff. It's so much easier for me to say "It works like (old TSR versions of ) D&D, but here's what is different [fill in blanks]" and start playing.

    I do remember that, even as kids, we'd have much preferred it if TSR games had all roughly had the same core system as D&D, rather than learning a different system entirely for Gangbusters, Boot Hill, Star Frontiers, Gamma World, Top Secret, and so on, and those weren't particularly complex systems by modern standards.

  • I think in my semi-failed Star Wars game (it was only semi-failed, because we did eventually get back on track) the problem wasn't actually the characters and their motivations so much as the characters and their... capabilities? We didn't really see any other way forward at the time. I forget why - it was a long time ago. So unfortunately, even "priming the pump" with characters who are interested in having cool space adventures is a problem if the means or availability of cool space adventures isn't there. Or to put it another way - while neither the players nor the GM are "responsible" for the group's fun, both are capable of stymieing it, even without meaning to.

    (I'm really curious as to what the VtM advice was - I never owned those books, and the several GMs I played with all seemed to have fairly varying ideas of who the PCs were supposed to be).

    I think a lot of immersionist players don't even think they HAVE unwritten stuff to codify. They just want to gather around the table and "roleplay without touching the dice" unless they need to "resolve something that can't be resolved by roleplaying" - like combat, apparently, though I've never really figured out why it's okay for roleplaying to be the sole decider of whether you convince the king to go to war, but not okay for it to be the decider of whether you can successfully knife a guy in an alley. It almost feels like these guys feel like they're required to have SOME rules or it's not a "real RPG" anymore, so they pick the areas that interest them least to put rules in.

    I remain a little mystified by retroclones, because I have no actual fondness for anything mechanical from early editions of D&D - and I cut my teeth of Mentzer. It was simple, sure, but I didn't really feel like it did anything super exciting or clever or interesting. It gave us a way to resolve killing monsters, and some cool magic items and stuff, but I... just don't really understand the love, I guess?
  • edited February 2017
    1e VtM basically told the GM to do what you just described here, David.
    Really?! Well, cool! I had no idea.
    That GM stuff was advice that didn't rise to the level of required procedure much less rules.

    No surprise I'd skipped it, and yet skipping led to repeated failure.
    Agreed. I mean, hell, I'd even take advice, if it were, like, one page of really clear advice out of some 16-page document. But a slew of best practices scattered throughout a 300-page tome? Forget it. (I also vaguely recall someone pulling up contradictory advice from different parts of some Vampire book, but I'm fuzzy on the details.)

    I don't know if Vampire really has the option to do what I do for Delve, though. In Delve, there's one basic thing you must get on board with to play. In Vampire, I think you have more than one option for the basic thing your play is going to be about. I think this is part of the breadth of traditional RPGs' appeal -- they let players of diverse tastes all imagine doing what they want with this cool collection of toys and tools. If the Vampire book conveyed to everyone, "Here is the One Right Way to play this game," they might lose four fifths of their sales!
    My strong suspicion is that the second half is really what makes Immersion work. When someone says: "I want the rules to get out of the way", add the phrase "...of all of our successful unwritten system stuff" mentally and the whole thing begins to make sense.
    I agree with your description of how it's largely worked, historically. I don't think immersion has to rely on informal system, though. I mean, in D&D maybe it does, but in Puppetland it definitely does not. The rule that you can only talk in character has a huge role in that game's flavor of immersion.

    I don't use quite that strict a rule for Delve, but I do have rules for clearly distinguishing between IC and OOC speech, and it helps.
    And yeah, I do see a whole lot of resistance to examining, cataloguing, and discussing what those unwritten, but highly important system bits are, much less consider formalizing them.
    I wonder if this is a GM thing? "Have a good GM" is one of those bits of longstanding wisdom for fun immersive play, and I don't see many of those GMs being eager to say, "Aw, shucks, guys, I'm not that special, anyone could do what I do, and let's try to nail down what that is!" Instead good immersive GMing is viewed as a very personal sort of creative expression, or as a level of mastery never to be approached without years of honing the craft, or as a closed club reserved for those who host the sessions and pay the money for the books, etc.

    Or maybe it's not about any sort of elitism; maybe it's just hard to imagine another GM using my GMing techniques. It's true that different GMs foster immersion in different ways. Some, it's with intense acting. Others, with prepping the play space. Others, by handling all of the mechanics and work so the players can just stay in character. You can't reasonably ask those three GMs to just trade places; maybe the mechanics-handler sucks at acting and finds room prep a chore. Starting with that take on things, it's easy to give up the analysis before we ever get to a lot of the key techniques, like how we establish when the fiction should and shouldn't require a skill check.
    It becomes an odd sort of apprenticeship.
    Yeah. Score -500 for hobby inclusivity/accessibility. :(
    I do remember that, even as kids, we'd have much preferred it if TSR games had all roughly had the same core system as D&D, rather than learning a different system entirely for Gangbusters, Boot Hill, Star Frontiers . . .
    My experience was a bit different. Learning my second system was a nuisance -- why can't we just reskin AD&D2? -- but my third was less of a nuisance, and my fourth was fun, and before my fifth I was making my own... But yeah, I get how familiarity is a plus for most. :)
  • I think there's space for a book about Immersion fun supporting techniques along the lines of Graham W's book, Play Unsafe, and the way it introduced improv techniques for use in gaming.

    It doesn't have to be One True Way. It could be a catalog of "best practices" that different folks have used, with it up to the reader(s) to decide which work best for them and their group, even before a game system (mechanics) is chosen. Hopefully it would include both player and GM techniques, and both would be mutually supporting.
  • So unfortunately, even "priming the pump" with characters who are interested in having cool space adventures is a problem if the means or availability of cool space adventures isn't there.
    Ugh. Yeah, as GM, if you're saying, "Here are your available options," just based on where the characters are standing this second and what they'd be aware of, you're getting into fictional causality too early. Gotta prime the pump with a setting full of viable routes to cool space adventures first!
    I think a lot of immersionist players don't even think they HAVE unwritten stuff to codify. They just want to gather around the table and "roleplay without touching the dice" unless they need to "resolve something that can't be resolved by roleplaying"
    This would sound fine to me if it worked! Just like kids playing pretend. But yeah, when it doesn't work, then it sure would be nice if a reliable way forward were part of the play package.
    I've never really figured out why it's okay for roleplaying to be the sole decider of whether you convince the king to go to war, but not okay for it to be the decider of whether you can successfully knife a guy in an alley.
    The most successful immersive games I've played in will totally let you knife a guy in an alley based purely on roleplay. :)

    I mean, sometimes it's a crapshoot whether a knife finds its mark. So, sure, if you can't do any better than a die roll, use a die roll. With an NPC decision, though, we can always do better. Inhabit them, GM, and do what they would do!

  • (I'm really curious as to what the VtM advice was - I never owned those books, and the several GMs I played with all seemed to have fairly varying ideas of who the PCs were supposed to be).
    Essentially what David laid out. The Gm needs to have some kind of vision of what the starting point is going to be for the campaign, and its initial "thrust" along with stuff like themes and motifs and so on. And, really, the GM is supposed to be a bit of an enforcer of this, at least initially. They really need to communicate this stuff clearly to the players, and be willing to say No to players who want to come up with PCs wildly off the concept.

    Likewise, the GMs are really supposed to run prelude sessions with character players, something about the pre-Vamp or early vamp life of the characters. While it's supposed to be one on one, it would probably also be better one-on-one with the rest of the group present.
    I think a lot of immersionist players don't even think they HAVE unwritten stuff to codify.
    Pretty much this, although in fairness, most of those immersionist players are going to tend to be PCs, not GMs.

    IME, there are tons of RPers who have never opened a rulebook, or who have never looked at rules beyond what they need to use to build/play their character. They might read some setting stuff if it's available to character players. ( heck, I've been in a 5E D&D campaign for over a year, and that's been my attitude the whole time). I suspect this is enormously common. Certainly in the early days of my hobby experience, it was felt that only the GM needed to own the book(s) at all, and players might borrow them if they were really, really interested.
    I remain a little mystified by retroclones, because I have no actual fondness for anything mechanical from early editions of D&D - and I cut my teeth of Mentzer. It was simple, sure, but I didn't really feel like it did anything super exciting or clever or interesting. It gave us a way to resolve killing monsters, and some cool magic items and stuff, but I... just don't really understand the love, I guess?
    D&D itself is kind of an interesting game, in that it has a very clear default goal: Mug Monsters and level up.

    Even if you really never did anything "deeper" that can give hours of entertainment.

    Early versions kept all of that fairly simple mechanically, which also made it easier for beginners to get into. I think that's partly key to the thing. It's easy to forget as an RPG hobbyist that most non-hobbyists consider games more complex than Yahtzee or Clue terribly complex. Even some of those old TSR games that came in at 64 pages or so seem mind-bogglingly complex in that context, when your previous experience with complexity is defined by Monopoly.

  • I wonder if this is a GM thing? "Have a good GM" is one of those bits of longstanding wisdom for fun immersive play, and I don't see many of those GMs being eager to say, "Aw, shucks, guys, I'm not that special, anyone could do what I do, and let's try to nail down what that is!" Instead good immersive GMing is viewed as a very personal sort of creative expression, or as a level of mastery never to be approached without years of honing the craft, or as a closed club reserved for those who host the sessions and pay the money for the books, etc.

    Or maybe it's not about any sort of elitism; maybe it's just hard to imagine another GM using my GMing techniques. It's true that different GMs foster immersion in different ways. Some, it's with intense acting. Others, with prepping the play space. Others, by handling all of the mechanics and work so the players can just stay in character. You can't reasonably ask those three GMs to just trade places; maybe the mechanics-handler sucks at acting and finds room prep a chore. Starting with that take on things, it's easy to give up the analysis before we ever get to a lot of the key techniques, like how we establish when the fiction should and shouldn't require a skill check
    Here's the thing about people learning to GM. We need to establish a culture where supportive but real feedback is encouraged and normalized. My experience has been that, no matter how deep my knowledge is of a particular system's best practices and mechanics, it is often verboten for me to chime in with any of that. Once or twice I've been in situations where it was explicitly my job to both play my character and help the GM with mechanics. I'm perfectly capable of doing that without cheesing, i.e., using my knowledge of the rules to gain some sort of unfair advantage. But it's absurdly difficult to arrange for, socially, again, IME.

  • Here's the thing about people learning to GM. We need to establish a culture where supportive but real feedback is encouraged and normalized.
    Oh god, this.
    GM: "How was the session?"
    Everyone: "Fine/Good/Fun." Followed by no details.

    There's a ton of BS on both sides of the screen that makes this the norm, even when the session wasn't that hot.

  • When my wife and I GMed a longrunning game together for 18 months, she would ask the players, "What did you like? What did you not like?"
  • In the moment, either as a GM or as a player, it's hard to slow down, and sometimes undesirable.
    Immediately after, it can be hard to frame useful feedback. After that, I have time to mull.
    As a GM, my players have learned that my reaction to any kind of odd long term plan is going to be "No! It'll break everything!" followed a day or so later by "Maybe it won't be so bad" followed a few days later by "Sorry, I don't know why I thought it would be a problem -- it sounds really cool!"

    But all of the above applies to long term play. Convention one shots are another matter.

    I do know that in both of them, on either side of the screen, if the point isn't in large part to learn the rules, I'd rather keep moving than have things grind to a halt while rules are figured out.

    This applies to setting as well. I was in a Dresden game where I wanted to shake one of the players and say, "I don't CARE what the Dresden books say! I just want a quick GM ruling!" But then, when I run or plan to run anything in that world, my first rule is "There is no Harry Dresden. This game is about the PCs, not the book characters." I'm not as invested in the Exact World of the Novels when I game as some players are.
  • I think the best "feedback" situations I've seen are those where there is a chance for the players/participants to get together socially on a regular basis outside the game. (In theory, this could happen online, too - like if you are all S-G members!)

    This gives opportunities to discuss the game outside the game itself, when people have had time to reflect or ponder, rather than "in the heat of the moment"*. In my experience, the feedback has been best in groups where it was possible to play in one instance, and then having occasions to talk about that play on other occasions (e.g. the players are also all on a soccer team together).


    *: Feedback in play is also very important, of course! I like to encourage that as much as possible. However, it doesn't *replace* chatting about the game later, in my experience.
  • Yeah, going out to dinner after your game is far and away the best way to facilitate feedback that I know of.
  • Yeah, going out to dinner after your game is far and away the best way to facilitate feedback that I know of.
    I like doing that. It grounds things.

    Often, though, we eat as we play. If this is at our place and I'm gming, I can make the transition from the game by doing the dishes and tidying up, often with some help from the others. But, at that point, folks may be anxious to get home. I've been trying to remember to check in then anyway. I usually try to check in between sessions as well, but I think I've been slipping on that. Certainly, I can do a bit more.
  • I have a good deal of experience running one-shot nordic freeform, jeepform, black box and what have you, also campaigns of various ilks.
    I've also had the pleasure of running GM workshops for some years, and I still find player feedback invaluable. I'm also still nerveous as Hell whenever I start running a game, thankfully. It means I take it seriously.

    The way I solicit feedback is usually after the game (during one-shots), before and during the game for campaigns, but these aren't set in stone.

    For one-shots we always, always do a debrief. It's necessary because the games I tend to run are of the high-bleed variety, and when tears hit the ground, you do need help coming down (or getting back up, if you prefer that terminology).

    I debrief by asking leading questions. What did you think of this part, what could have been better, did you enjoy having your wife cheat on you.

    I consistently get good results doing that. And tea and cake help ease the emotional clean-up.
  • How long are your one-shot slots? The traditional slot at the conventions I tend to go to is four hours.
  • Yes, this can make it hard to solicit feedback--you want the game to reach a satisfying conclusion, so you run right up until the last second of your slot.
  • Not impossible, though -- I've seen folks, and not just at Metatopia, timing things so that, 2 hours or 4, there's time for Roses and Thorns. But it is challenging, especially if folks are still processing and mentally calculating how long they have until their next game and whether there's time for a meal.
  • How long are your one-shot slots? The traditional slot at the conventions I tend to go to is four hours.
    At Fastaval the author notes the length of the game and is allotted a slot corresponding to that duration. Mind you, the author often does not run her own game, and the most popular can have ten simultaneous runs (or more). We also don't play in open spaces (the lack of privacy would seriously cut down on the intensity of the game).
    There are, in a day, three different timeslots. In the morning you have your 4-6 our slots, midday is the novella slot of 2 hours, and evening, beginning at 8, can run as long as people can stay awake. It's rare these days, but prviously it wasn't uncommon to play from 8pm until the morning slot started at 10am. Especially one author was notorious, and his games had to be severely edited by the gm, or it could run continuosly for three days.
    To sum up, 1½-2 hours for novellas, 3-6 hours for long-form one-shots.
    Many of them from later years are available for free at alexandria.dk
  • I am going to admit something here. When I started playing roleplaying games there was no real magic feeling for me. I enjoyed my experiences, but it was not in any way a transformative or immersive experience. I enjoyed and still enjoy playing video games and watching movies as much as I enjoy roleplaying games.

    There was tremendous promise as a creative outlet, but I never really saw that potential manifest until I was well into my late 20s. In my youth, playing games like AD&D 2e, Vampire, and Exalted, we were always going for this epic story that never quite manifested. It wasn't until I played Apocalypse World for the first time and really learned to play to find out that I got any real emotional immersion out of gaming.

    I stayed in the indie scene for awhile. I mean I still played some more traditional games with friends, more for the company and good old games fun, but the actual roleplaying never quite felt right. In the last couple years I've branched out somewhat. I have learned to appreciate OSR style sandbox play in games like Stars Without Number and Godbound, and got a lot of traction utilizing the techniques I picked up from Apocalypse World to run a couple Chronicles of Darkness games that were really satisfying.

    I'm even playing in a Vampire - The Masquerade game right now with a great group of people. The actual game is still not much fun to interact with, but I deal. I try to push hard and play my PC like a stolen car, and that sometimes leads to a bit of conflict. Then I back down. It's still a lot of fun even if I sometimes can see the tracks. It's just not like emotionally satisfying, but not everything worth doing needs to be. I enjoy adding color, addressing interpersonal stuff, and the like even if the stakes aren't being laid bare in the way I would like them to be.
  • Interesting observations, Jonathan!

    What do you think made such a difference for you in the Apocalypse World game? Was it different people, or specific elements of the game or the way you played it which made some "magic" happen for you?

    (Funny, I hadn't even thought that someone might have played at a young age but *not* experience some "magic". It seems obvious in retrospect, of course! Thanks for posting about your experiences.)
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