But before I go on to the OSR, let’s take a look at the lessons learned from the last blog:
Lesson #6 – Too many rules is too many rules.
I like rules, and reading rules, as much as the next gamer, maybe more. But playing and reading are two different things. By and large, most toolkit games (like Rolemaster or GURPS) don’t even intend for you to use all the rules. Believe me, I tried, much to the regret of my players. While not a toolkit game, D&D has Lots and Lots of Rulez, and for the most part you are expected to play with them all. This trend starts out with 1st Edition, which had many rules we all ignored (like segments and weapon vs. armor modifiers) and get more pronounced with every succeeding edition. I am reasonably sure that the three core books for 4th edition had no optional rules, while 3/3.5 had a few, and 2nd had a few more.
Maybe some of you young studs can handle all that rule-mongering, but at this point in my life, I want less, not more. That means a game where there are fewer rules, not a game where I ignore most of the rules.
Lesson #7 – The GM should be the final arbiter of the rules.
Every ruleset I know plays lip-service to this idea, but if you have three hardbacks full of rules, it doesn’t make much sense to ignore several pounds of books you just bought. The very presence of the rules means that you are going to be looking up stuff some of the time. Again, only by limiting the rules can I feel free enough to be that final ‘decider’.
Lesson #8 – The less rules options characters have, the better off your campaign will be.
Look at that statement again. Less is more. Really. Still don’t believe me? Character options, once thought to be one of the holy grails of gaming, are now just another sacred cow. It does seem to make sense that the more options you give people, the happier they will be. The problem is that most players don’t know where to stop. There is a whole class of people who will endlessly tinker with their builds, trying to find the fastest way to kill, the best way to deal combat damage, the best way to cast two spells a round, etc. There are whole games dedicated to this sort of principle, like Champions/HERO System, and those sorts of games rapidly become more focused on the builds, and not the character within the context of the campaign.
I don’t know about you, but I want my players to become fascinated with the play of the campaign, not the next level-up or how their guy is cooler than the guy of the player next to them.
I am all for having characters that seem individual, but that has to come in the context of the campaign, not what monstrosity the newest builder book allows me to Frankenstein up.
Lesson #8 – Freedom only works if your players are prepared to use it.
When I tried to run my first modern sandbox game, my players rebelled. Too much freedom meant they didn’t know what to do next. Digestible information is key, here. If I give my players the 50 page bound Player’s Guide to Doyle’s Kool Kampaign, their eyes will glaze over. I now intend to give them a background in a paragraph, and a fair amount of rumors each (3?) at the beginning of the campaign. I also have an idea how to get them to give their characters structure, but that's for a future blog. If you are reading this three years after I wrote it, look for the Milestone blog entry.
Lesson #9 – Stat blocks should be able to be generated on the fly.
Seriously, in any game, but especially in a sandbox game, you need to be able to generate content on the fly, ideally without your players noticing. I once thought Complete Preparation was a key to a well run game, and there is still plenty that you can do to prepare generic resources: names, stat blocks, one page adventures, etc. But planning a scenario in such detail that you could publish the thing is too much to do every week. Stat blocks that are more than a line are too much every week.
Believe me, I am not a proponent of ‘handwaving’. The key here is that effective improvisation isn’t about lack of preparation, it’s about using the content you carry around with you in your head, and well as some minimal stat blocks, maps and notes to their fullest possible potential. If your rulebook has three gazillion options, stat block bloat ensues. Another reason for having very few rules.
Lesson #10 – This is a game. You should be happy and looking forward to playing the next session of your campaign. If that’s not the case, something is wrong, and you should fix it.
I don’t know about you, but I am people-pleaser. I get off on creating an emotional and visceral reaction in my players, whether that is laughter, horror, sadness, or passion. That’s my definition of fun. And if they weren’t having fun, I told myself that I was doing something wrong. There’s still a lot of truth in that, but the reality is that some people will never be pleased. Everyone (including you) can have an off night, but if someone, including you, is not having fun, sometimes the answer isn’t the game, or how you run it, but the fact that they will never have fun in your campaign. There doesn’t have to be blame about this, and it doesn’t even have to be their fault. That’s just the way it is, and if you are the GM, then they need to find a game where they can have fun.
In many ways, that’s always been the hardest lesson for me to learn, and the one I have to re-learn every few years.
Now here’s the biggie. Drum roll, please.
Lesson #11 – The success of a campaign has very little to do with the quality of play of the campaign. A successful campaign is one where you show up every week, and there are players there, waiting to play.
This may seem a little counter-intuitive, until you remember that players only show up if they are having a good time. Most of my longer running campaigns lasted until I ended them – not because people said they were bored. As the cliché goes, half of life is showing up.
Next: The OSR. Really.