Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Golden Rule

Here's one of my favorite RPG memories: I was running a Vampire: The Masquerade game where one of the players had to rob a bank. The bank was actually held by a rival vampire lord, and the point was not to steal money but to in fact assassinate an important ghoul who ran the bank. So my player spends much of the session planning the heist, and I'm totally into his plan. Finally, he executes the plan,  kicks in the door to the bank's inner office and sprays the room with bullets. I yell out "The bank manager catches a bullet in the throat and keels over, dead!"

"Really?" the player said, astonished. "You're not going to roll any dice or anything?"

Without stopping my narrative, I picked up a handful of d10's, tossed them across the room, and kept talking.

I was just so into the moment, so carried away by the action, that I didn't want to let the rules get in the way of that. So I didn't.

It's funny how easy it is to forget that, that golden rule of RPGs. You know the one; it's written in literally every RPG I've ever read, either in the introduction or the "how to GM" chapter: "If the rules ever get in the way of the fun, ignore them and keep playing!" Granted, that's easy to overlook in a 300-page book of combat manuevers, but it's there, and it's every bit as legitimate as the grappling rules.

When I returned to the hobby in January 2013, it was with Dungeon World. I felt liberated and mind-blown by the simple idea of "make that shit up on your own!" I went on to study various "story-first" RPGs, and generally declared myself a story gaming GM. I still love those games...I plan on playing one this weekend, actually...but as I get my groove back and play more RPGs, I find myself remembering that afternoon playing Vampire.

Those principles and agendas and playing to find out, you can do that in D&D, too. You can do it in GURPS. You don't need an RPG to tell you to use your imagination and have fun to do so. Sadly, I had forgotten that, somewhere between trying to learn how to use Microsoft Excel for character creation and figuring out the rules for sneezing during allergy season.

When I think about those two styles of games...traditional, text-book style RPGs and smaller, scrappier, indie story games, I realize that there is really no difference at all...none...between them. Reading a 100-page pocket-sized rules lite RPG and the first 100 pages of a 400-page behemoth RPG can in fact result in the same gaming experience. It's just a question of your commitment, and where you want to spend your time: reading a game, or playing it. Obviously, most people would choose to play, if they could...but sometimes, they can't. Sometimes, you've got an afternoon to yourself and your group is off doing something else. Those 100-page story games aren't much use to you then. But that's a great time to brush up on your history of the Iron Kingdoms...

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