I’m afraid of flowers. More specifically, while I’ve been drawing and painting for many years, I avoid painting flowers. Get nervous just thinking about them. Recently I decided to face that fear by attacking one on a brand new 16″ X 20′ canvas.
And the world didn’t end. I finished the picture and learned a lot in the process.
This got me thinking about what elements or genres I fear and avoid in my gaming life. In this article, I’ll discuss just three of them. I’ll also suggest some thoughts for overcoming my concerns. While you may not have trouble with these particular topics, maybe the article will spur you to consider what you avoid in your own gaming.
I’d love to run a great mystery session in the tradition of Nero Wolfe or Mr. Monk. However, I’m unsure how to translate that genre into a roleplaying session. Mystery stories tend to be fairly linear: the detective must have certain clues to solve the mystery, and they tend to come in a particular order. Generally, the most important clue is kept secret until just before the end of the story. In terms of gaming, I worry that this kind of structure would lead to railroading on my part. Also, I’m not sure I could come up with a clever enough mystery.
One solution might be to have a breadcrumbs clue list, but not to tie the clues to any particular NPC or encounter. That way the players can still approach the scenario however they wish, and I can dole out clues as needed.
“Man that was scary!” Wouldn’t you love to hear that after running a session? While my fantasy games certainly use elements of horror (skeletons, monsters, tombs), I’ve never run a full session of pure horror. I don’t know if I could sustain that atmosphere of fear for an entire session. Also, my group likes to laugh and enjoy the game, and I don’t know if as a group we could sustain a scary mood.
Still, maybe I need to work on creating more suspenseful passages in my games. I may need to hold back the villains a bit, let them just hear them around the corner. Perhaps that can help provide them with more of a sense of danger.
I love Star Trek, and it’s vast universe is practically a genre unto itself. I’m not sure how to translate the Star Trek episdoe tropes into a great gaming session. Star Trek often gives players moral dilemnas, which can be tricky to set up. You want to give players real choices, without forcing their actions. Also, Star Trek can sometimes be a little lighter on combat than other genres. Starfleet officers are not supposed to solve most problems with fists or phasers. Lastly, on the shows, some problems are handled with a hand-wavy scientific solution that may not occur to players. It’s better not to set up a problem with only one solution.
Perhaps players could be provided with more action if they were members of a strike team, being sent into only the most difficult situations. Also, they might be assigned to guard a ship or colony against pirates or rogue Klingons. That way they could have some combat without starting an interstellar war each session.
Like floral painting, these are some areas of gaming I’ve yet to master. You may have some too, and sitting down and thinking about them may help you consider some solutions.
What areas give you trouble? Do you have any suggestions for my trouble spots? Let us know below.
Instead of Star Trek I GMed Star Wars, but I found interesting moral dilemmas popped out very naturally when I gave the players freedom. For instance, my players once decided they really needed to hijack a star destroyer. The plan they came up with was very simple: have their Jedi impersonate Darth Vader. The moral issue was how far was the Jedi willing to go to pull off the impersonation, and in that case, the answer turned out to be that he would kill one of the Imperial officers using Vader’s signature Force choke. A bit later on, the natural moral question became what do you do when you need to “get rid of” the tens of thousands of crew on said star destroyer…
Translating that thinking to Star Trek, the approach I’d go for wouldn’t be to try to directly set up moral dilemmas. I’d just look for hard challenges for the players, give them a lot of freedom in how to address them, and assume that moral dilemmas will arise naturally.
Thanks for the ST idea. I always figured that running episodes like on TV would be too railroady. Maybe just setting up tense situations is better, like the episode where they had to negotiate between two warring tribes.
For investigation games, I think looking over some of the Gumshoe based games may help. The mechanics give the PCs the important clue, its up to them to correctly interpret it. But now, they can always get the required info.
Pelagraine Press sells the games, if you want to check them out.
I cannot agree strongly enough with Razjah’s recommendation of games based on the GUMSHOE system; the system was designed with exactly the goal in mind of making it easier to run mysteries. I believe The Esoterrorists (Robin D. Laws) was the first one, but you may also want to check out Trail of Cthulhu (Kenneth Hite), which might help take out both the mystery and horror birds with a single game stone. 🙂
Stepping out of your comfort zone is important. I can’t run a serious fantasy campaign without making it wacky due to a failure 15 years ago. But here’s my experiences with your genres:
I had my players solve a mystery by… making up the WHOLE thing on their own. They just didn’t know it. I ran it in cWoD, sandbox style. When they thought they found a clue, I wrote it down, and pieced it all together at the end. They never knew any better and still talk about that campaign to this day.
Really hard. You must have player buy-in so they allow themselves to be scared. I only made it work for one session, once. Every other try was a failure.
I did an “Abrahms-verse” Star Trek where the unknown alien turned out to be Lovecraftian. Turned the genre on it’s side, from a TNG perspective, but still very respectful of TOS. I built a mechanic where they could roll to “technobabble” their way out of one, and only one, situation per session.
Like the take on mystery games and also the “technobabble” bennie.
Thanks also for the insights on horror.
My approach for mysteries that works pretty well is as follows:
-Map the critical scenes/people/areas/clues that the players must get to to solve the mystery without spending hours wandering in circles.
-Map and additional useful ones that will be helpful, extra, or illuminating.
-Make sure that every “necessary” element pointing to it from another necessary element and that there is no randomness to finding these pointers. They show up at the scene, say “I search the room” clue falls out even if they roll a 1.
-Better search, fast talk, whatever rolls net additional clues that point to the “extra” stuff.
Thus the PCs can blunder their way through the entire session crit failing everything and still follow the breadcrumbs to the end. They may get to the final showdown too late to stop the invocation, accuse the wrong person, get their ass handed to them by the eldritch horror, and generally flub things up but they get to the end and “solve the mystery”
Better performance gets them extra clues, extra clarity, helps them avoid pitfalls, they show up on time, accuse the right person and know the eldritch horror can be banished with a silvered mirror like the one they found in the hidden compartment in the desk in the cabin.
For both horror and mystery, I wrote/designed and did cartography for Haiku of Horror: Autumn Moon Bath House which is a murder mystery and a ghostly haunting with a curse. You could think of the mystery portion as a sandbox adventure located at a bath house. Clues are everywhere and some of them are known by various staff members. It takes interviews with each, following up on mentioned clues and finding them to resolve a murder. Solving the murder lays the ghost to rest. Use of haunts and curse in addition to a custom ghost at the location makes it both horror and mystery. The main thing is that it is a sandbox, so no linear plot is involved at all – there’s an encounter, and then dealing with that encounter by solving a mystery.
I’ve always wanted to try and do a ‘proper’ romance game, but I’m not sure how that can work in a group dynamic, and I’ve never been able to get past the weirdness of trying to do romantic dialogue with bunch of my mates… and I think it would be even more difficult to do that sort of dialogue with one of my female players!
The closest I have come to it is in Pendragon, where every Player (sooner or later) has a wife and kids, but I have only scratched the surface of what seems to be a rich vein of RP.
I suspect that, if you have the right group (and the brass neck to not get embarrassed as you look longingly in to the eyes of ‘Big Dave’ and tell him how much you love him), there could be some great games to be played.
Thanks for the suggestions from other folks as well. The closest we came to romance was when our big bruiser fighter tried to hit on an ogre woman (seriously). It was a scream.