Commenting on yesterday’s post about not penalizing players for replacing their PCs, TT reader Frank Filz said something that made a light bulb go in my head:
So I guess in the end, I’d suggest that if the issue of how much XP to give replacement PCs is important, and there is a feeling of need to not penalize replacement PCs, then perhaps the game system in use is not the ideal choice for the type of play.
What clicked for me is how this issue, minor though it might be, ties into my increasing dissatisfaction with D&D-flavored d20 as a rules set. In other words, despite running and playing d20 games almost exclusively since 3rd Edition came out, it might not be the right game for me as a GM.
That got me to thinking about what other road signs and warning flags like this are out there — things that you don’t notice because you’re too close to them, but that (like all good revelations) seem obvious and accurate once they’ve been pointed out to you.
The tricky thing, I think, will be separating “You might be GMing the wrong game” signs from the ones that actually say “You might just need a break from GMing altogether.” Bearing that in mind, here are a handful to get us rolling.
You might be running the wrong game if you…
- House rule large chunks of the system.
- Hate prepping for your current system.
- Wing it with the rules more often than you use them as written.
- Aren’t excited about reading new supplements for your game.
- Find your vision of how the game works to be at odds with your players’ perceptions.
- Aren’t excited about playing for two game nights in a row.
- Consistently add/subtract elements to enhance/simplify the rules.
- Hate playing the game yourself, even if you enjoy running it.
I’m not sure all of those are useful, and they’re definitely not free of overlap with symptoms of burnout — but they’re a start.
What signs have you noticed?
I agree with most of this. In my view, your last point might be the most important one. When you’re GMing a game, you have carte blanche to do pretty much whatever you like with the rules: houserule ’em, reinterpret ’em, ditch ’em, whatever.
When you’re a player, you don’t quite have that freedom, and so any problem you have with a particular system is going to be more apparent – you can’t just ignore particular rules, at the very least you need to ask the GM and/or the group as a whole if something can be done to change them.
The upshot is that when you’re a player you’re going to be much more sensitive to any problems you have with a system than if you’re a GM.
You named a lot of the big “red flags”. We were hand-waving and house-ruling D&D 3.0 to death.
We often introduced things like Action Points and Action Cards to add a more cinematic feel to most (if not all) of our games.
We lucked out and found Savage Worlds, which seems to be tailor-made for our group. Now the biggest problem with D&D that we have is how to convert material (which is usually pretty easy).
You might be playing the wrong game if…you introduce more rules than are printed in the rule book.
â€¢ Wing it with the rules more often than you use them as written.
â€¢ Arenâ€™t excited about reading new supplements for your game.
Those are totally me in my Werewolf the Forsaken game. But I already knew that I should be using Shadow of Yesterday instead.
The honeymoon between me and D&D has been over for some time, even though I’m only back to it for two years now. Over the past many months my eyes have been wandering: FUDGE, The Shadow of Yesterday, Iron Heroes, etc.
The problem is that I don’t think any of my gaming friends are interested in learning a new set of rules. D&D is familiar, comfortable, and accessible — even with all of its warts. 🙁
So which is worse? Gritting your teeth to drag your group kicking and screaming into new system territory, or dealing with the annoyances of D&D?
I’d like to note that houseruling by itself isn’t necessarily a symptom of a less than ideal system choice. There’s a long tradition of messing around with the rules as a form of fun play. The difference between that and what you’re talking about is like trying to nurse along a rusted out lemon versus tricking out your fly pimpmobile.
I switched from D&D to Iron Heroes this year, which helped with a lot of the problems I was having with the system (pretty much every symptom that Martin noted). However, there is more to do and once this game wraps up (or maybe even in parallel), I am switching to Burning Wheel.
So which is worse? Gritting your teeth to drag your group kicking and screaming into new system territory, or dealing with the annoyances of D&D?
If you can pull it off, go for the new system, definitely. “Most people don’t know what they’re missing. Variety is the spice of life. And all that jazz.”
I’m fortunate enough to live in a large city and know a lot of gamers (including my wife), so I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to find a group of friends who want to play the new game (especially if I run a demo or two so they can feel the awesomeness). If that weren’t possible and I had to choose between D&D and no gaming, I’d probably still game, but cycle through phases of fun and burnout.
Good list. That pretty much described the situation when my husband and I were burning out on the White Wolf games several years ago. I think the one that most overlaps with general burnout would be the bit about not getting excited to run two nights in a row.
I’m of two minds on D&D. The core mechanics are good enough to do the job, and are pretty good with a little tweaking. Every gamer knows the system, and I’m already mentally and financially invested in it.
OTOH, the power levels are insane, roleplay is not actively encouraged (and outright ignored by many players), and the rules are already needlessly complex and getting worse.
(Example: as many of you know, I work with the HeroForge character generation spreadsheet; I’m also an admin on the Yahoo group. About every three months without fail, someone comes along and claims that it should use OpenOffice, SQL, or some other approach. They’re told that the game rules are kinda difficult to work with, and Excel’s VB does a pretty good job, but hey – feel free to try. (“Not only does every rule have an exception, but every exception has an exception.”) So far, none of them have come back after messing with it.)
Wow, big aside… sorry. Anyway, what I find is that D&D is best when aggressively managed. As written, it’s far too large in scope to let manage itself. If you’re truly in it for the roleplay, you don’t need anything but the SRD. (But admit it, we’re not all just in it for roleplay; we like crunch.)
D&D is flawed, especially if played with “all options open”. But with a good GM, it’s a great game. (Sorry if this rambles, I’m posting at work… again.)
I agree that house rules aren’t necessarily a sign the game is wrong. The thing to ask is what are the house rules addressing? Are they addressing some dissatisfaction with the core of the game? If so, are they a minor tweak, or a bandaid trying to patch a core concept that really doesn’t mesh?
For example (and referencing Abulia’s comment in the other thread), modifying the XP penalty for ressurection may be a lesser change than declaring replacement PCs come in with equivalent XP and treasure to the other current PCs.
Changing the penalty for ressurection continues to honor the investment the player has made in getting the character to a particular level, though may dishonor the effort to keep the PC alive. Starting new PCs at the same level on the other hand dishonors the effort that went into other PCs attaining that level.
I wouldn’t say that D&D is flawed. I would say that D&D may not be the best system for your needs, but so long as it addresses one play group’s needs, it isn’t flawed, though if it truly only addresses one play group’s needs, it would be flawed in the sense that it doesn’t do it’s publisher justice.
Back to Martin’s opening post:
I would’nt consider disliking the supplements to be a comment on the suitability of the game. As long as at least the game as initially published meets one’s needs, I would say that the game is suitable. Supplements may be just providing additional setting detail, or scenarios. Rule supplements may or may not improve the game.
I would say that winging rules may be one of the biggest indicators. That’s a flashing light highlighting the disconnect between the game as written and the play group’s needs.
Not wanting to play the game two nights in a row also should not be a factor. I think it’s perfectly ok to have a game that you really really like. To play once a year. Or once ever.
admit it, weâ€™re not all just in it for roleplay; we like crunch
Oh, totally. Guilty as charged.
I don’t deny my pubescent need for phat loot and rediculous bonus modifiers. It’s just that now that I’m older (gack! choke!) I find I want more.
(God, I sound like some daytime talk show guest where we’re discussing relationships…)
Seriously, though, I agree that many of D&D’s annoyances can be managed with some stern controls and a handful of house rules. Still, there are many times when I long for a simpler system that actually focuses on what it seems our group likes to do: lots of PC/NPC and PC/PC interactions, thick plot, detailed backstory, and occasional combat with a rare chunk of swag. Is that too much to ask?
*You chose the system because you wanted a rules-light game, but you are still lugging 6+ rule/splat books to each session.
*You panic whenever the PCs level up or spend XP.
*Your players keep talking about how much they loved that “other system” you used two campaigns ago.
*You want a fast, flexible combat system, but the game grinds to a crawl whenever actual combat occurs.
*Characters built to be specialists are missing key skills/abilities to be that specialist, and you didn’t even notice until four sessions in.
Regarding dragging players (kicking and screaming) in to a new rule system, I’ve found that this actually dovetails *very* nicely with another recent topic on Treasure Tables: One-Shots.
A while back I ran a one-shot Star Wars game for my long-time hardcore D20 group using a variant of Shadow of Yesterday. Since it was presented (and intended) as a one-shot game, they were pretty open to giving it a try when our last campaign ended (while we ramped up for our next D20 campaign, of course). They ended up having such a great time, though, that we actually extended it in to an on-going campaign that we’re still playing today.
As far as dragging players into a new system, my own experiences are pretty good. I recently put together a new gaming group to run a 7th Sea campaign. I use the classic system rather than the d20. Out of six players I picked up, only two had played the game before. The other four jumped on board just to get a game going, and it didn’t matter to them that they weren’t familiar with it.
Admittedly, 7th Sea is not horrendously rules intensive. But I gave the new guys a quick primer, and the rest of the rules were taught on the fly as they came up. And more rules will be introduced as needed. A couple of months into the game, everyone seems comfortable. There are shared copies of the players guide, and everyone is having a good time. Pretty much the same thing happened when I introduced 7th Sea to my old group, shortly after it came out.
But in neither case have I seen resistance. I bought the rulebooks, my first group agreed to try it, and once they realized it was a good game, several bought books, and shared with those who couldn’t afford them. Currently, everyone jumped on board to give it a shot, and they all seem happy.
The biggest problem seems to be players bringing DnD or d20 mentality to the table. Rules definitely make a differnce in role playing, and in the flavor a game takes. Being a swashbuckling game, I’d love to see characters swinging from ropes, and leaping onto tabletops to fight single duels. But the combats (so far) have been very d20-ish “I attack” roll, I hit. But that will come.
Good additions to the list all around — thank you for the brain fuel.
I wasn’t clear enough about this one:
“Arenâ€™t excited about playing for two game nights in a row.”
What I meant was “two gaming sessions in a row, however often you play.” So if you play once a month, and you’re not excited about running your game for those two sessions in a row, there’s likely a problem.
I didn’t mean “not excited about running back-to-back sessions.” That’s not a sympton of anything — two in a row like that is tough. 😉
A lot of theory in this thread. I’d like to hear from people who actually have mastered playing D&D 3.5 regularly and have fun doing so, and what they think.
There’s still the backwards assumption that the reward for gaming in D&D is XP. This is completely backwards. XP is a measure of how much time and effort you’ve invested into that character, yes. It is, at the same time, NOT the Step On Up reward of the game, at all.
I mean, basically you’re saying that the reward of the game in D&D is the have the largest investment in your respective character out of everyone? That that is where the satisfaction of playing comes from? “Oh I must be having TONS of fun, since I’ve spent so much time on my character”; “I’m going to play D&D tonight so I can invest time on my character! What fun!” Both are totally incorrect and inaccurate to real-world playing.
As I wrote in the other thread, the REAL Step On Up reward of D&D comes from making unique CHOICES in the design of your character, and watching how those CHOICES play out in the campaign world. That’s it. That’s the fun. The reward? The reward is the smiles and laughs and looks of admiration you get from everyone else for doing that. THAT’S the reward. THAT’S Step On Up (Go read the essay on the Forge again, if you doubt it). Having or not having XP has nothing to do with it.
Sorry if the writing tone is a little harsh, but some of the replies here really sound like someone who just skimmed over the Gamism essay and is using the concepts in a generic way for the sole purpose of making arguments against D&D, and I find that a bit annoying.
You are very defensive of negative comments about DND in this and the other thread you posted. First off I’m glad you enjoy DND so much. Second, not everyone does. Dnd is a great game. It does what it is made for very very nicely. People look for different things though. I think there are 2 important things to look at in this situation. Why people do role playing and why the choose certain games.
I think every one of us sits down to game to have fun and hang out with our friends. It doesn’t matter what rules, what system, or what setting we are playing in. We enjoy gaming in general. We also have our own styles of doing it that are separate from the games that we are running. My group has a certain style that we bring to any game we play. DND, White Wolf, Serentiy, Gurps, Rifts, etc. Any game we play still feels like one of OUR games.
Why do we as gamers choose the games we play then? Because we enjoy those particular games and they help us get what we like about our sessions out of our sessions. Something is written into that game system or world that we enjoy. It helps us play in the style we like. DND is written to appeal to certain types of gamers, and it does that really well. It does that so well that it makes it harder for other types of gamers to get what they enjoy out of the game. RIFTS does the same thing for me that DND does. Not very much. I love the world setting, but I get annoyed by the design and limits on the characters.
See I don’t really think that it is that people don’t like DND, but just that they like other games better for different styles of play. I’ve always like Treasure Tables because it focuses on why people play games and not on what games they play. I can take almost anything I read on TT and incorporate it into my games no matter what game I am currently playing or running.
Just my $.02
I am coming back to RPGing after taking about 20 years off. I’m pretty much horrified by the current state of D&D. As the last poster mentioned, I’m sure it’s a great game for what it is, it’s just not D&D as I remember it from 1st edition rules (looks more like miniature battles to me). If people like it, great for them. It’s not E3.5’s fault that it doesn’t match with what I was expecting. Meanwhile, I’m looking at Castles & Crusades as a system more in line with what I like in an RPG. Hopefully, it will work for me. If not, I may just have to dust off my old 1st edition PHB, DMG, and MMI.