Sunday, 20 October 2013

In the Words of Pablo Picasso... (Part One)

"Bad artists copy, great artists steal."

There is a common misconception among new GMs that they must re-invent the wheel. It's not good enough to work from existing game materials, they need to create everything from scratch. Head spinning with the creative rush of making their own game, they feel the need to invent a setting from whole cloth, with vast amounts of complex detail that will likely never figure into actual gameplay. Why use an existing rule system, even one you're familiar with, when you can tinker with it and add your own flourishes? Hell, why not invent a whole new game system while you're doing it?

The instinct to tinker under the hood with games is strong with GMs, right out of the gate. After you get a little more experience under your belt, you begin to realize that you really don't have to put that much work into a game for it to work and feel unique. Refining your games into a distinctive style is something that takes time and effort, and not a little candid self-reflection about what parts of your game worked and what parts didn't.

The experienced GM learns from playing different kinds of games and, as Picasso would have it, steals anything that isn't nailed down. Once you know what kind of games you'd like to run, it starts to become clear what kinds of techniques could help you refine your style. Like a guitar player, you pick up a riff here and there, expanding your songbook (or, if you prefer a different tortured metaphor, add new tools to your GMing toolkit) and becoming a real journeyman. You may not have mastered the craft yet, but you're in the game, learning, building.

I often say that gamers in 2013 are lucky, because they live in a golden age -- there are a greater multitude of different games available cheaply to GMs than at any other time in the history of the hobby. Not only are practically all the classics readily accessible, a wide variety of new and experimental games are out there with all new takes on how to play games -- or at least, how to play certain kinds of games.

The thing that seems to distinguish what we might call Indie RPGs or Storygames, as you prefer, is that unlike the games of yore (which tended to aim at producing large-scale rule systems to simulate everything a setting could throw at them, at least in theory) Storygames aim to produce a particular kind of game very well, and nothing else. If you buy a horror storygame, it's very likely not going to be hackable to run a Jedi vs. Sith campaign. And that's okay; better to do one thing very well than model everything under the sun in a middling way.

For myself, I read a lot of games and try to steal the best bits from a lot of them. In this series, I'm going to share with you a few of my favourite bits from a wide variety of games. Then you can go all Picasso on the bits you like best.

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