Sunday, 16 February 2014

High Trust, High Drama, Long Winter

I know, I know. Like many people, my good intentions at the beginning of the new year have been circling the drain for the last month and a half. Well, no time like the present to get back to the blogosphere.

Like most of you, the length and misery of this winter is really starting to chap my ass -- certainly everyone I know in London is feeling a severe case of the mid-February blues. Nothing like cold, wet weather and sunless days to sap all your creative juices and make you gaze into the abyss.

So maybe it's the season talking, but lately I've been a little down on our usual style of dramatic roleplaying. It seems sometimes that playing games which are reaching for dramatic moments means sitting down to the game table and taking an extended visit to Misery, South Carolina.

The player characters are the most damaged, unhappy, dysfunctional people you could want to meet. And chances are, if you're visiting the beaches of Misery, you've dropped in on a day that one of the locals is having a Very Bad Day indeed.

It's been getting me down lately, and I'm usually a guy who advocates for this kind of stuff. Over the past few weeks, I've found myself on many occasions picking up very old roleplaying games on my shelf from the Halcyon Days of My Lost Youth, when character drama meant your Hit Points were running low and the Cleric had his hands busy turning a pack of wights. Oh, for the simple days of rollicking adventures and the happy clatter of dice on the tabletop.

A sensible voice in my head almost always talks me out of this kind of funk, of course, because nostalgia is a kind of willful fog that glosses over all the stuff that made us leave those games behind in the first place. Sure, I might long for a game that's got a bit of that old-timey feeling, but I'm not going to take a swan dive into the gravel pit of Encumbrance rules and Saves Versus Death.

The cure for depression is not more misery, I theorize.

I have also been paging through my vast stores of esoteric games on PDF, many of them the product of my Bundle of Holding "Problem" (although none of my players nor my wife seem to be organizing an Intervention just yet). There are a lot of small novelties out there in the roleplaying industry these days waiting for a disillusioned old man like me who's one gin bottle away from a Gygax bender.

I'm thinking here of new games like Golden Sky Stories and Sagas of the Icelanders, golden oldies like After The Bomb, or beloved games long unplayed such as Mutants & Masterminds.

It was cheering to play the first playtest session of LOST PINES recently, despite the sorta-kinda-depressing lives of the characters there. More on that as it develops.

What I feel like I'm really longing for these days is a kind of dramatic roleplaying that isn't always an exploration of the most depressing parts of the human experience. Characters facing adversity is good, but when you've got the Dials set to 11 all the time, the drama starts to lose its poignancy and become a dull, repetitive dirge.

Well, that was a lot of moaning, wasn't it? Don't mind me.

It's just the winter talking.


  1. Misery, South Carolina - you sure you don't mean Misery, Tennessee? I feel a little defensive about this post! :)

    I know what you mean about the winter weather and I hear what you are saying about all the angsty gaming. But - but - I feel like I drifted this way because it's what our group seems to like! The blog is called "high drama" right? I guess it's worth thinking about what genres have a lot of high intensity drama without being depressing. I saw American Hustle last week and I continue to think crime / cop drama has a lot of potential. On the other end of things, the TimeWatch kickstarter is also making me daydream about gonzo time travel action (it doesn't take much).

    The days are getting longer!

  2. It's certainly not SOUTHERN ROCK OPERA that's getting me down -- that's been a great ride, end to end, and the last session was really good stuff. This post was not directed at your game, I promise, just at the tendency of games we play in the aggregate to include a lot of depressed folks. I sure wouldn't have started a blog about it, if drama wasn't something I liked. But even my own CARNABY STREET took a dark turn recently, although that was mostly player driven. I guess I'm hoping for a change of pace at some point. (And, since TRIBE 8 is about as serious as cancer, that's probably not going to be the game! Oh well.)

    Analogy: I would love to be playing in a game like THE UNCANNY X-MEN circa 1982-1986, when things were often pretty serious but there was also room for rollicking adventure and things that were just plain fun. Not WATCHMEN all the time. (Footnote: Frankly, I'd gnaw off my own arm for a chance to play a big, bright superhero game with costumes and dodgy science and over-the-top villains.)

    And I would love, love, LOVE to play some crime / cop drama.

    1. Okay - defensiveness mollified. Thanks.

      We've just gotten really good at designing characters for / steering scenes towards angsty drama - but you're right, you don't want to have that ALL the time. I would also go for something lighter next - not slapstick or goofy, but something with drama and action/adventure, like you say.

    2. Prediction: The next step in developing our HTHD style involves exploring the edges of genres like comedy that we don't traditionally think of falling under the same aegis.

    3. I get this itch sometimes too. I wouldn't ever trade out our story games on an ongoing basis, but I do feel this pull from time-to-time. It's a different type of play, and that's sometimes fun too, you know? If you like, perhaps we could find a time to indulge ourselves?

      I also agree about comedy. We've discussed it before, but I think the idea has some real merit.

      To pick on your comment about Tribe 8 (and I'm just putting this out there, and I may be over-emphasizing your comment), if it's not speaking to you ATM, your mention of thinking to run the game does not obligate you to run the game.

    4. Perhaps the thing to do is to play a shorter, funner game as a palate cleanser before jumping into the deep end of the TRIBE 8 pool?

  3. Trying to run a diceless version of After The Bomb was perhaps my worst gaming con failure ever. And I once, as a co-GM in a pirate game, had my crew revolt for the evil pirate bug captain after being surprised that we had more crew in the basement of the boat.

  4. There is no part of Evil Pirate Bug Captain that I don't like!