Since I’ve got back into the RPG hobby (a little over two years ago), I’ve found that the game has changed considerably since my AD&D days in the mid 80s. For a start the number of game systems has exploded (even though a significant number of them appear to be very close derivatives – and I chose the word advisedly – of my starting system). And then the internet. Whoa is there the internet!
A lot of thought has been put into the way people game over the last 30ish years. There are books on gamesmastering, there are forums (fora?) by the bucket-load and more blogs to read than a normal person could keep up with if they were reading 24/7.
I find such pontification extremely annoying for two reasons. The first is that it ignores the higher question of “why we game?”. Surely for 99% of us the ultimate goal is to have fun, to be part of a rewarding pastime, have a bit of escapism, use a bit of strategy, embark on a flight of fantasy. Secondly, it ignores the very simple fact that there are as many optimal ways to have fun as there are people. For some people, it’s all about min-maxing their characters, and whilst this is an equally valid position to my own, this is definitely not for me. For others it’s about creating a story together, for others still it’s about entering into a fantasy that someone else has created. There is no one single “right way” to play the game, or even to GM the game. The sandboxers tend to look down on the railroaders. The storytellers on the meta-gamers. What it comes down to at the end of the day is “what is fun for your particular group of individual players?”Common themes and buzzwords include things like “sandbox”, “story-driven”, “rail-roading”, “meta-gaming”, “roll/role-playing”, “collaborative play”, simply mentioning those which spring immediately to mind. There then follows a discussion regarding why this that or the other is the “right way to play”, writing off other approaches as inferior.
This is not a question that the game theorists can answer for anyone except for their own group without doing great disservice to the differentness of individuals – we don’t all fit in the same box. This doesn’t mean that we can’t share tips and ideas – the more the merrier. If I wasn’t interested in being a ‘better’ GM (whatever that means) I wouldn’t buy any of these texts or read those blogs. But your way is not the only way. It is not even the best way. It is simply (hopefully) the best way for your group to have fun together.
I’m very fortunate in that I have a regular group of players with whom I am very close – so close that I’m either married to- or father of- 50% of my players. I know them all personally, know how they tick and what constitutes fun for them and (just as importantly), what constitutes fun for me. I write about 75% of our adventures and tailor the other 25% heavily to fit the campaign and setting that we play with. I imagine most GMs are similar in this (though maybe I’m wrong) as it gives us the greatest degree of flexibility in enabling our players to have fun. Nevertheless, I’m still changing the way I GM subtly but steadily towards what hopefully maximises the fun for our group. I suspect it’s a process that doesn’t have a clear endpoint; my kids are still well and truly in the growing-up part of life (which doesn’t detract at all from the other players being adults) and what makes them tick will surely change over time. And what makes the group tick will also change over time as familiarity with the rules and strategies of the games system(s) we use increases.
So before we ask ourselves too many secondary questions about what our game style should be, as if there was a one-size-fits-all answer to that question, let’s ask ourselves who the individuals in our groups are, and what constitutes fun for them, then we can go about trying to work out how to get there.