Let’s do a bit of consideration of your game team…Some of the ideas that I cover here I will probably cover in greater detail at another time, but this has been on my mind as of late. The “Game Team” I am referring to is not, necessarily, the archetypal characters that populate your character slots, but the players of your game, and you must remember that as a game ref, you are part of that team. I’ve said earlier that without a ref, the game doesn’t happen. Well, that’s also true of players. I know there are RPGs out there that dispense with the ref in a free-form style, and some of those are really good, but this is a blog for ref’s, so I am ignoring those for right now.
In a later post I will discuss the types of players and why it is important, but here, I am going to make some, fairly obvious, observations on the gross mechanics of how a group works and things you can use or avoid. These will include the size of your group, the need (or lack thereof) for blue-booking, and encouraging feedback.
Let me start with the size of your gaming group. As you are probably aware, I prefer smaller groups and have played primarily (hours of game-wise) with My Lady Wife as the only Player. I will do a whole post on single player games, so I just want to sketch out some observations. With Smaller groups, simply because players get more relative “Stage-Time,” you can play much more character driven games, or even into the Epic game. And because there is less wait-time between player “turns,” you can be much more rigid about the rules and all of the subtle nuances that the designer has built-in to reflect more unique situations. As the group gets larger, the time between “turns” becomes greater, so the faster you can get through each characters action, the sooner each person has their next action. Also, some games are designed and balanced for parties of more characters so the system itself can help support or hinder, your number of players. How bout some ‘fer instances?”
OK. If your players are involved in a grand battle between their characters and a small hoard of ravening trall, how could the combat go? Well one character could sing their battle hymn, design an attack strategy that the rules support, begin their stealth maneuver,then attempt the ambush, then perform the attack. Even if the rule system is quite abstract, the player and/or ref could embellish on what the 6 HP of damage were. Or they could run up behind one and back stab it, next player. While the first may be taken advantage of rules provided or just being very verbose as to their actions, it would often take a while between their description, the implementation, and perhaps the rules reference required, it is long and cumbersome when laid against the much more abstract: OK roll D20, stealth check good, roll the back stab…Is one better than the other? Depends on your gamers…but if you have 3 players and each of them are verbose, the difference between that and 6 or 8 players…well…It could take 30 minutes to just get every players action done! That is a lot of downtime between player actions! So, group size can affect play style.
What about player experience? That makes a lot of difference. If you have players who are completely new, then a lot of concepts and rule implementations will need to be explained. Again, really new players work great for simple rule systems, or just abstracting the rules. Much more experienced players may want very in-depth stories and even backgrounds…so this can not only affect play style, but design style. This can also lead to blue-booking questions…Do your players understand the difference between player and character knowledge? Do they demonstrate it? Is it a big deal to you as ref? Sometimes, particularly in hell games, you might rely on players using player knowledge to get the game going. And of course, many games are started with the mystical Player radar…where the characters join up with otherwise complete strangers because the both reached for the last bottle of bay rum after their shave!
If your characters are all experienced, and all play they same voice (narrative or character) and the are really good about separating player and character knowledge, then you still have to look at what they want from your game…why are they at your table. Sometimes, its buffet food….just feed me all I can eat! Don’t care if it is really palatable, sometimes it is for distinct and nuanced environment and character interaction…yup! Another problem. Given all of these issues, how can you, as a ref, ever hope to “Give Good Game?” Well…
TALK! It is that simple. Make sure you talk with your players, make sure they talk to you…make sure they talk to each other! Sometimes it will be a matter of all but one player getting what they want. In that case, can you plan on a later game focused on that players desire that the other players can enjoy, even if it is not what they want? It is a big compromise, just like life. To use one of my outrageous examples: As a ref, you have created a space roman empire game full of weird planets, detailed politics, volatile NPCS, and a 30 game story arc…but if your players are in the mood for dungeon crawl hack n’slash…probably everybody will be disappointed. I am not going to teach you to be diplomats, but…you scratch their back, while they are scratching each others…and overall everybody has a good time!
Until the next one…