pens in this one story. Players are prepared for that on the way in.
There may well come a time in the life of many a Games Master, when the thought occurs….“I could create a better game than this.”
Of course, I did mention that I’ve been fortunate. Myself and Fergal (my partner in crime) have been building a system over the past few years. This has been done over a series of LARPs and then RPGs at conventions. I won’t lie, there’ve been problems, but there’s also been fantastic fun times. Now, let me tell you, hosting a completely untried, untested system and world for the first time in the public eye is nerve-wracking, especially if the treatment of the system is integral to the success of the session. If you have three hours to run the scenario how many rules do you burden your players with before they lose track (and interest) with what you’re running? It’s not easy to judge. When we ran “Fog of War: The Phantom Directive” at Gaelcon last year, I certainly faced that dilemma. The concept revolved around a submarine crew working together to keep the vessel from sinking, while evading a myriad of threats. One room made the big command decisions like navigation and what systems were needed, while the other kept the necessary systems
functioning. A game of two rooms working together by passing scribbled orders on sheets of paper back and forth. Which seems simple, except it needs quite concrete rules to work. About ten minutes before the game opened a set of familiar jitters started. The fear suddenly crept in that I have created a needlessly complicated jumble of rules that would be sure to confuse the nerdiest of attendees. I started pacing the length of the room as I went over the explanations in my head, trying to find the key way of illustrating how it all worked. While I was spiraling into a state of panic I was acutely aware of players gathering just on the other side of the door. It was time to dive in regardless.
hosting a completely untried, untested system and world for the first time in the public eye is nervewracking”
About ten or twenty minutes of setting and rules explanation followed. There was some polite confusion, a few glazed expressions, but also a general sense of expectation from the players that things would all soon become clear. So, they congregated around their respective tables, which were a wondrous mess of maps, character sheets and order forms. After returning from one of my earlier trips between rooms, I
noticed something I hadn’t factored in. The players had taken it upon themselves to read the little rulebook I made for myself to reference. You know, the out of character information they weren’t supposed to get. Thanks goodness I didn’t staple the actual plot to the same document, that would have been a tad awkward. The thing is though, I’d planned for the worst, and didn’t expect the best. My players quickly gained an understanding of the rules themselves. Aside from me dispensing plot and challenges the game ran itself. The point I’m making here is that you shouldn’t underestimate your target audience. Oh yes, I’m sure we all have the stories about “that player” who, oh I don’t know, destroyed the Mcguffin, kept silent on all their key information, or simply attacked a Gazebo. You should keep in mind though, that these aren’t the majority. Most gamers you’ll meet are fairly intelligent people who’ll continue to surprise you with their wit and ingenuity. That makes games writing a rewarding experience for me. If you are designing a custom game, be it via convention, with gamers you know and trust, or a healthy combination of both, make sure they’re having fun. The game is no good if it’s just your cerebral playground. If you say it’s your way or the highway then you better believe the players will hit the highway and have fun elsewhere. The key is not just to value your players, but let them know they’re valued. If folks know your system is an imperfect work in progress and you take their advice on board, that’s great. Letting them know they helped will help them feel like they’re a part of something, and that’s wonderful to have on your side.
The Gazebo is a free, quarterly e-zine dedicated to gaming in the UK and Ireland.