I decided it would be in the best interests of this board to make a comprehensive guide on what constitutes a good RPG, what is generally involved in RPGs, and how to pick and choose qualities in the RPG you wish to make that won't cause it to fall apart from then on.
How to make a Successful RPG
Greetings reader. If you have the good sense to be reading these here words, I would be inclined to think two things. Firstly, that you, you cunning man, have excellent taste in selecting a guide of mine to read from one of the many thousands that echo throughout history and time, and secondly, that you wish to learn how to create an RP that doesn’t suck.
Well, you are in luck my dear reader, for this guide shall show you the way. We shall cover as many forms of RP as I can think of…excluding the ‘proper’ D&D sorts of things, nay, this is for more lighthearted and of-the-cuff endeavours into the world of role-playing and other such games. First thing’s first though, and there are some areas that we need to discuss before we can move on to discuss the games themselves. Namely, these would be the two features that every game needs for it to work; a GM and a player. Or players, depending.
The Games Master
The GM, or Game Moderator, is usually the dude who made the game up in the first place, is most well versed in the rules, and will be the one to move the game along, whether by narrative means, updating the campaign map, or doing a mixture of the above. As such, this guide is meant mainly for him. Or you. Now we know the plight of this sorry figure, constantly struggling against the stupidity of his players, and his own laziness to update his game.
Truly, even the best of games can be foiled if the GM is incompetent or infrequent; a game’s worth is judged by how much effort the GM puts into it, and sometimes the effort involved is immense, far too much for the GM to bear. So be warned not to bite off more than you can chew dear GM’s; you often have to end up doing more work than you first thought necessary, spoon-feeding your dopey players being one of them. We shall cover this more later on.
The other element involved in these games are the players. Ideally, every player would fully grasp the rules of the game, update promptly and eloquently, and treat the other players with a fun sense of both rivalry and friendship.
We GM’s know better though, don’t we?
To be frank, it can generally be assumed that the average player base, though perhaps quite capable of dressing themselves when they get up in the morning, are a bunch of babbling, gormless idiots who can no sooner understand English as understand the (to our minds) painstakingly easy rules of the game we have lovingly created. They often cry and bawl when something seems unfair to them, and often our patience is strained to its very limits as we try to moddy-coddle them and assure them they are the brightest, pwettiest players at the ball, despite their glaring character flaws that render them completely unlikeable.
What we GM’s must realise, however, is that we aren’t much better than these clods. Indeed, they aren’t half-witted at all (half the time, anyway), and their frustrations can often be attributed to the GM for running his game poorly, even if he doesn’t think he is doing so. So take heed GM’s, players often have a right to gripe, even if they do so while drooling all over their bibs.
To help deal with the wide player base, however, there seem to be certain types of players that come and go, and I feel it is important to point these out, so that when you seem them sign up you know how best to cater to them in your game.
He NEVER. STOPS. QUESTIONING. “What does this do?” “Can I do (insert action here)?” “Do I have enough (insert object of the sentence here)?” It’s really enough to drive any GM insane. On the plus side, though he is often forgetful, ‘special’, some might say, he is also quite loyal and enthusiastic about the game (or else he wouldn’t be asking so many questions, would he?). Thus it can be assumed that he will happily twoddle along and not abandon your efforts as long as you keep on clarifying his actions and continue to update.
Pros: Loyal, not-too-terrible player who can be counted on to play the game to the best of their (somewhat impaired) ability with enthusiasm.
Cons: SO. MANY. QUESTIONS. May not be suited to more complicated games. Especially LONG complicated games.
The Lord of the Games
This is not a game to the LotG. This is life. His kingdom really IS being invaded, and he will stop at nothing to killinate his opponents, using every trick in the book to outmanoeuvre and crush them. This would not be so bad, if he actually remembered that he was supposed to have fun at some point whilst doing this, and he did it in character. As it stands however, he metagames, forging seekrit alliances with other members, whining to the GM often, all whilst trying to grab anything he can as he walks all over the other players, whom he looks at in scorn for not taking it seriously. Though these make loyal players…they aren’t particularly desirable, and their gripey PM’s to the GM’s and general attitude make them foul pariahs to the other players in the gang.
Pros: Loyal. Don’t need the rules explaining to them…that often.
Cons: Need to lighten up some. Feel a deep-seated need to win at the sake of everyone else’s enjoyment, including their own. Are called Qui-Gon.
The Despairer, as his name suggest, often despairs. If he’s doing badly, he’ll bemoan his fate, and if he’s doing well, he’s somehow able to both gloat and bemoan the fact he isn’t as powerful as he thinks he should be. He is often a capable player, which is good, but no doubt something that happened in his childhood has caused him to mope around and bemoan his fate rather than do something about it…probably some deep-seated need to be liked. Generally speaking, however, this is one of the more desirable players to have in your midst, as long as you can put up with some griping.
Pros: A competent player, who doesn’t often abandon the game.
Cons: Winge winge winge. Needs to be loved.
Phantom of the game, Ghost Player drifts in and out of the action. Sometimes he’s there, sometimes he isn’t. He can’t be relied upon to do his part regularly, for whatever reason, and this can often cause a game to slow down if the GM is too forgiving or the Ghost Player has been foolishly given a role of great importance. They don’t complain as much as the other players, but one thinks this is just because they aren’t around to complain. Perhaps they could be forgiven their constant absences and late arrivals were they spectacular players, but unfortunately the ghost player’s level of RPing skill is often as random as his appearances. These do not make for particularly desirable players.
Pros: Don’t complain so much. Can be pretty good players.
Cons: They aren’t there to be pretty good players.
Mavericks are, in many ways, the ideal player. They understand the rules well, they write very eloquent and in-depth updates, are resourceful, and have a good sense of fun in the game. Even when they do complain, it is often quite warranted, and unlike others, they may offer suggestions as to how to remedy the situation rather than just sit there and sulk. However, their attention span is much smaller than the average player, and if the game ceases to interest them (which is a somewhat common occurrence), they will simply disappear from the face of the earth. This is quite disastrous in most campaigns, as often, when the others have seen this stellar example pack his bags and move along, others tend to put less effort into their posts than they used to. So Mavericks tend to make you, you poor GM, work pretty hard in order to live up to expectations.
Pros: The pinnacle of playing. Fun loving and grasping the rules to a good extent.
Cons: Somewhat high maintenance.
There are many other player types, but most tend to share the above characteristics, so we’ll move on.
Now, the very key to making a good RP, the very meaning of a good RP, I would say, is to have a game after which the players all agree it was great fun, and they’d certainly like more of the same sooner, rather than later. This is the pinnacle of a GM’s aspirations, and there are a few things that you can do even before deciding on the game that can get you halfway there.
1 – Be Patient
Your players will undoubtedly shower you with questions. Don’t tear their heads off and dance in a fountain of their blood. You need those players alive to play the game, after all. Instead, try some patience with them and calmly and carefully explain the bits that need clarifying. If you find that, through this, something doesn’t make sense, make a makeshift ruling then and there before going back to make the rule more clear in it’s intent.
2 – Be firm
Though you have an obligation to your players, if one of them is being a bit of a git and is not playing in the spirit of the game, upsetting the others or just pissing you off, then feel free to unleash your wrath upon him. There are many suggested ways of doing this, but I prefer to give players a warning before dealing with them, where they shall most likely find themselves severely hampered, or out of the game. This leads me on to the next point…
3 – Keep your Word
The rule I find to be the most important. If you said that you were going to update on Monday, update on Monday. Not Tuesday, or Wednesday, MONDAY. Nothing shows that the game is going downhill faster than an avalanche on speed than when a game is consistently late to update. The players get frustrated, and the GM no doubt sees it as a chore, wherapon it’s dropped very soon. Also, when dealing with players, when you say you’ll do something, do it, don’t keep on holding back. Do, however, give them ample warning before you do it. Players don’t take kindly to rogue lightning bolts from the blue, so be sure that they know they brought it upon themselves for being such silly-billies.
There are many different types of game, depending on your likes or needs. For now, we’re going to assume this is a one-off game, and not part of a campaign, which we discuss later. All games can be broadly referenced as either narrative based or rules based, or borrow a little from each other, so let’s take a look at them separately to judge their merits.
Narrative driven games are all about the story, and thus are perhaps the only games that should be called role-playing games. Aside from a few rules at the start, or a few objectives, the GM lets the players virtually run rampant, assessing progress either on the quality of the players writing, or his own mad whims.
Narrative games can be very fun, provided that the GM takes care to actually put in a good narrative, and the people involved at halfway decent writers. Compared to rule-based games, there are few restrictions on what can and cannot be done, but therin also lies the danger of such games, because it is very easy for the players to start deciding things under the opinion that they can, such as whether their attacks hit or not, or saying things in their own blurb for other characters.
So GM’s must be quite attentive in these sorts of games, to make sure none of this god-modding goes on. I find that it is best to make an example of what is and isn’t god-modding at the start of the game, so the players know where the boundary is and know not to cross it. I say this should be set up fo every game, because every narrative game may have different ideas over what is acceptable. For instance, non-serious narratives such as the Red Dragon Wars could afford to be a bit more lax than other narrative games.
The GM must also take care not to do anything too drastic ‘for the sake of the story’. The story must be flexible to some degree, and open to change as the players change, so to speak. Perhaps you did want to kill a character off at some point, but if the person has written exceptionally well, and gives a good enough explanation of how they’re going to get out of their predicament, then occasionally let them do so. It’ll give a sense that what the players write actually means something, and deepen the experience.
Narrative games also require less effort to run than rules-based games, as there are no boxes to check or stats to run during the update. This isn’t to say they can’t get complicated, but generally the GM is dealing with a solid number of people, and can move things along a path he already thought out, as opposed to dealing with ever increasing numbers.
It can, however, be hard to keep a narrative game’s momentum up on the player-side of things if it stalls. People cannot replace other people’s characters, and if they leave then it can be very hard to carry on, or to restart a dormant game…unless you have already pondered upon this and thought of clever countermeasures. Such as not giving a crap how good the game is, and just flogging it until the bones show. Like Valios.
Indeed, perhaps the most notable narrative game on the boards right now is Valios. Sure, it has a map reminiscent of rules-based games, but the GM decides what is going to do not only based on his own narrative but those of the players. Due to it’s setting in a city, and the GM’s stubborn refusal to let it die (As he well knows it should), it has limped onwards for over a year as new people come and go as is their wont. We shall discuss such recruitment practices later.
These games usually require a GM to steer their course and their purpose, so if you wish o make one, it is suggested that you already have a perfectly good and complete story you wish to tell, or a completed scenario you wish to run, before you attempt to drum up support for such a game.
Pros: Relatively easy to run, can involve multiple people without breaking the GM’s mind, more lexical freedom for the players, the game seems more fleshed out than rules based games, even if there is actually less in it.
Cons: No clear line between playing and god-modding, players lack ‘true’ freedom as they follow the path the GM wants, very easy to be lazy rather than good, its success solely depends on the quality of the player’s writing (even if the story is great) which may be very poor indeed.
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