Monday, April 11, 2011

Playing God, For a Change

I've spent the weekend completely preoccupied with coming up with a structured plot. From my perspective, being an ST (you can call it Storyteller, Game Master or Dungeon Master even; it all amounts to the same) is much like being a gamedev. Only, instead of having to code and build a somewhat static environment you're free to to just type a few things up and unleash your world on your target audience. It will be them that shape where the game heads or, at least, how it gets where I want it to. Plus you don't have to be at the office on time. But you also don't get paid. Maybe it's not like it at all. Hmm.

Oppositely from a dev though, an ST must constantly adapt and change the world as things progress. MMOs today might launch a new patch or an update or even an expansion somewhat regularly (or, if they're really short-sighted, they do nothing forgetting that to stagnate is to die).

My point being, maybe that void that needs to be filled in my gaming needs will never be filled by videogame entertainment. Unless, of course, they assign a different developer to each player, to shape the world as they make decisions and push against what has been established so far. So maybe I should stop hoping for revolutionary games and turn my attention elsewhere.

That said, I've been playing tabletop RPGs for some ten years but there are still things I haven't seen done or tried or explored. I've had a blast with every chronicle but I decided it was time to try and make one of my own to expose me and others to different views, approaches and even creatures. Let's just hope this endeavour doesn't die on the shore.

If you've never had the pleasure of trying this kind of game let me throw you a few notions. Forget about nerdy fat guys playing in their parents basement. Today's roleplayers have lifes, jobs and kids. Just like other gamers. They gather around a table with sheets representing their characters instead of a controller and a screen and make decisions based on what the Overlord (yeah, I like that term better) tells them. The Overlord plays God as in he/she controls the environment and NPCs. Players speak out their actions instead of pushing buttons. There are rules, of course, and they depend on what particular system you've chosen to play. We stick to White Wolf's old World of Darkness d10 system. It's more pickup&play than a d20 system, imho.

oWoD has a lot to explore. It's set in the modern world (take that with a grain of salt. Most of the books were written circa 1995) which makes the setting more familiar to most people than medieval dragon slaying. This does not by all means restringe gameplay to the modern era. No, they've provided settings and rules spanning from the Dark Ages to today. You can choose from playing a vampire, a werewolf, a mage, a scientific disbeliever, a demon, a ghost, a faerie, a hunter or just a mere mortal in the middle of all these interesting and cuddly creatures.

This has made for some interesting stories over the ages. Some I've experienced. Some I can't even remember but I'm told happened and I'm inclined to believe them. Like that one time when a couple of Victorian Age mages sat down with a boy who was the reencarnation of some poweful spirit or other to enjoy one of those new fangled "ice-cream" things. Commence a 30 minute debate about who's paying the bill. Exit scene with two mages and an ice-cream splattered child running for dear life. Sometimes players decide to abandon the plot completely and go "look for the Plague". And when that fails they decide to "invent the Plague". Others go meet important figures and "accidentaly kill them". Anything can and usually does happen when you present players with the ultimate sandbox.

Adorable. Just wanna get a kleenex and wipe the edges of his mouth
saying "there now, all better."
More than with any videogame character, players tend to get extremely involved with characters they get to create and incarnate. I've had a few, myself. From the crazy cab driver vampire to the finnish green-eyed black guy called Hill. Once I was a small vampire woman with delusions of grandeur who ended up becoming ruler of a city and demanded a throne made entirely of phonebooks. Another time I played a Nosferatu based on the Mouth of Sauron called Sirius Mann. He was actually quite friendly. During the Dark Ages I was a vampire bred from a line of soldiers who was aptly called Curtis E. Foot. Curtis went on to carry a big two-handed sword and repel guards as other party members went off with relics from roman catholic churches. In Rome.

I guess you had to be there.


  1. The big game entertainment industry might not satiate your desires for "sandboxiness" or true player crafted immersion, because it's simply not accessible enough (or so they say), but there is someone who will. The indie developer community. There are tons of indie games out there, who might not be very shiny, accessible or necessarily good, but most of the time offer a hell of a lot more than your average games (indie stuff like Minecraft). I suggest following IndieGames blog for regular info on indies, if you aren't already that is.

    I also wanted to link you to some stuff to show you that it's not impossible to make a good game in the absence of lots of programming and work (outside of storytelling). Graphics aren't a requirement, pen & paper aren't the only venues where storytelling thrives. :)

    That blog itself is quite awesome and you might find it interesting.