Thursday, October 01, 2009

Sticking My Nose In...

Ok, I'm posting this here because I couldn't get Blogger to allow me to post a comment over there.

“Over there,” in this case, is David's great blog “Tower of the Archmage.” And he's having some trouble with getting a solo game started with his wife. As he puts it:

We both want to have fun, but our ideas of fun are light years apart... I was looking for a good naturally developed dungeon ecosystem, and maybe even a back story for the megadungeon. Virginia's priorities leaned more toward having a fun excuse to draw things like worms in sweaters, flying hamsters, and dwarven ghosts!

And that's a tough divide to bridge. You're thinking Tolkein's Middle Earth, and she's thinking Asprin's Myth Adventures.

Now, normally, I'm not a huge fan of Forge-style gaming. They've got very different goals than I do when we sit down and start rolling dice. But in this case, I think you need to take a page out of their book and work out what sort of game you want in advance. You might be able to wed the drama of High Fantasy with her fields of hungry venus flytraps and flying hamster aviaries. But it you do, it's going to take work from both of you.

As much as you can, outline what you want from the game ahead of time. Dungeon delving? Romance? Slapstick comedy? Funny accents? Ancient terrors that will rise when the stars are right? Make a list and organize in a vague way how you want these included in the game, and to what degree.

Prepare to compromise, and to stand fast where it's necessary. And then honestly adhere to this social contract. Don't try to cheat by sneaking things in around the edges. Don't suddenly spring the thing you agreed wouldn't be in the game on her about midway through the dungeon.

Then, tear the roof off D&D (or whatever game you're playing). Demolish all the boundaries you've created in your minds about what the game “must” be about. If managing a flying hamster aviary and catching rare and exotic hamsters to add to your collection is fun for you, wallow in it. If y'all are enjoying the awkward and forbidden romance between the daughter of a venus flytrap farmer and an elven rogue who always lives on the edge of oblivion, wallow in it. Obviously, you both love the fantastical, so there's some strong overlap there. Find those points of interests in the movies and shows and books you both enjoy and mine them for ideas.

Finally, allow me to scoot even further out on this limb and suggest you try reading Digger. It may give you something of a handle on how you can merge your seemingly unmergeable interests.


Rusty said...

I had the same issues with our current group--wife (no rpg experience but avid readers of crime/murder mysteries), teen daughter (twilight fan and WoW player), a friend (who thankfully had similar gaming experiences to mine), and my friend's two teen sons (some 3.5 experience and WoW). I decided to take it as an opportunity to stretch my own gaming muscles and did pretty much as you described. It has turned out to be an awesome thing and much better than any one of us could have come up with, including me.

taichara said...

Flying hamsters, you say ~?

Well damn, now I'm tempted. ;3

trollsmyth said...

TRBA: Yep, there are reasons democracy and collaboration work. Granted, I tend to be a dictator when setting up the original parameters of a new campaign, but I'm fairly flexible about what the players do inside the lines I set.

Taichara: The flying hamster aviaries appear in the post just chronologically before the one I linked to. Check out the illustrations and Ralph the Dragon. ;)

David The Archmage said...


I'm sorry it was giving you issues commenting, but even better I got a whole post about it.

I'm not familiar with forge-style gaming, but it sounds like it could be really useful for my situation.

I really appreciate the thought you put into this. Oh, and I just started reading Digger. I'm glad the art was good, because it isn't the sort of thing I'd have necessarily read normally. And you're right, that is the sort of game I think she'd enjoy more than the type of game I'd usually run.

trollsmyth said...

Dave: The Forge gave us GNS theory, games like Sorcerer and Burning Wheel, and a lot of what some people consider snobbish pretentiousness.

For myself, I find the whole thing fascinating, but a bit removed from my own gaming. It seems to have started when folks were dissappointed to learn that when White Wolf described their games as "storytelling" RPGs, that didn't mean that they used stuff like rising action, climax, and dénouement as mechanical devices for handling the flow of action. (I am, of course, horribly simplifying and speaking as not-an-expert on this topic. Others can speak more intelligently than I can on this, if you're interested.)

They then tore gaming down to its bare bones, taking nothing for granted to rebuild RPGs into more perfect storytelling engines. How well they succeeded is arguable, and I'm certainly not the best judge since storytelling is not one of my goals when I sit down to play an RPG, or, at least, not storytelling as they tend to define it.

All of which is to discuss "social contracts" as they applied them to RPGs. The social contract is, in a nutshell, all that stuff you rarely discuss but assume when you sit down to play an RPG. It includes stuff like which rules you're going to use and what setting, but also includes far vaguer issues like the relationship between the GM and players, how the players handle adding new players to the group, the mix of combat to other activities, how social interactions in the game will be handled (played out or dice rolls), themes, and other such matters. Most folks sitting down to play D&D take most of this stuff for granted, because the game carries with it a lot of assumptions that cover this territory. (And most of the angst and rivalry over editions has to do with how each edition of the game assumes different answers to these questions.)

The Forge assumption is that you can save yourself a lot of pain and frustration by laying out a lot of this stuff out at the beginning, to make sure everyone is on the same page. Usually, I think you're safer being a bit vague and a lot flexible, but in your case, I think you and Virginia might see some benefit from sitting down and working out where you're interests overlap and how you can build a fun gaming experience together.

David The Archmage said...


Ok, I'm familiar with both GNS theory and social contracts, I just didn't know about The Forge.

My wife and I are going camping this weekend, and I think we're going to give it another try. Thank you for the advice, and it really isn't sticking your nose in if I go ahead and post a public blog entry about it!!