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What The Hell Do You Think You Are Doing?

By Brett Matthews

In which the author explains that to run a good game, it really helps to ask yourself that ultimate question.

If you intend to stick with this hobby you are going to have to think of a good answer to that question. Parents ask it, partners ask it and pals ask it. OK so the word "pals" reeks, but it fitted into the three "p" thing I had going there.

Brett has encountered a fair bit of prejudice in his gaming years, as last issue's retrospective revealed.

If we lived in a perfect world, one without random encounters, traps or lairs we wouldn't be challenged about why we chose to roleplay. We don't live in a perfect world however, (and many of us have written better one's to prove it), we live in a world of people who apparently know how we should be spending our time.

For some reason, people think it is much more acceptable to say, watch television than to interact with people over a table. How television counts as socialising, I don't know. Don't get me wrong, there are some good shows on TV, but it isn't exactly a group activity. Researchers have measured the brain waves of people watching television and found that they are remarkably similar to the brain waves of people who are sleeping.

Ultimately, though, the gaming group has to answer not just to pestering parents and partners, but to itself, and decide just what the hell they are doing if their games are to work.

I use RPG's as a theme around which to socialise. Perhaps like a defacto dinner party. However, unlike most dinner parties, there are ready-made topics of conversation, table manners are optional and it's OK to pretend you're something that you're not. That's what the hell I'm doing anyway. I know it's only one aspect of RPG's, but there is no need to recount the others here; Gary and Andrew have dwelt on them enough.

It's always said that the good times you have are more to do with the people you are with, than what you are actually doing. This is certainly true for roleplaying. The group has to be one that can interact well together and have fun together regardless. Of course you also have to be doing something you all enjoy.

A dysfunctional group will not be united by a great campaign or great game mechanics. The group must get something out of interacting with each other or nothing will work. This is not to say that any half-assed campaign will keep a cohesive group entertained either. This is no excuse to run a crap campaign.

Last issue also featured a very helpful article called "Run Like a Man", detailing steps GMs need to take to ensure that their group remains functional.

So what is a functional gaming group? In my mind, the group needs to have some agreement about what they are doing, and some understanding of what is acceptable in the group. This may well develop over time. Usually you can't start your first game by asking people why they are there. At least, not if you want a useful answer, you can't. But at some stage you may have to address this question directly. If this understanding doesn't develop on its own you will have to address this question directly. If your gaming group isn't working as well as it once was, bring it up!

The key thing you will need to address is what aspect of the game is considered the most important by the group - the thrill of the fight, getting into character, or the intricacies of the plot? If the game is going to work you all need to agree on this. It's no good if one player wants to do ad hoc pirate impressions (and here I am referring to the tendencies of our esteemed editor) while the rest of the team are trying to sneak into a prison and release their mates. (It's all true. Ed.)

Gaming groups change (as far as I'm concerned I'm been in the same group for the last 15 years, only the players have changed) and so these things need to be constantly negotiated. This doesn't necessarily mean stopping for an hour and saying "let's all get into character more and try to resolve our character's feelings towards the others"; it may just mean telling Steve to cut down on the "Arrrr, me hearties".

So if people aren't enjoying each others company, forget it. It doesn't mean they have to be friends beforehand: like most hobbies it's not a bad way to meet people (although not the best way to meet girls). I guess the important thing is be careful about the aspects of the game which impact on group harmony, and if something's not working, address it quickly and directly.

Oh...and finally, if people try to tell you what you should be doing instead, tell them to go and live their own damn lives.


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