This is an extension of what I wrote about yesterday. I’m taking a slightly different tack today. What I wanted to express yesterday was that goodness of fit between system and players matters. The way mechanics do things, the problem is solves for, has to meet the needs of the group and its members. What I want to discuss today is the amount of emphasis you put on the people playing your game, versus how much time you spend with your nose in a core book. I think you need to examine the rules less and the players more.
My firm belief is that tournament play has had a deleterious effect on the hobby overall. To be clear, I don’t have a problem with tournament play per se. What I take issue with is that it has led to a belief that roleplaying games must be played that way. When Gygax created Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the intent was to standardize everything so that players could all come together at conventions and be on the same page. They all had a clear idea as to how things “officially” worked, as opposed to whatever house rules had been devised in their home games.
From this came notions of “game balance”, that all player characters had to have some sort of parity with one another. The challenges they faced became standardized, with formulas for figuring out the Goldilocks spot where things weren’t too tough, or too easy, but just right. Rather than being a unique experience within a group, roleplaying became a sort of generic, replicatable experience. Individual player styles and character bits became an overlay.
Examine the Rules Less and the Players More
Game balance, in my opinion, comes from giving everyone at the table something to do. That task has to match both their ability level as a character, and their skill as a player. These challenges also need to suit the player’s interests, and their character’s personal goals. I’m not going to throw a complex diplomatic negotiation as a play that neither enjoys that type of thing, nor feels comfortable or confident at it. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever put a player outside their comfort zone, but it’s a matter of how far, and how often, I push. The objective is to make the story fun, after all.
To do this, you need to know their players. Not just listening to what they say, but watching what they do. If they profess to like certain sorts of encounters, but in reality you see them tuning out when that comes around, you know you need to tweak. When they use the same ability over and over, find excuses to let them use it while finding ways to make it a little different.
If you create settings and adventures that anyone can play, that’s great. Anyone can play. When you know your players, you’re able to create a richer roleplaying experience overall. It becomes a bespoke campaign. The players become more invested. Everyone has more fun. You don’t get that out of a rulebook.
About Dancing Lights Press
Dancing Lights Press publishes story games that embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation. Our print books are affordable, at $10 or less. The 6×9 digest format makes them convenient to carry around. The spotlight belongs on the creativity of the players as they converse and collaborate on plot, worldbuilding, and character development. Roleplaying is an activity, not a book. Our titles are merely part of the delivery system.