Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On being GM and knowing when to screw the rules

I was quite tempted to let post 16 for the Daily Blog Challenge slip by today. It's been a long one...I spent the morning reviewing library digitization grant proposals in Harrisburg, PA. We finished early, which was nice. All three of us were mostly on the same page about the proposals, so it went pretty quickly. Unfortunately, I still had a 4-hour drive in front of me...and it was raining...hard...nonstop...for all 4 hours. PA turnpike + shitty rainstorms + low visibility + big scary semi-trucks = NO FUN!!!

Fortunately there was fun to be had when I got back to the 'burgh. Our bi-weekly Call of Cthulhu game was scheduled, and because I got out of Harrisburg early, I was actually going to be there on time. Bonus points. I've mentioned it here before, but in case you were out of the loop on the whole Gutter Cult scene, we're playing through Masks of Nyarlathotep. My buddy Allen is acting as Keeper. The investigators are being run by his wife, Jen, Mark ( the DM from our Ravenloft game), and Dave, who plays in almost every other gaming I'm playing right now. Tonight's game was fun, but I was exhausted from the trip, Jen was kind of sick and I think Dave and Mark both had long days at work. Weeknight gaming can definitely be a challenge, but I think we did pretty good, at least for the first few hours. Then the fatigue started to set in...

Anyway, it took me a while, but I finally figured out what I'm trying to say here. Allen runs the game very rules-lite. None of the players have a ton of experience with the system, so we just kind of wing-it and it's been great. Certain nights it's been more of a storytelling and puzzle solving exercise than anything else. We've lost characters to mortal injury and sanity loss. We've solved a few scenarios and totally botched others. I'm fairly certain that we're not going to save the world. We're going to screw it up somehow and Nyarlathotep is going to show up and wreck shit. There are big swaths of rules we just skip over. We advance our skills every few games when Allen gives us points. We lose sanity and take damage when it makes sense, often without ever even rolling the dice. The whole thing is fast and smooth and it works. Because there is a lot of trust between the players and the Keeper, we've been able to ignore a lot of the fiddly bits. We know he is out to get us, too, because we know there are only losers when you are dealing with Elder Gods and Old Ones. That's why we signed up for this game, dammit. Everyone at the table is having fun while we're telling the story of these investigators. We know we're going to go insane and we're going to die and the world is going to get destroyed and we're having a blast while it all goes to hell!

As a person who is sometimes a bit over concerned about "the correct and incorrect" way of doing something, it took a bit of getting used to, but eventually everything clicked. I don't know if I'd run CoC, that way, but that is what makes it interesting to play with different GMs. You experience different ways of playing. I guess this post is kind of meandering, but I hope I made some kind of point. It just boils down to playing however you want to play. Rules exist for good reason, but they are also meant to be broken, ignored, rewritten, undermined, overthrown, and re-interpreted. Role-playing games should be organic, evolving to fit the needs and interests of those playing. The act of gaming should be the experience, and that can be independent of what's actually printed in any of the rule books.

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