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IKRPG: Get Yer Game On

So, you want to run an RPG, eh?  Well, you’ll need some things, first of which would be players.

That last one is a bit tricky.  Player schedules are, as we know, the death knell of all RPG groups ever, everywhere.  The Star Wars group is currently on the frazzle as one player gets promoted at work, one player has two weeks’ teaching to do next month, two players and the GM have to clean up their house for a parental visit and one player is everyone’s taxi service on account of his having a car and time on his hands.  You know how it is.  Things always seem to go down this way and it tends to be after four to six sessions, for some reason.

The other great poles that exist in arranging and running a game, between which the act of actually playing a game exists, beside commitment and availability, are inspiration and motivation.  Sometimes people are just not up for it.  Come game night, if two of us have had a shocking day at work and one is plagued by the Black Dog and just wants to hide in the kitchen and make food at a prodigious rate, and another of us has some EXTREMELY GOOD NEWS that just has to be shared with the world, it’s unlikely that any satisfactory play will be available.  And sometimes the GM is just stuck for ideas and the players can’t be arsed thinking their way through a situation and everything goes to hell in a handbasket.

As is my way, I look a situation like this and, instead of changing the four poles betwixt which it exists, wonder if we can’t just change the situation.  Why does it have to be “we find one regular time slot in which seven people can all fit into a room” at all?  We have exciting lives (shut up, we do!) and we live in the twenty-first century, when all sorts of things can be arranged on the flash and on the fly.

from the d&d 3.5 rulebook

That’s why, as I gear up to finally running that Iron Kingdoms game I’ve been planning since forever ago (here defined as ‘four years ago when I first bought the books), I’m not marrying myself to the idea of the regular slot.  I don’t like running for six people anyway.   Instead, I plan on announcing “I want to run a session on this day at this time, who’s free?” to the Facebook group we’ve set up.  All sessions will take place in a sandbox that can gradually be explored and negotiated by any combination of players available at the same time as me, one encounter at a time (or, if people turn out to be available for short bursts of regular sessions, maybe one extended excursion with a more developed plot at a time).  Think more “series of short stories” rather than “serialised novel” and you’ll get it.

That’s the scheduling conflict hopefully sorted out, and I have my setting chosen already, this being an “I have an idea, who wants in?” kind of game rather than a “hey, let’s get our game on, what do people want me to run?” game.  I like the latter too, but that ain’t what I’m about this time.  The next real choice I have to make regards the system, and this is where I turn to some sage advice.

See, I have my preferences, but they are not as rigid as they used to be, and since trying D&D out for the first proper time I’m willing to give it the time of day.  I prefer stripped-down-make-it-up-as-you-go-along-retroclone-D&D to build-optimisation-unique-snowflake-there’s-a-skill-for-that-D&D, but I figure we’ve enough rules experience around the table to compensate for my shying at complexity, and there’s a certain charm in asking a player to look up the rules for magical parasites or whirlwind attacks once they’ve committed to a course of action.  I’m willing to leave this call up to the players, operating as I do on the principle that “what do you want out of this?” is the most important question a GM can ever ask a player, especially in pre-play where expectations are set and ground rules established.  It’ll be restricted to systems I either own or can borrow off them, but that’s still a pretty broad set of options.

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4 responses

  1. tzeentchling

    I would think the main issue with something like this model would be the disparity in power level between the characters. If one player shows up to more sessions, their character will level up quicker, making challenges for the whole party trickier to balance, and possibly engendering jealousy in the other players (“but his character can do these cool things, why can’t mine?” PCs are never reasonable people). Admittedly, from what little I’ve played of it, leveling up doesn’t do too much to power levels in IKRPG, but it could still be an issue.

    Tuesday 14th June, 2011 at 5:06 PM

    • Von

      It is a concern, yes, and I’ve been on the receiving end of it several times. I’m hoping my players are reasonable enough to cope with it and, depending on the system we end up using, I may be able to address it through character building. I can’t quite put the process into concise words, but it involves steering people toward characters with effective level modifiers if they’re not going to be around too often, ensuring that their character is still doing their bit even if they’re level 1 and everyone else is level 3, because they get more awesomeness built in at level 1, as it were.

      Tuesday 14th June, 2011 at 6:04 PM

  2. James S

    The level disparity thing may not be as much of a problem as it might seem. I’ve DM’d and played in campaigns with disappearing/reappearing players and visitors (like most people I guess) and I’ve done it successfully two ways:

    Ignoring the imbalance: Yeah, you end up with two 7th levels, a 5th level and a 1st level, but so what? The higher level PCs protect their inexperienced friends, and the low-level PCs have to be smarter to survive. They quickly catch up in a session or two. Just like real life, or a realistic fantasy novel. I favour this method. It means the DM has to think a little more about encounter balance, but it’s not too hard. It gives good opportunities for minion-and-boss encounters.

    Auto-leveling: Everyone is the same level, always. If you missed three sessions and everyone else went up two levels, you go up two levels before the game and briefly tell the group about the adventures you had.

    Both of these methods require a bit of maturity on behalf of the players though. In both cases you need players who care more about the story and the character development than “fairness.” Players concerned with achievement and power will be unhappy if others are more powerful than them. In the case of auto-leveling, some players may be annoyed that they commit and show up every week and then their friend gets auto-leveled up.

    Both of these problems seemed to occur more often when I played in high school than with grown ups though. If you’re an adult making time to play RPGs at all, then you probably love the story-telling aspect more than racking up power. I think video game RPGs do that better anyway these days.

    Thursday 16th June, 2011 at 12:20 AM

    • Von

      I quite like the idea put forward in Swords and Wizardry (and, presumably, the original D&D) of having the cast’s experience points pooled into a collective pool. I don’t think any of the group I’ll be running for are particularly fussed about freeloading (given our creative approach to the lunch rota) so that might work out all right. Personally I’d like to simply ignore it and have differently powered characters but that seems more likely to cause some argy-bargy.

      Thursday 16th June, 2011 at 11:12 AM

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