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Southern Exposure, or Sacking the Castle Perilous…

July 1, 2017

Idylls_of_the_King_3I’ve been reading a pair of excellent books on the art of gamemastering. If you haven’t come across them already, do yourself a favor and try them out. John Wick’s Play Dirty and Play Dirty 2 are little gems–small enough to put in your pocket and equally worthy to be treasured.

One of the many concepts covered that really resonated with me is the idea that the player characters must be exposed in order for the drama of the game to occur. This had never even occurred to me before, but the very idea opened up so many doors in my mind, shedding light on so many failed concepts and flopped campaigns that I realized the truth of it.

Wick goes on to explain how most traditional RPGs are designed to protect characters. America’s Classic Roleplaying Game™ has three different ways baked into the system to protect characters–Armor Class, Saving Throws, and Hit Points. Traditional RPG culture reinforces the idea that players are supposed to protect their characters from the harm that GMs are going to inflict upon them. It’s a fairly entrenched idea.

And it’s boring as hell.

Players go through, collecting stuff and bennies such as XP or hero points. GMs set up various “challenges” to be knocked down, but it’s just a grinding exercise. There’s no tension, no stakes. And players can actually begin to think of ways to NOT have to do stuff.

For example, I ran an urban fantasy campaign that began to grind to a halt and is now defunct. One of my players began to lose interest and the campaign just died on the vine. One of the symptoms that I began to see was that for every problem, he’d call one of his contacts to solve it. He wouldn’t do anything for himself. Eventually, the campaign just stalled.

Looking back, I now see what went wrong. I didn’t provide any incentive for him to expose himself, so he had others expose themselves for him. He had no agency, no reason to sally forth into adventure and sack Castle Perilous.

And therein lies the problem.

Exposure is where the drama happens. More importantly, exposure is where adventure happens.

If players were, instead, encouraged to expose their characters to danger, then the tension of the game automatically torques up. The excitement of the game automatically rises.

And fun ensures.

That’s why I love the newer narrative-driven systems, like Fate Core, which have mechanics that actively push players to put their characters into harm’s way, to cause their characters “trouble.” In Fate Core, your character has a “Trouble” Aspect that, when compelled by the GM, can provide the player with precious Fate Points that can be spent to the benefit of the player later down the road.

So, even if you’re playing a more “traditional” RPG, like D&D or Pathfinder, find ways to encourage your players to expose themselves (hey, not like that. Keep your pants on, buddy). Hand out extra XP. Give out Hero Points if you’re using that system (or one like it). Encourage your players to get out there and DO SOMETHING! It will enrich the game and make your table AWESOME!

 

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