Friday, January 25, 2013

Finished The Have-Not Game

Street Fight (Fast Company Chapter) by Jin Kim
Clocking in at over two years that game may be the longest we've every played a single game continuously (it is not the most hours played--that would have to go to some of the games in high school). It ended last week in a blaze of satisfaction.

What is going on now?

The Innate Powers book is almost completely proofed. That puts us about 40% of the book proofed (and slow going). As I spent my budget on art I'm having a family member proof it--and it isn't fast--but it is necessary.

I'd like to reflect a bit on the Have-Not game we played. Our characters went from level 1 to level 14 over the course of something like 100 play sessions. The game was designed to test the ability of JAGS to scale and it worked well. It also tested the treasure system and strained and broke the Java character workbench.

It was--let me note--a HUGE SUCCESS.

It's hard to overstate my satisfaction.

My question is: how do we replicate that? I'm not saying I would want 2 year games all the time--or leveling games all the time or anything like that--but assuming I did ... how would I do it?

Leveling As a Pacing System
Leveling creates a mechanical "Character Arc" where you go from nobodies to bad-asses to legendary if the game lasts long enough. I think that's what most people see in the system (certainly what I did). But it has another effect as well: it sets a pace for the game by having recognizable milestones along each set of playsessions that tell you that you have passed a tollgate.

This mechanics-based-goal system is, I think, beneficial in keeping the energy of the game up.

Dungeons As An Organizing Principal
Spy games have missions. Space-Trader games have deals or runs. Super hero games have "issues" (story-lines). Adventure games have dungeons. I think there may be something that Dungeons and Dragons hit dead on (possibly by accident--but what do I know) about the genius purity of the dungeon.

With a dungeon (and I am using the term in a fairly broad AD&D* sense) everyone knows what they're doing. Motivation is clear (treasure! exploration! experience points!) and plot is out the window: dungeons don't have to make a lot of sense.

I think there is something evergreen about dungeons that makes for longer-term games.

It's Less About Characters Than The Group
If you'd asked me out of the blue (especially, say, 10 years ago) what made for a long-running game I'd have considered saying "great characters!" By that, I mean: characters that the players are really into--that really have something cool or meaty about them. I'm not so sure that's true anymore. It's not that the PCs don't matter, exactly, but rather my experience is that:

  1. A lot of key character concept gets developed during play. My guy (Talon) for this 2 year game was nothing special when we started. I had a kind if idea of a young Roland Deshane (from the Gunslinger series) but little more. In the end he wasn't a lot like that. Every trait that he had that I could really point to was something that came out during the course of the game sort of organically.
  2. Big chunks of what was interesting about our group were the dynamic between the characters--my character deferring the actual heroism to another guy (the sword guy). Our battle-monk being a low-key support character who would sometimes make big plays. The mutant girl sometimes being earnest comic relief ... These were all things that worked between us rather than being internal to any one character or player.
  3. The GM is big on self-motivation but until approximately half way through the game none of us really had any motives outside of treasure! exploration! and experience points! By the time we got to the city we had more ideas on what to do but it was still grounded in the big three: we were adventurers. That isn't deep--but man, it worked.

I'm not sure we'll ever see a game like the Have-Not game again. There's no reason to think we will: we've been gaming like this for about 4-5 years and have only seen one. For the 30+ years prior games were face-to-face and had either larger or smaller groups (our play group is now remarkably stable). If we do see another 2+ year game, though, I suspect it'll have the hallmarks of the above.

* Every time I get to sign up for my company's Accidental Death & Dismemberment insurance I think "Yeah, both reads of the acronym pretty well fit ..."

No comments:

Post a Comment