And now time for something completely different . . .

by | Jul 24, 2015 | Notes From the Dungeon Master

Let me start by saying I’ve noticed a trend to speak more to #GMproblems in our posts. I’ll try to maintain some balance though because let’s face it, by default, there are probably more players than GMs out there. Free entrepreneurial opportunity, make a game with one player and 4-5 GMs. You’re welcome. Anyway, back to my point, something that I truly think benefits everyone is trying new systems. And it’s the theme of the month. What a coincidence.


Chances are if you GM a long running campaign, you’ve made the suggestion to play something else occasionally. HERETIC!!! You may have been called as much or worse. Or maybe you just get a lukewarm, “Yeah, sounds cool. We should do that sometime.” Then no one ever mentions it again. Well, let me sell it for you.


Yes, you have to sell your group on this most of the time. They are immersed in what you hope is an engaging, entertaining, and fascinating world that you have created. On top of that, they are probably playing one character that they have invested hours creating, honing, and shaping into the kind of hero (or villain) that they always wanted to be when watching Saturday morning cartoons. It’s personal. Hell, it’s also science at this point. World of Warcraft made and still makes fistfuls of money because people want to level up, get hot loots, and be generally badass. So, you’re working against more than just inertia or laziness. You’re asking them to start over and invest in a completely different world and miss out on the chance to keep progressing their favorite character. And let’s face it, the current character we play is almost always our favorite.


Well, I just made the argument against myself, just keep playing what you are playing, right? WRONG! Playing another game occasionally can really improve your ongoing campaign and make everyone more creative. GMs often start games as a labor of love so they can game even if they aren’t playing. Eventually, it feels more like hard labor in a work camp trying to find ways to keep players engaged and challenged after the 17th dragon burned down the local village. Playing a new game can be really refreshing for a GM. They don’t have to worry about the hundred recurring characters and interwoven plots. It’s a fresh start where they can create anything without conforming to a whole mythology they created in the course of the campaign. It is freeing and really gets the juices flowing like going commando.


The players can get a TON out of it as well. A group generally settles into their roles and then tries to maintain continuity over the course of a campaign. Unless something crazy happens, the paladin is a goody two shoes and the thief wants to pull the wool over some poor rubes eyes. Trying out a new system gives all the players a chance to play against type of their usual character and stretch their roleplaying chops. But wait, there’s more! You can do things you’d never even consider in your main campaign, like charging down a startlingly narrow chute full of laser to fire a torpedo into a 1m exhaust port without your targeting computer. But I might die you say. EXACTLY!! That’s the fun part!


So what exactly is it we do here? Two words, one-shot. I can’t recommend more trying a new system with the specific restriction of it being a one-shot. The reason is pretty simple. You are only suggesting taking up one session. If it bombs, oh well, next week we’re back to the campaign we all know and love. If everyone loves it, then you can always run it again. Win-win.


The double-edged sword of specifically making new games a one-shot is who wants to invest time into learning all these new rules, character classes, mythos, etc. Almost no one if they weren’t the one bringing up playing something new. Here’s my trick, use Quick Start rules when available. Yes, they are often dumbed down and simplified. Simplified, ugh, you mean watered down? Nope, I mean it is easier to learn, usually no more than 10-15 minutes to get the gist, and you still get the essential flavor of the system. If you hate the Quick Start version, I don’t think making things more complex is ever going to be more fun, but if you love it, the full rulebook usually adds depth and options that make it even more fun.


The bonus for Quick Start rules? Pregenerated characters. Try not to cringe at how suboptimal they usually are and focus on the fact they represent the common archetypes with the major attributes reasonably represented. Being archetypes, players also have an easier time choosing their character and knowing how to play them in the world of the game. Alternatively, I ask my players what type of character they want to play and make them my damn self. It’s takes time, but I love making characters, so win-win. In addition, learning character creation usually teaches me the rules of the game. It’s less personal, but that’s also a good thing. With no attachment, players really tend to break out of their shell and do crazy shit that could just get them killed. Then they succeed and think, “This game if f-ing awesome!” Everyone has a great time and now you have a way to break up the monotony of your regular campaign or a starting point for a whole new campaign.


So obviously everyone wants to try out a one-shot of a new system for their next session, how do we do it? I think the most important piece of advice is to choose something truly different. If you just pick another high fantasy game for your D&D group, they’ll probably wonder why they should learn all this new crap just to play an elf ranger rescuing a kidnapped woman from the invading kobold clan. Shake it up. Go with a post-apocalyptic future, survival horror, sci-fi, anything other than what you play week in and week out. If you can find a famous property like Star Wars, Firefly, etc., you improve the chances of everyone diving in. If that RPG doesn’t exist, reskin something. Finally, you may also want to consider whether your group enjoys more rules-light systems (Shotgun Diaries) or rules-insane systems (Battletech). Too simple can be just as bad as too complex. Trust me, I found out the hard way.


Ok, we can all benefit from a break and dive into something different, how do I find these things? DriveThruRPG  is my go-to source for Quick Start rules. They have a huge selection of RPGs available on PDF and print, and you can search for FREE products to pull out those Quick Start rules quickly. Hell, if you like it, I’d buy the full Core Rulebooks there too. I’ve always had good luck with them. There are tons of other sources from publisher websites to homebrew creations. You are just a web browser away.


And now time for something completely different . . .