So at the end of last game there was a comment made about how no one ever asks fighters to explain how they swing their swords. Fighters just roll dice, add up their bonuses and succeed or fail based on that. If you play a social character though most GMs dislike letting you steamroll over the NPCs with nothing more than awesome rolls. They want to know what lie you are telling them or how you intend to convince them to do X, Y, or Z. The same is true of situations in which the PCs need to think their way around a problem. Rolling Intelligence or your relevant problem solving skill and getting a success simply isn’t enough. GMs want to you, the Player, to think your way around the situation regardless of the fact that your character may be more intelligent than you are just like the fighter is stronger and more skilled at fighting than their player.It got me thinking. Is that fair? Do I do that? Should I do that? Yes, yes, and yes. There. Thanks for reading, folks! Just kidding. Wouldn’t it be weird if I was like that? Anyway, my real answer to the “Is that fair?” question is that it is and it isn’t. Gaming is about creativity and, to put it bluntly, I am more interested in how you think your way out of a problem or what lies you choose to tell than in how the fighter chooses to swing his sword. So a good portion of that is my interest as a GM. The game is entertaining to me because of what my Players choose to do with reference to the story. Whether the fighter chooses to swing down and smash the ork’s clavicle or to stab in through its ribs simply doesn’t get my GM rocks off. Sorry to all you fighter enthusiasts out there. On the other hand, I am very open to the 7th Sea take on descriptive fighting. Put simply, if you describe your combat moves with panache and style, you get bonus dice to enact them. I adapt this to most of the games I run by reducing difficulties for attacks made in this way (sometimes publicly and sometimes just behind the GM screen). Now I want to be clear about this though, we’re talking about panache and style, not head shots. Describing to me how much you desire to shoot your enemy right between the eyes will only net you the standard penalties and bonuses. Do not mistake being specific having style. One is colorful and interesting. The other is Call of Duty 11 (or whatever iteration they happen to be on now) which I really couldn’t care less about if you offered to pay me. That leaves us with those poor social “face” characters and brainiacs who actually have to plan out their successes instead of just throwing dice at the problem. I don’t really have much sympathy for this group because I usually allow the whole group of Players to participate in discussion of plans and whatnot regardless of their Characters’ intelligence and charisma scores. So you get a committee to help you plan and if it seems that my players are drawing a blank on something, I usually let their brain or face make their roll with all their bonuses in order to get a hint in the right direction (or what at least looks like the right direction from my point of view) or to get me to throw them a bone. “Remember that thing you picked up at the last starbase? You think you could jury-rig that on to this object here to kind of get what you need.” “The guard looks really tired to you. Maybe if you told him his boss also noticed and sent you out to take his place so he could get some sleep it might sound more believable.” That sort of thing. Even in these situations though I try not to think of everything for my Players. My goal is just to get them over the immediate blockage and back into the flow of things, not send them to the end of the game. I mean, what fun would that be? So I do believe in letting my players use their stats to get around non-combat problems. I simply frown upon it being their first option. If they can’t think of anything on their own, then maybe a roll for a clue is a good idea, but otherwise it’s time to flex those brain muscles people! If you want to make a face that you don’t need to role-play through any interactions or a brain who doesn’t actually need to plan anything, then you should probably find yourself a different (dare I say, less competent?) GM.
I was perusing through Netflix and noticed that a lot of movies and shows are now getting described as “gritty”. I didn’t remember a gritty section of the movie rental store so I started thinking about it and eventually began thinking (big surprise) about gaming. I’ve been in games that I’d describe as “gritty” and others that I would not, but I had to give it some thought before I figured out what the difference was. My first conclusion was that it boiled down to one element: body disposal.Games (and shows, I suppose) are gritty if the characters have to worry about body disposal. Buffy and Charmed are not gritty because whenever anyone dies they disappear in a poof of CGI. X-Files was gritty because even when it was some supernatural creature that died, there was always the problem of a corpse. Right? Well, kinda… In a game that sort of applies in the sense that most of the time bodies are left after a combat, but in some games the bodies matter and in some they do not. Take D&D for example. So you killed an entire tribe of orks. Who cares? They’re just orks. In Shadowrun however, if you were to kill an entire community of orks, you’d be a murderer. People would notice. Speculation on hate crime rates would be discussed as a result. So I suppose in a game the physical corpse remnant isn’t so important as the moral question. In some games there are no moral questions or ambiguity while in others, there are. I suppose that would be the “grit-factor” in game terms. Now the question is how much grit do you want in your game? Do you prefer your games like wonder bread? Smooth, homogenious, and undifferentiated? Or are you more into games with a bit of ambiguity in them? Personally, I like the ambiguity. For me it increases the realism and pulls me more securely into the story. In the Pathfinder game I’m in right now we have a serious problem. We are sort of in charge of this mining town that has stumbled upon an entrance into the Underdark. That’s not the problem though because it is only a tiny corner of the Underdark and we’ve already sorted out all the Drow and most of the undead that were roaming about. Now we just have a village of Under-Dwarves sitting on this huge Mithril mine who would like to work with us and a village of Veggie Pygmies between the surface and the mine. We want the Mithril, but would have to go through the rather inoffensive Veggie Pygmies to get at it and the Veggie Pygmies are contagious (for lack of a better term). Interacting with them is hazardous to our health. So do we kill off the entire village of Veggie Pygmies just to get at the Mithril? We could seal them off somewhere, but that’s only a temporary solution. We could move them, but that too is only temporary. The situation is a little frustrating. It would be so much easier if the Veggie Pygmies were simply “evil” and attacked us on sight like the Drow did. Then we could kill them in self-defense and take the Mithril. However, I enjoy discussing the various options we have and trying to decide how to manage them without betraying our own morals. By their very design modern or futuristic setting games seem to me to be more gritty than those set in the past. Even those set in the not-so-distant past. In a game set in the 1940’s I seriously doubt there would be much agonizing about being required to kill off a whole building full of Nazis. I guess we were just more comfortable with an “us vs them” attitude when set in the past. Today the closest thing we have is “us vs the terrorists” and even then we understand that most of them are doing what they do out of a lack of other options (regardless of whether that lack is perceived or real). Destroying them all out of hand, while definitely being the easier course, is not necessarily a morally black and white choice. Now, how much grit do you need in a game? Enough that the gears grind, but not so much that you stop them from turning. In other words, if the consequences of the choices you present your players with make them question motives and debate morals and wrack their brains for which solution is the lesser of any number of evils, that’s good. If it goes on for weeks and weeks though and seems to completely paralyze your game, you need to recognize that happening and take steps to keep the story moving. I mean body disposal is problematic, but if it goes on too long you end up morphing your RPG from X-Files into Weekend at Bernie’s except frustrating instead of funny. In a good game, frustration should not be the central emotion around which your story revolves. Why, you ask? Duh. Because being frustrated constantly isn’t fun.