I’ve written before about how much I love Living RPGs. But, today’s post is about the dark side of Living Games. I was at a con this weekend, running a battle interactive, and some things went wrong at my table. I want to talk about some of what happened and some other Living RPG problems.
Most of this will break down to choice. In a home game of whatever RPG is your favorite, you have choice. You kill that Shoppe keeper, he’s dead, and you’re a marked man! You save the village from goblins and perform a minor bit of genocide, those goblins are never coming back, and you’re a hero. YOU have choice!
Living games have to tap dance around choice. Maybe one person in 1,000 kills the Shoppe keep. The people who run the campaign can’t kill him/her for everyone. So you lose some choice, and when the player who killed that merchant encounter him again, the GM will have to hand wave why he’s back. When you lose choice, your character matters a little bit less each time you lose choice. In the end, if the village is saved no matter what, then why do I need to be there!? If I kill every goblin in the world and then the respawn like in a MMORPG, then why am I even trying to make the world a better place!?
Let me provide a real example. I was running a game where one player HATED another player’s race. Now things were civil, but some words went across the table. It was playful, but eventually a major artifact of the hated player’s race was found. Most of the party wanted to leave the artifact. Heck, a few wanted to destroy the location of the artifact so it couldn’t get free. This led to some sadness and hurt feelings all around. Things got worse when a group of the hated players race went back, found the thing, and then brought it out of the dungeon. This made the hater player very mad and basically made him feel his choice didn’t matter.
I was the GM for this group of players, and honestly, I didn’t have a clue how to make this work out. There is the standard rule of don’t play dick characters and hate group XXXX, but the system has a long history of allowing that behavior. Should that item have been found regardless? Should the players have just had a cut scene happen so the campaign staff could ensure that the item would have been found no matter what? In either case, the players lose choice.
Choice is hard to get right. Shadowrun give a lot of free reign to its GMs. There, the campaign staff basically give a wealth limit for the players that the GM can give out, and say go have fun. As a GM, I feel like that gives me the ability to make the right choices for my group. However, Shadowrun doesn’t do Battle Interactive. I wonder what would happen if they did. Would they eliminate that freedom or embrace it even more?
Let me provide another example, this time with a happier ending, so I’ll name the system-Living Forgotten Realms (LFR). I ran a battle interactive a year ago, and in it I had more misbehaving players. They players were on sky ship, and they boarded an enemy sky ship just as theirs was destroyed. My group decided to take over this new ship as their ship dropped out of the sky. The people running the event hadn’t planed for that and had every table report if a player ship was destroyed as their crew was plummeting to their deaths. My crew had technical done that, but found a loophole. The campaign staff like the ingenuity and rewarded the player’s creativity. Everybody left happy!
However, LFR does have its problems. LFR and the Forgotten Realms novels no longer live in the same world. I am a purist, so when I read something and I get to game in the same universe, I want those two to interact. Because LFR and the novels don’t interact, I’ve basically decided one doesn’t matter. I gave up playing LFR as my characters didn’t matter. I lost any choice!
So the morel here is I need choice. Choice means I matter. When I play a single player video game, I matter and I’m the only one make choices. When I play an MMORPG, I don’t. If I kill every bear in the forest for a quest, the bears respawn after I leave. If I would have never played, the game will be the same. Make me matter! Let my choices have an impact, and I’ll play. Cut me out, even by inches, and I’ll walk away.