Saturday, 20 July 2013

Game Times & Learning Curves

Think, think, think, think.
I am the Warden!!

For a few weeks now, I've been pondering the difficulties of introducing a new game to the masses, particularly when those masses have a massive pile of games from which to choose. There's no disputing the flexibility of a group depends on its age - younger players with fewer mandatory responsibilities can invest more time into learning a new RPG versus their older counterparts with many obligations to fulfill before fun time can even begin. Back in my high school heyday, tackling Advanced Dungeons & Dragons wasn't an issue because we were playing at least 30 hours of roleplaying games in a single week. Today, it's nowhere close to that amount (and that's with fewer responsibilities than most other players and GMs my age - no kids and no job.)

Is it really that simple? While it makes sense in one degree, something about "older players don't have as much time to learn new games" sounds like a scapegoat because if there's one thing social media has also taught us, it's that older players still make time to read new games. On bus rides to work and during frequent downtimes set aside to catch up on casual reading, learning a game from its core rulebook doesn't carry the same demands as actually running a new game for the first time.

Reading a game and playing it can be two dramatically different things, something I learned when I first starting running the Marvel Heroic RPG. Scouring through the book, I was floored by what I was reading and made three passes through the core rulebook just to ensure I had it down. When it came time to drop dice with players, I had a hard time keeping up with certain aspects (but that's a reflection on my limitations, not the rules). And that's why games have house rules.

The thing about reading RPGs is that it's only half the battle. Every book on my shelf that's been read and never played (or incorporated into play, in the case of supplements) is an example of lost potential. RPGs aren't like books; reading them does not complete the journey. It's a game and it's designed to be played. These days, with so many options, systems, and hacks out there, getting your game played is an entirely different matter from selling it.

I'm incredibly appreciative of every single person who has purchased and read through any of my previous work, but I can say with 95% certainty that the only people who have actually played them have been people I've run them for and my man Brandon and his crew in Utah (AKA my Lead Playtester). Aside from that, I can't find any evidence of anyone who's actually cracked out the book or PDF and started rolling dice in a game of Killshot. Quite a few of the people I've run games for have read through decent sections of the rulebook and shared comments about how the game played versus how it read and that's the first step. Getting them to play the damn thing is my next quest.

Easier said than done, right? Even the default response - "Make your game better so people want to play it!" - is a token reaction because there are any number of ways to improve a game and if that was so immediately effective, we'd be no better off than before. (Plus I think it's safe to say we all feel there are more awesome games than available time to play.)

All of this, of course, stems from my previous post on how to revise my approach to game design, particularly the point about quick-start adventures. What's swirling around in the noggin today is the complications involved with playing a quick-start adventure. Does that necessarily mean it has a greater chance of being played simply because it's a quick-start? For all the evidence suggested one way or the other, I'm going with a good default in game design: assume the answer is no. There has to be something more than just convenience. Something has to entice the reader to pick up the dice and roll the minute they finish their first read-through, maybe even during play.

Survey Time - Your Game Times

There's only so much information gained from inner pondering and Winnie the Pooh-style thinking sessions. I need facts and numbers to back up my ideas or guide them in the right direction. I want to hear from you, as many of you as possible. How much playing time do you have on average in a week? A month? Do you run an ongoing campaign, mix it up between games, tackle a system for a handful of sessions before moving on? The more information you can provide, the more helpful it will be.

Because knowing is half the battle. YO, JOE!!