“The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.” ― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time
Welcome back. For those of you who have been anxiously holding your breath waiting for me to update this blog… I hope you woke up from the time you spent passed out with pleasant dreams. Lots of non-gaming stuff going on my life that keep demanding more time. But enough of excuses, let’s talk about perspective!
As Douglas Adams mentioned, it is pretty easy to be unaware of how skewed your perspective may be. Like a ranger that fails a tracking roll, subtle shifts in your focus can lead you far from where you thought you would be. Humans can adapt to almost anything, and what has become your normal state of being (in gaming as well as life) maybe completely out of whack. You can require a sharp contrast to pull your perspective back into alignment. For example:
The Numenera game I was running has come to a close. It was not the game’s fault. It ran smooth for the nine people that I was running it for. The world was interesting and the system was a lot of fun, and very easy to GM. But over the last couple of months, I have noticed from behind the screen that the group was starting to crack. Focus was slipping on a routine basis, both mechanically and socially. Personality conflicts were spiking, and while I would leave the table with a sense of loving Numenera, there was always some sort of sour note that tainted my thoughts. I talked with other game members about issues they were having with the story, the pacing, and the distractions. It got so bad that more than one of my players was looking to leave. I was concerned but didn’t know how to fix it. I looked to mechanics to step up the pacing and force the group to cut down on distractions. I tried to tighten up the story. All of these worked to some extent or another, but they were Band-Aids on a ruptured artery.
And then something strange happened. My group got offered a playtest spot in a soon to be published adventure. We had to get through our section (which I will talk more about when I am able to) in about two weeks, so we paused Numenera and dove right in. And the first session went smoothly. Everyone was engaged and had a blast. They learned the mechanics quickly. It was bizarre. The second session was even better. I was trying to figure out how this game, a d20 based game was solved so many of the issues we were having when it was a far more complicated game. And then it hit me. The first session only had seven people, as two of our players were snowed in. The second had even less. I had run a five player game for the first time since the too short stint with Mage.
I had been running 7+ people in games since October of 2012, longer than that if you count the store events where we had 10+ players. That group size had become my mental model, even though my optimum group size is 4. When the playtest changed my perspective, I was able to see that the problems at my table were not system based, but size based. Every one that I had fretted over, or that had been brought to my attention could be traced back to group size. The change in perspective allowed me to accurate look at the issues in my group and make steps to change them.
The Long Con:
But perspective also relates to the games you are playing, not just the group. The game, either with setting or mechanics, imparts the designer’s perspective to the game. This has been clearly evident in the Burning Wheel game. Burning Wheel establishes a radically different perspective on gaming then more classic RPG’s. In most traditional, you receive experience in short bursts and increase in power in a similar manner. But it is very common to level in a very short span of in-game time. But Burning Wheel’s perspective on time, both in and out of the game, is radically different. It is focused on, and indeed shines brightest in, very long term games. Healing can take weeks or even months of game play to fully recover. The same goes for practicing your skills, which could take in-game months or years to earn required tests. One of my players and I were discussing this this morning, which lead to this post. It is not bad, just different and requires a cognitive shift in perspective by both the players and myself.
What did all this talk of perception mean for me at the table? Well first of all, good perspective requires reflection to help keep it healthy. The ability to step back from a situation, sometimes in the form of a literal break from the routine, allows you to analyze where you are and where you want to be. The fallout from this self-reflection can be very beneficial.
For me, it means my Tuesday game is getting smaller. We discussed all of the issues and options and settled on playing DnD Next. Another GM in the group and I are plotting out a game where, while the group is still one group as a whole, they split up on a monthly basis into groups of 4 to accomplish short term goals. Two groups in one game, with the freedom to switch between groups. It should accomplish the goals of having smaller groups, but still allowing everyone to interact with the whole of the group. Time will tell on both counts, but I will be blogging our progress.
Secondly, keep in mind the game’s perspectives when you start. Whether it’s the builtoin perceptions of time, morality, or focus, working with those perspectives will enable you and your players to get the most out of your time around the table. As for the Burning Wheel game, the game is still too new (both in terms of story and mechanics) for me to analyze the time structure. But in realizing that I need to keep the game’s perspective in mind, there are a couple of things I can do. I need to not skip over the length of time associated with travel and healing. I need to point my players to the practice rules and say “how are you spending this time?” The game also needs planned downtime. Resource cycles, healing and training all need breaks from the action to accomplish. While this is not my normal style, I tend to leap from adventure to adventure, I feel like I have a good handle on this cycle and how to put down time into the adventure to allow this system to hit its stride. I think I will have a good idea on how I and my players are handling the long term perspective in three to six months.
In the pipeline:
I got some great advice on blogging and how to run one. I am going to start prepping articles and ideas in advance to create a backlog of posts so I won’t be scrambling to get them out on time. I have blog post in the works for tips and tricks for dealing with larger groups that I hope will be helpful. Numenera Bestiary and Glimmer reviews and previews of the novel and world I am working on are all in the works. This includes updates on the Next game set in my world and the maps and mechanics that I will be creating for it. As one final update, I will be posting a regional map I am working on for the Next game later today.