This article by Charles Franklin originally appeared in The Way, the Truth & the Dice issue 1 in the spring of 1999. It is reposted here with permission from the author.
I was watching a classic science fiction film this weekend with my four-year-old son and one scene in particular emphasized the way combat is portrayed in movies and in our games. In this particular scene an alien, accompanied by a starship pilot and a teenager, wander into a detention zone where a firefight erupts with the evil military police. Now granted, the threesome had the element of surprise, but when the shooting starts they calmly go about their business, zapping security cameras and bad guys with amazing accuracy. Meanwhile the trained military police cant seem to hit anything. Common sense tells us that this is a less than accurate portrayal of how this firefight would occur, and I think everyone realizes that Hollywood takes great liberty with reality in their action movies. This cinematic liberty carries over into RPGs that for the most part seek to model movies, not reality.
The purpose of this series of articles is not to open a debate about the glorification of violence in popular movies and role playing games. I do believe, however, that adding a dose or two of reality to our game mechanics will reduce the quantity of violence and increase the quality of role playing. I see this as a win-win adjustment.
Role playing games have been criticized for many things that are easily explained. Readers of this magazine don’t need to hear why the involvement of magic, false gods, or demons and devils isn’t a real objection to role playing per se. Or hear why it doesn’t matter if we play with non-Christians whose characters may reject God and His morality even more than they themselves have. But once all of these questions have been answered, one comes back that is not so easy to dismiss. Characters in role playing games have an alarming tendency to solve problems by the use of force, even what we would have to admit is at times violent, bloody, gory, unnecessary force. Yet Christians are called to turn the other cheek, to suffer when persecuted for the faith; in most games, that will get your character killed “right quick”—and this seems in some ways to mirror reality. Where would the world be today had not Christians in many countries joined with their countrymen to oppose Germany and Japan during World War II? And do we truly believe that Christians should not serve as police officers, soldiers, or in other potentially violent occupations? Although a few among us might say so, for most of us the idea that we should expect God to stop evildoers when we are not willing to do so ourselves is hardly more defensible than permitting them to continue harming others unopposed. Read more
I see the world as a vast battlefield on which the supernatural armies of God and Satan struggle for the souls of men. Magic is rampant in this world. Every time a believer sins or a sinner repents, these are events of spiritual significance. To quote from the movie Ladyhawke, “I believe in miracles; it’s part of my job.” As I walk by faith or seek divine guidance, I’m tapping into power and knowledge from the supernatural realm—in short, magic.
I was first drawn to fantasy role play because of its magic. The worlds of those earliest games shared something in common with ours: the spiritual battle was manifest in the material realm. I played no game more Christian than this. While others criticized Dungeons & Dragons for its magic, demons, and deities, those were exactly the things for which I most praised it. Magic was alive and well in the fantasy world, and men were deeply involved in the immortal struggle.
Now that we have good players, heroes, and villains, we have to put them to work. A campaign is an ongoing series of adventures in a game world, made up of several ingredients. First, the campaign’s premise must be sound. Good campaigns are consistent with the world you adventure in and have clear and worthy objectives. A good campaign is built from a good premise. “What if” questions are good starting points for finding a good premise. What if aliens secretly contacted Earth governments during the Wild West era? What if superheroes were all created by a single time-traveler? What if the barriers between dimensions begin to break down? Take the basic premise, and follow it through in as much detail as desired. Read more
Playing good characters is another important aspect of role-playing games. Although a good GM and good players can have a good game with bad characters, it’s much easier to have a good game when the characters are good. When players create heroes, it is far easier to have fun and eliminate many of the conflicts that often arise as a result of good role-playing. A group should be well rounded with well thought out backgrounds and personalities.
Experience Talks, Part I (WT&D Issue 1) discussed the contribution of the GM to a good gaming experience. Part II discusses the role of the players, characters, and campaigns in creating a better gaming experience for everyone.
Good Players are essential to any game, especially any role-playing game. A player’s attitude, willingness to adapt, and attentiveness can make the game more enjoyable for everyone involved. Several characteristics that are common to all good players will be addressed in this article. First and foremost is the player’s attitude, from which all their other qualities derive. Other traits that excellent gamers possess include adaptability, attentiveness, and a desire to help out wherever he or she can.
Over the past few weeks, Dave has talked about six roles the GM plays—Director, Writer, Referee, Host, Actor, and Tactician—and how each of those roles helps to make a fun and memorable game.
During the Game Summary
A good GM runs a smooth game by making his players comfortable immersing themselves in the game, by running a game that his players want to play in, and by making quick, appropriate decisions relating to his game world.
Away from the Game
Another aspect of running a smooth game is to make sure everything that needs to be prepared ahead of time is already taken care of. Read more
A GM also has to be the tactician for the NPCs. There are various ways for GMs to run the opposition in battle.
The opposition can react based on what the players characters do. If the hero brick squares off against the villain mentalist, the villain speedster could intervene. If the hero swordsman prepares to attack the enemy wizard, the enemy archer could attack the swordsman first, or else attack another hero who may be a more dangerous threat.
GMs also need to take on the role of actor. When heroes encounter villains, allies, or neutrals, they want for them to be interesting enough to be able to tell one from another. When the NPCs perform their heroic or dastardly deeds, they should remain feasibly consistent with what the players have already learned about them.
Cult of Personality
NPCs are people too! They need to have personalities. Often, by taking an existing character that the GM knows well, whether its Barney Fife, Ferris Bueller, or his own second cousin, he can use the existing personality for an NPC (without letting the players know about the hidden connection). This will guarantee consistency, as long as the GM keeps straight that Miles Brogan, barroom brawler, is actually Rambo in a different body and an Irish accent. Read more
The GM is also the host of the game. Whether the game is at the GM’s home or not, it is still the GM that is responsible for the game.
When new players want to join, they should feel welcome so that they enjoy the experience and want to return — make them feel at home. Make sure they know where the bathroom is, and where the phone is. Offer to get them something to eat or drink if you notice that they aren’t digging in.
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Having enough chairs and table space makes it easier for the game to get going. If the table is covered with boxes, papers, and dirty dishes, players might feel like intruders in the GM’s home, instead of the important guests that they are.
Food and drink wouldn’t seem to be an integral part of a game, but even when playing, people need to eat and drink. As with any social gathering, especially one that lasts several hours, drinks and snacks are vital to keeping the guests happy. Read more