Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Theory vs. Practice, or "How did I get myself into this mess?"

I'm going to assume the dearth of posts lately hasn't escaped your notice.  This isn't like the other long periods of blog-silence, my creative energies are being channeled elsewhere these days.  A few months ago, I started talking about the Dresden Files RPG.  Well, now I'm actually running a campaign of the game for my gaming group.  I'm even keeping a wiki of the campaign for the group, or others, to follow along.  If you're at all interested in such stories, you might find it worth a read.  Although I've already fallen behind on the session synopses, surprise-surprise.

Despite the last few posts I've written here being about the theory of running RPGs, I'm finding myself completely overwhelmed at times trying to follow my own advice.  Yes yes, "Gaming is hard," blah blah blah.

Take my earlier posts on making all called rolls count.  The general advice there was making both failure and success interesting, and not calling for rolls if either state was boring.  In practice, this is more difficult.  A big part of playing RPGs is getting to toss dice.  Most players will balk at the idea of letting their dice sit idle for the majority of a session.   It's not so simple, because most failure states are boring, and players ask to roll their dice.  A lot.  Typically, this will go something like, "I want to find out what I can about that NPC and what he's been doing."  (Maybe your players word their questions that vaguely; I try to push my players for specifics, but sometimes I forget.)  Because my players hate me, this will always be regarding an NPC for whom I have not prepared answers.  Which leaves me about 3-5 seconds to answer the following questions:
  • Is this NPC worth an answer?
  • Will the player have the capacity to find these answers?
  • Do I have an answer to the question at all?
  • What makes sense, and does this critically affect anything?
  • How difficult should this be, and what is their chance of success?
  • Should I encourage them to take measures to increase their chance of success, if needed?
  • What should success look like?
  • What should failure look like?  Should I just deny the information, let them have it after a delay, cut off a finger for the information?
  • Oh crap, they're already rolling.  Why are they already rolling?

Yeah, no pressure.  Repeat that for four more hours and you can see how all that theorizing about proper challenge design gets chucked out the window in favor of hemming, hawing, and hedging. 

A lot of this is me being my own worst critic.  I have incredibly high expectations for myself, and despite my feelings of inadequacy, my players have issued mostly praise for the way things have gone so far. 

I guess the lesson is that RPG theory is only as good as its ability to be implemented under fire.  (I.E. No battle plan survives enemy contact.)