Friday, November 30, 2012

Victory Conditions: How to Win an RPG.

"How do I win?" The first question most people ask when they sit down to a board game for the first time, and a very appropriate one. Now, ask this question at an RPG and you’ll have bags of flaming dung hurled at you while an army of liberal fascists melt your face with caustic hate speech that would make a clansman blush. Okay, maybe not all that bad, but the idea of winning has gotten a bad rap when it comes to RPGs, and this stems from a misunderstanding of the victory conditions of an RPG.

There are several "#1 rule(s) of gaming," but the one I prefer is “Have fun.” Vague and enigmatic, and much like any good religious text, it is open to vast amounts of interpretation; one man’s fun is another’s torture after all. So, what are we to do?

Well, the first thing you need to do is figure out, "What is fun?" Do you enjoy rules-light systems with a focus on character interactions? Do you like busting out the minis so you can duel the GM in a chess-like battle of wits? Do you enjoy sitting around a table with friends rolling dice and eating Cheetos? Or is it a little from column A and a little from B? Look over your previous gaming career and think about what in the past has tickled your fancy in that special way that makes you keep coming back to chase the dragon. You may even notice that what you find enjoyable may vary from system to system.

I know if I sit down to a Pathfinder game, I enjoy a bit more strategic combat than when I play World of Darkness, and I know that stems primarily from the game mechanics at work and the design of the system. Once you've discovered what it is you are looking for, you can inform your GM or players to what it is you are looking for in your gaming, so your fun will be represented.

Now, as anyone who has ever ordered a pizza can attest, pleasing everyone is not easy, and to believe that everyone in a group will have the same idea of fun is folly; so, this is where you have to put your big boy pants on and understand that compromise is the name of the game. Yes, you may have to endure a few rounds of combat before you get back to the courtly romance, or suffer through an intense negotiation over the party’s fee in lieu of rolling a dice and moving on, but that is life, and if you want your fun, you’re going to have to let others have theirs.

TPKs and Derailing

Now, there are two forms of fun that are universally loathed: the TPK (Total Party Kill) and Game Derailing. If you disagree with this statement, congratulations, your friends probably hate gaming with you. Both of these things can happen unintentionally, and it sucks, but what sucks far more is when a GM or player sets out with this as his goal.

For those of you who may not know what I’m talking about: a TPK (Total Party Kill) is when the GM kills everyone in the party, usually though an unbalanced encounter. I’m amazed at the number of GMs who brag about doing this, as there is no skill involved in it. As the storyteller you have access to an infinite amount of in-game power, while the player’s power is restricted by the rules of the game and what the GM supplies them with. Bragging about a TPK is like being proud of sucking, and unless you’re the reigning BJ Queen of Tijuana, you shouldn't feel this is an accomplishment.

Now, on the other side of the coin is derailing a game. This is the player equivalent of a TPK, but instead of killing the party, you kill the story. This is as easily accomplished as a TPK; just refuse every hook, or take actions to illustrate the restrictions of the story (i.e. attack the king as he’s giving you a quest, heading to town C when the quest is obviously in town A, etc.). Do these things and you will be assured to have a place in the halls of Dickdom, where your obvious disrespect for the time and effort the GM has put into the game will be acknowledged for all time. As anyone who has GMed knows a story is a fragile thing, requiring a lot of maneuvering and quick thinking to keep it on course; it also requires the players to work with you at a certain level to get the ball rolling. If a player thinks he is clever for out-smarting your story's obvious hooks, or feels you've cheated him because, as the GM, you haven’t whisked him away to a land of enchantment and mystery in the first 5 minutes of a new campaign, so now it must die, then he has some entitlement issues, and needs to talk to his parents about how he was raised.

The common thread that both of these victory conditions share is that they target your fellow players and not anything in the game. You are actively being mean to your friends and wasting their time, so unless you enjoy having your time wasted and being cock blocked at every turn, this may be one type of fun that you don’t allow in your gaming group.

Gaming is about fun, it’s a hobby, not a job; if you aren't enjoying it, you are doing it wrong. So quit being a loser, and find the fun.

Good Gamin’.