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Give Me an Example

May 30, 2011

I don’t think I realized how much I like examples in RPGs until I started reading and running games that I hadn’t had the opportunity to play before. With D&D and other traditional RPGs, I usually had a chance to play the game at a con or at a friend’s house before I’d buy it and try to run it myself. In those situations, the examples were mostly in the way – I’d already done that. I’d usually skim or skip the examples to get on with the rest of the rules. But when I started playing Story Games I was buying them on scant information, reading them, and then teaching them to my group and examples really helped.

Even with shorter books with fewer rules (as most Story Games are), it’s easy for me to get wrapped around the axle if I don’t fully understand the mechanics of a game. Sometimes with a new concept or technique that I’ve never experienced before the apparently simple can become incredibly difficult. Sometimes it’s a matter of multiple, possible ways to read a sentence or not being able to see how some of the rules work with each other. Whatever the cause of confusion, good examples can really help clarify how to use the rules.

This weekend my game group played Shock: Human Contact. While I’ve only played two sessions, I can definitely recommend the game to all fans of good scifi. It does a great job of genre emulation; it feels like your playing through a scifi novel. It’s one of the best RPG experiences I’ve had in a while. The only weakness of the game text is that there are very few examples. The conflict resolution mechanics are straightforward and well explained, but I still got stuck when we sat at the table and tried to use them the first time (to be fair the other players weren’t confused). Sure, I was tired and it was late, but I think that having an example or two for reference would’ve got me unstuck much quicker. The game includes some great fiction which clearly shows you a potential outcome of the game system, but it’s too far removed from what the players d0 to create the fiction. Now our group’s story is moving on to a chapter transition and I feel like the game could use an example there too.

In our first draft of the Team Event, there weren’t any examples. Thanks to some excellent feedback, we decided to add examples for the main mechanical actions. Then we added examples to the end-game mechanics and character creation. Now we’re adding a faction creation example. We even have a brain-storming example in the make-your-own-setting section! Some of these examples deal with creative decisions and player interactions more than they do mechanics. These may seem strange or unnecessary to some, but I think it helps to envision how the game is going to flow before you play it. And if you don’t need an example for something, you can always skip past it.

Maybe we went too far with the examples, but right now I don’t think so (you’ll get to decide for yourself soon enough). Of course, we’ll have to wait until we run it to find out if the examples are as effective in play as we hope they are.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 30, 2011 1:58 pm

    This has been an interesting blog to read, and I’m glad you’ve put it up here and gotten it on the RPG Blog Alliance (which is how I came across it).

    I’m a Colorado RPG player, and I attended TactiCon last year and Genghis Con this year. I was intrigued at seeing the awarding of the banner at the awards ceremony, but I’ll admit that I knew nothing at all about the competition – I wasn’t even aware that it was going on.

    Most of my local RPG planning comes from the Living Forgotten Realms Yahoo group for the local store where I play (the group is LFRatEG – that is, LFR at Enchanted Grounds). I know that convention planners send messages out to the group when they need GMs; you might try something similar to see if anyone from this particular store is interested in playing in the event at TactiCon.

    I’d be interested, but I’ve already decided that I want to try to Iron GM this TactiCon, so I won’t be playing in any games. Perhaps at Genghis I’ll give it a try.

    Good luck!

    • May 30, 2011 2:35 pm

      Thanks for the tip! It’s funny how you can be in the same community for a while and not be aware of something until it finds you online. Good luck with Iron GM!

    • May 31, 2011 3:51 pm

      By the way, I asked the Tacticon RPG coordinator and she said that Iron GM is not running at Tacticon. Hopefully that means you can play the Team Event after all!

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