How has a game surprised you?
I like surprises. Not all the time, but I like them in my RPG sessions. Playing to find out what happens is a big deal to me. I thought about making my answer about about some of the most surprising moments I’ve had during a game. Maybe the emotional reaction and “bleed out” I’ve experienced in our All For One Campaign during some of the more moving moments. That was surprising. Maybe something more mundane like what happened two weeks ago in my Lamentations of the Martian Princess game when two elements of the world intersected in a way I hadn’t forseen & the logical consequence was a complete upheaval of the foundations of the game world backdrop. “Never cross the Streams!” But I decided that wasn’t really the direction the question was leading me.
I considered focusing on how games themselves have surprised me. Novel mechanics, nifty methods for doing something in a new way that makes it fun again, a super compelling setting, a system i thought I’d hate that I ended up loving, etc. Hard to choose among those. I get surprised a lot, and I get what I expected a lot.
I even considered talking about players that surprised me with their creativity or willingness to roleplay. You know, that player you weren’t expecting to “bring it” like they did. Always a wonderful thing to watch and be a part of.
However, after a really difficult time trying to figure out what to do with this prompt, I decided to take a tangential approach and talk about something I’ve been reminded of by RPGaDAY & that I was planning to talk about after August drew to a close.
Gamers are a diverse bunch. I knew this before, but I really had no idea just how diverse. We all have a lot in common, but I’ve come to discover and be surprised by the differences we have. ~ Each day I try to read and watch as many RPGaDAY answers as I can. Without fail, I start to discover that some of the participants and I are really close in our perspective in one area, but on another day we’re miles apart. This experience get repeated during the rest of the year as I interact with others in the hobby.
Some of these differences are large scale, and our biases, preferences, intentions for play, and expectations of the game experience clearly place us into groups or “types” that are either compatible, or akin to oil & water. However, some of these schisms are more subtle and can blindside us. We can seem to agree on just about everything, but one day we find ourselves at loggerheads over some aspect of the RPG experience.
Over time I’ve come to think of these various intentions or preferences as axes or spectra. How much space to you want in a setting for creativity? Rule of cool or verisimilitude? Rules as written or is it flexible? Story arcs or play to find out? In character or out of character? Abstract or granular? What kind of genre? what kind of tone? A fun lighthearted time with friends or a serious game? Published games only or use your favorite system in a different way? ~ The list goes on and on, and each one of us finds ourselves on a point on each spectrum. Very often they move depending upon circumstances.
While often we can find individual people who match up with us on most of these axes, generally two gamers will find at least one point they disagree on. Get five or six of us together, and as I recently found out, it’s impossible to decide upon a decade to play some “this world with a twist pulp action”.
Perhaps the most daunting thing about these differences is often our perspectives seem completely incomprehensible and baffling to one another. It is always jarring when I run up against that. Sometimes we can learn to understand each other, but often the best we can do is simply accept that the other person has a very different set of intentions or priorities in that area.
So the biggest surprise? Despite all of these differences, sometimes it’s amazing that we can get 3 to 6 of us together to play a game and actually have a great time! Fortunately, I have been lucky enough to meet enough mature gamers that we are able to discuss our similarities & differences, find common ground, & enjoy the hobby together.