“My child, you have come to me, my son. For who now is your father if it is not me? I am the wellspring, from which you flow. When I am gone, you will have never been. What would your world be, without me? My son.” ~ Thulsa Doom
RPG’s are a continuous stream. Description, situation, intention, declaration, action, reaction, consequence, description… From whence does it all flow? Despite the above quote I doubt that it is James Earl Jones. However, it would be kind of cool if that’s where it all came from. At least the narration would be top-notch.
In truth, not all game sessions have that smooth flow described above. But very often they do. When things are really going well and that stream gushes forth seemingly without effort it leads to very satisfying and engaging game sessions. But how does that happen?
In my experience it’s not all that complicated but the ingredients have to be present. A good amount of buy-in on the part of all of the players at the table is essential. we all need to be engaged with the events of play. I have found that it is crucial for us to listen to one another. If we take the time to discuss beforehand what the genre will be like and what the backdrop is like it doesn’t take a tremendous amount of description to bring us all to the same place. We may be imagining things differently but we agree on the important points and that is what matters.
The group has to have a good sense of what the characters are like. Not just their own but the characters played by the other people. The game master needs to know what their Nonplayer characters are like. As time goes on the group needs to understand that as well. At least as far as they can figure out. All the characters need to start developing personalities and motivations and reasons for why they behave the way they do.
The people at the table have to have an understanding of the game and of the system and how it all works. That doesn’t mean that everybody at the table has to be an expert, but they need to make the effort to learn the system and the procedures and mechanics. we have to be willing to teach each other during the events of play itself.
It’s important to discuss how things are going, to talk about the sessions afterwards, to make course corrections. Do y’all know what’s going on? Is there something preventing our engagement? What are these characters really like? Is there something about the system we are having problems with?
These are all very simple things but if they aren’t in place they can be like boulders blocking the flow of the stream. But when we take a little effort to remove these barriers to good play, we unleash a torrent.
We all understand and buy into the genre & the scenario. We have a good sense of the backdrop and what’s going on. We are engaged in the events of play as they are happening. We listen to each other. All of the characters at the table, player controlled and GM controlled, have motivations and personalities. We instinctively know what they would do. We stay our intentions clearly describing how we are trying to bring them about. We understand how the system works and even if we don’t know the actual probability as we have a good sense of how these mechanics shape play and the experience. The dice contribute their part to the emerging narrative. We describe the outcomes and because we are all engaged we have a good understanding of what’s happening right now. And then we react.
Before you know it we are all carried away by the current.