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#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 13

(I don't know what you're talking about, of course I posted this on the 13th, it says so right there in the timestamp...)

Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

I was running a 4th Edition game for a group of friends. It was supposed to be a lightweight, no-pressure hack-and-slash campaign; we're all pretty heavy roleplayers, so this was supposed to be a chance for us to kick back, not take anything too seriously, and do some old-fashioned murder-hobo-style gaming for a change. Of course, with my group, we couldn't just do that; this was the group where I ended up having portraits of all the characters commissioned because we all got pretty attached to the characters in question, and at one point a player convinced the rest of the team that clearing out the kobolds would be unfair and cruel to the kobolds, so they just scared them into returning the stolen items, instead.

Anyway, we were in the middle of a somewhat-drawn-out combat, and one of the players had just finished his turn, and I noticed the look on his face; it was pretty clear he wasn't having fun. So after the game, I asked him what was up, and he pointed out that he spent the entire night (including most of the combat) never having successfully rolled a hit on anything -- all of the damage he did to the enemies was at the behest of other characters' actions. He, himself, had never been able to roll a success. It had been that way for a while, actually, he said; it was why he had built his character with a lot of 'damage-on-miss' powers. It was still a good group, and it was still an interesting story, but the core purpose of the game had been to relax, roll some dice, and hit some bad guys, and that core experience wasn't happening. For at least one of the players.

I took this particular failure rather personally, because I knew that I disliked these kinds of games for specifically that reason: flat dice curves are unforgiving to someone who doesn't have great luck when rolling. And yet, I was running a game with a flat die curve, because it was something familiar and easy and tropish. I was doing something for my own convenience that was actively hurting the experience of the other players at the table.

It was after that when I got serious about how I run my table. I don't run flat-die-curve games any longer. I try to failure-proof my games as much as possible. Narrative interest and investment from the players trumps pretty much anything else these days. I use plot point / bennies in every system whether they support it or not, to make sure players are part of the building of the story and are feeling agency with their characters. And, mostly, I ignore or otherwise minimize the numbers on the dice. I want the people at my table to be having fun. I, personally, think petty failures aren't fun -- failures and setbacks for characters can be fun if it's narratively appropriate and the player agrees -- but rolling a 12 when you need a 15 is the worst possible thing at the table: it's boring. And boring is the enemy at my table.

There are many, many people who would see my style of gaming as antithetical to theirs, and that's OK; they don't have to play with me, and I don't have to play with them. But that experience, of watching a friend of mine get shafted by decisions I made, changed the way I run my games. I think for the better. You'd have to ask my players if I was successful.

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