23 March 2009

Throwing GMs to the Wolf

The always entertaining Everything2 throws up this node about White Wolf's World of Darkness. I have tended to enjoy the WoD games I've played but then I've always played WoD GMed by my friends Alex and Mike who are excellent GMs so maybe this doesn't say much. Even so, I have always liked the way there's some sort of conflict meter on the White Wolf Character Sheets I've seen. The sheets themselves tend to be a little crowded but the central theme-o-meter is always there, reminding you what kind of game you should be playing.

Whether you are playing exactly that kind of game is mostly up to the GM, sometimes there's a lot of the intended thematics in play, sometimes not so much but I don't think that's necessarily a fault. I'm not sure how White Wolf would feel about that. On the one hand any game designer would probably be happy to know that someone's playing their game and having a good time. On the other I know GMs and content creators cannot help but hand wring a bit when players and GMs wander away from "the point".

I expect a regular reader here would characterise me as someone who has a lot more time for White Wolf than D&D. On the surface one would be correct in that assumption. I certainly approve of White Wolf wanting to make the game about some epic theme. That's a step in the right direction. But I possess about as much White Wolf stuff as I do D&D stuff. My favourite role playing game ever, Over The Edge, was written by authors of much D&D material, I also have a copy of Feng Shui by one of the same guys, and an aging, unused copy of the D20 Modern Core Manual (good for a laugh occasionally). On the White Wolf tangential side I own a game called "Deliria" by a guy called Phil Brucato who worked on several White Wolf titles I didn't even buy that new like I did my copies of Feng Shui and OTE. So I have read more material by D&D style thinkers than White Wolf style thinkers.

My problem with White Wolf is that from what I have skimmed through in idle moments given access to friend's bookshelves is that they love rich detail and prescription, a veritable cornucopia of "what". When you get to the "how" it suddenly falls back on rolling dice and checking modifiers.

I suppose the news that I run into a problem when people suggest a dice roll is hardly surprising at this stage. But here's the unusual coda to that thought. I am getting a little tired of repeating that if you want to go and roll some dice, kill some uglies and hoist some phat lewt then for heaven's sake go do so. What I think I have a problem with is dressing that experience up like it's something else.

Not that it necessarily isn't something else in the hands of a skilled GM. But that leads us to the famous "forget the dice and sheet covered in numbers, let's role play" situation.

I haven't developed a White Wolf addiction for the reason that a trace amount of White Wolf concept will set my mind off like a tin of lighter fuel and a lit match tossed into a firework warehouse. I am used to having ideas. I've probably ignored a dozen sleeting through my brain since I started writing this (that's why I always seem a little tangential).

My aim is to help other people have ideas too and I don't like things that appear to be a help in that direction and are in truth just compendia of other people's ideas. I know that if I read a sourcebook I will have so many ideas that eventually one or two of them will probably have legs and walk on their own. Some people, though, only get one or two ideas from any given source material and unless those ideas are made to live then no more will be forthcoming.

A lot of conflict comes about because of communication breakdown and I think that the implication that White Wolf product will inevitably stoke your imagination if you just buy three more supplements is a little dishonest. I've not seen much evidence of the idea forging processes I learned in my time at university in the campaign writing advice sections of role playing games, I'm not singling White Wolf out for that at all, no role playing game has had these techniques, ever.

What I'm most concerned about is all this stuff about how these games are supposed to be a personal experience for the player wrestling with these deep issues of philosophy, psyche and spirituality. What if, as a player, I have no such experience? Have I "failed"? Or has my GM sold me out? Or has the game failed? What if I didn't engage with these things but I still had fun?

You won't find much prescription beyond the intended atmospheric milieu of any given No Dice experience. We test for indulgence, not for intellect. I always find myself hoping that catches on.

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