Tuesday, May 27, 2014

House Rules

For the first time in a long time this Memorial Day weekend, everyone in my gaming group had the same three days free. Three days! Gamingpalooza!

We had a couple of pretty intense roleplaying sessions. Without going into details that would make the eyes of non-gamers glaze over, we were experimenting with pushing back against the tendency of the Pathfinder Adventure Path system to force players into a min/maxing style of play which is alien to us. We ran an underpowered three-person party a couple of levels higher than the module writers recommended, with the addition of an unfamiliar optional set of "mythic powers." The mythic powers could easily have overwhelmed the scenario if handled poorly, and they appear to have been designed merely as a new way to increase "power creep" (the ongoing arms race between players and game masters, requiring constant escalation of increasingly complicated and burdensome game elements), of which we are heartily sick. However, the game master gave them to us in such a way that, though we got to control which ones we got, we felt obliged to play them as complete surprises which our characters did not know how to use and didn't feel they could rely on. So while we as players knew that we had a safety net, our characters were making plans and devising strategies that did not take these safety nets into account, and pulling mythic powers out only when we felt cornered by the introduction of unknown factors or pressed by the inevitable disruptions of our plans. Only toward the end, when the Big Bad was defeated, did we feel entitled to start experimenting with them.

The result was that we felt challenged, engaged, and endangered constantly, but did not lose a character. One random encounter almost did us in; one programmed encounter was subverted and turned into a cakewalk due to our proactive data-gathering and sensible use of resources (and we were entitled to the cakewalk because we were proactive); the climax was climactic (which is not always the case); and my character developed what might be called learned pyrophobia, which is the sort of thing that I love best about role-playing games; i.e., the chance to temporarily be another individual with a distinct life experience. We did not get any of those jawdroppingly great moments when everyone is surprised, but we had a lot of fun.

None of us is under the illusion that this particular experiment is a panacea for our problems with Pathfinder. It's obvious to even the most system-mechanically-challenged of us (i.e., me) that the particular combination of solutions implemented here would not work with every adventure path, or every set of characters. But I think we are on the right track. The rigidity of Pathfinder compared to other systems we've used, and the adherence of their Adventure Paths to formulaic structures, has hypnotized us into experimenting and enjoying ourselves less with them. I think we need more house rules. I think we need to use some of the Paths as sourcebooks instead of as modules, make more choices that thumb their noses at the power gamer expectations of the system, alter the structures given to us. We need to do this as players and as GMs, in cooperation and adjusting our approach to our circumstances. As a gaming group we have always been pretty good at this in play. I think we need to go "old school" in prep, too. Stress less, improvise more.

I often see people lock themselves in like that. A writer reads The Hero's Journey and mutilates her story to fit it, as if the structure of the Journey were a universal ideal toward which all stories must strive. An artist learns some useful techniques, and keeps using them even when they are less useful. A player gets bored with his playstyle and assumes he's bored with his game. A person leads a meaningless life, continually striving to hold on to a job she doesn't like to pay for a car she doesn't enjoy driving and buy her kids toys they don't play with. A citizen declares loyalty to a country and clings to that loyalty long after the country has proven itself disloyal to him.

Why do we do this to ourselves? It's depressing.

So cut it out. When you need a house rule, make one. When you don't, don't.

You can be happy and do good work, if you let yourself.

1 comment:

  1. absolutely cut it out and create some simple peace! well said.