Freedom or Focus: How Do You Roll?

Okay. Busy doing business today, so the poll I took on topics is going to wait until Monday. I have ideas, but I need space to fully explore them. Today is not that day.

I have a question for you to mull over (while I’m mulling on some other things) and here it is.

When you are playing a roleplaying game, do you prefer freedom of choice (you can do pretty much what you want) or do you want a narrow focus?

Think about this. There is no wrong answer. Probably. I’m curious to hear how you weigh in on this. Pick from the perspective of you can choose only one. No waffling or fence setting please.

Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!

8 Notes on, Freedom or Focus: How Do You Roll?

  1. Freedom!

    As a player, the only thing more frustrating than having the GM say, “No, you can’t do that because…” is having him say, “No, you can’t do that because you just can’t, okay.”

    To me, this is what separates a true RPG from their computer-game counterparts. The player isn’t restricted to the prescribed scenarios and courses of action the designers have scripted; he can do *anything* that’s realistic for the setting.

  2. There is a wrong answer, it can only be achieved by recognizing that there is no fence. I’m going to disappoint you now. I’ll demonstrate exactly how:

    First, some metaphysics. Which is more true – Creationism or the Theory of Evolution?

    The answer is that they can become exactly the same thing if we accept that “time” doesn’t actually exist except as an abstract variable that must be set to an arbitrary event frequency. As soon as that frequency changes, time must be reset. This is useful for coordinating actions, but difficult to maintain. Black plus white equals grey.

    This really old book over which people fight constantly had a floating invisible dude fond of igniting bushes. When asked about everything, the only answer forthcoming was “I AM”. What if there is no “then” other than an arbitrary comparison to “now”, the only extant reality?

    Having typed all that, I’ll answer your query about game mechanics. Discipline permits freedom. This is why I love Savage Worlds. The rules are “high level” enough to be furiously fast in a fun way, but picky enough to satisfy “crunch” fetishists. This is also why I can’t obey you and do a “black or white” analysis.

    If the scope of the rules is broad but the unified mechanics can address all situations, there’s room for freedom at exactly the same time that specific situations can be covered with a razor-sharp focus. It’s just like having a Razorwise Report on Reality Blurs.

    My great joy as a veteran gamer is to have found a system that is very specific but also permits me to actually mechanically negotiate the following psychotic juxtaposition of gaming concepts:

    * Mana cannon positioned on the back of pet Shoggoth and energized. Check.
    * Shock-absorbing harness rigged. Check. Ablative/Reflective battlesuit atmospheric seal intact. Check.
    * Ultravision goggles functioning. Check.
    * Legion of half-orc assassins with behavior-control collars are ready with remote stimulant injectors primed. Check.
    * Green Slime grenade projectors stolen from Dwarf D&D alchemist keyed to targeting grid. Check.
    * Savage Worlds RPG rules memorized. Check.

    Yes, congratulations for getting Agents of Oblivion out there!

    What’s REALLY cool is to be able to write up the character, Shoggoth, and equipment in a few minutes, conjure a horde of half-orcs even faster, then be able to drop the whole mess into Gotham or Galadriel’s forest and have a wild party in about the same time as it would take for most gaming groups to simply array their books in a huge pile and sort out the junk food.

    I didn’t write that last part – that was temporary possession by a troll from a random internet forum.

  3. I prefer a cinematic game with focus. I make adventures similar to the plot point campaigns you see in other Savage Worlds settings. Players can bring the best out of my story but they usually can’t make a good story without guidance. They think they can but it never works out that way.

  4. Freedom!! I was reading another blog yesterday–sadly, I can’t remember the name–but it was talking about games in which you just think about what you want to do and the system helps any character try to do it and games in which you have to look at your character sheet to find out what you can do. When I play, I *always* prefer the first. I also like the feeling that the world is open; if I want to do something crazy, I can do it and it won’t ruin or break the storyline.

    Strangely, I like to RUN both types of games. :)

  5. If I’m interpreting this correctly, then the question seems to be less about system and more about plot. And the answer would be “I’m always the GM so narrow focus makes my life easier.” In my case, that means less an Adventure Path-style structure and more a player compact to abide by genre conventions.

    Otherwise I agree with Lord Mhor.

  6. If I can only choose one then it has to be freedom.

    One of the greatest games I have run in the past few month was a spontaneous get together where I simply said yes to pretty much everything the players said. They think the robot is the bad guy and not the one I had in mind? Then he is the bad guy! There where no closed doors or one way streets, no right solution.

    But there is a caveat I must admit I am guilty of. To start the game I rolled a random mission in a mission generator to head them off into space. From their everything evolved. I have made the experience simply asking players “What do you want to do” usually leads to a whole lot of nothing. Too much choice can have a paralyzing effect. That is why I would say I prefer sandboxes to total freedom. A sandbox has clear boundaries at start, a clear definition what it is about. But during the course of the game these boundaries can be extended or removed altogether.

    That is the one thing that PnP and a real life GM has above other sorts of games. We can shape the “reality” of the game world in whatever way we please and enable our players to do impossible things. We can go off script and simply break down walls and go unexpected places.

    I do not believe freedom and focus are necessarily counter to each other because a very focused adventure can form out of a free game. It is inevitable that plots evolve over time and certain villains or quests are defined through play. And the players will want to follow these leads. The difference is instead of creating a whole detailed adventure you create set-pieces. You never know where this awesome boss room with the traps and the elaborate designs and the Lab will actually be placed, but your do know that at some point your players will confront the big bad.

    Hmm sounds like the Points of Light or Plot Points in a way, now that I think about it.

  7. Has to be Freedom. As a player and GM/Director/Gaffer, the reason I play is to tell stories with my friends. The freedom for the story to go where ever it needs to is essential so that everyone can enjoy the experience. The person running the show might have a map showing where they want to take the group but you always get twists, short cuts and long cuts that you don’t expect.

  8. Freedom. Running a decent “focus” game is easier; but if you can pull it off, a “freedom” game can be much more rewarding.

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