The Serious Play Style

I’m scrambling around today trying to deal with various logistic issues, but I have planted my seat in the chair and am giving my rapt attention to you. I’ll get down to business in a moment, but want to thank all the positive commentary on yesterday’s RWR. Please spread the word about The Razorwise Report, and please, please, join our forums or Twitter or Facebook and provide some public feedback. Emails are always appreciated, but when you discuss things publicly, we get more eyes on various topics, discussions can arise, and the synapses fire a lot more. In other words, while it may appear to be merely ego-gratifying, it always offers up more fuel for the fire. If you wish to remain a quiet observer, so be it. I thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to read what I’ve got to say (and, yes, we can still be friends).

Today, I’m going to discuss atmosphere. Not the air we breathe, but the mood we set for the type of game we’re wishing to run. We’ll break it down into two broad styles of games and define the expectations of both player and GM. Here we go.

As we all know there are lots of games out there, but regardless of setting or system, the two dominant styles of play are as follows: serious and whimsical. One style is not superior to the other and, like wine, can be paired with various settings with differing degrees of success. Ultimately, it depends on what works for you and your crew. As a caveat, this has nothing whatsoever to do with numerous discussions found about the Internet on the type of gamer a person is. I don’t think they are mutually exclusive by any means, nor do they serve to inform the purposes of our discussion.

The Serious Play Style: This play style support serious gaming with an emphasis  on deep, immersive roleplaying. Distractions are few, miniatures may or may not be used, but the focus is on telling a collaborative story. Some of you may think I’ve just wandered off into indie land, but please hear me out.  Serious play often has the rules falling into the background while the characters interact with NPCs and the world around them. Combat does not have to be deadly for the game to be serious, nor does everyone have to be stony-faced. Games played in this manner are often intense experiences for the participants as they immerse themselves into the world.

Player: A player should do his utmost to stay in character at all times and eliminate cross-talk chatter about off-topic things. Particularizing one’s focus to “being” the character instead of being on the outside and saying “My character is doing this” can heighten the experience. Minimizing the use of game terms during play goes a long way towards this as well.  The player should also trust the GM (in regards to modifiers and character’s ability) and save rules questions until post-game when possible. The player should ask questions as needed to clarify his understanding of the environment “in character” (i.e. “What do I see?” as opposed to “What does my character see?”). Reducing this down, the player should consider himself the character in the world and act accordingly. Period.

The GM: It is the role and responsibility to be all the senses of the characters, and to know each character well enough to have a general understanding of their perceptual abilities and background to filter the world around them, so it can be presented through the appropriate lens. A doctor is going to take into account someone’s physicalities far more readily than is a merchant who is making judgment values based upon the person’s possessions and presentation. The GM should also have a solid understanding of the rules to warrant the players’ trust. The GM should phrase rules clearly and succinctly, citing them when necessary, and carefully maintain two personas: Honest Narrator and The Stage Manager. As the Narrator, the GM should honestly portray the world as understood by the characters and provide information as requested; his responsibilities for adjudicating rules also falls within this scope. The Stage Manager is where the GM takes on the roles of the citizens & denizens populating the world, and can misdirect, deceive, or direct depending upon the NPC’s motivations. He should be certain to make characters just as round (i.e. three-dimensional) as the PCs for maximum immersion. As usual, less important NPCs can be reduced to memorable thumbnails.

Good Fits: Solomon Kane, Realms of Cthulhu, and Warhammer

Bad Ideas: Toon, Paranoia

We’re out of time for today, tomorrow, we’ll chat about Whimsical Play Styles. Stay tuned!

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