Graypawn's Game Theory

What this is: A Synopsis of what i love/believe/want in an RPG

Part One - Where I Come From

My first and most influential games were Stormbringer, Hunter: the Reckoning, GURPS, Mage: the Ascension, and a Homebrew game i designed called “Dreamlands.” This is my Origin Story.

Stormbringer taught me that i was in love with being part of a story. It also instilled a love for detail into me, the kind only a person with a passionate imagination can create.

Hunter: the Reckoning taught me about re-invisioning the world around me, it instilled in me a love of re-imagined history and seeing the unseen all around us.

GURPS taught me that imagination is limitless when brought from one person to another. ‘Major’ works of art must reach a generic audience, and therefore reach no one. But a game between a few people can be limitless in how it thrives on relationship.

Mage: the Ascension is only consequently related to my realization that Gaming can create community - it’s a chance to make new friends as well as deepen the ones you’ve already got.

Dreamlands was just another White Wolf game i made up - but i’ve never given up on it, and it’s the first game that made me realize: i love thinking about game design - i love the concept of magical languages that unlock our imaginations. That’s what games are, to me.

My capstone effort as a game designer is the tragic epic Alterscape. This was a game that cobbled together all the things i love about the community, the science, the passion, and the style of Gaming. If it had ever been more than a sad ending that estranged me from people i would still be playing it today.

Part Two - A Random List of Influences

So there's this strange collection of games, movies, books, and projects i listed on this blog post once. They're a loose sampling of the things i love in the stories i pursue and re-create.

"I want a game that feels like Eberron, or Indiana Jones, or Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser. But i want it to play like Anima Prime or Storming the Wizards Tower, but with the weight and buy-in of Silver & White or Ribbon Drive. Is that just crazy?"

When it comes to Feel i go back to Taking Things Seriously. When it comes to Play i get excited about the familiarity and newness of Tradition. When it comes to the Weight i'm blown away by the Honesty and Passion.

Part Three - Why I'm Here

or, Why I Keep Trying

The Question left to answer is 'why do you game? What are you looking for?' This is best explained in tandem with Socket Theory, in my opinion. Shorthand - there are things we 'plug into' when we Game (or do anything voluntarily, i'd bet). My Sockets in a Game look like this:
* To Explore my Connection with People.
* To Learn, Re-learn, and Remember what is beautiful and hard to accept and worth loving in Life.
* To Swim in the Sea of Color provided by powerful, connected Imagination.
* To make something everlasting out of the ephemeral.

Part Four - Advice

The worst possible thing i can do now is follow all this undefended opinion with condescending advice. But i'm going to risk it anyway. If you want to get into Games the way i do, this is what i suggest…


First off - Play an Element of Yourself

You can do this by playing something that is simple - define a thing you think is cool, and would like to see in the fiction you're about to enter. For me it repeats a lot - i love the Gunslinger archetype, i love the less-than-powerful hero, and i love the Smart Ass that says foolish things to the Big Bad Guy.

You can also do this by connecting your Character to an emotion. Is there something that weighs you down? Make a character that will overcome that same emotion. Is there a painful memory that you carry? Give the same memory to your Character. Is there a goal you'd desperately fight to achieve? Put that goal in your characters future. Is there a cause you want to defend, maybe even to the friends sitting at the table with you? March your character under that same banner. Your character can be closer to you than just an incarnation of something that you find awesome. It can be a story in the fiction like the story your life is telling.

To me the ultimate way to do this, however, is to play yourself. Maybe a shade of yourself, or an iteration, or a re-imagining that comes from the fiction. But to me the Approximation Game is the greatest way to connect the fiction to yourself. Just go there on your own. Don't invent a protagonist. Be the protagonist. Jump in and PLAY.

Second off - Play Together

A game is created and controlled by communication. Some say it's more like a conversation. Some say it's more like a play. Whatever essence your game is like, it's not going to get better without good communication. Don't phrase things in terms of rules if they're about preference. Don't blame fairness or statistics when it's a matter of opinion. Play together. Be open about what you want and why you want it. And even more than that be looking for what everyone else at the table wants. No game is perfect - there are always going to be situations that come up where your communication will have to happen outside of the games structure or words. That's not a problem, it's not a failing, just a fact. It doesn't matter if the game is cutting edge indie DIY or arcane entrenched pop-culture mass-marketed product.

Don't be afraid to cue each other. Games will provide you with an amazing plethora of ways to explain something without explaining it. But your experience with the people you're gaming with might add layers to that - use those, too. Whatever facilitates expression in a way that pulls you closer to the other players and deeper into the fiction. Use little ideas you come up with - from the surroundings around you, or the well-planned execution of a hand-crafted prop. Go into the fiction as far as you can, but stay within sight of your fellows.

Respect what is Awesome. Some people will have different ideas about what is solid and cool. Be aware of what they are. If someone doesn't like what you're introducing, or looks like they don't, ask them what's up. They may have a different wish for the situation, or you may have just failed to connect with them in some way. But if you're watching what the others are doing and trying to work with it, you won't have to. Follow your passions, but let it dance with the other players. It's like being in a band: not everyone needs to guitar solo all the time.

Finally - And Most Of All - Share

There's a lot of rhetoric about games that cause you to cry, or about games that deal with 'real' or 'painful' issues. There's a lot of exploration of the 'serious' in gaming. I'm not saying you shouldn't go there. But i'm saying i've played a lot of 'safe' games and they've ripped me up inside. Because the connections i made were real, and the emotions i shared were ours, and the stories we told were significant on a very personal level. The connections you make with people just because you like the same games are a treasure, don't get me wrong. But try gaming with people you rely on, or trust dangerously, or open up to regularly. The emotions you feel when dealing with the 'weighty' topics are unifying, no doubt. But try sharing a story with close friends where you talk about what you believe, what you hope for, and what you're afraid of. It doesn't have to be epic. It doesn't have to be well educated. Just speak from your heart, and listen very honestly, realize the impact these personal perspectives have on those right there, with you. The stories that come from people sharing with each other as friends will be as life-changing as any major event. Just telling someone you lost your job, broke up with your boyfriend, moved out of the old place, or buried a favorite pet can carry more weight than games about war, romance, abandonment or death.

You don't have to look for games that are significant in scope, just play from your own life, and open your heart up to what others are living through right beside you.

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