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Spontaneous Gaming Month—Week Three
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Spontaneous Gaming Month—Week Three

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Spontaneous Gaming Month—Week Three

Greetings, roleplaying fans and mortals whose soul gems we are holding hostage! Things are very exciting for the Four Horsemen right now, but also keeping us super busy. We have a lot of (cold) irons in the fire working with some of your favorite publishers, and I can't wait for you to see those results.

Because of those busy projects, it's me, Famine, returning for a second week in a row to talk about one of my favorite aspects of roleplaying games—spontaneous gaming. Last week I had a lot to say about GMing a pickup game and using the tools I've found make me a better game master every week regardless of my level of preparation. This week I want to talk about things that will enhance your experience as a player in games you maybe didn't know you were going to play.

Make an Offer

My first piece of advice last week was for GMs to accept the player's offer. Gaming is more satisfying when a proactive player has a character with goals and passions, and the GM weaves those into the story. As a player, I always have some ambitious sort of agenda. Maybe we get through it all in a session, and maybe not (hopefully because other players have agendas too and we're all having fun). In a spontaneous game, this is maybe even more important because the GM gets help crafting the plot and knows which NPCs to bring life to. Say I play a blue-skinned tiefling rogue out to free slaves. I don't know what my GM is planning as she makes the game up on the fly, but I've already suggested plane-touched half-breeds and slavers as possible themes to blend into the game. By accepting my offer for one of the characters in the story, she has information she can work with. She can even instantly conceive of several encounters (maybe a raid on a guarded slave pen or an attack by assassins hired to 'killed the blue-skinned knife-fighter lowering our profits') or NPC attitudes (like a knife merchant who recognizes me because of my fiendish heritage). If you make an interesting offer and the GM accepts it out of habit, the interaction is pleasing to everyone and the game proceeds fluidly.

Don't Sweat the Details

Little things should never hold up games. Sometimes that means the minutiae of grappling rules. Sometimes that means the technical duration of a spell important to a whole scene even if it only lasts a few seconds by the rules. When playing a pickup game, you're commonly not playing something where today's decision will matter in next week's session. Don't worry about precedent or rules-lawyering a scene. In a recent pick-up game with a few designers and friends, I played a barbarian, one of a pair of twins known essentially as the immovable object the irresistible force. Our weapons in one fight were thick chains intended to keep us constrained, but I simply used them as a spiked chain. I later exaggerated how long the chain was to throw its length around a stone obelisk—the symbol of a treacherous regime that abused its gladiators—and pulled the whole thing down on the nobles sitting in their gilded box. Those actions defy both physics and game rules, really, but the scene was magnificent and we all had a great time with similarly heroic feats. The game took on an air of Greek mythology with our exploits and we enjoyed it immensely. Plus those nobles had it coming.

One area where gliding past the small details is important is character creation. Sometimes you'll play an RPG and another player wants to have fun but doesn't know the game well. Sometimes there's only a certain amount of time to play and you want to get started right away. My plan for this is to ask players to focus on their story while I make a few notes to weave a plot (assuming I get a few minutes to do that). Character sheets take a total back seat, but the game does involve rules and dice, so a simple fleshing out of base statistics makes it possible to enjoy the game, have combat, and still spend more time playing than building characters. At Gen Con this year I ran a Ponyfinder game for a mom and her two kids (a teenager and a toddler). Only the mom was familiar with the rules. It was clear we were there to tell a kid-friendly story and involve the little one, but you can't go teaching the game to a five-year-old for an hour before playing out the next three. So I offered the players basic statistics based on their class and story: attack bonus, saving throws, armor class, and hit points. Based on their class and concept, I manufactured their bonuses and other rules every time I needed a roll from them. The rogue made a Perception check? Sure, +2 ranks, +3 class skill, +1 for being can add a +6 to your roll. The oracle needs spells? You can heal a friend once each round during combat, in addition to your normal attack (which simulates spontaneous spells and a healer oracle revelation). By skipping most of the process of character creation, we crafted characters for the game, started playing almost immediately, and still had combats on a map with rules.

Focus on Roleplaying

I think the single most important aspect of a spontaneous game is the roleplaying. It's always (A L W A Y S) fun to roll dice, cast spells, and fight stuff. But we play the game to imagine ourselves in another place, performing deeds more heroic than selling insurance or proofing blueprints. The first order of any game is to establish a concept you'll build a character around, but it's more important in a pick-up game to roleplay your character because the GM needs a little time to get to know who you are between fight scenes. In a weekly game with an established game setting, it's much easier to identify plot points and plan combats that challenge or highlight (do some of both) several characters' tactical builds. In a spontaneous game, you need to get to know each other quickly, and need to be comfortable roleplaying your character. Not every question about your motivation and background needs (or can be) explored. But being in character creates early immersion and allows you and your fellow players to know what to expect.

Know Your Rules

Up above I mentioned not sweating things that distract you from the flow of a game. I think that principle overrides my next few words, but it's still important advice. When you're playing a game with little preparation, be intentional about playing something you already know the rules for. Combat and character creation both take significantly longer when you are less than familiar with your abilities and tactics. If you aren't really sure how occult classes work, maybe a pick up Pathfinder game isn't the best time to try one out. Feats, spells, and salient abilities all are part of the fun, but having to look up exact effects or needing to keep track of multiple counters and durations can draw players out of the game.

Along those lines, try to conceive your plan of action between your turns so you can get through a combat quickly. Too many pickup games follow the pattern of talking about the game, then slow character creation, then getting in one intro and combat by midnight. Make sure you're in a position to help someone else get through the process instead of holding the game up.

Lord Famine, can these ideas make player characters more fun in every game I play?

I am soo glad I you asked that! We discussed last week that becoming a more fluid GM can improve your skills across any table and in games of any genre or level of preparedness. I think there are definitely situations in weekly home campaigns where the approaches I discussed above can make the game more fun and keep it moving. Suppose a beloved PC is incapacitated unexpectedly (if your players aren't basically expecting to die at a moment's notice, report to my office for "retraining"), but you still want to be a part of the action. Being fast with creating that new character or roleplaying a swallowed whole/held or paralyzed/dying-and-moving-toward-the-light character insures you're still involved in the game without any tedious holdups. And like any good tip for increasing your enjoyment of the game, they'll probably please everyone else at your table as well!

Next week we'll have more advice about spontaneous games and a quick preview of what the future of our blog looks like here at! Happy gaming!

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David S August 20, 2016 8:08 pm UTC
Glad you had fun at the con, and with Ponyfinder!
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