What I most want out of role-playing is a really good conversation. A conversation which is meaningful, important and changes something, perhaps the relationship of the characters involved or the perceptions of my character or even the world in some way.
This aspect of gaming (which to me is fundamental) is rarely mentioned in the system books – Apocalypse World gives it more airtime than most, although it only really talks about having rules to regulate conversation, not about how to achieve a good conversation.
But even rarer is a system or piece of GM guidance which expressly supports and nurtures good conversations. Dogs in the Vineyard is arguably a system designed for social interaction/conflicts which should be about having interesting conversations. However I find DiTV ‘s dice mechanics so complicated and dice heavy that it largely sidelines the conversations it is supposed to be supporting.
The idea of mechanics being used to support conversation itself feel controversial to me and I’ll probably come back to it.
What I hadn’t realised is how much this desire to get amazing conversations happening influences my GMing style. It turns out my games are run primarily to encourage and support the interesting conversations between the PCs and NPCs. This manifests in a number of ways:
1. I rarely speed up a conversation to get to the action (in fact often the opposite).
2. I pitch my plots and information dissemination to inspire and sustain conversations.
3. I create NPCs with feelings, emotions and complex motivations, who are capable of sustaining good conversations.
4. I make the time for my NPCs to have serious those one-to-one conversations with the player characters to establish meaningful relationships with them.
5. I prefer to run my sessions one-to-one giving players the feeling they have the luxury of time to just talk.
I had my lightbulb moment in a recent Amber session I ran. The players thought that the focus of the session was the action based rescue of an NPC. The focus of the session for me was the conversations which would naturally occur once the NPC was recovered. I was lucky that this difference in expectation didn’t wreck the game and it could have easily been a disappointment. The actual rescue was quick and easy and took relatively little time. If the players were expecting to enjoy several hours of sneaking around, fighting guards and defeating an end-of-level boss they would have been very disappointed.
I have written many times about the importance of agreed expectations for successful gaming. I had no idea I was consistently breaking my own rules, – bad GM, no cookie.
I was lucky in that my players enjoyed the session regardless (down to my choice of players rather than anything else I expect!) I learned a good lesson though. I’ll be giving much more obvious signposts in future.