Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Creating Like A Creator: An Introduction

Creating Like A Creator

By Chris Scholten

An Introduction

 I have played tabletop RPG's for many years now, and during this time I have come into the opinion that game masters, narrators, referees, or whatever you decide to address them as, are by far the most important element to a roleplaying game. I've played a great number of game sessions as both a player and as a referee and generally found that a greater deal of responsibility falls upon the referee.

To look at this from a purely mechanical standpoint, the referee is tasked with a number of responsibilities. They are generally the primary narrator, they shape and mold the world and the setting the story takes place, they are expected to modify and develop their plans on the fly as the players make arbitrary and unexpected decisions, and must present the players with challenges and difficulties that are exciting, enjoyable, and interactive to the players at all times. And let's not forget the countless characters and enemies they must develop with individual statistics, even personalities and backgrounds in some cases. What's more, all of these things can be dismissed at the drop of a hat if a player decides to take his adventure elsewhere.

I say this, mind you, as a dedicated game master of many campaigns that I love to run and narrate. In fact, often times I find that it is my obligation to act as referee for a number of different reasons. You see, the referee isn't just the person who guides the story and does the most homework. The referee has a degree of authority in the game. This is not to say that the referee should run his game with an iron fist. Rather, because of the referee's responsibilities and guiding role within a game, his decisions have a certain weight to them that players (usually) respect.

This authority translates further than one might expect, and in subtle, often unnoticed methods. For example, a referee's sense of morality or virtue plays a large part in the background of the game, whether one intends it to or not. If, in this campaign we have created, Evil is greater than Good, and righteousness is neither rewarded nor recognized, what considerations does that carry upon the players? If Good cannot prevail, what sense is there in it? How does that effect the atmosphere of the game? Does this influence the outlook of the characters, or to be more dramatic, the players?
Furthermore, of what importance does divinity hold within this world? Are this world's divine beings a representation of our God or his attributes? Are they simply deified because they are the most powerful entities in the realm, but hold no true Divinity? Or do the characters reside in a godless realm devoid of purpose and direction? If they do exist, what role do they play in the world? How prominent are they? The answers to all these questions shape the spiritual significance of this world. They can be overt or subtle, constructive or adverse.

Now allow me to clarify, I am not making a moral assessment of any of these concepts. Each can be used for good purpose. The reason for which I bring these things up is simply to demonstrate that there are many aspects of a game that can have an effect on its atmosphericx significance. And as is most often the case, it all boils down to the intentions of the people using these tools and telling this story.

If you're playing a game purely for recreation and your players aren't taking it too seriously, then don't sweat it. But if you're intention is to use these tools to testify, to disciple, to make a point with your story; be intentional with your actions and the atmosphere your game creates. They can carry significant weight, even in the subtlest ways.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Matter of What's On My Heart.

Hello, ladies and gentlemen. I apologize that I have not presented you with an entertaining article over the past week. I know that it is important to maintain consistency, especially when first starting out on the internet, but my heart has not been in games and leisure as of late. All across the internet, I've been bombarded with soul-crushing news of activity in the Middle East. I know, I know, you came here for entertainment, now this guys getting all political. Though agonizing sorrow and unbridled rage well up inside me, I want to bring this to attention in lowliness.

Over the past week, I have been writing and researching for my next article, which would take a look at worldbuilding and creating a campaign setting, but I find myself unable to think creatively or write with eloquence or locution. My mind keeps wandering back to the Christians being slaughtered in Iraq, and I cannot bring myself to invest my time in games while something so devastating is affecting Christians on the other side of the world.

If you haven't heard, a terrorist organization by the name of ISIS (or the Islamic State of Iraq) has risen to considerable power in Iraq and begun an 'ethnic cleansing' of all the Christians in Iraq. They've killed thousands of Christians, beheading their children and putting their heads on pikes, raping the women to death or selling them into sex slavery, and torturing and hanging the husbands.

I will not be posting 'shock' images or videos (although ISIS has been too kind in video taping their own exploits and providing them to the masses), as I find that distasteful and quite frankly, have not seen any of them. I'm too afraid to see that suffering. However, there is a lot of information and news about it on the internet. So please, spread awareness, stay informed, and I beg of you, on my knees in humility, please, pray for these people.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

You Are in a Dark Passage...

'To the north, a solid stone door. It appears heavy, but with some effort it can be unsealed.
To the east, a long and winding labyrinth of corridors. One wrong turn could spell doom.

To the west, a dank earthen tunnel, leading down into the abyss. What dangers lurk below?
To the south, your exit. Do you return from whence you came and abandon this venture?'

I've been playing tabletop RPG's for six years of my life now. Dungeons and Dragons, Shadowrun, Edge of the Empire, even entirely homebrewed systems, and as my immediate friends' and families' almost exclusive game master, I have oft posed the question to myself, 'What on Earth am I even doing?' I had come to the realization that there had been many times that I had only been progressing the story of the game for the sole purpose of getting my players to move forward and level up.

Now don't get me wrong, progressing in the game is exciting, and I love seeing my players giddily scouring the source material for new options to expand on their character, but is that the purpose of the game? Well, when it all comes down to it, the game has whatever purpose you choose to give it, but I realized that I didn't have purpose in my game. Each session felt disconnected and inconsequential, and my players could see that. I had to sit down and do some heavy thinking.

What do I want my game to be about? Personally? I want to tell a story. Not just a story, but a good story. One that's memorable, exciting, dramatic, terrifying, death-defying! Where good triumphs over evil and the light of heroes casts out the darkness of a corrupt and dangerous world. I have a penchant for the theatrical, I know, but that's who I am!

And so, I got to work. I set aside a good 5 or 6 hours of my day for a couple days and I built a world. Not just a world of dragons and dungeons, but a world with life and culture; a world with a purpose. What drove C.S. Lewis to write the Narnia books, with such vivacity and imagination? It meant something to him. He wanted to show the world his love and his faith, and he did it by enchanting us with a story of magic and a hidden world of adorable talking animals and terrifying monsters.

He wrote it so well, so earnestly, and so enthusiastically, that when we read The Magician's Nephew, we care about what happens to the young Digory Kirke and Polly Plumber. We feel betrayed and used when Digory's uncle tricks them into being guinea pigs in his experiment, and we're brought to heart-fluttering joy when, well, I won't spoil anything. But he brought meaning and life to a silly story. He took something purely intangible and made it matter in the hearts and minds of people.

So my question for you is this: What do you want your game to be about?