In Praise of Brilliance. And Muppets..
“No, nothing I ever do is good enough. Not beautiful enough, it’s not funny enough, it’s not deep enough, it’s not anything enough. Now, when I see a rose, that’s perfect. I mean, that’s perfect. I want to look up to God and say, how the hell did you do that? And why the hell can’t I do that?”
“Now that’s probably one of your better con lines.”
“Yeah, it is. But that doesn’t mean I don’t mean it.” – All That Jazz
There were a lot of games at Strategicon’s Gateway 2016 this year (duh, go figure.) Even ran a few myself, both on and off books. Conventions can be touch and go in terms of the quality of gaming, both in terms of players and GM’s, because it’s ultimately game experience roulette – as an open gaming experience, you don’t get to dictate who will be sitting down at your table (unless you do the game in your room, naturally) and unless you know the GM you won’t be sure if you’ll have a good narrator/storyline/NPC representation, what have you. I usually do pretty good for sign-ups at my home convention, because people know me and are willing to come along for the ride, most of the time. Doesn’t always happen of course, especially when I go to conventions outside of my comfort zone. (And boy, you want to see a humbled tigger? You just see me at an empty table for a game I traveled to run. It’s a Charlie Brown Christmas in July.)
But it’s tough, even in the best of the scenarios. Any GM who says they feel no jitters before a con is either lying or foolish enough to underestimate the creativity and craftiness of players. You want to try and control the variables the best you can. This is why GM’s occasionally over-prep. I always tend to over-prep my Vampire games, mostly because I believe Vampire is meant as an immersive citywide experience. So I write out a city. And a state. And every faction. And their politics. And the global game. And its history. My wife hates when I run Vampire, by the way. I never come to bed on time. And we run out of printer ink.
But never mind that, on to the stuff.
I like to think that’s why GM’s sometimes don’t take chances, creatively. Sometimes, it’s just enough to figure out a pre-made scenario in a system everyone knows and make sure you don’t step on your…tail. Man, I get that. Who likes feeling foolish? But when GM’s try amazing concepts, it’s something special even if they don’t work out. Let me tell you about a couple of them.
- First of all, I want to give a perennial shout-out to the man, Mook Wilson. If you play GURPS, you probably know Mook from his book, “How to be a GURPS GM” (and if you don’t, you really should.). The man knows his stuff. But here’s what I don’t think enough people give praises for – Mook’s ideas are interesting. This past convention was a game based on “Sons of Anarchy”, where players took the role of a motorcycle gang in the Southwest. The convention before, the players were children’s toys, rescuing their “kid” from an imaginary monster in the closet. Both are great ideas, might I add. But here’s what I particularly love – they came from the same guy. Same. GUY. That’s a dude who has a mighty wide wheelhouse in terms of creativity. God I love that.
- I admit, I’m a Happy Jack’s whore, but I want to sing the praises for a moment of Dave “CaDave” Hoover and “Probie” Tim Huntley who took a stab at running an adventure where each character was made in a different game system. They openly said it was bad idea going into it, but that’s friggin’ great because of the bleed factor – I really do try to learn new systems (although I fail at that miserably), not because I want to get on the bandwagon of the week, but I’m always fascinated at how mechanics can be put together in interesting combinations. I liken it to a salad bar (or black magic from Big Trouble in Little China), take what you want and leave the rest. So in close proximity, those systems are going to bleed together and cause tough GM questions like “Should the Savage Worlds benefit system affect non SW players”? Or how does “Active Defense” work for non-GURPS characters, being attacked by GURPS characters? And you know what? I DON’T KNOW! Or rather I wouldn’t, really. But asking tough questions like that makes a GM have to think about what works, what doesn’t and what’s best for the adventure. Were there hiccups? Hell yeah, from what I’m told. But nobody goes anywhere new on a known path. To crib from the man in Full Metal Jacket, you can be silly and ignorant, but if you got guts, guts is enough. These boys got some, man.
- My favorite idea this convention, and I swear to God, I was *kicking* myself that I couldn’t be a part of this, was Lily Mansfield’s mash-up of Call of Cthulhu and… the Muppets. Seriously. THE MUPPETS. Who thinks of that?!? Her game “Muppets of Madness” had Elder Gods visiting the Muppet Show with the players taking on the roles of Jim Henson’s finest. Were they trying to solve the mystery or dispel the dark lords? NO! They were holding yet another weekly variety show! And they did! Complete with actual musical numbers! They did songs! IN AN RPG GAME! Oh my GOD, what an incredible idea! I have been singing the praises of this since I heard of it, and I have told Lily herself that wow…. I really do wish I had thought of that. And here’s the part that tickles me the most – I’m not sure I could’ve! I have been told this was Lily’s first game she’s run at a game convention, which is a helluva thing, really. To knock it out of the part in your first try… that would be something, if she just “Welp. I’ve done that.” And never do it again. That would be funny, but a terrible loss. I am dying to know what she does next time.
So what’s the point of all this? I say gamemasters should take chances, especially at conventions. I believe that if we go over the same genres/systems/tropes in our gameplay, we don’t improve and we don’t amaze. If you hit the mark, you’re going to be amazing. And if you do a crummy job… well, just set it in the 70’s or something. No one will know. Honest.