As someone who spent many years building Champions characters, I’m used to intricate character building. As someone who no longer just builds characters for the joy of building characters but actually wants to play the characters I build these days, I have no patience for involved character creation, anymore.
Was building a character for BattleTech: A Time of War and could not believe the lifepath system. Sure, the game has a number of ways you can build characters and the straight point buy system looks fine, but the lifepath stuff is just a hideous monster of inanity. That it’s aimed at people who like detail doesn’t excuse that most of the bonuses are meaningless when you go to “optimize” (i.e. make your character playable) your character. All flexible spending can just be dumped into an attribute pool, etc. I like the idea of lifepaths but have yet to see them justify the effort involved.
But, besides being tedious, going through the process reminds me of a few things that all tie into my new age thinking that games need to focus on what is fun.
Any sort of lengthy character creation only takes time away from actually starting play. Even with campaign play, the most important thing is to play. The more you play a character, the more the character comes alive. Much of the time, backstory elements don’t end up mattering. A GM can only incorporate so many individual character elements, and the ones that the group will remember are the ones shared between the group, which are the ones that happen after the campaign begins. One defining feature/hook to a character is enough, in my mind.
Note, on a tangent, that I utterly despise fake storytelling mechanics in character creation, like having one person’s weakness be another person’s strength, or whatever that FATE nonsense I had to go through for one campaign was about. Cooperative party design is not advantaged by mechanizing thematics.
Similarly, I might finally be getting to the point of not statblocking all of my NPCs in all of the excruciating detail one might for a PC. Yeah, I still full character sheet too much because creating characters (for some systems) is fun, but I’m starting to not bother for ones who are purely thematic and only having relevant abilities for others. Not doing full character sheets is a huge GM time saver.
Since this post isn’t intended to cover everything about my new world thinking but to focus on speed, let’s see if I can come up with a few more things that only relate to quick play.
There are other aspects of campaigns that don’t need to be fully fleshed out prior to starting. It helps to have players who are more flexible about what mechanics a campaign uses, as you don’t get balkiness when you want to create or modify a campaign mechanic. I’m not even that concerned about whether PCs are fully mechanically built. But, then, one of the things playing HoR has shown me is that it’s more important that players like their characters than worry overmuch about their stats. Of course, the flip side of this is that I want to know enough about PCs and player NPCs that I can incorporate their individual characteristics into the game, something that has been teeth-pulling with one of the campaigns I’m currently running.
Once you start play, there’s not getting bogged down in: descriptions; rules; not knowing rules; decision-making; other. Some of this is RPG-101, like not obsessing over rules. But, I really don’t see why decisions need to take a long time. Most often, this will come about when making some sort of strategic plan. But, this can also come up during combat, when people don’t know the mechanics for their characters. A bit different from wasting time because of the rules aspects of not knowing mechanics, by the way – I see both problems at times.
Or, in the realm of CCGs, people who obsess over building perfect decks rather than just throwing something together and playing. Much of the time, playing a deck will tell you what you need to change that worrying about contents for an unplayed deck won’t. Again, some of my nutpuncher decks were not intended to be such – I only discovered after play that they didn’t work as expected.
While I prefer RPGs and CCGs, both of which have substantial pre-play commitments, I’ve very much moved to a philosophy of just start playing the game. Playing the game is supposed to be fun. If it is fun, spend more time doing.
Then, when playing, move things along.
We had two other MechWarrior campaigns a couple years or so ago. I don’t recall a lot. What I do recall is spending time on character construction that largely didn’t matter. I recall spending a lot of time deciding what to do without having a clear idea how to do it. Flailing about is not my idea of fun. The plot and the characters with it should always be in motion.
Then, there are other sorts of games where set up and/or break down can be lengthy. While I enjoyed BattleTech at KublaCon, an hour of set up for a new scenario is non-trivial. I don’t make any effort to encourage mahjong play with my boardgaming group as it’s a time intensive game. Games like Arkham Horror don’t enthuse me as much as a boardgame that can be quickly started.
Spending a bunch of time reading rules also doesn’t do it for me. I’ve never been much for learning games from reading; learning from others is my standard method of learning anything. But, it’s even less pleasant when everyone in a group needs to read a bunch to play a game. While I’m kind of stretching this post beyond what inspired it, having one person learn the rules and explain to everyone else is better than having everyone try to learn the rules on their own.
I can see where some people might find travel time to play games or the like to be unfun, but I actually like it when you travel with others whom you can speak to about the game. I even tend to not have a problem with the travel time when it’s just me, as I do think about games while undergoing the boredom that is driving or public transportation. Still, maximizing game time is something I can see being an issue for groups.
Maybe it’s due to gaming more than I did when younger. Maybe it’s a been there, done that perspective. Maybe it’s just a factor of getting older. But, I see increasing value in quick start and rapid developments with games. Games that don’t offer such seem to me to be limiting their markets. Which, I suppose, is one reason V:TES isn’t more popular. Even if you can get people to throw together decks and not get paralyzed by the multitude of options, games (in my experience) rarely have rapid developments and timely conclusions. (Though, to be fair, V:TES games I play in with rapid developments tend to be horribly unbalanced and aren’t any more satisfying.)