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Aging out of My Own Hobby

The internet revolution is hitting RPGs hard, and hugely for the better. Self-publishing and pdfs and search engines bypass the costs of physical printing and let everyone who wants to get a toe in the waters do so. Of course, there’s a lot of half-baked ideas floating around out there now, but that’s where search engines come in. Search engines and the rapid cycling of word-of-mouth that social networks afford. The internet is magic.

At first I was like a kid in a candy store with the promise of fresh, new, experimental ideas. But more and more that excitement has been replaced by a sense of being overwhelmed. Not because I’m spoiled for choice, which I am, but out of an increasing sense that (1) current trends in RPG design aren’t generally to my taste, and (2) more importantly, those titles which sound inventive and appealing despite current trends won’t engage my fellow players.

Recently—by which I mean a year or two ago—we switched to Fate Core as our preferred go-to system. We still try other things, but Fate is the default. And I can scarcely get this group up to speed on the system. Jen subscribes to the notion that system doesn’t matter, and pretty well ignores system as a matter of principle, to the point of asking endlessly, “so what do I roll?” and occasionally getting upset because the rules won’t support what she wants. (They will, but not if she can’t be bothered to express what she wants. Many systems these days can use different mechanics to represent the same event, depending on how you want the event to affect the story, and so the GM may be powerless to answer the question “so what do I roll?”) Ella is willing, but slightly math-phobic and easily intimidated by the idea of rules. I think she understands more than she realizes, but continues to stumble rather than assert, for fear of being wrong. Dave, bless him, likes to dabble with systems, and he’s into Fate as well. Way, way more into it than I am: he’s contracted with Evil Hat to put a campaign idea into print. A professional Fate writer! Way, way beyond me in what one might expect from his system mastery. And yet… he doesn’t get Fate. His mechanical embellishments break, usually sooner rather than later. And none of my three fellow players are very assertive at the table.

Which is death for Fate. Fate deliberately shares narrative power that traditionally belonged to the GM with players by giving them a pool of points to spend when they want to alter the ongoing story. In my mind’s eye, I see how it should work, and it can be awesome. It was awesome in Dave’s “Bastards!” campaign… because I was on the players’ side of the table, and I did assert myself, and herded the other PCs along with me. But when I’m the GM, the players let the plot drift yet gripe when they aren’t getting xp (which is earned by advancing the plot), spend their fate points like water for massive overkill rolls yet complain that they don’t have enough chips, gripe when I compel their aspects, and generally don’t use the system to its potential, or even their own advantage.

And Fate is otherwise a very traditional RPG, with skill checks and heroic power levels and a traditional GM. I want to try more experimental systems like 1001 Arabian Nights, Dread, the Drama System, Fiasco, and Skullduggery, but I’m afraid they simply won’t fly.

To be fair, I’m not open to all the marvelous possibilities, either, except in an abstract devotion to trying things for the sake of trying them. I hated, hated, hated Monster Hearts, and I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the Apocalypse World engine in general, a shame when there’s so much enthusiasm on the net for it. (All of us are having a hard time with Apocalypse World in general. Though Dave remains enthusiastic.) I can get it with practice, but doubt the payoff of potentially improved story will balance the cost of poor story produced while we fumble around learning it. The explosion of new game systems leans heavily toward narrativism and away from gamism or simulationism, which is cool in the abstract, but decidedly not to my tastes or intuitive bent.

So I’m frustrated. Offered a cornucopia of new RPG techniques to try, nowhere near enough time to try them, fellow players who haven’t historically handled them, and—may as well admit it—a sense of my own aging brain finding it harder to keep up. Thanks, internet, for this paradox of choice.

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