Setting Expectations with the Game Charter

By | February 15, 2014

Hello once again!

With the character-creation rules posted and the actual play rules coming within the next few weeks, I’m going to turn to discussing the material present in what we’ve posted.  This way, I hope to provide some of the theory behind what we’re designing and how, in our playtests so far, we arrived at those design decisions.

One of the things that helps make Forthright Open Roleplay so unique is that it doesn’t begin with character creation.  One common issue that many roleplaying groups face (especially when first assembling a stable group, or introducing someone new to the group) is that of incompatible expectations.  Essentially, players and GMs enter into a game with different ideas about what’s going to happen in the game to come.  I’ll give an example:

Jack and Jill join a game with Bob and his group, thinking that they’re going to be enjoying a fine game of going through the dungeon, killing bad guys and saving the day.  Bob and the other players at the table, though, are used to playing games where intrigue is the order of the day and are more interested in engaging NPCs, manipulating events, lore and empire-building than slaughtering things in caves.  If Jack and Jill don’t find themselves adapting to or enjoying the difference in game style, this could well lead to friction within the gaming group.  And if it’s a new game instead of an established campaign, it could well lead to an end to the game, as well.

The thing is, neither Jack and Jill or Bob and his group were wrong in what they wanted.  A lot of roleplayers have encountered these situations, and it has led many of them to complain about how “other people don’t like to have fun,” “this is the only way to game,” “you can’t have that kind of play with this game system,” etc.  And that kind of mindset is wrong.

Because there’s no single way to have fun.  What works for some people doesn’t work for others.  And what might work for some people, if they had the right expectations going in, might not work if they weren’t expecting it.

The first time I ate liver, I was told it was steak.  I got a mouthful of liver instead.  I was six, and for years I wouldn’t eat liver or steak.  Now I love steak, but I still can’t stand the taste of liver.

Or, a more recent example.  Ray once took me to go see the movie Bubba-Ho-Tep.  A name like that, I was expecting a light comedy.  Bubba-Ho-Tep is not a light comedy.  If he had told me it was a somber meditation on the nature of aging and death with some comedic moments, I might have been intrigued.  As it was, I felt more than a bit betrayed, and the result was that I thought the movie was terrible.

Thing is, the movie wasn’t terrible.  It just was not what I was expecting – and expectation is a powerful thing.

From wine-tasting to gaming, what people expect to be true colors their perceptions.  And once their perceptions are colored (or tainted, as the case may be), they lose interest in things outside their expectations.  Those things become bad things – either poor-quality, or wrong-headed, or whatever the adjective-of-the-day is for “I don’t like that.”  And if, by extension, you defend the thing someone else doesn’t like, it runs the risk of becoming “I don’t like you.”

Well we think that’s poor-quality, wrong-headed and we don’t like it.  And that’s why we worked to develop the Game Charter.

The Game Charter and the rules for using it exist for one reason alone:  to ensure that everyone at the table has the same expectations about what will happen in the game and how other people around the table will behave.  It is, in fact, designed to hit the most controversial topics first.  The reason for this is simple: so that roleplayers sitting down to a game waste as little time as possible with a game – or with gamers – that they would not enjoy.

Chapter One covers Social Rules first – the “MPAA rating” of the game and the “Do’s and Don’ts” that are expected of all roleplayers at the game.  Don’ts are non-negotiable: there doesn’t need to be a discussion of why someone doesn’t want to see something in a game.  These can range from something as simple as “don’t steal from the rest of the party” to “don’t rape and murder children.”  The idea behind discussing these first is that people can’t not have a reaction to things they’re not allowed to do.  They’re either going to nod in agreement, thinking “I wouldn’t do that anyway, and I agree,” or they’re going to go on a warpath explaining why you’re wrong for not wanting X, Y or Z to happen.  Or they’ll shuffle uncomfortably in their seats and grumble a little bit.

No matter what, you will be able to identify the behavior and decide whether you want to continue with the group.  Both you, the person who put in a Don’t that other people dislike and you, the person who dislikes the Don’t that just got put in.  There is no presumption in the Game Charter that the person who lays down a Don’t is right.  The goal is to find out not what’s right, but what’s right for you.

The Game Charter is designed to catalyze that reaction, to allow the group as a whole to determine if they really are a compatible gaming group.  The idea behind this is not to say “X person is wrong for wanting to play Y way,” but instead to quickly identify that “what X person wants is not what I want.”  From there, players can try to hash out their differences or go their separate ways.  Because we at Room 209 Gaming believe very strongly that no gaming is better than bad gaming.

The rest of the Game Charter is actually relatively tame, but still goes toward setting expectations.  What game setting will be used, how much magic will be available in the game, how much “world travel” will be getting done, any themes that will be explored, and whether it will be a lighter, beer-and-pretzels style game or something darker and more intense.  Those are all part of the Game Plan, which resides at the top of the sheet because it identifies the game.

There are also Optional Rules and House Rules sections.  Optional Rules helps identify those rules which can be turned on or off to make the game more or less difficult for the players.  House Rules offers a lot of lines on which you can write your own modifications to the Forthright Open Roleplay ruleset.  Because no two gaming groups will ever play the game the same way, and the point of the Game Charter is to identify that.

The Game Charter can also be used to advertise a game, or a desired game, by players and guides.  They can fill out a Game Charter for what they intend to run, and other players can look it over and see if they’re comfortable with what they see (and what they don’t see).  And while we recommend that there always be at least a short discussion prior to the beginning of play regarding the Game Charter, setting the social rules up front makes it far less likely that play will need to be disrupted when a player or guide stumbles into territory that makes someone at the table uncomfortable.

Go ahead and have a look at the Game Charter and Chapter One, and let us know what you think.  We’d love to hear what you have to say, whether you like this idea or hate it.

Thanks for reading!

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