Monday, February 15, 2016

Total Investment

One of the common addages about table top RPGs, and more specifically the campaigns you play in them, is that you can only get out of a game what you put in. The idea here is that the more you are invested in a game, the better the game can be. Obviously there are some exceptions. A bad GM, or a bad player, can ruin a game even if people really want to be invested in the game. However, despite knowing the general gist behind the idea I had never - until recently - seen a game where every single person at the table was totally invested in making the game one to remember.

Total Investment As A GM
As the GM for this game, I wanted this generation of my L5R game to be special. I had some great building blocks in mind from other games fellow players ran that I was in. I took what I saw in those games, and ran with it. I defined the setting. I named the NPCs. I made them people. I committed to putting the effort in to keeping track of what these people were doing. They don't know they're NPCs, they feel they're all the heroes of their own story, and so they go about doing that.

This has paid off dividends for me. For one, my players have recognized the effort going into the game and have responded in turn. For another, with the NPCs all feeling they're part of their own stories, they're generating more things for the players to invest in. The players are seeing that things happen without them, and are so make moves knowing their could be very real opposition from NPCs, or that if they don't act fast someone else might have already gone to do the thing they want to do.

In the end, this makes the current generation of my L5R game the most living, breathing world I've ever ran.

Total Investment As A Player
All of my players came into this generation swinging for the fences. There is not a character in the game who is not interesting enough to be the lead (hero or villain could change) in their own story. Quick run down? Sure. In the game we have:

  • Hida Kai - the son of a Crab Clan daimyou, Kai is a solid crab but a bit soft hearted when it comes to people. Now thrust into a much more political situation, Kai must learn to swim in this new sea or risk dying, if not worse.
  • Hida Rei - the twin sister of Hida Kai, Rei has always felt the need to prove herself Kai's better and his position over her merely a case of birth order, not merit. In a new land with new people around, Rei is relishing the chance to show what she can do.
  • Toritaka Kyouten - A broken hearted spirit hunter trying to get over the death of his true love, Kyouten isn't sure if he wants to run from the demons that haunt his dreams, or hide from them in the arms of anyone willing to offer shelter.
  • Asahina Henjo - A pacifist shugenja of the Crane Clan, Henjo has been raised with one goal in mind: to out fox the ultimate fox, and gain victories for the Crane clan in arenas where their rivals normally hold sway.
  • Soshi Buntaro - Enigmatic, mysterious, and perhaps too trustworthy to actually trust. Soshi Buntaro is a Scorpion Enforcer that somehow doesn't have everyone's eyes on him.
  • Shosuro Kei - An actor from the famous Shosuro Family, Kei's real problems come in the form of three powerful ancestors who hope to use him to fulfill their goals...regardless if that means taking over Kei to do it themselves
The two line bits don't give any of these characters justice, but does hint at some of the interplay. Buntaro is playing it cool like the Fonz, while Kyouten has to handle court matters for two Hida who have no idea what they're doing. Rei seeks to prove herself the better twin, while Kai must deal with his sister, without dishonoring the Crab andd finding his own way. In the middle of all this, Henjo has to find allies and solid grounding to be a factor in the social arenas he'll find himself in.

More to this, the players are all bringing their A game every session. They show up to play, and don't shy away from making trouble for themselves and others with every action.

Put It Together And...
Combined, and the sessions have been nuts. Players have as much fun watching what each other are up to as playing through their own stuff. I've left each session regretting not getting more time with certain NPCs with every player, and that's while I miss 1/2 of what's going on at the table because I'm constantly interacting with this group or that group with what NPCs do get their time in the spotlight.

This is the kind of game I could run for 8-12 hours at a time and probably barely notice. I have to watch the clock not to see how much time I have left to fill, but because some of my players have a long drive home and I can't keep them past a certain time - a time limit we flirt with every session.

More to the point though, seeing how this works here I find myself trying harder in every other game I'm in, both as a player and GM. As my investment goes up, so to does the quality, which in turn makes putting in more effort all the easier. It's a positive growth cycle that is worth venturing to try. 

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