Preface - Rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Recently I got to take part in yet another PbP RPG implosion. This time it was a 3.5 game refereed by a self-proclaimed novice, for which a small amount of the blame may be entitled, but the more I think about it, the game in general was lacking.
The ref is one of those guys who prepares for everything. Mind you I'm not saying that preparation is bad, but it is possible to take it too far and in the process ignore the players' needs to feel as though they are still in control of their own destinies. Furthermore, it is entirely possible to turn a fun game into too much work for both the players and the referee and spoil the flow of the adventure with the nit-picking of details.
Getting to the point, I have a few people who want in on some retro style PbP roleplaying, and I want to have a go at refereeing. I may very well fall flat on my face, or lose the players' interest, or a little bit of both, but I digress. Some of the guys who played in that ill-fated game with me expressed their own opinions of why the game came undone and it seems that for most of us, it was the encounter-to-encounter pace, the lack of opportunity for players to be spontaneous for being "still in combat rounds" and the general feel of being run through the gauntlet for the sole reason of letting the referee see how quickly he can kill the party. While it is fairly well known that Challenge Ratings are not an integral part of old-style RPGing, there is such a thing as being the "killer GM". There should be a balance between the real risk of losing a character and the players feeling as though they've been thrust into an unescapable encounter that they can neither fight nor flee from. Most of the players also seemed to be quickly put off by all the bickering back and forth about various abilities and actions and just how or in what order things were to be done. And not one single player was happy with the referee's insisting that the players all use an online dice roller "for record-keeping purposes". The entire flow of the game was then at the mercy of a site that was often experiencing downtime, and when it was in working order seemed to have randomness issues. I would provide an example for you right now, but as luck would have it, InvisibleCastle is once again 505.
So, back on topic, a few of the players and I were chatting about retro-gaming and I kind of let them twist my arm a bit. One of the guys said he wanted something less serious and one of the girls said she just wanted to have some fun and maybe get the chance to do something with the really cool character she had made. It seems people want from gaming exactly what I want from gaming, and that is to above all have an enjoyable experience, be part of a story, and not feel committed to a pile of books, rules, and books about game settings that have their fantasy environment laid out down to the very last paving stone.
What we all want..is whimsy.
Before I go any further, if you are one of those uptight grognards who believe everybody should play old-school exactly the way Gygax did, you may with to click through to another blog. This might hurt.
My plan is to start up with a simple subterranean encounter for the players. It'll be like a training exercise in which they can learn their capabilities and how the game works while still having a good chance to escape or seek healing if things go badly..which they still can. That in and of itself isn't so unorthadox, but I am seriously considering an option which will likely have folks like Red Priest coming round to my house to revoke my OSR Secret Decoder Ring. I want to give the training exercise more of a short-term video game feel by allowing players who are killed to quickly return to the action and for new players to jump right in. This will be accomplished by reincarnation. Since the older games allow players to take along hirelings, there will be extra ready-made slots in the adventure party awaiting their chances to become primary player-characters as needed. I recall an article in one of the OSR zeens or blogs calling this the entourrage philosophy or somesuch, but it seems a good way to give the players a sort of safety-net of lesser-developed characters to fall back on rather than have to start completely from scratch.
This will also be a trial period for me. Not only do I get in some real-life practice in refereeing, but I get the chance to gauge the collective attitude of the players and see what style of adventuring they are suited for. They may very well decide they like a more hack-and-slay sort of game, or they might see the combat as nothing more than an interruption to inter-character theatre. And knowing these players, it might also turn into an episode of Three Stooges or Monty Python's Flying Circus.
I'm also completly open-minded to working with players who want to play a character type that is not in the book. The most important sentence in the book I will be using is "Imagine the hell out of it",and that is the main rule I plan to abide by. A player should feel at least some connection to their new character from the beginning. I'm also willing to hear out any players' requests for gear or spells that are not in the book. Why should the referee get to be the only one doing the imagifications.
Hopefully, once the game roster has settled down to a core of dependable players who are having fun and who have learned the ropes and have survived past the "glass cannon" levels, I will graduate the game into the "real" world where dead is dead, the wrong word to the wrong NPC can get you thrown in the geol, and in the woods you better beware because "dragons happen".
This game will hopefully begin in January. I'll post again in the nearer future once I post up a game-gathering topic on the Reaper forum where I will run the game.
As for the 4e game I had joined, it is still in progress, but the GM's computer crashed and took with it all his game-resource files. Hopefully it will be resuming soon, as I was really starting to like it.