Kingbeast's Lair

Growling about the RPG industry and my gaming life. RPG and anime reviews from a passionate fan. (Formerly John's Hero HQ.)

What SPS Is Teaching Me

November 04, 2018 By: John Taber Category: Games, Growlings

Sipping Primordial Soup LogoIntroduction

Roughly 4 months ago I started a group of gamers called Sipping Primordial Soup (SPS).  The focus of this group is small-press role-playing games.  As part of this effort I have been running a lot of one-shot sessions.  I have learned quite a bit from running these various indie games.  I think they are really improving my game mastering skills.  This post contains some things I have learned so far.

I am not going to expand on the background mechanics that I am mentioning below.  Instead I want to jump right to the point.  If you need more exposition on my thoughts please let me know and I will try my best to elaborate.

It Is Ok Not To Like Every RPG System But Most Have Something To Offer

One of the things I learned quickly is that some systems are not for me while others are intuitive and easy for me to pickup.  Masks, which is a genre that I feel is squarely in my wheelhouse (aka teenage superheroes), was actually tricky for me to run.  It took a while to get my head around the superhero who took down my villain by using one of his abilities to convince the villain that what he is doing won’t work.  It made sense in the fiction but took a while to grasp in the mechanics.  Colonial Gothic was the complete opposite.  It has old school mechanics that were intuitive and easy for me to pickup and run.  I have run Colonial Gothic twice now to great success.

My takeaway is that even though systems vary greatly in mechanics it is important for my advancement in the hobby to understand and appreciate what these small-press RPG are trying to bring to the table.  Masks pulls back from the powers to focus on the emotional states of the characters.  That is one killer mechanic that really worked during my play.  I found it really enlightening.

In general Powered By The Apocalypse (PBTA) games with their up front GM actions that push player response and foreshadow the impact of their responses falls squarely in this category.  I have learned about hard vs soft questioning by running PBTA games.  Also simple things like asking how the characters look during a climactic moment have been fun and I think give the players more agency and narrative control.  Failing as a mechanism to advance the plot is another important thing I have learned from PBTA.

There are always more tricks to add to the GM toolkit!

I Need More Practice Running Some Genres

The same conclusions that I made with RPG systems apply to genres as well.  Some genres come super easy to me while others are tougher.  Anything gritty, deadly, and political is tougher for me where systems with grandiose heroes and clear cut villains are easier.  Masks and Colonial Gothic are both genres that are in me wheelhouses.  Masks is teenage superheroes and Colonial Gothic is monster hunting.  Both have clear protagonists and clear cut heroes.  Blades In The Dark is not as easy for me to run.  Every NPC in Blades In The Dark has their own motivations and nearly all of them are dishonest.

This is one area where I think I have the potential for a lot of growth.  Running genres that are harder for me has really opened up my play style and shown me how I can present things in different lights.  After running Blades In The Dark for the first time I realized how much I have grown in this area.  Also PBTA games really push the GM to think on their feet.  I like the challenge it brings!

I still have a lot to learn about gamemastering and I have been doing it since 1978.  :]

Systems Should Promote The Style Of Play They Are Trying To Achieve

Often the small-press games that are being played by the SPS group are hyper focused on a feeling that the author wants the gamers to experience as they play out a session.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but the key is the focus.  I have played and run some amazingly impactful games that are really enhanced by the laser like concentration in play.

System that enforce the play style of the genre and setting are important.

Character Ties Out Of The Gate Are Great

PBTA where have you been all my life!  Many of the PBTA games used Bonds or similar mechanics to tie characters to other characters and the setting up front during the character creation phase.  The result is an immersive experience that happens organically during session 0.  Immediately there is something for the players and GM to utilize drive the fiction.

The way Bonds enrich and direct play for a playbook is powerful.  Bonds act as reinforcement to the player in how that playbook should function and ties the character to the fiction.  The Watch does a good job of this with their Bond questions.

Bonds, and similar mechanics that tie starting characters to each other and enforce the setting, are a powerful technique to drive the fiction early.

The Goal Is For Everyone At The Table To Have Fun

This is sort of an obvious statement but I think playing these type of small-press games has really led me to change my play style.  As a GM this means making sure each player gets spotlight time and player agency.  Focusing on what each player and character brings to the table is critical.

As a player this means promoting the other players so that they can be “cool”.  One of my favorite things to do is start dialogs with other players to push along the fiction or compliment them on some really fun action that they just pulled off.  I think everyone wins when players and GMs foster this back-and-forth narrative trust.

Trust and kindness for the win!

Want To Join?

If you want to join Sipping Primordial Soup, my small-press RPG group in the Santa Clara area, then email or tweet using @Kingbeasst.

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