Joerg on Freeforming

From: Nick Brooke (100656.1216@CompuServe.COM)
Date: Mon 13 May 1996 - 15:47:04 EEST


    _____
Re: Joerg in V2#561:

NB: as far as possible henceforth, I'll be using "freeform" to mean the kind of
'literary' games that I've written and played in (HotB, HtWwO, HoW, Casablanca,
etc.); "LARP" to mean those character-focussed games anywhere in the spectrum
from Swedish pseudo-realism to the antics of the rubber sword brigade; and
"traditional RPG" to mean what some folk call "table-top role-playing" (which
has inappropriate wargaming-with-figurines connotations for me).

> I found LARPs to distort the "reality" of the setting even more than
> TTRP rules do. Just in order to create an interesting situation, some
> very artificial goals have to be written into peoples' characters, and
> quite artificial settings are used to get all the characters into one
> "place" where they can interact.

Freeforms are, of course, artificial: the players know that they're in a game,
which their characters don't know; we couldn't hope to recruit players for a
real-time reenactment of the Seventh Malkioni Ecclesiastical Council. But I
think freeforms use these artificial means to simulate *more* interesting
situations than traditional RPGs will ever be able to encompass. Agreed,
sometimes the "artificial" aspects become too dominant -- I certainly found the
card-trading and auctioning systems in "The Broken Council" intrusive, and I
know other people disliked the four voting rounds in "How the West was One".
Please remember, though, that these are *games*, not simulations.

I haven't found any very artificial goals given to characters: perhaps Joerg's
experience as writer or player is different to my own. As for these artificial
settings, surely "Boldhome on the eve of revolt", or "Jonstown at the time of an
Imperial delegation's visit", aren't at all artificial: they're entirely
plausible Gloranthan settings. Again, "The Broken Council" (the least typical
freeform I've played in) was the one with the strangest setting: somewhere in
Genertela, over more than a decade of First Age history.

> Playing a freeform character is similar to playing a TTRP tournament
> character or a new TTRP character using a rigid previous experience
> system - you just cannot influence the character's upbringing in any way.

That's true: it's part of the fun of these games (and also what makes casting
them difficult). You put your work into bringing someone else's character to
life, as if you were acting a part in a stage play, rather than creating them
from whole cloth. There are still any number of approaches you can take
(freeform is more forgiving than Shakespeare!), but your character's nature and
goals will have been determined for you, just as if you were playing a
pregenerated trad.RPG character.

One of the problems we've found in the past running "Home of the Bold" is that
Sartarite tribal kings have been WAY too willing to cooperate against the
Lunars. Frex, we might write up the Kings of the Malani and Culbrea tribes as
ancient enemies, with feuds stretching back for generations: wives abducted,
sons slain, cattle stolen, you name it: enough to make MacDonalds vs. Campbells
look tame. Then, on the night, the players meet, agree to let bygones be
bygones, and roll up their sleeves to work against the "common foe" -- even if
one of the kings was given very good reasons to like the Lunars!

This creates obvious game balance problems. All I can do as an author is to urge
people to play the character they were given, not the one they'd have liked to
have got. Freeforms can suffer from miscasting (which is why we hand out those
lengthy casting forms to try to get it right), but you're more likely to have
fun if you play the game the way the authors intended. Making friends with your
age-old foes might jeopardise your own and other players' plots, which is no fun
for anybody.

Another anecdote: in both runs of "How the West was One", the Hrestoli Church
did disproportionately well in shaping Council decisions to fit their own
agenda. Now, far be it from me to suggest that anything other than the Invisible
Hand of the Creator was at work in determining the Council's outcome, but David
Hall has posited that *maybe* players of characters with more "reactionary"
attitudes towards caste, women, magic, etc. weren't willing to indulge in
tub-thumping evangelism for their causes: the Rokari might "lose" because
they're stuck in a mediaeval paradigm which "modern" players don't want to
support. Trimmers and backsliders, the lot of 'em!

A third: in "Heroes of Wisdom", I was playing a squeaky-clean Lunar missionary,
who turned a blind eye to the decadence and corruption all around him in the
interest of good government. Half-way through the game, a sleazy tax-gatherer
came up to me and reminded me of how we'd plotted to murder some merchant a few
years before. I was shocked and horrified: there was no mention of this episode
on my character sheet, and it was completely alien to my understanding of the
character. It turned out that (due to rushed production) this sub-plot had
inadvertently been omitted from my character sheet, though my co-conspirators
all believed I'd been involved... speedy referee intervention was sought and
obtained to clear up the resultant mess.

> Personally, I'm not sure what I'd choose when faced with the choice between
> participating in an ongoing campaign-style TTRP or say a few one-off LARPs.

If I were faced with the choice between playing in a traditional RPG campaign
vs. a selection of one-off RPG scenarios (with no character continuity between
them), I'd be strongly tempted to play the one-off's. Just putting my cards on
the table: like Sandy, I recognise that the best scenarios written today are
more character- and setting-specific than the generic dungeon-bashes of yore,
and I'd prefer to play an appropriate part in someone else's well-written game
rather than inflict my own peculiar characters and attitudes on an
otherwise-enjoyable scenario.

Maybe I've GM'd too often, or not campaigned recently enough... David Hall,
please note!

====
Nick
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