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Standing Up for My Tastes in RPGs

I believe every set of rules is intended to support a particular flavour of awesome, even though it mightn’t necessarily succeed. D&D supports a different kind of awesome than Dogs in the Vineyard. Feng Shui is pretty clear on its awesome, though. Its awesome comes about in the fight scenes, when the players are firing off each other and the GM to create memorable, fast-paced, stunt-laden action. It virtually requires players to be not only primed to fire when the fights roll around, but also be economical with between-fight scenes. In order to keep the snap of the session going, each scene that occurs between fights must either tie directly into one or more PCs’ melodramatic hooks or feature some really cool interplay (a’la the Vince & Jules “Big Macs in France” scene at the start of Pulp Fiction); otherwise, they should be excised swiftly and cleanly.

Saturday gone, the Feng Shui group not only didn’t go straight to the next fight, we fell into one of the hobby’s traps: Taking time to plan. And I don't mean staging one of those uber-cool scenes where the heroes roll out the blueprints of the enemy base and talk tough-yet-tense (think Star Wars: A New Hope, Aliens and the like). Oh, no. Within ten minutes of the session starting, when it was clear we needed to be at place X by time Y, my fellow players went into turtle mode, trying to figure out what weapons they might need and how early they should get to the scene of the next fight. The mindset is understandable; they’re trying to maximise the odds of their PCs surviving. It’s a mindset that’s been reinforced by highly tactical, “realistic” systems and RPG war stories of “killer GMs”. The problem is that this mindset drains any kind of dramatic tension from the game, and in a game of Feng Shui, this is a fate worse than death – I spent most of the four-hour session bored out of my mind.

To me, the answers to my fellow players’ questions were simple. What weapons might you need? The ones on your character sheet (and don't get me started on the tear gas). How early should we get to the scene of the next fight? At precisely the worst possible time for the bad guys to show up – in our case, two minutes before the magical Gate to the Netherworld was due to open for but a brief interval. Feng Shui allows, nay, caters for the best kind of action movie scene, the kind where our heroes are caught off guard, outgunned and outnumbered. Starting characters are highly competent and tough (not to mention that they completely heal between fights), and the dice mechanic is off-the-wall enough that even the craziest plans can work. Instead, we had a protracted planning session with a GM who hates maps at the best of times, and it didn’t really give us an advantage when the inevitable fight actually occurred.

In defence of the group, though, I think that Feng Shui wasn’t their game, even though we were all keen on it. Talking to our GM afterward revealed that he’s getting pretty bored with it, and the other players didn’t seem particularly bothered by the planning work. I’d already asked whether the pacing of the Feng Shui game could be stepped up. That’s not happened in either of the sessions since, so after four hours of boredom I begged off, saying had somewhere had to be – which was true, but I had at least half an hour’s wiggle room. Still, another half an hour of that session was more than I could stand right then.

There was talk about organising a D&D 4th Ed. campaign (the Player’s Handbook was being passed about before the game proper began, and I will admit it looks snazzy), which might be more to their tastes. Still, the pitched campaign didn’t sound particularly intriguing, so when asked whether I wanted to stay and talk character concepts, I insisted I had to be going.

As written before, I spoke to the GM about the session; in fact, I called him specifically to say that I’d decided to step out of the Feng Shui game. It’s interesting that Vickie was pretty insistent that I went out to game on Saturday; she pretty much told me when I got in and started bitching about the session that I needed to go in order to finally decide not to settle for less than what I want out of my gaming.

The trick, though, is finding out whether I can actually reach that goal myself. The last few times I’ve tried rule-sets intended to supply drama-driven gaming on the fly (Dogs in the Vineyard, Primetime Adventures), the results have been less than stellar, so I feel like I need more practice. I asked Vickie whether I could try GMing some Dogs with just her, which she’s sort of agreed to, but I might even have another player interested.

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