Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Games We’ll Play In Vs. Those We’ll Run

Have read through Dungeons & Dragons 5e Basic a couple of times, I’ve had the same reaction to it thus far that a few of my fellow Game Masters have had: “Sure, I’d play in a 5e Basic game, but I’m not sure I’d run it”. Now, I think there are definitely some things to like in 5e, and to my mind, this game is a lot more appealing thus far than the edition that came before (at least, for me). But there’s a pretty large gap between running a specific roleplaying game, and just being ok with playing in a campaign using that RPG. There are games I’ll play in, but am just not up for running as Game Master.

In other words, consider it the RPG equivalent of the common vacation refrain: “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there”.

By way of an example, here are some of the games I will happily run:

Rules Cyclopedia D&D (and related versions)
Beyond the Supernatural
Castles & Crusades
Colonial Gothic
Classic/Mongoose Traveller
Heroes Unlimited
Palladium Fantasy (1e and 2e)
Microlite (various versions)
Rolemaster Classic/2nd
RuneQuest 6
Savage Worlds
StarCluster 3
Stars Without Number
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Truth & Justice
Two-Fisted Tales

…There are more, but that’s a pretty good core list. Now, there are also many games I would play in, but not run as a Game Master. 7th Sea, Pathfinder, D&D 3.x, Dresden Files, Torg, and yes, likely 5e Basic fall under that umbrella, just to name a few. Honestly, I’ll play in just about anything, except for a few games I really don’t care for (I doubt I’d be very enthused to do Mutants & Masterminds again, or Dungeon World, or Exalted).

“So wait,” you say. “You’re telling me that you’ll run Rifts, but not 5e? You’re cool with Rolemaster, but not D&D Basic 5e?”

I confess, it doesn’t look like there’s much logic to it on the surface. But I think that’s because of the “click factor” when it comes to games. Either I get what a game is about and how it should be run, or I don’t. Even if I comprehend it, I might not like any number of things that are juuuuuust enough to keep me from running it. A lot of times, it can be something immensely nitpicky, or something I just don’t feel like houseruling. For Pathfinder or 3.x, for instance, I just don’t feel like policing the sheer amount of stuff and combinations that come up in the game. On the opposite side of things, I’m an old hand at games like Rolemaster and Rifts, which means it takes a lot less effort for me to run those games smoothly.

Would Play; Probably Won't Run.
(While we’re on the topic, I wonder about Rifts, sometimes. If I were introduced to Rifts today and shown the massive lists of classes, races, weapons, skills, vehicles, and spells, would I feel up for it? We it be awesome enough that I wouldn’t care? All I know is having grown up with the game, it’s likely a lot easier for me to keep things flowing with the game than if I were a new initiate).

Other times, it’s as simple as looking through the rules, thinking there are some neat ideas, but thinking, “Hey, I can just run this with X”. As I get older, and my (already tiny) brain is continually compressed with more and more material and life stuff to remember, and does a poorer job of remembering things such as where I put my keys or what I named my children, I am more likely to return to games that I am comfortable with and know well. Thus, the older I get, the higher the difficulty level becomes for a new game to break into my repertoire. I suspect this is partially the case with 5e, for instance. Five or ten years ago, my Gamer’s Short-Attention Span had me voraciously chewing threw games—trying this, trying that, jumping back over here, and being able to store away rules and modifiers like none other. I still love seeing new products—but it’s a higher barrier of entry now, and I’m much more liable to pick up items that can be used with existing systems I run, rather than a completely brand-new game. That’s not to say it can’t happen (hello, RuneQuest 6), but it doesn’t happen as much as it once did.

That’s really the core of the matter: I like a fair amount of what I’ve seen so far from 5e. While not quite as simplified as I’d like, I think it’s a good step in the right direction. But I don’t get that feeling from it that says, “Hey! Run this, NOW”. Nor is there enough of a differential to make me pick it up over a system I can already use. It might be different if I were looking for a gaming group; 5e is probably going to have a pretty wide net. But I’m set with a steady gaming group, so that’s not really a consideration.

Essentially, there is a lower barrier to simply playing in a game as opposed to running it. Running a game is more of an investment; as Game Master, I’m the one who has to pore over the whole game; I’m the one who has to adjudicate, houserule, adjust, and figure out how it all fits together. Naturally, I’m going to want something that does what I want and something that I’m comfortable with (or can easily become comfortable with). When I’m playing, I just need to ensure the system doesn’t make me want to flip the table (and systems are pretty low on the list of things in a campaign that should do that—well below the gaming group).

So yes, absolutely I’ll play some 5e—in fact, I hope to play in a game next month at Gen Con. I’ll certainly mine it for ideas for my game. But for now, I’m pretty sure I’ll stop at “play”; “run” doesn’t seem to be in the cards for now.


Kelvin Green said...

I'm sort of the opposite; I don't think I have enough interest in D&D5 to play it but I will run it. Well, I'll run the campaign in the boxed set anyway; after that we'll see.

Zachary Houghton said...

I guess everyone reacts to games differently. I usually just have a much lower bar for playing in something vs. running it.

Either way, it’ll be fun to give it a go at Gen Con.

Joshua D. Haney said...

After your review of BareBones Fantasy I'm surprised to see that it didn't make your list.