Thursday, 9 June 2011

What makes a good convention roleplaying game?

Asking what makes up a good game I think is a prerequisite of any RPG blogger, so I thought I’d get this one up and out of the way :) I put together a survey, as I figured a group consensus would be a good thing.

The question I asked was, “From con games you have played in the past couple of years (up to four years ago), can you let me know the three you came out of thinking that it was a brilliant game, real top shelf stuff. Not just three you played recently that were cool, but three of the best. What struck you in particular about why those games were so good?” After analysing the responses, I don’t think this was the best question I could have asked. More on this later.

Each person was able to write as many reasons why each game was good as they liked. People tended to write one to three reasons each.  I grouped those into categories and ranked them by the number of mentions that category got. By far and away, the two most mentioned reasons were a well structured premise and interesting characters.

Well structured premise
“One of the few 'intense' games I've seen deliver on its promise. Really well-focused. Bad things happen, but not just for the sake of bad things happening.”
“It was bold and dramatic, and well-written within a fascinating world.”
“A different kind of game to usual, a nice combination of traditional strengths and innovation.”

Interesting characters
“Characters were well developed and interesting to play against/with.”
“It provided an opportunity to play a deeply disturbed character in an intriguing situation, within a fantastical yet believable environment.”

No surprises here. A good game idea with interesting characters, the two main ingredients for a good game I think.

I started to look into some of the other groups. High on the list was the game brought out strong emotions.
“Managed to provoke an incredibly deep emotional response in all the players in that session.”
“Got me emotionally invested to a more or less unprecedented degree.”

While there was a group for fun games, they didn’t get anywhere near as many mentions.
“Brilliant fun.”
“Hilariously funny.”

I think my question was a little to blame here. I asked people for, in essence, their Oscar worthy style games, not just games they had had a good time at. However, as Will Ferrell and Jack Black noted (in song – comedians never get Oscars. Serious movies were much more likely to get Best Picture. But really, the style of movie it is has little to do with how good a movie it is.

There was a group for game in preferred style, which came in with about the same number of mentions as the fun group.

“Collaborative game.”

So, I decided to join these three groups together into the game in preferred style group. Together, this new group shot to the front of the most mentioned item in why a player thought a game was good. Which makes sense. If I like comedy games in general, I am more likely to think that this comedy game is good, rather than that well made murder mystery adventure.

I’m still thinking of ways that this group can be used to help a writer create good games. The easy one is to clearly communicate on the blurb what style the game is in to help people decide whether they want to play. There’s no point attracting people to a game who don’t like the style, neither they nor you will enjoy what follows.

The rest were fairly close together in their number of mentions. They were in order:
A good GM – “Tight GMing.”
Well paced game – “Lots to do, goshwow twist toward the end that worked well.”
Props and multimedia – “Excellent use of props and multimedia.”
Players felt in control – “Time and space for characters to decide their own directions.”

I was surprised how few mentions the GM got, I would have expected it to be up with the other three. While it was top of the lower list, there was quite a gap between it the higher ones. Possibly, this may come from a player centric view of the game? Or perhaps I have over estimating the GM’s importance.

A well paced game is important, but is possibly a sub set of the good GM group?  I'm divided on this one.  The quotes specifically mention lots to do, which can come from the character sheet, the premise or GM skill.  I see pacing the game is an important thing, but then so are other GM sub-skills (such as ensuring all players have sufficient time in the spotlight). On balance I'll leave them as separate groups for the moment, but am open to opinions.

The last two surprised me a bit.  Props and multimedia (for my money at least) are an optional addition, but might be necessary for a more theatrical style game. Players in control not being closer to the top confused me  as anecdotally I have heard a common complaint of bad games that the players felt they weren't in control of the game. In the survey, I also asked what made up a bad game and I’ll post the results of that in a few days. I have a suspicion that there's a minimum required set of criteria for a game to be considered not bad, rather than just a flip of what makes a good game.

What makes a good convention roleplaying game?

  1. Game in preferred style
  2. Well structured premise
  3. Interesting characters
  4. A good GM
  5. Well paced game
  6. Props and multimedia
  7. Players felt in control

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