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Close to the Edit


by Ross Winn
Apr 28,2004



Whenever spring comes along I always think about starting something new. Renewal is a common theme in spring. In many ways it is the very core of what spring calls to mind. Many faiths and cultures celebrate this. So does your game need renewal as well? Does it need some new element, or does your group need a new game?

At the GAMA trade show recently, a lot of companies announced their renewals. Some GMs will doubtless want to add these games to their repertoires, some players will want to explore them, and sometimes these wants will be at cross purposes. Some players will dislike additions, and some GMs will be resistant to adding new and unfamiliar elements to their games.

A few months ago, in The Matrix Unloaded, I talked about making 'left turns'. These are changes that shock, or simply go against the grain, and they can be a wonderful element of renewal and a great way to add new games and new game materials to your series.

It is true that some games are more amenable to adding new material. Some are most definitely not. Unisystem, and GURPS are very easy to add new material to, if for no other reason than so much material is available and so much more is coming. As of this writing the first issue of Eden Studios Presents is debuting, and Steve Jackson has announced the fourth edition of GURPS, but there is more.

As a self-avowed rabid fanboy, the coming debut of Army of Darkness and Beyond Human for Unisystem are very exciting. My former roommate and Buffy aficionado simply can't wait to stage a war between Deadites and Slayers. Frankly I think that Beyond Human may give the best of the Superhero games a serious run for their money. Meanwhile GURPS supplements have become something of the bible for what a game supplement should be, with a frightening array of evergreen products that simply never stop selling. Added to that there are some pretty impressive "Powered by GURPS" games, like Discworld, Prime Directive, Transhuman Space, etcetera.

With all of these universal systems, and all of the myriad supplements coming out for them it is easy to see why players want more variety. The challenge for a GM is often to meet that desire for more variety without getting off-track. If you loved the Book of the New Sun series, you may want to add elements of the series in your fantasy series. If you are getting bored with the political and social nuances of court intrigue, and a new powered armor supplement hits the shelves, you may want to just blow some stuff up for a while to break the tension.

There are other times when the impetus for change comes from the GM. As a GM, have you ever just gotten to a point where the game stopped? You sat for hours and tried to think of something that could be continued and came up with nothing. Where everyone just lost all interest at the same time? It does happen, or it has happened to me, anyway.

So what do you do? You make a left turn.

If you are already playing one of those universal systems the work you might do is somewhat easier, but there is nothing stopping anyone from adding similar elements to any game. A left turn either transplants the players into a new setting, or a new element is thrust on the characters.

When I wrote "Listen Up, Your Primitive Screwheads" with a whole posse of GMs for RTG, I talked about adding a new idea to my series. What new idea? Well, I added a 'left turn'. The idea had come to me from necessity. A lot of other people had probably had the idea before me, but this is how I came to it. The supplement "Maximum Metal" had recently debuted for Cyberpunk 2020. Everyone, and I mean everyone, wanted to play with powered armor in the game. Everyone also knew that I had done a lot of work on Maximum Metal. Still, by the time I had finished my parts of the manuscript, and finished arguing with Derek, Mike, and everyone else who would listen at RTG about what I thought was wrong with this or that, I was so aggravated and exhausted that I never wanted to see the letters ACPA again.

As an aside, I would officially like to apologize to everyone else who worked on Maximum Metal. I was a huge pain in the ass, and even if I was right none of you deserved me up your ass for ten weeks like I was. I am sorry, and I want to thank all of you for giving me other chances.

My players were adamant. They wanted to have powered armor to play with, they wanted to see how the new stuff worked, and so I caved. One night while planning for my next game, I figured it out. I don't remember how, but this was what I eventually planned. The characters recovered a very damning piece of anticorporate evidence. They managed to steal a video recording of a corporate extraction. Each player was given a different character sheet and suit of powered armor. Rather than roleplaying watching the tape, they played the different characters, in this case power armored troopers, actually performing the extraction. They got to blow stuff up and play with all of the new toys. They got to have powered armor, and after two sessions I got to go back and run the game that we had been playing before.

A lot of left turns are like this. In supers games they can be flashbacks to 'golden age' characters. In dungeon crawling games the players may be forced into the roles of the monsters they are trying to defeat. Action, Romance, Technology; any of these elements, if different from the core themes of the game, can be a left turn. The most extreme example that I have seen in film is The Matrix. Well into the film, when the audience thinks that they have some idea what is going on, they realize, in just one scene, that all of this is an illusion. That they really didn't understand what was happening at all.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it fails, but every time it adds new and interesting ideas to your series.

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What do you think?

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