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Gaming for Grown-Ups

Game Choices for the Beleaguered Adult

by Tim Kirk
Jun 23,2003


Game Choices for the Beleaguered Adult

AAARGH! Now for those of you that don't know, that's a cry of frustration at realizing you've goofed, not by choice or design, but simply by a miscommunication. I didn't realize yet that it was time for my column, and my notes scattered about simply did not look anything like they wished to work together to produce it. I now sympathize in ways I'd not noticed before with the rest of the adult world. By virtue of age, I may technically be an adult. On top of that, I'm behind in writing this, I'm finishing one of my own game projects, I started a new real world job, and I've been going through rather detailed (and study intensive) training program. So, not only do I sympathize with being beleaguered, I empathize as well.

So here I am writing -- hacking away at the rock solid traffic jam of ideas in my brain that have all rammed themselves into the tiny crevasse-born road called "output".

Now, first, I wish to examine what I, as an adult, look for in role-playing games.

I've mentioned before, but wish to expand upon here: FIFO, or (in my terms) "Fast in, Fast Out" gaming. In short, since my time is limited and valuable to me, I look for games that fit this definition. I'll share that secret here.

Fast In: FI!

Role-playing games run the gamut in focus and flavor, genre, theme, and style, and many other words that just exist to illustrate variation. Just as RPG's differ from one another, so do we as human beings. What one of us finds fast, another may bemoan as achingly slow. But there are some basic concepts we can get across that indicate speed. A Fast In game, in my view, must possess both a system and a setting. Now, the quality is less important than the ability to be used. I've seen great settings marred by the fact that they just don't give me, as a GM, or my players anything to do. Fast In games must convey both setting and rules so clearly and cleanly that they can be grasped and played in the same day by all members of a playgroup. Being Fast In does not, in and of itself, make a game "good" or "bad". One of my favorite games, because of the depth of its setting, simply isn't Fast In. I adore the game regardless, but for an adult with four hours of free time to game a week, it simply isn't very suitable for quick play sessions. Many of us have games we enjoy that are not Fast In, but at the same time, we've enough experience to make use of them. However, add a new player who has never played the game before, and you suddenly have a problem.

What exactly is Fast In? Fast in is the ability to pick up and play a game after a quick read-through in a single afternoon. Rules do not need to be simple, but they do need to be easy to convey to your players without requiring their own reading. In addition, the rules probably should have few special case scenarios that deviate from standard rules structures. Ideally, a FI game should have a core mechanic that covers most, if not all, situational resolutions. Now, this is not required, but the fewer serious deviations, the easier it is to explain.

FI games should also come with enough setting information to reasonably allow the GM to run a game with minimal preparation time. This doesn't mean it should hijack his creativity, just support the GM when he needs it. This can be problematic -- highly realized worlds tend to create a problem in which, as stated previously, there is too much for a GM to reasonably relay to the players so that they can make their characters as fully envisioned as possible. But how much is too much? I know many people complain about vanilla fantasy, but like several games I'll suggest, there is a sort of critical mass behind those kinds of games. Even without detailed setting backdrops, one can pick up things that don't differ from the common "vanilla" model easily. All this typically means is that some of the player-characters may come off as stereotypes; however, they don't have to, and it is, after all, just a place to start. Settings come from simple suggested ones, like those found in earlier editions of AD&D to the much more detailed ones that occur in the World of Darkness brand from White Wolf. They provide, simply put, the suggestion of a setting -- not fully realized, but a starting point that makes it easy enough to catch onto and just play.

Now, suggested settings are not the only FI possibilities. Others include settings from movies, television, or other large popular media that become licensed games. The advantages with these settings are that many players come with built in knowledge of the setting, and often many ideas on what they would "do differently". But they also have a huge disadvantage: if you haven't seen the source material, you're likely going to be just as lost as if they hadn't included any information at all. This depends on the specific game, and I'll include one of the ones I see as being a successful FIFO below.

The last categories of games are those that provide not suggested settings, but rather very brief yet detailed setting overviews. These are often less fully realized and will require the GM to eventually deviate from what is presented or to purchase expansions to fill in the details. (This is often not so much a consideration for the FI element, but rather to at least carry the game beyond the immediate session.)

Fast Out: FO!

Fast Out touches on some of the above, but goes deeper. The Fast In considers how difficult it is to get a game going. Fast Out, by contrast, covers how difficult it is to keep the game going and for the game to produce satisfactory results. Again, remember how we all differ? A game need not inherently be good to have Fast Out gameability. Although both being sustainable and producing satisfaction tend to be components of "good" gaming for many people, Fast Out games tend to have sturdy mechanics. This is not to say they are complicated (complexity suggesting inherent issues with FI), just that they produce results reliably and can take a beating during play. Fast Out, as I see it, typically implies that the results during play do not take up much time. Since we may only have four hours to play, I would like that time spent not on mechanics, but rather on the overall balance of play.

So now that you have a rough-hewn idea of criteria for FIFO, here are some games that I believe are FIFO.

Basic D&D (particularly that found in D&D Cyclopedia): Throw some dice, get some numbers, and off to the dungeon with you -- nothing too terribly complex, and simple vanilla gaming. Suggested Setting.

Cartoon Action Hour: I play tested this (and have a few paragraphs within it). It's a durable system that takes little time to learn, and the series inside are useful. It has enough detail to be useable without taking too much time to explain to your players. Overview Settings

Adventure!: An easy-to-explain system with a pulp setting that does its thing and gets out of the way. While many other White Wolf games are similar, Adventure wins out because it has no other support. One book. All they wrote. Suggested/Overview

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: A latecomer to watching the show, even I eventually succumbed to watching and enjoying it. This has one of the best presentations for a licensed game I've seen, providing many details on the show to allow even non- watchers to get an idea of how to play.

FUM, er I mean FUN.

While the above games may not be to your tastes, I suggest looking around, asking questions, and most of all, flipping through any games you can. If you can get a sense of the mechanic while thumbing through it in your FLGS, it probably has FIFO properties. In the end, FUN= is very important; yet, my own limited gaming time has made it important for me to identify more than just FUN, but also FI and FO.

The last game I'll mention is the Marvel Superhero Adventure game, now OOP (like the D&D Cyclopedia). It has been the most FIFO game I've ever owned. Not as durable as some, but durable enough, fast enough, and powerful enough an engine that I've been able to use the game to introduce several people to role-playing whom never had gamed before. I've also managed to win converts who loved other superhero engines. In the end though, test the waters and ask around. Find your FIFO and stick with it, and maybe you'll find some more time for the rest of life's issues.

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What do you think?

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