The mother of invention?

11Feb08

I’ve been fitting in a little face-to-face gaming with Kat and Michele. Since mid-November we’ve done half-a-dozen sessions. Most of them last less than 2 hours, but they’re quite enjoyable. Since we’ve been out of practice, we’re falling back on our comfort zone game/source material: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We’ve crossed this with our affection for Victorian adventure literature and are playing a game exploring the many supernatural happenings of the 19th century British countryside in the Buffyverse.

We started out using the standard Buffy Unisystem rules. But there’s a problem with that. Kat and Michele aren’t much concerned with rules and the like. Give them melodrama and peril with a dash of mystery and a pinch of romance and they are happy as clams. While I want all that stuff, too, I also like the rules. I *like* manipulating them and letting them manipulate the story and push it in surprising directions, and leaning on them when I’m tired. But, frankly, the Unisystem is duller than dirt. Skill use might as well be “flip a coin” and combat is a boring excercise in arithmetic.

Early on, I had tried to force myself to embrace the system for its good points, with little success. By session four, I found myself trying to minimize combat just because it’s so boring. Kat and Michele mentioned that they wanted some real peril–things weren’t dangerous enough.

I didn’t really know what to do about this, but after a very long break, we started session five seated in the living room where dice are less convenient to roll anyway. When the time for the fight scene rolled around, no one really wanted to get out of the comfy chairs and head to the table. Although Kat and Michele likely wouldn’t have minded me just freeforming the whole fight, I didn’t want to do that either–there’s no surprise or interplay or tension.

So, I opened my mouth and something surprising came out: “This is an episode of Buffy, so we *know* you beat the magical beastie. But we don’t know how and we don’t know what it costs you. Each of you tell me one Cool Thing and one Bad Thing that happens to you in the fight, and then we’ll weave it all together into a description of the fight.”

Wow, was that ever great! Now, I’m going to be tinkering with formalizing these Cool Things and Bad Things a bit more, and we might have the makings of a neat little Narrative Combat system. We even played episode six tonight, and tested some stuff out, like spliting Bad Things into short-term Setbacks and long-term Consequences. Each monster will require so many of each to be defeated.

I guess it’s true what they say about the mother of invention. When you have a boring game that you nevertheless want to play, it’s necessary to make a fun game in its place.

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