So, here’s the obligatory wrapup post. How did it go versus my expectations, what did I learn, yadda yadda. But first, here’s a list of the RPGs we played over the summer, in the order that we played them. I’ve even linked the articles I did on each for you. How convenient!
So, first off, that’s not 10 RPGs, which is how many weeks we technically had to play games over the summer. D&D took two weeks, as did Shadowrun… so now that I do the math, I guess we had more than 10 weeks because we did a few sessions of board games at the beginning of the summer. I tell ya, college summer break is pretty cushy.
Anyway, we got 7 RPG systems in. I GM’d all but Pathfinder, and the only systems that were familiar to me were D&D 4e and Gamma World. So what I’m saying is, over this summer, I had to have some sort of a handle on 4 new RPG systems. Only four? No big deal, right?
Well, yes and no. I mean, yes, it was a good bit of reading and work, but there are plenty of resources for new players of pretty much any RPG. Which leads me to my first lesson learned:
When doing an experiment of this type, pregenerated characters and quickstart rules are your best friend
I used the Quickstart rules and included adventure for Shadowrun and Leverage. Some of my players used free Shadowrun character generators. We used a “pregen timeline seed” from the Microscope book for that session. I used one of the 3 scenarios included in the Dread book for our Dread session. If it had been necessary for me to not only grasp the rules and mechanics of each of these systems and come up with a full length one-shot, I would have been swamped, and probably couldn’t have pulled it all off. So make liberal use of the free resources out there, from whatever source. This all leads nicely into the next lesson I learned which is…
If I were to do this again, I’d insist on division of GM duties
The fact that (almost) all of the GMing, and all of the “learn the new system” fell to me was kind of stressful. It was a lot of reading, and a lot of making stuff up that I didn’t remember or know from the rules on the fly. It isn’t too much to ask of your group that they share some of this responsibility, especially if everyone is on board with the idea of trying out multiple RPGs.
We abandoned the whole “maintain a single character through all the systems” trope pretty early on
Not because it couldn’t have worked – or at least, I still believe it could have worked. However, there’s something about trying a bunch of different RPG systems that makes you also want to try out a bunch of different character concepts. Which is interesting. If we had played a single campaign all summer, using D&D or Pathfinder or whatever, the players would have been more than happy to maintain a single character. I’m sure your group plays the same characters, month after month, in your long-term campaign. But, switch up the system, and people want to try out new stuff. That was the sticking point for the players – not that they couldn’t fit their original character concept into a new RPG if they didn’t want to, but more that they had other things they wanted to try. Which is fine. I totally support that.
We also abandoned the “unified storyline across systems,” sort of
The “story thread” that followed through the summer was kind of thin, and it was more a series of one shots with segues in between each that helped preserve continuity. This worked fine for us, and really wasn’t necessary. By the end, I was narrating a 2 minute segue scene at the beginning of Dread not out of necessity, but more out of dedication to the concept of the experiment. I guess what I’m saying is, the concept of a cohesive storyline across systems is cool in theory, but in practice it turned out to be unnecessary. We enjoyed playing with new systems for its own sake, and preserving a unified story arc didn’t add to the experience greatly. I would recommend that, if you want to try something like this, have a good reason to do so. For example: your PCs want to try a heist to accomplish something. Great! Maybe it’s time to try Leverage, but only for a session, and then switch back to your normal RPG. Are the PCs traveling through a wasteland with toxic elements that could warp and mutate them? Maybe play a couple of sessions in Gamma World. In other words, let the story drive what RPGs you choose to incorporate, not the other way around.
Always Look For Things To Steal
There is goodness in every RPG system, if you remember to look for it. And while a particular RPG might not turn out to be your cup of tea, that does not prevent you from co-opting the parts that you do like for your “regular” game. The best example I have from this summer is the Character Questionnaire from the game Dread. Will I play Dread every month? No, I’ll maybe play it once or twice a year. But I found the Questionnaire to be so useful, I plan on creating some for the characters in my next D&D campaign, to help the players create a useable backstory.
Need another example? Shadowrun’s initiative system lets really “fast” characters not only have a better chance of “going first,” but also lets them act more than once a round.
And so on…
Communicate. A lot.
One of the reasons that the whole “keep a single story and set of characters going” thing didn’t work was my vague expectations up front. We didn’t really have a discussion of how things would work, so we all kind of drifted away from the concept. I suspect also that some people weren’t on board with the idea from the get go, so that may have sabotaged things as well.
In the end, I’m not at all upset with how things turned out. We didn’t really do what we set out to do, but that’s ok. I think the fact that we were able to try out 7 different RPG systems over the course of a couple of months is a pretty big achievement on its own.
And I think that that’s what the experiment was all about. We all get stuck in our “favorite RPG” ruts, and that’s an ok thing I suppose. They’re comfortable, everyone knows the ins and outs, and gameplay runs smoothly as a result. But as I stated in the first article of this series:
“We live in a golden age of RPGs. It seems like every week Kickstarter adds another book and another system to the world’s growing library of Role Playing Games. If you want to play it, chances are, there’s an RPG for that. So why would we sit down and play the same system every single week? …I can think of no good excuses to completely ignore all the other systems out there. We must at least dabble!”
[Editor’s addition: An old favorite cross-genre goodie!]