I have no idea if I’ll have time to get to #12 but let’s hit #11 of the #12RPG thing.
Talk about a particular stand out positive experience of play (rather than running) an RPG in 2017. What was it? What was so good about it?
Oh maaan. Okay. 2017. Me, playing, this year. That’d mean a convention game because that’s just how it is.
I’ve looked back through my opportunities to play and it’s been a short list this year. And it’s gotten me thinking about the fact that I have literally no sense at all of how anyone else perceives me as a player. I’d point at the general lack of player recognition as part of this. Not really feeling especially insecure about it (I’m feeling quite insecure about it!), just a part of our thing I guess.
Okay. Best positive experience of play (rather than running) an RPG in 2017 goes to Morgan Ellis’ Fate-powered Star Wars game. He’s been running it for several sessions when the regular crew find themselves at the same convention. It’s an off-the books thing.
I had signed up, intellectually, as a way to suss out how good Fate runs and looks. That’s my gearhead side talking. Emotionally, Star Wars is super-fraught for me because literally every iteration of it has sucked sucked sucked. Edge of the Empire sucks, Saga sucks, WEG’s thing sucks. They all suck because my Opinions about Star Wars can’t be reconciled with these publishers’ needs to extract profit from the majority-trad audience. So I hoped in my tiny shriveled nerd heart that a bespoke Fate creation for a very specific, sympathetic audience, would work.
It did. Morgan’s take on Star Wars was my absolute best starwarzy experience and my best playing experience of 2017.
I can’t say what specifically worked. Fate doesn’t work for me, still. It bugs me in ways I will never get past, which, whatever. Not everything can be my jam. The decision points and mechanical widgets feel arbitrary and my control-freak player habits chafe against that. “Just play and wait for the GM to tell me when and what to roll” is my least-favorite mode of play (even as I propose that to my players, especially when they just cannot internalize how PbtA style fiction-triggered moves work). And yet I submitted to that, mostly in the hopes that Morgan’s facilitation would highlight Fate best practices. I assume I’ve seen them, because the experience was great and I have solved why Fate isn’t for me.
Obviously a huge part of the positive experience was that it was a table of all-stars. There was interpersonal history, but not too much history and not too weird or specific. It was pretty easy for MadJay Brown and I to slot into their situation. Marissa and Brendan and Stras all bring their A game to everything all the time (I’ve played with all of them at some point), so I don’t need to shift to ringer mode. You know what I mean, right? Where your first priority is to support the GM, second priority is to toss softballs to everyone else, and finally, if there’s any time and bandwidth left, you can go ahead and do something for yourself? Yeah. That’s frequently me, especially at con tables. Playing in a largely selfish way was super nice. It renewed my appreciation for why selfish play is both very common and such a problem: it only works when you don’t need to toss softballs and coddle the facilitator and rein in the ideas that might throw others off their game.
I couldn’t tell you what all was so great about the experience. I know Morgan did a good job of sussing out my desire for my character, an aging senator who has thrown in with the Rebellion, to go out in a blaze of self-sacrifice. I know Marissa did a good job of understanding how I was trying to frame up our characters’ emotional high point, a passing of the torch from my old to her new. I know Stras brought enormous enthusiasm to every moment his character touched the fiction. I know Brendan’s quiet, steady play as Marissa’s personal servant was exactly what we all needed. And I know Jahmal shares my skepticism of Fate, which was nice because I didn’t want the baggage of being the one dude at the table chafing against the system. (I got to “enjoy” that privilege at Phil Lewis’s Dungeon Crawl Classics table at the same convention. Sorry man! I’m the worst!)