The Magic Fizz

The Magic Fizz

So I’ve got this … phenomenon, or shorthand, or whatever. This way of describing an RPG campaign that is live and active. I’ve never really explored what makes it happen, but it has a name: the magic fizz.

The thing about the fizz, and why it works as a metaphor for me, is that it can escape from its bottle. The bottle can be shaken to generate new fizz. And sometimes, ingredients (salt) can be introduced into the bottle that just straight up kills the fizz.

Usually the thing that lets the fizz out of the bottle is just plain old time. We lose the narrative threads, urgency leaks away, there’s just not a powerful drive to engage with whatever it is we’re doing. The typical time to a flat bottle for me is about 2 weeks. But it really depends on the game! If it’s a super tight moment-to-moment game (like PbtA games tend to be for me, if we’re not running it as/like a one-shot), the game cannot survive a week without play. If it’s more episodic — like King Arthur Pendragon or Mutant: Year Zero these days — it tends to last a bit longer. But not forever.

I’ve never really torn apart what goes into the fizz. But sitting here thinking about it, I think I could say:

* My personal excitement to find out what happens next when I’m facilitating. Even if the players are on-board with waiting a bit, if I don’t care about unresolved stuff I cannot artificially generate excitement in myself.

* Unexplored potential. Like…problematic relationship maps with issues we haven’t gotten to touch on yet. It’s like…there’s nothing inside the events of the game, no cliffhanger per se, requiring that Adam and Beatrix finally address their strongly implied shared secret or their unresolved sexual tension or whatever. But it’s right there. I wanna know what’s going to happen! I want to see the fiction aim at those things, so the fizz stays in the bottle. 

* Some element of the system that looks like it’ll produce exciting results, but we haven’t gotten to use yet. Sometimes I feel intimidated by some big crunchy thing (new Range & Cover rules in Burning Wheel or fully deploying the colony rules in Rogue Trader), but if intimidation isn’t keeping me from giving something a spin, fuck yeah let’s give it a spin! Mapping Firefight from Burning Empires onto a space battle, awesome! Spooling out the results of the manor tycoon shit from Pendragon, neat! Watching the map get more fully explored in Mutant: Year Zero, yes please!

* Eager players, of course. Huge. When they’re excited I’m excited. Unfortunately I have one and sometimes two regulars that are more measured in their enthusiasms. They absolutely are into the game! But they don’t say so with the frequency at which I need to hear it. Same as any relationship I suppose.

So what makes your game fizz? What lets the fizz out of the bottle?

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0 thoughts on “The Magic Fizz”

  1. Time totally lets the fizz out.

    Sometimes, that one player who really loves the game drops out, and the other players don’t have enough fizz to continue. (Or characters.)

  2. Oh that’s a good one.

    Parallel: Sometimes a player joins that throws off whatever alchemy was working before. Now everyone has less screen time, or the noob has problems/questions about problematic rules that everyone else has agreed to gloss over. Or personalities change juuuust a tad at the table — the new player introduces a little casual sexism/racism that hadn’t been there before, or laughs off the stuff we were treating as srs bsns.

  3. Scheduling scheduling scheduling. Every time a game gets cancelled/pushed back/rescheduled (even if it’s completely understandable) it kills my enthusiasm by a lot. Every minute I have to spend wrangling schedules is an (arbitrary unit) of enthusiam for the game that just evaporates. Which is why I have such a hard time organizing/running regular games. If someone else is organizing, even if I’m running the game, I enjoy it so much more.

  4. For me, it’s when the players aren’t contributing story hooks and ideas. “Flat” characters are (for me) the worst offenders.

  5. Personal drama invading the play space is a real dash of salt for my group. We’re all social friends as well as game friends, and if two people are not getting along, it changes the table dynamic in a big way.

  6. You know that guy that opens a soda during a lecture – the guy who things he can just let out a little fizz at a time and no one will notice but just ends up taking forever to actually open the d@mn bottle? That’s how I like it – short bursts of fiction or a series of linked one-shots.

  7. Scheduling, tied with time. I need to strike while the iron is hot.

    If I perceive a player that isn’t engaging, I get tied up internally trying to figure out how to engage him/her. It becomes a quest.

    Players that refuse to take the reigns of the fiction expecting me to spoon feed them. For this reason, I am trying more GM-less games.

    HUGE for me: while I enjoy some game prep: tinkering with rules, wondering how this or that would spin out, engrossing setting history, a bit of straight up day dreaming; I get so tied up in it that a bit of my excitement fizzles as what was fun is now work; hence, a preference for zero to low preparation. This ties in solidly with scheduling for me. I must play before my imagination kills the fun.

  8. When someone comes up with something so “clever” that it turns the situation that the GM has presented upside down, that can either be an exciting burst of magic fizz or a waste of the fizz. Which it turns out to be has a lot to do with whether the player’s tone is “let’s try something spontaneous or fun” or whether’ it’s “gotcha!”

  9. Brian Kurtz squandered fizz! Yes!

    Gotchas are pretty awful. I had a very good friend who pulled that with me a few times. I could never quite drill down to why he thought that was a good idea. Maybe hoping that catching me by surprise might, I dunno, short-circuit my ability to screw with him? That’s uncharitable but totally possible. 

    “Spontaneous and fun” can also kill a campaign, though. Sometimes it illustrates where the players would rather be playing, which then reveals a lack of enthusiasm for the current setup, which then feeds my insecurities and pow, done.

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