So I’ve got 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?