Daily writing again, hm? That’s the plan. Topics covered here will be podcasts, games played (video, MTG, role-playing), books, maybe the occasional art. No clue who this is for, other, of course, than for myself. Shall I begin?
On the finale of season 1 of The Adventure Zone
This will be free of content or story spoilers.
I’ve been falling off the podcast for months, now. Maybe even longer. This is not me going after those charming McElroys, nor will I rant about how Griffin is a terrible DM. (I also won’t delve into the ‘I had a crummy dad’ jealousy I’m often overwhelmed with when I listen to these good boys playing with their pop.)
Instead I’m just going to talk about what I like in a pen-and-paper roleplaying game. I think it will be clear to TAZ devotees why I’ve been left cold by the direction the series has taken.
What I’ve always liked best is getting into ridiculous, emergent situations with my fellow players. Or, of course, creating a world in which players can do so. It’s been made clear in the improv courses I’ve been taking lately. No matter how clever or funny you personally are—and our hosts obviously possess buckets of both—there is some strange magic that happens when two people both bring their ideas to a situation and smash them together. Something new and special is often made that couldn’t be built by either person alone.
It’s more than just the excitement, the investment which results when a player makes a decision or even suggests something flippant that changes the entire diegetic world (Friends at the Table’s famous undead pirates, anyone?). This is good, and makes players (and listeners, at least in my case) start to care about the world. But the excitement that springs from the back-and-forth between players or player and GM is what keeps me showing up.
Where I’m concerned, the rules in these game systems are supposed to facilitate, derange, complicate these interactions. Given the game world, given the starting basic attributes of each character, given the emergent situations in which you find yourself, what do you do now? What the player can then do with their character is—should be—broadly possible, constrained by the rules of the game, those established in the gameworld (magic? flight? cheating death?), and by the personality of their character.
Where so many games go wrong, to my mind, is when the GM just ends up wanting to tell a story in which the characters have only limited choices, or none whatsoever. They can stride boldly into a dank crypt or dance clumsily through the baron’s gala but they’re going to end up at the ending I’ve decided upon, goddamnit.
Providing this kind of flexibility in a game is difficult, often nigh-on impossible. (I’ll always regret bending over backwards to prevent a character from heroically sacrificing himself because I assumed he didn’t want to die.) But this is a goal that players and GMs should be striving for in building and playing their games.
As well-crafted and smoothly presented the last episodes of The Adventure Zone have been, it feels as though the show is a victim of its own success. The weird playfulness, the having to toss an accidentally murdered hooligan off a cliff, the surprises of Griffin’s remix of The Lost Mine of Phandelver, all this is absent. Maybe this will always happen as a campaign wraps up. I’m curious to see what they’ll do in their next story.
Heck, I’m curious to see to what extent I’ll be able to walk my talk in my upcoming game.