Many years of chatting on the SJGames Forums have led me to the following conclusion. There are four things GURPS players love to talk about:
- Game mechanics. Duh.
- Fictional universes. The minutiae of fantasy worlds, alternative histories, popular sci-fi series…
- Characters. Ideas for characters, characters we once played, ways to tweak characters…
- War stories. Session reports, plot twists, that time when Dave suddenly saved the day…
Q: What’s your point, Collaborative Gamer Guy?
A: I want to direct attention to a fifth category of possible topics – one that I don’t think gets very much airplay in the GURPS community, but which I’d really like to see more of. We might call it:
5. Stuff we do, outside the game itself, that makes the session fun.
Yes, that’s a ridiculously vague category. I just mean all the things we do to make the game fun that don’t really relate directly to the game rules, or to the fictional story being told. Some examples: snacks, atmospheric lighting, seating arrangements, fun props. Also: actually finding a time to play, giving people rides home, emailing to discuss afterwards. And so on.
This sort of thing sometimes gets discussed in the larger RPG community, but not so often among GURPS fans, I think. This is a pity, not because Categories 1-4 suck – I love to talk about them as much as the next GURPS nut – but because the stuff in Cat. 5 is important, too.
Recently, though, I’ve noticed some good GURPS bloggers taking a stab at Category 5. This has thrilled me.
Let me give you two examples.
Example 1: Further Up the Spire
Any GURPS fan who hasn’t been reading the session reports on Further Up the Spire is missing out!
The game mechanics, the fictional world, the story being told -all that seems fine and dandy. But to my mind, the real drawcard here is the GM (Archon Shiva)’s amazing use of stuff in Category 5.
Check out the props, just for starters:
Amazing maps, 3D townscapes, ships, well-painted miniatures….
But it’s not just the props – it’s the lighting, too. Session 2: The Wood Street Incident was conducted “almost entirely in darkness”, by the light of a single candle, to really get that “we are deep underground and it’s actually pretty dark down here” feeling. It seems everyone loved it.
As if excellent props and atmospheric lighting weren’t enough, he also seems to have a full smorgasbord of sound effects prepared for each session. (And the blog includes snippets of them: check out the start of the “Northward Roads” session, just as one example among many).
This is all quite apart from the fact that he’s also doing fun stuff with narrative techniques: shifting points of view, having players run the villains sometimes, so as to screw their own players later down the line, and so on. I think perhaps the most memorable of these tricks (so far) has been his Playing With The Players’ Perceptions by placing a massive monster miniature on the battlemap, while secretly telling all the players except Player A to ignore that monster, since their characters can’t see it – it’s just an effect of Player A’s hallucinations. Now that’s a session to talk about in later years.
All in all, it sounds like an amazing campaign – go read the session reports for yourself! My point today is just that Archon Shiva is getting some really amazing effects out of the stuff in Category 5. I find it inspiring; maybe you will too.
Example 2: Dice and Lives
Joel Sammallhati’s Dice and Lives is a fairly new GURPS blog that has been producing some stuff of the highest caliber. (In passing: if you’re a GURPS lover and you want a laugh, I thoroughly recommend Joel’s very funny Fight Analysis: Fellowship of the Ring)
Joel has a small series of posts called “How I Play,” which does what it says on the tin. (Here is the first post in that series). The most recent post in the series really struck me. Joel’s post discussed “Food at the game table” and included, among other things, a really nice salad recipe.
A salad recipe on a GURPS Blog? That’s something I’ve never seen before, but it makes so much sense to me. Food is crucial to the game, but we rarely talk about it with any seriousness – if anything, usually it’s just a vague mention of “snacks.” But why not include a good recipe for game food on your GURPS blog?
Once you read Joel discussing game food, and then you see him just going right ahead and providing a recipe for it, “Dice and Lives” suddenly seems like just the right name for his blog. It’s a blog about gaming, yes, but it’s also about how to fit gaming into your life. That’s a big issue – maybe the biggest issue, for many GURPS gamers – and I think the more we can do to share our solutions to those kinds of problems, the better.
(Here I can’t resist giving a shout-out to his very amusing recent post Martial Arts Style: Kid Wrangling, which seems to come from the same place. )
End of Examples
So those are two examples: two GURPS bloggers who have interesting and worthwhile things to say about the things in Category 5. Since there’s no risk of categories 1-4 disappearing from the GURPSosphere any time soon (praise be to Kromm!), I’d love to see more good discussion of this sort of thing.
I’d like to read more good discussion of this kind, and I think others might like to read it, too – we’re all trying to find a way to get more fun into our GURPS sessions, and it seems many of us are having to try pretty hard just to get a session together in the first place. The more we can do to help each other with that, the better.
In fact, right now I’m going to set myself the task of trying to think more about Category 5, just on the off chance that I end up having something useful to say.
(If I do, I’ll be saying it under my new tag “How We Play” – a bit of an homage to Joel Sammallhati’s “How I Play” tag. Thanks, Joel!) (LATER EDIT: And as it turned out, I did.)
And those, dear reader, are my thoughts on that.