November 18, 2014

Time Constraints and "Everyone Gets To Shine"

There is a general philosophy in rpg gaming that everyone at the table gets a chance to shine; ie everyone's character gets a chance to show off what they can do, a chance to be special. This means that a social character (the Bard in D&D or the Face in Shadowrun or anyone with a lot of social skills) will be presented with some social interaction. The characters that fight well will get into combat. The characters with specialized skills (the Thief in D&D or the Decker in Shadowrun) will be presented with a situation where their skills are required to advance the story.

However, some systems bog down into singular encounters. There have been many nights where all we did was run one combat in 4E, 3E, Shadowrun, even Savage Worlds. There have been nights when we never got to combat because we got bogged down in rules or skill challenges. Shadowrun Deckers were a blight on the game when everyone sat around waiting for the Decker to finish doing his thing.

This is not to put down certain systems, but some systems run...slow. The downfall of this is that sometimes (all too often in truth) we end up only running one encounter. This means that only those characters geared for those types of challenges get to "shine"...or really, do anything at all interesting. Thus, some players feel cut out of the action or, even worse, bored.

One solution to this is to run faster systems. While this article isn't a 5E fanboy post, I did notice in last week's 5E game (which included handing out the pre-made characters and explaining the basics of the system) that everyone had something to do. We had role-playing, skill checks and several combat encounters. Everything moved fast. Everyone got to do something they liked to do...everyone was able to "shine". Maybe not every minute but at least once during the night...unlike some games where it can be a couple of play sessions before they get to do something "special".

4E was designed so that no matter what class you played you would be effective in combat. Even with skills they wrote skill challenges to allow for every class to do something in them. With 4E, WotC attempted to make every type of character useful.
5E instead tries to speed up game play (mostly through the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic) as a means to make every type of character useful. By being able to run multiple encounters it means the odds are that every type of character will be able to do something special within a night's game time.

It is all well and good to write adventures tailored to every player's character so each of them has a chance to shine. However, it does no good if a night of gaming only runs one encounter from that adventure. This is a symptom of the game system not the adventure.

I've decided I like fast moving systems, ones that allow for many encounters in a night. Remove or minimize the time constraints built into a system. This is the better way to let the players/characters "shine".

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