Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What Makes a Good Player? with Mike Wood

Today's What Makes a Good Player feature is with Mike Wood. Mike had some great responses to my questions! Check them out:


What do you try to do most often while playing games to enhance your experience and the experience of others?

For me, the best part of gaming is embracing the unexpected. I started playing tabletop RPGs pretty late, I guess – I was 25 or 26 when I had my first D&D session. My RPG experience before that was basically from video games, which I love, but they’re a more passive play experience, and that could be frustrating sometimes. When I’d play some game like that, I’d end up thinking “why didn’t they just do X?” a lot – like in a bad horror movie where you’re wondering why they don’t just call the cops. So when I’m playing D&D or similar, I like to push the boundaries a bit in terms of creative solutions, because I really enjoy the freedom of being able to shape the narrative in unexpected ways, or the incongruity of bringing 21st-century common sense into a fantasy world. When I DM I try to be really open to the unexpected, too, because to me that freedom is the best thing about tabletop games.

Of course, how far you can take that sort of thing really depends on the type of game you’re playing, and the type of group you’re playing with. Sometimes trying to come up with crazy solutions for things works great, if your character has a good dynamic with the rest of the party – in my longest running game, I played a sort of Pollyannaish dwarf whose ridiculous ideas played well against the cautious pessimism of one of the other characters, and there’d be some arguments and conflict that made for a good experience. But I try to keep a lid on it if it looks like it’s starting to dominate the conversation. I’m conscious of my showoff tendencies and try to play against them as much as I can.

Do you use any specific play techniques (narrative tools, improv tools, etc.) in your play sessions?

Nothing formal, but there’s an improv rule that your response to any question has to be “yes, and…” – as in:

“Did your dog swallow the ambassador’s priceless diamond cufflinks?”

“Yes, and she’s been kidnapped by the mafia!”

I always try to keep that approach in mind while playing – always try to keep momentum moving forward, even if things go in an unexpected direction, or not quite how you want them to. That doesn’t mean don’t plan things out – sometimes discussing how to do something can be its own kind of narrative momentum, as well. If you’re DMing, “yes, and” becomes “yes, but” – “yes, you can try to do that, but X might go wrong.”

How often do you like to game, and what is most comfortable for you to maintain good energy in games?

It used to be a weekly thing for me and that was great, then a bit less frequent and that was good too. I think 2-3 times a month is probably about right.

What kind of games do you feel you are most comfortable with and enjoy the most?

I don’t have a lot of experience with different systems, but I like games that can support a consistent and fair but rules-light approach that’s flexible enough to deal with lots of different things. I’m sure there are games where you can turn to page 27 of appendix R to find the table to roll on for swinging on a chandelier, but having a general “athletics” roll works better in my book. I think there’s such a thing as too flexible though, I didn’t like FATE for whatever reason. Maybe I just needed time to get used to it.

One game that I really enjoy is Unknown Armies. It runs on a percentile dice system, which is easy for everyone to understand, and it’s got a really nice sanity system, but the real star for me is the way magic works. Magic in UA is based on either obsession (with drugs, alcohol, TV, stamp collecting, whatever) or conforming to a primal archetype like the Mother or the Warrior or the Fool. The book lists a few examples of each but it’s clear that you can make new obsessions and new archetypes, and it’s all built on the premise of player engagement with building the system, and taking things in unexpected directions according to what the players want to do. For me that’s what gaming is all about.

Can you share a special experience in a game where you felt like you did a good job playing your part in the overall story and game?

It’s tough to pick one. Once, during a long-running 52 Pages campaign, the party was on trial for something and we had the option of either doing trial by combat or arguing our case. We ended up deciding to argue, which I think was unexpected since it’s not the usual murderhobo way, and one of us had to be the defence attorney. So naturally I volunteered because I’m a huge showoff. And it was a lot of fun, a really nice change of pace. I ended up doing the sort of Matlock impression you’d do if you’ve never seen an episode of Matlock.


Thanks so much to Mike for being a part of the interview series! Hope you all enjoyed reading. :)

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