Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What Makes a Good Player? with Alys Humfleet

Today's What Makes a Good Player? feature is with Alys Humfleet! Alys provided a little additional background for the interview, as well. Check it and the interview out below.


From Alys:

The very first tabletop/RPG I ever played was a demo for a small independent game ... at GenCon. (I got dragged there by a friend of mine because of a resource book release she thought we'd both enjoy. Which got delayed and wasn't even published by the time we got there, but we had the tickets, so we went.)

I had never played any CRPGs either, (I tended more towards the adventure games), and I'd never even played any of the board games that have some story or plot; my favorite board game by a wide margin is Clue. I say all this just to illustrate how out of my depth I really was; the most clueless of newbies. (I need how many dice? Why are they all weird shapes? What are we doing again? Why? How?)

But I am a writer, have been since my third grade teacher made us do a daily journal and I realized it was fun, so I sat down at that demo, and listened to our GM talk about the game system, and made myself a character I would like to read or write about.

She fit our setting pretty well, and she managed a couple really great and interesting moves throughout the demo, and I had a really good time. (Even if I still had no idea what I was doing. Never let having no idea what youíre doing stop you.)

Now, this company was doing a series of demos with a serialized plot, and a couple people from each demo were picked to continue onto the next one, and then a few from that one would go on again, and then once more throughout the full four days of the Con. Unsurprisingly to me, I was not one of those picked to continue, but the GM took a moment at the end of the game to chat with me about my character, and he commented on how interesting she was, but how she wasn't interactive enough. (He sounded actually apologetic about it, which was mind-boggling to me, because it hadn't occurred to me that this thing my friend had made me do with her might be something I could be good at doing, or would ever attempt to do again.)

But I'd made a character with an interesting interior life and internal conflicts (thus good to read or write about), who made a good enough first impression the GM commented on it to me later, but not one whose motivations displayed well and gave the other players something to, well, play off of. And that is the one thing that has always stuck with me about game characters, tabletop or computer. They inhabit a world, they work with other characters, and it is only in those interactions that the gaming happens. Otherwise you're just playing solitaire. (Which can be fun too, of course, but is not at all the same thing.)

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

(Alys) Learning from this, I realize that the very first thing I have to do when I am creating a character that will enhance both my experience and the rest of the players, is make sure that they are flexible enough to be active and reactive. A good game is never just about you. In character creation terms, this can be influenced by your systemís use of strengths and flaws, classes and skills, the spread of various stats. The mechanics change from game to game, but the point is that you both have something to offer, and some way to screw everything up. (Itís recovering from failure where things get interesting, after all.) You can play a quiet introverted character (though it is more difficult) but you still have to give them a stake in the proceedings, you have to give them a reason to act, and a reason to react to the other charactersí actions and behaviors.

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

While I certainly seldom consciously break it down, I am sure the way I play is influenced by the way I write, (itís still about moving the character around, in either case), and the bits of drama class and improv class that I still remember from when I was in school.

The first thing they ask you when trying to write plot, is what is the worst thing you can do to your character. What is the one thing they absolutely do not know how to handle ... because that is exactly what should happen to them. (Make your character uncomfortable! Thatís usually the fastest way to make them do something.)

The most important concept they teach you in any beginning improv class is that you can't say no to whatever the last person did, you can't ignore it and go on with whatever you were thinking about before, you have to say yes, AND. You have to take what the other players and GM give you and build off that, even if it wasn't at all what you thought you were going to be doing when you started. That doesn't mean you should forget your personal goals for your character or the plot, but you have to let everything else happen as well.

It's also really helpful, especially when you're first starting a campaign, to make sure you're familiar with the other characters, so you can help create the situations that will make them uncomfortable, that force them into action. (Also so you have decent party balance in terms of solving problems. Clerics are awesome! Be the lone cleric and save everyone's lives over and over again! Can we tell I have a type?)

It helps to develop all your characters as a group, if you can, maybe even take a look at the other players' character sheets (or however much they're willing to share; sometimes someone has secrets, after all, and finding them out in game is a large part of the fun). Remember that the team dynamic is more important to a successful and entertaining game than anything else. You're choosing to hang out with these people for hours or days or even years at a time. Make sure your character has a reason to stay, and make sure you, the player, will enjoy it.

That doesn't mean your team can't have conflict, but they have to have a reason to keep working together anyways, or your group will splinter apart.

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

Ideally, I find a weekly game helps keep momentum, and makes sure you all remember what you were doing and why. Realistically, very few people have consistent weekly schedules so every two weeks or even every month can also work, but I find trying to meet every week means that, even when something goes wrong so you miss a week or two here or there, it's easier to get back into the game as soon as possible. If you only meet once a month, and one month one person can't, and the next month someone else can't, you lose group cohesion and motivation. It becomes a chore you have to try and get back to, rather than a hobby you're enjoying.

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

I like all sorts of games. I find it easier to get into games that are more free-form (fewer stats, less well-defined locations, no miniatures/battle maps, etc) just because that's what I started with, and I have always been the kind of person who writes by making up sh*% as I go along. (I am what, in writer circles, is referred to as a gardener or a pantser. As in I write by the seat of mine, and seldom have much of a plan. Outlines tend to slow me down.) It can be a lot of fun to just BS your way through a gaming session. (As long as the other players are helping out, of course.) Let the voices in your head go free and see what happens. (I am, at the moment, playing a Fate Accelerated game, which is pretty much the epitome of that philosophy. You have a few approaches, and a few aspects, and a couple stunts, and everything else you figure out as you go along.)

That said, a game with a really deep mechanics/lore system is also a lot of fun, because you have so much to work with, so many potential hooks into the world and the other characters to help you make your character deeper and more invested in the surroundings. It can also be helpful if you're in a difficult situation in game, because you have a list of abilities/skills/tricks/etc. that you have chosen, that fit your character, that you can go through to help you decide what to do next, rather than having to think up something entirely new each time you have an encounter.

(Also, it's only when you have a variety of skills/abilities to try and apply in unusual ways that you get most of the best stories that show up on something like an outofcontextDnD website. You can't get that completely unexpected juxtaposition of skill/setting/player if you don't have a skill-check that gave you an unusual result, or a well-defined trope or setting to subvert.)

So basically, I like them all, (I am no help, sorry!) but it's important to use the mechanics/setting/style that your group is most interested in as a whole, because that'll keep you all coming back.

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 hard to describe these in detail, because they're usually so reliant on context. Any time you can defuse the most obvious plan and do something different to resolve it? That's a win. Anytime you drive another character into doing something they didn't think they could do? That's a win. Did you try something new and it failed mightily? Even thay's a win. Even if your party loses their battle and runs into the woods and has to regroup and everyone ís terrified and yelling at each other, and maybe even someone almost died or got kidnapped or really actually died and now you have to try and heal them or save them or mourn them and everything is TERRIBLE ... you made the game change because of something you did. And now you have to fix it! More to do right now!

Specifically? In my very first game, when we'd almost entirely screwed up what was basically a boss-battle encounter, and I was in the worst possible position to attack the giant-evil-mech that had shown up, I tried anyways, and rolled a critical success.

The GM just paused for a moment, and tilted his head. "The gun explodes." The mech was very annoyed and made terrible mechanical yelling sounds and tried to stomp on people, since it couldn't shoot them anymore. It was delightful. Part of what makes games so interesting is the randomness introduced by the dice. Sometimes the best moment will be the one moment no one had any control over.

Sometimes, the best moments come from the roleplaying. Near the climax of a campaign, while we were fighting an agent of the final villain, my character got completely side-tracked from the actual quest, and instead commented on the agent herself, because my character was personally offended by her actions. (They were both from the same race of elves, and to have one of her own people screw up so badly was infuriating.) She ignored the fight that was building, the Evil they were hunting, and just basically yelled about what a terrible example of their Clans that the agent had become.
Probably not the smartest thing, especially since she wasn't charismatic, or good with people, or really very sensible a lot of the time. But she was powerful, and she was mad.

And it worked. With the help of the agentís long-estranged daughter they broke through the Evil Influence, the agent gave them a ring that would help in the final stage of the quest, and then sacrificed herself so she couldnít be used again.

We bypassed an entire potential battle! For which the GM had done quite a bit of preparation, but he was delighted, because weíd done such a good job bringing it back to the characters and the setting. A good GM knows how to improvise when the players go off the rails. Sometimes thatís when the best stuff happens. Sometimes it just makes a big mess and you spend a couple sessions trying to get yourselves back in order again, but that's fine too. You're still doing things together as a group.
The basis of tabletop gaming, for me, is that it is collaborative entertainment. Whether it turns into a dense political story, or is a ridiculous dungeon crawl that always seems to end up with someone losing a boot and limping into the next room and you're looting piles of gold and dripping jewels and blood by the end doesnít matter, as long as itís what your group is trying to make together. Yes, your character may do something that is detrimental to the other characters, your group may devolve into petty arguing and inter-party conflict (or they might be best friends and family, or an endless shifting combination of both) but anything is fine as long as the players are still working together and moving the game along.


Thank you so muc to Alys for the interview! Hope you all enjoyed reading this week's What Makes a Good Player? feature!

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