Wednesday, November 2, 2016

What Makes a Good Player? with Kirt Dankmyer

In today's What Makes a Good Player? feature, we have an interview with Kirt Dankmyer! Check out his interview below.

Note: Content warning for discussion of negative player behavior including the topic of rape in game.


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

​So, like most avid players, I can be somewhat of an attention hog, so one thing I try do the most often is make a deliberate effort to share spotlight. This isn't entirely unselfish, as watching other people go is great for sparking creativity, and even the most "conventional" fellow player has all sorts of surprising things in them.​

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

​Hmmm. I did improv in college, but I never cross-applied the techniques much, except maybe the principle of saying "yes" to suggestions about what's going on (yes, we're brothers... yes, I'm in love with you). That is, avoiding negation when possible, because that slows down the flow of play.​

Rather than having a particular grab-bag of techniques I always use, I try to make use of the narrative potential or opportunities created by a particular ruleset and/or setting to its fullest extent. For example, in 13th Age, you in essence make up your own skill list, which can be as flavorful as you like, while still being useful in a generic way. So, given that opportunity, I make sure to take the skill "Burglar Emeritus of the Drakkenhall Rogue's Guild" rather than just "Thievery." Even something like old-school AD&D has areas where you can do something like this, though obviously some games provide more opportunities than others.

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

​I like to game once a week. I used to like to game more often, but I'm in my 40s now and I get exhausted more easily.

As long as I feel like I can actually affect the action in some way, I can usually maintain pretty decent energy. Obviously, a game that pushes my various genre loves (science fiction, post-apocalyptic, cross-genre, urban fantasy)​ ​or system preferences (highly focused, indie-style games) helps maintain energy. I'm an introvert, but gaming is one of those areas where I'm super comfortable, so using gaming as an opportunity to interact with people I like and even to meet new, interesting people also helps me maintain energy.

The flipside of the latter is I'm not afraid to drop a game if it's not working for me, particularly if there's a personality conflict or some other dysfunctionality. I don't believe that any gaming is better than no gaming. I'm sad to say I've been in several games that were way, way worse than no gaming at all, especially in terms of the amount of negative emotional energy that they generated. ​

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

​So, I have a big soft spot for cross-genre stuff, but in terms of "pure" genres, as I mentioned before, I'm pretty big on urban fantasy and science fiction, particularly post-apocalyptic stuff and space opera. Being in a genre I'm a fan of and/or comfortable with is a good start.

Setting aside, as a Forge veteran, I know that system matters. I'm most comfortable with a game that has a very specific thing it is trying to do and does it well, ideally in as a tight manner as possible. Even a "generic" game can do this; Fate covers a lot of genres, but it's very focused on a particular style of cinematic play and the rules encourage a particular sort of narrative arc. As another example, I'm a big fan of the Powered by the Apocalypse games, particularly the subtle way the chosen list of moves influences how the game runs. Even if I think a system is a little too complex for my tastes, like GUMSHOE, I can respect a decent implementation of a game's focus, such as the way GUMSHOE handles investigative play and clue gathering. ​I'm also a huge fan of games that share more power with the players than the "traditional" D&D paradigm.

So, the sweet spot for me is a game that has a focused rules that allow me to exercise some interesting narrative control, and is in a genre that I like. I could spend an entire page giving examples, but in the urban fantasy genre, Monsterhearts comes to mind, especially as rather than eliminating the sex moves from Apocalypse World like most Powered by the Apocalypse games seem to do, Monsterhearts adapted the idea to add the proper tension to a (supernatural) teenage soap opera.

Talking about sex moves reminds me of another comfort issue. This is less about particular games, though some games have a relevant mechanism built in or discuss the sort of thing I'm talking about in the text, but I'm most comfortable where there's up-front discussion at the start of a campaign as to what people are okay with, and possibly making use of the X Card or a similar mechanism. I've been in too many games where lack of such discussions or lack of a safety net like an X Card has lead to serious problems.

Trigger Warning: Rape. 

As an extreme example of games where lack of discussion or safety valves lead to an issue, and also apropos of games that are worse than no gaming at all, one should never come back to a game after missing a session to find that the other PCs have allied themselves with a gang of rapists. Yes, this actually happened. I don't want to get too much into it as it could get into even more serious trigger territory, plus talking about that game, and that terrible, terrible gaming group, is probably a multi-page essay that's best left unwritten.

So, yeah, returning to a more cheerful topic, a tight game with decent narrative control and in a genre I'm a fan of is likely to keep me extremely engaged. 

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?

​Hmmm. This is a level of "toot my own horn" that I'm not sure I'm comfortable with, but I'll give it a shot.​ I'm probably going to veer into "let me tell you about my character" territory here, but that seems pretty inevitable, given the question. ;-)

​One example that comes to mind is a Castle Falkenstein game I was in back in the 1990s. The GM told us the game was going to focus on three daughters of a British military officer, a very tight focus that would lead to more extreme things in a standard Castle Falkenstein 19th century Steampunk/Pulp "Tales of Adventure" sort of way.

I jumped in with both feet, creating a character that was a faerie interested in romance, but had been disappointed over the centuries in that most of his partners seemed to be more interested in what he was rather than who he was. Therefore, as he became attached to one of the daughters, following a standard romantic trope, he disguised himself as an ordinary human, so that he could tell if she loved him for himself rather than his faerie nature. This actually gave the other player characters a lot of chances to shine, as I needed their help to maintain my secret, and several of them rose heroically to the occasion. I also made sure to repay the favor, by helping out the suitors of the other daughters and generally being willing to stick my neck out to help them with their plots, like a proper gentleman faerie.

Aside: While I went that way because it's a fun trope in fiction, I want to be clear I think "testing someone's love" in real life is pretty much a total dick move. Keep it in novels, soap operas, and RPGs.

In any case, as many campaigns often do, the game eventually collapsed, but not before I was able to complete my romantic arc and reveal my true nature to my beloved, confident that she loved me for who I was. It was pretty heart warming and it definitely made the GM happy, as it was exactly the sort of thing he was going for, and by that point all the other players were almost as invested in the plot as I was, so they were pretty happy as well. Sadly, apropos of spotlight sharing, I had been looking forward to fading a little more into the background and cede a bit more spotlight given my arc was largely done, becoming largely a support character, and like I said, the campaign collapsed soon afterward. I still feel a bit guilty about that.

In any case, however, I think it's a good sign of the job I did is that people who were in that campaign, aside from me, still talk about the game, and that character. It came up as recently as a month or so ago, decades later. Ugh, now I feel old...


Thanks so much to Kirt for the interview! I hope you enjoyed reading these answers!

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