Archive for July 27, 2011

[RPG Blog Carnival] What is Bad Ass Gaming?

Posted: July 27, 2011 by Jay Steven Anyong in Advice, Articles, Roleplaying Games

When was the last time you ever tried to play like a Badass?

It’s human nature to be risk adverse.  We like to take stock of any situation, weigh our odds, and make sure that we’ve minimized every possible risk before we take action.  We’re careful, deliberate, and we like to make sure that we know exactly what we’re getting into before we try anything.

And that, my friends, is NOT badass.

Any good GM will tell you that failure isn’t synonymous to losing when it comes to RPGs.  A good GM will find a way to make failure interesting, giving players something new to deal with.  So if you’ve got anyone who is even halfway decent as a GM, then trust them and take that risk!

Badass play involves getting in there, taking crazy risks to reap the rewards.  Daring and decisive action keeps things going beyond your normal play, and success is always sweeter when you know that you’ve taken the odds and punched it in the face.  Don’t let the odds scare you, if it means you can reap the benefits of being totally awesome, then that should be enough motivation to go out and do it.

This concept doesn’t just apply to players, by the way.  GMs ought to work with them, let feel the rewards when they risk something and succeed.  It’s your job to make sure that the risks they take should be worth it.  GMs should offer neat little incentives, give them that little bit extra whenever they’re faced with one of those Badass moments.

Badass play demands that both sides work harder to push the game to the limit.  Don’t slow down, don’t optimize, don’t let yourself or anyone else slow down the pace.  Get out there and game like there’s no tomorrow.

And that, is what makes a game Bad Ass.

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Nevermet Press, hosts of July’s RPG blog carnival, asks: What makes a game bad ass? For those new to the blog carnival concept, a brief explanation: one blog hosts a topic and invites other blogs to write about that topic. At the end of a pre-defined period (the RPG blog carnival runs on a month-by-month basis), the host blog collates all the links and discussions formed around the carnival topic and shares the final compiled list.  Full details can be found here (plus an archive of all the past RPG carnivals (now running since 2008)).


RPGs come in all kinds, but one particular distinction that bears paying attention to is if the game lends itself better towards mission-based play, or a more sandbox style approach.

Mission-based games are those that often have the player characters taking on a specific role relating to a group of PC types that are meant to achieve X goals via Y means.  Games like these often invest a lot of time and effort playing up the group that the players are meant to be a part of, to instill a clear range of acceptable behaviors and actions.  Some examples are:

  • In Flames by Greg Saunders – Features the Player Characters as the Exiles, a group of individuals working for a being calling itself Ghede to fight against abusive individuals known as “Barons.”
  • Eclipse Phase – At its default level assumes that the player characters are part of Firewall, a secret organization created to combat extinction-level threats.
  • All For One: Regime Diabolique – Assumes that the player characters are all part of the Musketeers, fighting against the darkness that is sweeping over France.
The advantage of Mission-based games is that it forms a common element that ties the group together.  This is excellent for games that rely on heavy teamwork and for groups that don’t care for that much player vs. player conflict.  Rather than spending time with keeping secrets from each other and otherwise politicking, the group can focus on a given objective.
Conflicts in this setup tend to be focused on external threats, and don’t leave a lot of room for introspective plot hooks.  This setup is also great for large numbers of players as everyone gets a chance to do something.
Sandbox style games are less specific about their arrangements.  Often, these games focus more on a situation rather than a mission.  While there are exceptions, one of the most common questions Sandbox games tend to offer is “Congratulations, you’ve just become a Vampire/Werewolf/Mage/Exalt/Godling/etc.  Now what do you do?”
White Wolf is notorious for catering to this form of game, but they’re definitely not the only ones:
  • Part-Time Gods – Has various factions, but certainly no unifying group and “mission” behind their existence.  The Player characters find themselves blessed (or cursed) with the divine spark of godhood and have to find out how to live in this strange new world of godhood.
  • Legend of the Five Rings – Is a game that is definitely broad enough to accommodate various sandbox themes.  While one could argue that a game about Duty, Honor and Sacrifice is bound to be mission-based, there’s arguably plenty of room for sandbox style play where one can track the life and significant events of the lives of the various Samurai.
Sandbox play is great for those who enjoy the concept of immersion.  Rather than having set goals and allegiances, the players are free to explore the social landscape of a game and make these decisions for themselves.  These decisions in turn, have consequences that manifest in various ways but always change the dynamic of the game.  Siding with one group will influence the world in one way, while siding with another will have other effects.
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Between the two my personal preference falls towards Sandbox style.  Mission style stuff is convenient and fun, but I find Sandbox style games to be more rewarding from the point of view of a GM.  Mission based games are like a string of one-offs to me, barring a few recurring villains and NPCs, once a mission is done, it’s pretty much over.
Sandbox games appeal to me since it also involves the player characters in the act of changing the setting.  Everything they do and achieve alters the setting somewhat for better or worse.  While this means that some of the more wanton player types tend to make a mess of things, it also means that conscientious players can achieve far greater things with the right contacts and plans.
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That said, neither style is “superior” over the other, and it’s purely a matter of preference.  I’m very curious to find out what people prefer to play though, and why.  Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section!