The Three S’s of Gaming


I’d like to start with a bit of an aside before getting to the actual post. I spent waaaay too much time trying to figure out if making the letter “S” plural for the title should have been S’s or ‘S’s or ‘S’es or something else entirely. I’m still not 100% sure. So if you were confused by the title, are/were a college English Major or you’re an Internet Grammar Nazi, the letter “S” in the title is plural and not possessive.

Things to Consider Before a New Game

This is the exact same d30 that I own but I'm too lazy to photograph it myself.Tabletop Role-playing games can be a confusing mess of books, core rules vs house rules, various forms of dice with ever awkward numbers of sides (I own a d30 just to say I have one) and the quirks of your gaming group. It can be tricky to find the right combinations of attributes that make a game perfect for you, your GM and everyone else present.

Every time I’ve considered playing in another game, joining a different table or finding time for a one-shot adventure, my mind wanders to the “Three S’s”. What are these three things beginning with the letter S? They’re System, Setting, and Story. They can make or break the start of a new campaign. They can help to determine who will join your game happily, begrudgingly or not at all. You need to be on good terms with them or they may turn around and bite you.

System:

Easy enough… What system are you running? What edition, what house rules and why?

This causes some of the biggest arguments amongst my gaming friends. People can be very picky about what system they want to play, what ones they don’t and which ones they wouldn’t touch with a polearm. I’m usually very open to playing in practically any game system out there just to give it a try. But questions of system always lead to arguments about how such-and-such is ruining gaming, how [Gaming Company] is just pandering to idiots, that the original was better, that all of the best aspects of Edition X were completely removed from Edition X+1, and that System Y is just proof of how the industry is slowly imploding.

If you’re the GM then you have final say on what you want to run and what you are comfortable with running. Some of you GMs out there are dead  set of your system of choice and some of you are more flexible to what the table thinks is worth playing. As a player you can, of course, opt not to play or ask for certain changes or suck it up & deal with it. Personally I think if your GM really wants to run a specific system that they feel most comfortable with then you’re likely to have a better time playing in the game.

One way to make sure everyone is content: House Rules. House ruling is your friend but can get overwhelming. Sometimes it can help to switch to the easier, simpler, more robust or more interesting rules from other edition, created yourself, or created as alternate rules by the writers or people online. It could be that using the later edition dice rules with the simpler classes of the first edition make things flow better. Other times you’ll find that because you switched your percentile rolls to “highest without going over skill cap” instead of “lowest roll with note taken of difference to opposing rolls” like the book said, all of a sudden certain abilities don’t work as intended and even more things need tweaking.

Coming to a consensus amongst players and GM can make everyone feel involved… but take into account the advice of the players with more experience in that system when tweaking.

Setting:

Oh god... how did such a thing actually happen? This is full of win but very strange at the same time.

Mix enough concepts and you wind up with a setting where this character make sense.

A setting can occasionally be tied directly to the system and some systems work with any setting. Setting will help the GM frame the story and help the players understand the overarching concept & influence character creation. A goo setting gives you a better feel for how to act and react. A bad setting can be overcome by a good story or just wind up muddling things.

Your basics of setting can be as simple as “High Fantasy“, “Low Fantasy“, “Cyberpunk”, “Gothic Horror”, “Survival Horror” and so on. Elaborating further, you could wind up with something like “Post-scarcity dystopian transhuman political intrigue” or “Low fantasy medieval action-adventure set in a small, burgeoning country recently freed from subjugation while plagued with Lovecraftian horrors”.

You get the idea, right? Its a summation, more than anything, that will stick throughout the game but is open to growth and evolution. Its easily bent throughout the course of the Story depending on events, how characters progress the game and where the players are having the most fun.

Story:

This is what you’re playing  and a good opening story can set the tone for the rest of a game. In many cases I’ve seen the story being that original factor which spurs the GM to want to run a game and hooks us players. It can inform the setting or be created based off of the setting. Some stories work best with certain systems or certain systems were created to be used solely with certain kinds of stories. Your High Fantasy Setting using a Homebrew D20 System could easily be a story about the King’s new Guardsmen sent on a covert mission or about a ramshackle mercenary troupe trying to find their way in a post-war kingdom. The GM will tell the story, the players will act & change the story and every time it will be completely different. No two games, even with the same Setting, System, Story and players, will be the same as the last.

My Mage GM has a great new World of Darkness (nWoD) game involving a film crew for a new TV series dealing with potentially paranormal happenings. Its designed as a one-shot that will easily wrap up in a handful of hours which makes it perfect for gaming conventions. Though it always uses the same system, same setting and same starting story every time, the experiences have been vastly different across every group that has played it. There’s a short synopsis of her module here (Asylum) and she’ll likely be running it at the next RetCon gaming convention.

The Fourth S?

START your game. None of this is worth anything until you play. All the prep work and planning in the world mean nothing without implementation… e.g. Games should be played.

And in closing…

I hope you all found this interesting. I’m pretty sure much of this is fairly common sense but we all like seeing how other explain and rationalize aspects of the things we love. I wish I had a way to telepathically transcribe all of the thoughts I had on this concept prior to writing but my lack of future technology (or modern day voice recorders) made me lose track of certain points I was originally intending to bring up.

Comments, criticism and questions are all welcome and can be left below in the comments or emailed to CaffeinatedNeutral@gmail.com if you prefer. Also, don’t hesitate to follow via email, subscribe to the RSS feed or like us on Facebook.

This post brought to you by the letter S and the number 3. See you next time!

2 comments

  1. I am forced to admit that each time I have run “Asylum” I have indeed had vastly different results ranging from morbid and creepifyin’ to hilariously absurd. Fun was had every time.

    1. Maybe next Retcon I’ll actually play in Asylum instead of running 14 hours of board game tables. Everyone I’ve heard talk about Asylum absolutely loved it.

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