Recently I was a judge of the Two Page Tabletop Contest over at Top Secret games. The parameters of the contest are simple – create a complete tabletop RPG with setting in 2 8.5 by 11 pages. Someone has to be able to pick it up and be able to play it without referencing rules somewhere else and it has to have a setting of some sort. Not an easy task by any means, but the contest got just under a hundred entries and judging it was a blast. There were a lot of really great entries, a lot of decent entries that just needed a little work, and a few entries that needed to go back to the drawing board or be tackled with a different perspective. One thing judging this contest really reinforced in me was the importance of getting a wide range of experience in types of games you play. I loved looking at all the different mechanics and takes on different ideas. I kept sticking games into my play later file because there was something incredible there that I wanted to see later. The more I looked at the systems and games being thought up by the creators, the more I realized I haven’t been exposing myself to enough new games or styles of play lately. There are many reasons it is important to expose yourself to different types of games.
If you’ve got a favorite game that fulfills all of your play needs, that is fine. You know it inside and out and how to handle everything your players can throw at you whenever you run it, until they deviate from the parameters of the game. Roleplaying is an incredibly open hobby that asks us to think outside the box when it comes to task resolution. Having a broad range of gaming experiences to pull from helps you do just that. Sure, your game of choice may handle something like throwing a rope and climbing up a cliff in a certain way, let’s say a very mechanical and realistic way with lots of checks and time taken, but that may not be what your players were wanting or expecting. Exposure to a more free and narrative set of rules may help you see that the play experience would be best served by a heroic ascent to reach the bad just in time to heroically prevent a human sacrifice. Deviating from the rules may not always be the best way to handle a situation, but exposure to multiple rules and types of play opens up our minds for ways to handle things differently. Playing openly narrative games may be your bread and butter, but getting deep into a crunchy and gritty rules system and enjoying the challenge may change the way you handle narrative challenges. It may help you get the challenge that your games have been missing. Narrow views will never help a person grow, so exposing yourself to new rules and games helps inform the way we tackle our old favorites, even if it is just to help us determine things we don’t like.
There are a lot of games out there, and some are great for different types of play. I’ve been involved in games that just drug on because the Game Master wanted a certain feeling to the game and tried to hack that into their favorite system. At the end of the game I am thinking about, I showed him the rules for a game that would probably have been a better base. He had never heard of it but was immediately impressed with it. A few years later, he ran the same game with different people in the system I showed him. From what I hear, it worked beautifully. Sometimes, we just don’t know what is out there. When I was working on designing a game, I discovered a ton of systems that already did most of what I wanted and would have been a great starting point. I just didn’t know they were out there. Exposure to many systems helps you build a wide pool of possible games to draw from when it comes time for your next campaign. You will probably come up with many new campaign ideas that fit the themes of different gaming systems, things you may never have thought about running before you understood what all was out there.
Joey may always play the lawful-dick paladin, but that’s because he only ever plays D&D. When confronted with Shadowrun, he may reveal a completely different side of his play. Different games bring out different play styles, especially if a player doesn’t completely enjoy the system he is playing in. Lawful-dick paladin may be the only thing that really gets to Joey and what he wants out of the D&D experience, but being able to dig into a sci-fi setting or have a different style of play and mechanics may bring out different aspects of his personality. When confronted with a crunchy system, a friend of mine loves to tear in and find the hidden tidbits and insane combos. Give him a narrative system, and he builds a story around his character that will completely blow you away. He is obsessive when it comes to gaming, but he expresses it in different ways when presented with different play styles. You may be able to glean things about your players in a different game that you can apply in your regular game.
Possibly the most important thing about playing many different games is that you can grab lots of fun mechanics and sub-systems to apply to your favorite game. A fate point system in one game might be perfect for your current game to add that extra element of player control. A detailed space piloting system from Traveller might help you build a good ship steering system for when your players suddenly steal an airship and decide to jump into aerial combat. You never know what you might find useful, but knowing many mechanics and seeing how games work helps you mod your games to make them more fun.
I’ve done more than enough proselytizing about the benefits of playing many different types of games, but that’s because looking at just under a hundred different entries into the Two Page Tabletop Contest in just under a month made me realize just how much was or could be out there. I would suggest EVERYONE go check out the entries, and not just the ones that deservedly won. Here are a few that caught my eye for you to get started.
21xx Fall of The Masters – This was a very fun system that mimics Mega Man style side scrollers really well. I want to play this just because of that, but the system is svelte and gets the source material really well.
Ajagara – Never before have I wanted to play the warrior thrall of a giant bug god in a middle eastern setting. Now I do. Nice, solid, interesting, and it seems like it would hold up for more than a few sessions of play.
Bank Job – I dig a good heist game, and this one seemed like it would make for a fun evenings worth of play. The system was complex enough to feel worthy of a bank heist and had a few interesting things like purchasing failsafes to make sure your part of the job would go off correctly.
Clown Helsing – – I’m just going to leave the description for this one here and also mention that you get more points in the game if you make other players or anyone laugh:
Clowns. we’ve all seen them… riding their unicycles, blowing up balloons at kid’s parties, piling in garish hordes from tiny cars, waddling around in huge red shoes, passed out in a dumpster stinking of booze and regret. For what do these martyrs of mirth sacrifice themselves? The answer is of course, they do it for us. Not just to fill our need for laughter and merriment, but because what brings doom to man fears them!
Clowns are man’s only salvation against Vampires.
Just Another Day – This really got me with the incredible design, but the cyberpunk system and setting was sweet and simple. I am carrying it around for if I want a quick cyberpunk game of any sort.
The Gifted – While the design could use a little work, this is a rather interesting take on superpowers and I love the way the right group flips the supers genre on it’s head. The aspect of multiple powers is also really nice. I like thinking of these Gifted as not just a person with a power, but multiple powers, some really good some not.
Seventh Seal – I’m not really a fan of card game based mechanics, but this contest put a lot before my eyes. this was one of the interesting ones and it worked the setting and story of being from a long line of mages and tieing into leylines and power sources really well. It seemed like it could make a fun game of intrigue and magic.
Union of Magical Child Care Professionals – The presentation of the rules as an acceptance letter into a union for imaginary friends and magical child guardians was brilliant. The game works towards a different type of play, much more narrative. I can see this working well for playing with kids.
Welcome Minions – While the layout and setup needs a bit of work, the concept is very fun. I like the idea that you are in charge of making a plan but other minions have other plans and can just choose not to follow you, moving the play and leader role between people.
Go play games. Any games that are different from what you normally play. Smaller games like this are great to immerse yourself into for a night. They are easy, don’t take a lot of time to set up, and if you don’t like them you’ve at least learned what you like and don’t. Start a tradition of playing some different game at least once a month. You’ll benefit greatly in every other area of your gaming life.
How many games would you say you have tried? How many different game mechanics do you know? What is your go to type of game and what game would most benefit weak areas in your GMing by playing it more?