OR, How to STOP your game from imploding.
This month the Carnival is being hosted by Runeslinger at Casting Shadows. The chosen topic for December is Taking Charge, described on the blog as;
This could be interpreted in any number of ways, such as (not limited to), outlining ways a group of characters can be more proactive in their affairs, a group of players choosing to improve their existing gaming habits (including the GM), players stepping up to make more effective use of their agency as co-conspirators an contributors to a campaign, and/or getting a good grip on a game that is out of control and going nowhere.
Following on from the unfortunate in-game events that brought my campaign to a screeching halt in the Throne Room, my thoughts have returned to the issue of a Social Contract. This article on the Gnome Stew provides a fine overview of the issue.
In the hope of avoiding another game breaking down due to a conflict of expectations, I have started the next cycle of the campaign with a discussion of our Social Contract. I had offered this option to the Players in the now-discontinued game, but at the time there was no enthusiasm for this discussion. I have to wonder how much of a difference it would have made had I insisted that we deal with this issue.
Our Way to Play
Every group is different, and every Social Contract will need to cover different topics. Here is ours.
I believe that one main purpose of the contract is to outline for the Players the style of game that they can expect from the GM. Thus, our contract emphasises the narrative nature of the game that I try to run. Yours may well stress another play style. What matters is that the discussion makes clear to the Players the type of game that they can expect, the sorts of behaviours you are expecting, and what would not be acceptable.
- Type of Game
- There is always another way, not just violence, explore the possibilities of HQ
- Game setting will push back hard at murder hoboes!
- Heroes cannot always win, so judge situations accordingly
- Plot can twist and turn, I am looking at emulating TV series, and as such there can be shifts in focus, plot, etc.
- Story trumps rules, and, well, just about everything
- A game about characters, not their stuff, or their wealth
- Much of the game is improvised ahead of the Players, so move slowly through new areas & be aware that sometimes I really am just making it up as I go along
- There is also scope for Player input, within some limitations, so improvise too
- Game about Heroes
- Flawed Heroes, perhaps, but need to be broadly good
- So rogues are possible, but the darker behaviours of Ragnarr and Javan not really appropriate [Note, two Heroes from previous games who explored some evil behaviours]
- Dark and Shining Wyrd now more dangerous with the risk of apotheosis at the start of EVERY Session. [Note, my House Widget equivalent of Good and Evil “bennies”]
- HeroQuest 2, as modified by the extensive House Rules
- Flexible & ongoing rules development, so are thus subject to change with little notice
- Interweave other rules systems as interludes
- HeroQuest 2, as modified by the extensive House Rules
- Weekly on Saturdays
- Skip one week per month, arranged in advance
- Only play with 2+ Players
- Player behaviours
- Game needs to be fun for all, including the GM
- Tolerance is key
- To allow the spotlight to shift
- Accommodate & accept different play styles
- Limited inter-party dispute is possible and acceptable, but all Players should be warned that this is a slippery slope and should be handled with extreme care
- Occasional Inter-Party conflict is acceptable
- Drama comes from conflict, so conflict between the Heroes can lead to dramatic sessions
- This should not be a frequent event, but there is no reason why the Heroes cannot disagree and have heated discussions
- However, violence between Heroes is not the focus and will be dealt with swiftly, allowing the story to move on
- Avoid racism, sexism & other views likely to cause offence in real life
- Avoid lampooning the racial traits of fantasy creatures, as this way lies Monty Python
- Acceptable to attack Sessukur cultures, all Acheans are effete & lazy, Jrusteli are baby-eating mages who make pacts with demons, etc.
- Please try to bring dice and pencils to every game, I manage to haul in everything else
- Away from the Table
- Minimum is the Log Entries, or equivalent, on the Wiki & perhaps skimming through the printout at the start of a Session
- Being familiar with at least some of the additional Wiki entries would be good
- Changing Plans
- Heading off in a fresh direction at the start of a Session will create additional GM stress and result in wild improvisation, so please avoid where we can
This is a GROUP contract, and not just a dictation from the GM. So, during the discussion with the Players, be sure to ask for their input. The intention is to come to a consensus about the style and boundaries of the game that you will be playing together.
Some areas of the contract, such as the style of game that the GM is prepared to run, will be open to less debate than others. It is important to find the common ground that everyone can agree upon. However, if no agreement can be found, then it would be better to change the composition of the group than to sign up to something that is not going to be fun.
This is not an easy thing to deal with, and many people might be tempted to agree regardless of their reservations. This is especially true for the GM, who has to put in a lot of effort to run a game, and thus needs to be happy with the broad parameters of the game. Yet, this is only storing up problems for the future.
Dissatisfaction with the style of a game may not cause problems for a short game. For a long campaign, however, then this will only cause problems further down the line. The hard truth, is that if a compromise cannot be hammered out at this stage of the process, then it really is better to change the composition of the group, or decide to play something else. The alternative is likely to be heartache, frustration and broken friendships when the inevitable clash of personalities happens.
Roleplaying games can be an emotional experience. In-game disputes can easily spread to out of game relationships. Do not set yourselves up for a fall. Early intervention can prevent things spiralling out of control and friendships dissolving in resentment and animosity.
You have been warned.
So what is your experience of Social Contracts at the table? Share your thoughts in the comments.