Saturday, December 15, 2012

Interview with Jim harland - Part Two of Nine

Still me. Still have the armor, too.

Jim Harland publishes the "harlandski" blog [Link in the left column for you] from Central Asia, and contacted me last month to ask me some questions. I'm reprinting the conversation for your amusement, with his cooperation...

Jim's questions are in >italics, and my replies are in the plain text. In about a week, I'll save these posts as pages so they are available for you.

>Actually I have a question about how Tekumel was played in the early days
>(*nothing* to do with GNS theory or anything like that!) which I'd like to
>ask you - would that be OK?

   You are very welcome! I had to look up what "GNS"  theory is; I'm such 
a dinosaur I had no idea

>Ah sorry. You talk about "narrative" and "gamist" in your 'house rules' so
>I thought you knew.


    The GNS terms are on my blog because one of the people I e-mail back and forth with desscribed my games in those terms, and they seem to be used all the time in RPG marketing from Certain Large Companies. I used to post a lot more on this on the old version of my blog, and a lot of current RPG players would get very angry that early RPG games back in the late 1970's and early 1980's just didn't fit into the GNS Theory categories, and was a lot wilder and chaotic then a lot of them seemed to be comfortable with.

    Anyway, I still game like we did in those far-off days, and I've had quite a few people come and play in my games because of this. I run my miniatures games the same way as Dave Wesley and Dave Arneson ran their "Braunstein" games, and people seem to enjoy them as well.

    Getting more to the point, Gary's style of game play was pretty 'linear'; there was a sort of natural flow to his games that was based on his very careful use of the rules sets to make sure that game play was enjoyable and consistent. Both Gary and dave preferred to have one player be the spokesperson of the gamer-group, as it made things much easier for them to run the game and makesure that things happened in such a way to give everyone something to do. If I may, I'd like to cite this video clip as a good example of the way Gary's games would run:

Gary's "Greyhawk" was full of wacky NPCs (most of whom should have been confined in homes for the terminally goofy) and funny goings-on, but there was a definite story arc to the adventure and he was very good about sticking to the rules and rules mechanics pretty much all of the time of the time. He was 'consistent', but not predictatble.

Dave, on the other hand, was the exact opposite. The rules and rules meechanics were, for him, the framework to hang the game plot / story arc off of, and one never new wat was going to happen. A video clip that perfectly encapsulates Dave's style of play is at:

His games would start out very 'normally' and much of the same style as Gary's, but as the players got deeper into that particular adventure things would get completely surreal. You had to be very fast, very quick, and very inventive or else you'd get very dead.

Phil's games, on the other hand, were very much in the same style as Gary's in the first couple of years; my first year in them wsn't not very fun, as the majority of the group were 'power gamers' who were very interested in how badly they could mess around with the game mechanics and frankly not all that interested in the Tekumel world-setting. Phil played the rules very tightly as written, and there was a lot more 'game mechanics' then there was Tekumel that first year. After that first year, I and several other players split off into the first 'Thursday Night Group', and we were much more interested in simply exploring the world, having adventures, and as much 'derring-do' and swashbuckling as we could manage. We believed in 'Action! Adventure! Romance!', and once Phil realised that we werent going to 'rules-lawyer' him to death he lightened up considerably and did a lot more 'story-telling' then 'dice rolling'. These times are what lead to my book, "To Serve The Petal Throne", and I could also use this video cip, as it mimics the kind of adventures we had pretty well:

Phil loved to give us lots and lots of details about his world, and provided us with lots of interesting people to meet and interact with. Some of the more powerful would come up with 'missions' and 'odd jobs' for us to do, and that was the excuse to get us around his world and explore it. Phil would be very 'rules-light', and we'd go much more by common-sense and consensus then by printed rules sets. Mind you, he would brook no contradiction about cultural stuff, but then we all understood that he'd created the world and probably knew something about the place. As the years went by, he did much more 'story-telling' for which we'd be the supporting cast of actors, and we'd provide local color and comic bits to amuse the 'real people' of his world.

>In any case I wasn't originally expecting a full description of how you
>used to play, and if it's too much trouble, please don't worry about it. I
>would be grateful for a reply about whether and how you used a 'caller',
>but there's no hurry. I was grateful for your quick replies whilst I was
>preparing my blog, but can wait for these matters of my own curiosity.

    We also used dice and then miniatures to represent our characters on the table, and dice or other figures for whatever we were fighting. Besides giving Phil and I a reason to paint figures (Phil had something like 2,000 Tekumel figures, of which I painted about a third; I have about 4,800 figures, al of which I painted) and make things like buildings and scenery, having a 'visual tactical display' really sped up game play as it was instantly obvious what was happening from the miniatures. Normally, when we had a 'spokesperson / caller' being the interface with Phil, a second perdon would be in charge of updating the tactical display and moving the figures to suit the actions of the players. Normally, the 'spokesperson / caller' would be in charge if the party during the action, or emergency, and tended to both be the interface with Phil and to be the party's leader, giving orders as needed.

    That role would also shift amongst the players, as whoever was considered by the party to be the most skilled in any particular situation would be 'volunteered' to lead the party and be the 'caller' in that situation. We always told Phil quite explicitly when we 'shifted the flag' and we had a new 'commander', so that there would be no confusion as to who was supposed to be doing the talking. I should also make it clear that all of the players would defer to the lead player, and would tell him what they were doing unless Phil specifically started the 'around the table, one at a time' procedure. The lead player would still be in command of the party, but Phil would run the event based on the individual actions.

    I tended to be the lead in military situations, and others would take the lead in other kinds of situations. It was all terribly informal, with nothing written down, but it seemed to work well for us for a decade of gaming.

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