If you told me a little over a year ago that I’d be running a Magical Girl RPG, I would have told you that you were crazy. While I certainly love the genre (see Am I Magical?), I just didn’t think that I would find a group to play. Now, I’m over six months into it, and looking at running it with no end in sight. What I’d like to do is use this as an opportunity to talk about some of my theories about role playing games, and sort of guide you through my thought process. While these articles aren’t for everyone, I’m hoping that some of the gamers out there are attracted here and take a look at this and take a look at how they plan and execute their own games.
I’ll start with the basics and work up as the weeks go by, eventually presenting the fully-developed version of the game I’m running. Sound good? Good. We’ll start with the very first steps – deciding on what kind of game you want to play, and what system to play it in.
Deciding on what you want to play should be fairly easy. At any given time, I have about 4 or 5 ideas brewing of games that I would like to run. They range from survival horror to 80’s cartoon pastiche – each has a certain section of my playgroup that I think will enjoy them. The first step in deciding what kind of game you want to run really boils down to who you have to play with.
Look through your list of friends. Chances are, not all of them are going to be coming to your house on a Saturday night to play pretend. Of those that would, some favor certain genres, while others prefer certain play styles. If you’ve been playing with a playgroup for a while, you can kind of build an instinct for this. You’ll easily figure out who likes crunchy combat and who likes long, complicated intrigue. If you don’t know, ask. Ask what sort of things your players would like to do with their characters, what sorts of shows they like, and what they want out of your game. You’ll get some good answers, but that is not enough.
Look at yourself. Consider what you do well. Do you like creating characters? Whole worlds? Do you like thumbing through a monster manual and building encounters? Are you weak when it comes to constructing an intricate web of lies? These are all serious questions for a Game Master. You need to know what you are weak at so that you know what you need to either work on or avoid. Personally, I’m not great at intrigue. This guy is working for that guy and all of those guys tie in this way and there’s an over-arching plot of this while that other guy is trying to back stab this other dude – that’s not my strongest point. I do use intrigue like that in my plots, but I often build it as the game unfolds rather than pre-construct a whole web.
Also, look at what you want to do. If you are running something you don’t care about, you are doing it wrong.
So, by this point, you should have a rough idea of what your players want and what you want. Pitch a few ideas their way. Start matching up the ideas you have with specific game systems – lots of magic and combat, but you don’t want to build all the encounters, and your players like crunch? How about Pathfinder? A really off kilter idea with a bunch of story oriented players? Maybe QAGS? Moody story-driven campaign with middle weight mechanics? How about World of Darkness?
Long and short, no matter what you want to run and who you want to run it with, there is a system out there that you can either play straight out or adapt to what you are trying to do.
For my magical girls game, I had a group of people who were pretty much into story over anything else. I knew that the world itself would be the star, and that the story would be the focus. My players were all familiar with anime and loved magical girls, so that would work out fine. I wanted to select a system that would allow the players to fully customize what their characters could do on the fly. I wanted them to be able to throw fireballs or heal each other, and I didn’t want to flip through pages of rules to do it.
I decided on QAGS from Hex Games. I had played Hobomancer extensively with this group and it was well-received. The lite rules combined with the lack of limits on what could be done was enticing. With a genre in place, I started to consider theme, plot, and cast, which I will talk about next time.