The best role playing sessions occur when everyone in the group has a shared vision of what they are seeing and where they are. Trying to force a campaign idea on people who have no idea what they should be seeing can create a real problem. Which is one of the problems I have run into the most when trying to GM games in the past.
One of the most vivid role playing experiences I ever had was also one of the oddest. A friend of mine, who is also one of the best GM’s I know, decided to do a one shot of this role playing game and campaign he came up with, called ‘Redneck: the Reckoning’. I won’t bother trying to describe what happened, or the game itself. All I can say is that what ensued was almost a shared hallucination. Those of us who played that night often used words like a weird trip to describe it. It was both bizarre and memorable. But the biggest take away was that everyone who played that night had a shared idea of what we were playing, we all knew what was going on.
And a good game or campaign is like that. The players buy into the core concepts of the world. Like the world of the Undead that my Pathfinder game I am in. We all have a good, common view of what sort of world it is, and what we will see and run into. So we do not have to cope with any serious anachronisms, because we all have bought into the GM’s vision of his world.
Some games are like that on their own. If you play Shadowrun for example, you know exactly what sort of world to expect. Your campaign might differ from another, but you can all share certain things: what guns suck, what spells are overpowered. Or Deadlands, everyone knows what a Western look like, just add some weirdness and undead and voila everyone pretty much understands and agrees on what Deadlands is like.
In the past, even in the first game for the boys, I ran into this problem. So when you mention Waterdeep or Cormyr to the players, you get blank faces. And when I tried to run my own games in the past things just didn’t quite work. Like my SavageRun game, or various GURPS worlds that I tried to run.
The trouble is I have my own vision of these worlds, and my flavor is very much informed by my inspirations. Inspirations that not everyone may share. For example I was surprised today when I found out someone had not read or watched Game of Thrones, and didn’t care for Conan.
Last weekend I watched a good chunk of the Magnificent Seven, which is a great movie (yeah I know it is based on 7 Samurai, which is probably better.) And I started thinking about how to craft a scenario based on that story. Then it hit me, the boys don’t know that movie from the original. So I could not reference the movie and expect them to get any of what I was doing.
We all have different experiences and interests and bring them to our games. And as a GM we cannot expect everyone to ‘get it’. But what we can do is create stories, campaigns, that pull the players in, so they begin to ‘get it’.
There are a couple different ways to do that. Run something familiar to the players (Deadlands, 7th Seas are good examples.) Ask, demand, cajole your players to introduce themselves to the material beforehand. You can do the sudden dump, like dropping the players from one world they understand into one they don’t (which still has the obstacle of trying to explain it.)
But what I think works best is to ask the players to start in a common, small location, and then use their own adventures as a way to learn about the big wide world around them. This works best in a fantasy style game, where technology limits the players experience. Kind of hard to ask the players to know nothing about the world around them in an advanced society like Shadowrun for example.
The biggest thing though is that the players at some point begin to ‘get it’. That they begin to talk about the world around them. Towns where they adventured, naming the Gods of the world. When they begin to do that you know you have them, they have bought in. It isn’t always easy, or even possible, but when it happens it is a great feeling.