States of Disbelief

I have had this conversation more than once over my time on-line here in the wondrous inter-webs and I have to say that this really comes down to personal preference.  How to maintain that state of disbelief that is required for the game to go truly well is a delicate question.  I have heard from GM’s who believe that you must only allow books at the table and only for the GM with the table being set to deliver the mood right through the scale to it does not really matter what is at the table, even the scale of disbelief does not matter if you are just there to spend some social time with some mates.  Well, I am going to give you my personal perspective on such things.  And it is just that, a personal opinion.  If you don’t like it and think it is wrong then do what you think for your table.

Story Immersion

Yaargh me hearties!
Some of you (who are long time readers) will realise that I love to do stuff that helps my players visualise things in game.  There is the cardboard ship (and now GM screen) that I use for props.  I love to create hand written notes and the like if I have time and I love to dress up (like a pirate yaaargh!).  All of these things are to assist my players in visualising the game and the style of play I am running.  I read books of the genres I am running and try to immerse myself in the material so that I can make it as authentic as possible.  With our on-line games I try to make sure that I have as many handouts as possible to allow the players to see and respond to issues with some degree of confidence that they are not going to be rebutted for being out of setting.

I must admit that I was surprised by my players reaction at this kind of immersion also.  When I started our pirate campaign it was the first time that I had taken things to that kind of level.  The week after they had this sort of stuff (dressing up, the props) the following week all the players showed up with costumes too.  It was a great thing to behold (and you can look at a video of it if you wish here).  This sure helped ourselves to forget that it was a game and immerse ourselves in the story at hand.

Technology at the Table

The most recent comments I have heard about this made me laugh.  A GM was talking about how phones, iPads, laptops, tablets and machines that go “bing” (going to see John Cleese live this weekend, had to slip Monty Python reference in) are not welcome at his table as they destroy the state of disbelief in his game.  Not only that I heard that this individual went a step further and said that the players were not allowed to refer to books in game as “only the GM” should be looking up rules.

I think that this may be a little far.  I also have banned “a” phone at my table.  it was my daughter’s phone because she was hiding it and facebooking through the game and anytime she would be asked a question the state of the game needed to be relayed to her.  But on the whole I find technology at my game table an absolute blessing.  The use of my iPad is quintessential in finding rules quickly.  I have all the books in the room but very rarely pull one out because a bound book has no search function (I know, the index) that stretches across the entire set of books for Pathfinder.  I find rules super quickly with the use of technology.
It is the small things that help
As for the idea that only a GM should look up the rules.  Where do I start?  I wrote a blog recently about a realisation I had and that realisation was brought on by Shadowrun.  The player’s character is their responsibility.  I have stressed for a good six to eight months that in Pathfinder I could not memorise all the feat effects and rules.  I felt I needed to keep an eye on the players but I realise that I do not need to do either.  I just need to understand the feats and abilities work for the NPC’s and the players can fuss over there own powers.  Not allowing them the same access that I use would be hypocritical and if we forced a book only policy then it is goinc to slow everything down.

Technology is great.  Apps are fantastic.  Character sheets on the iPad allow for accuracy of skills and rolls.  It allows for quick updates and stored information to give information immediately.  I use Hero Labs character sheet for iPad for all my games but am looking forward to using Hero Sheets as well as the rule sets join in!  These tools are brilliant and they are designed for speed in mind.  Nothing kills your state of disbelief like a GM spending 10 minutes finding a rule because they need to look through 6 books to find it!

It is a Game!

Does a state of disbelief matter?  Really, does it?  If, as a GM you feel your story will not be heeded unless a state of disbelief occurs in your players and they inhabit your roles then you are (in my opinion remember) OVER THINKING your game.  I play to have fun.  I have embraced a lot of other games approaches in the past six months and I am having the greatest time with my gaming.  My planning for a game is generally quick and deliberately leaves blanks.  Why?  So I can find out what happens by playing.  I spend a lot of my game allowing my players to determine what happens now rather than feeding them a pre-prepared plot and they enjoy the opportunity in taking a guiding hand in what is happening.

I play to have some fun with mates that I like.  I know that if we did not have our game that our social situation would mean we catch up very rarely so we all make the effort to catch up once a week.  If that means we have more fun talking about the latest hit movie than playing the game, so be it!  It is a game that is social in nature.  We are not trained actors reciting a script or a pre determined plot that an audience will turn the channel on if we are not up to scratch.
Hero Sheets awesome interface!
Sure, we walk away from some games with our heads swimming with possibilities and ideas.  Sometimes we walk away with a frown because we are so tied up in what our character is doing or the state of play.  But I never expect a full immersion in a game to have fun or to be a role-player.  My players all have lives.  Sometimes they make it but they are tired.  Do I send them home?  Of course not.  That happens and they just want to hang out with mates.  Of course, if they are too tired they might pull out which is equally fine.  If you follow any of the on-line Reign of Winter game I run you will see that it is generally a changing cast with a few that always show up.  That is OK.  The game goes on and who shows up has some fun and has a good chat at the same time.

My Position

I love getting in to roles and playing out situations but I also love to see where my players take things.  I never expect a player to fully immerse themselves in the game or their character, though when it happens it usually makes a magic session.  My only ask of players (unless they are totally green) is to know their character and know how to run them.  I like them using technology at the table to speed up the process.  Like me, I do not expect them to know every rule of their character so if they need to look it up then I let them and I prefer them to do it swiftly which is where technology comes in handy.

I play because I like telling and hearing stories and I love the kinds of people that role play because they tend to be creative and imaginative!  So I encourage you to let the fine details go and just play because it is a fun thing to do.  Don’t put additional pressure on things so it must be one way or no way.  Lets just all have some fun and keep rolling! 

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