Ravyn Freewrites: Expectations and Surprises

I keep myself under low expectations with regards to mechanics. I’m not sure why. It might be because in my formative years as a gamer, I played with people who had been playing longer than I was. They knew the system. I didn’t. Often they had a few dozen books, and I was lucky to have the basics—and they cared about minmaxing, whereas all I was really worried about was keeping the character alive and throwing my cunning at the situation. Did I need the mechanics as much if I knew world-logic? Or had the kind of twisty mind that would get me through the intricate social confusion? It didn’t matter. Someone else would be the rules lawyer and expert mechanist. I’d learn what I needed to learn, since otherwise I’d have to learn far too much.

This isn’t to say I wasn’t a decent mechanist. All right, D&D combat gave me headaches, but that was why I only played. Exalted I could keep up with my players, occasionally design a combat encounter that would drive them crazy (I had one NPC they thought was going easy on them because she was only counterattacking, though they couldn’t hit her—thing was, she was still putting up her scenelongs); all I really needed was to remember where everything was and thread a few things that worked together into each other at a time, and I was fine. I even had a few areas of specialty that I was the go-to for. But I operated under the assumption that someone else was going to be the mechanical expert—and as long as I knew at least as much about the world as everyone else did, so I still might have a niche, I was fine with that.

When one of my players brought me into a group he was about to turn loose on a new system, I ended up in a position of authority. It wasn’t that I was any particular expert, or at least I didn’t see myself as such. It was a system of a type I knew, so I focused on the powers rather than on how the dice rolls worked, and someone just happened to have a character concept that fit with some powers I’d just looked up. “You can probably do this,” I said (as I quietly typed the page number I was going to need to back-reference to), and then I grabbed a sort of table of contents and went librarian on him. “And I found this, and this, and this might do for that….” Fitting things into patterns. That I’m good with.

Then we hit a game we all started playing at the same time. And I mean all started playing. Sure, the GM knew more than the rest of us; he’d had the materials first, and he’d had to actually work to interest most of us in the first place. I did a once-flit through the book, realized we were really close to go time, asked what everyone else wanted to play (having no strong ideas whatsoever; this is a normal pattern), fit myself in around what everyone else was doing, tried to figure out why one of our players was obsessing so much over an optimal build for a short-shot game—ended up making my GM regret his constant suggestions that sometime I play a tank—and, once I got all the water metaphor jokes out of my system, settled in.

Game 1: We’re all struggling with the system. My dice hate me.

Game 1.5: Clearly I haven’t gotten the hang of tactical movement (though it’s generally impossible because my dice hate me, and in this system if you want to move with any efficacy you need your dice to cooperate). A couple things I hadn’t quite realized get explained to me. We discuss reworking a couple of mechanics. It’s quite possibly the most in-depth “let’s pick this system apart” conversation I’ve had in years.

Game 2: My Crazy Plan means that I do not in fact really see my efficacy in battle. Being semi-sidelined, however, does mean that I get to kibitz my fellow players. Particularly since I have a laptop and strong looking things up skills. My librarian fu is unequaled in this group.

By the fourth game, I’m our resident rules lawyer, probably to nobody’s surprise but mine. It was all there; I guess I just never really saw it. Pretty cool, though.

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