GTM #202 - Tricks of the Game Trade - Tip #9
by Jon Leitheusser

Last month we discussed getting a game started by enticing your friends with a licensed setting such as Star Wars, Doctor Who, or a public domain character like Sherlock Holmes. Games based on popular characters and settings from pop culture are an excellent way to get your friends to the table, but you may find that some (or all) of your group wants to try something different after a while. Don’t worry if that happens! Gamers tend to experiment with different games and settings, so it’s not an unusual request. In addition, you may find a new game that you and your friends like even more than whichever game you originally started playing.

In this month’s “Tricks of the Game Trade” we’ll be looking at other settings that exist and how you can adapt them for your own use. There will also be suggestions for some games with unusual settings you may want to check out.

~ To the Game Store! ~

The very best place to find a new game to play (whether it’s a roleplaying game, board game, or card game) is your favorite game store. At most stores you can grab a book or other game off the shelf, flip thought it, get a sense of the subject matter, the art, even the rules if you havesome time to do a bit of reading, and figure out what you think of the game.

A number of months ago, we discussed running games in different genres, such as horror and espionage, and in those columns games like Deadlands, Call of Cthulhu, Dread, Pathfinder, and D&D were all mentioned because they either had rules that encouraged a particular style of play or were generic enough that you could introduce elements of other genres without causing too many problems. These are all excellent games, but there are so many more available you might be surprised. And the great thing about most of them is that they offer something different from the others.

Why Start Looking?

Pay attention to the other players when you’re running your game, or if you’re thinking of running a game. Make note of the sorts of adventures they like, listen when they say something like, “I wish this game had more of ‘X’ in it. That would be cool.” Then, when it’s time to start a new campaign or try a one-shot of something different, you can suggest a game the players will find exciting.

If your group started playing a D&D game and really enjoyed a portion of the game in which they were aboard a ship and roleplayed pirates, then you may want to check out books like 7th Sea or Freeport: The City of Adventure for Pathfinder. Both of these settings feature a lot of pirates, ships, magic, and maybe even a little swashbuckling.

Perhaps your players are fans of anime or shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, in which case, check out games like Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple or Tianxia: Blood, Silk, & Jade. While these games aren’t based on a specific show, they succeed in evoking the feeling of those sorts of shows.

~ Unique Tastes? ~

If you and your friends have slightly more discriminating palates when it comes to gaming, you’re in luck! There are way more games out there than you’d imagine and a lot of them were created specifically because the writer was a fan of something that didn’t already have a game based on it.

Perhaps you’re a fan of post-modern settings and books like Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon. While definitely a cyberpunk novel, it’s one of a number of books that go beyond cyberpunk and into transhumanism, which is a movement that wants to change the human condition by making technology to enhance human abilities and even move consciousness from one body to another. If a game like that sounds interesting, check out Eclipse Phase. It centers on exactly those sorts of ideas and casts the heroes as outsiders in a dangerous world of the future.

Or say, for instance, that you and your friends are fans of fantasy and cyberpunk—well, guess what? There’s a game that combines those two genres very successfully; Shadowrun! Originally published a few decades ago, Shadowrun is in its Fifth Edition now and does an excellent job of merging fantasy and science fiction together in a unique and fun way that works incredibly well as a roleplaying game.

In it, the players take the role of outlaws and criminals who run in the shadows (hence the name) and fight back against the mega-corps that control everything in a dystopian future. In addition to humans, the setting includes dwarves, orks, trolls, and elves, and you can be anything from an assassin to a street samurai to a wizard.

This month, Shadowrun: Court of Shadows is available. It explores elves, their culture, homelands, plots, magic, and more. This book is an alternate setting for Shadowrun, so if you like the idea of playing in a game filled with intrigue and magic, but centered on the Fae realm and the Seelie Court, then you’re in luck. This book fleshes out a previously undeveloped section of the Shadowrun world, so you can take your characters there, but it also introduces a completely new way to play Shadowrun, which may appeal to you and your players.

~ The Spice of Life ~

Even if you’ve listened to your players and started a new, different game, you should always pay attention to what your players are saying about the game and about what else they might like to try. It’s fantastic when the whole group likes the same sort of game and you find that one system that everyone wants to play week after week, but fatigue might set in eventually. Maybe you can shake things up a bit and make your games more exciting by changing the overall direction of the game; sending the players to another world, destroying part of the world, or making some other major change that the players have no choice but to contend with. But, your players might also want a little more variety in the types of games they’re playing. In order to keep the group together, it’s a good idea to experiment with other systems and settings. You and your friends may find another favorite game to go back to now and again—or find a game that goes on to become an entirely new campaign!

~ Take It To the Tabletop ~

When experimenting with a new game, whether it’s for a one-shot adventure or an ongoing game, someone should take the lead and help with character creation. Usually that role is filled by the game master, but it doesn’t have to be. One player might be more familiar with the new game system and help everyone else through the process of creating characters, coming up with backgrounds, choosing spells or abilities, etc. This player can also help the GM with rules adjudication during the game, if it’s not too distracting. The goal for the GM and any knowledgeable players at the table is to help the others and make the transition to the new game as smooth as possible.

Everyone at your game table might be surprised by how much they like a particular game, its setting, or its game mechanics. When you find something new that you all enjoy, take advantage of that and add the game into your plans. Most gaming groups alternate between games over time, interspersing short-term games between campaigns or campaign arcs that they run in longer stretches. A lot of people say switching to a different game makes them more excited to get back to the “main” game, but also keeps them from getting burned out it by playing it all the time.

Taking a break from a long-running campaign is also very good for game masters, who have to come up with storylines, write up adversaries, draw maps, and everything else GMs do. Switching to another game helps to recharge creative batteries and makes the games more exciting for everyone involved.

Jon Leitheusser is a writer, editor, and game developer. He published the Dork Tower comic book, was the HeroClix game designer for years, was a content designer for Champions Online and Neverwinter, has been the Mutants & Masterminds game developer for Green Ronin since 2008, and freelances for a number of different companies. He cut his gaming teeth on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and still games twice a week with his friends online or in person. He’s attended about 30 Gen Cons and he lives in Renton, Washington with his wife and a mean cat.