A buddy of mine and I have an interesting discussion the other day regarding how a game master could take the rules of a game and tailor the game in such a way that adds to the story by giving benefits to players who play within the roles of the story arc and some penalties to those that play outside. Specifically, we discussed the pros and cons of applying this idea to character creation in a Shadowrun game he ran years ago featuring an Orc/Troll ran biker gang in Seattle. I admit that I have reservations about some of the ideas in that to some degree the game master is pigeon holing players into playing a specific theme but in other ways I like the idea because it does give the party a sense of unity and a reason or existing as a shadowrunner group. I will break down what was done in basic terms and then feel free to weigh in with your thoughts to the ideas presented.
First off, let me say that I have tried this in the past to limited success and in some situations it completely backfired when players decided that they did not want to play at all because they did like the sandbox I was creating. Then again there are some games that I have tried to get the characters to play within a theme and it ended up working perfectly fine but I digress a bit as the subject of today’s DM Advice column is more about my buddy’s shadowrun game and how he specifically tailored it to fit the theme of his game world.
Due to the fact that the core group was a biker gang and all players were members of this biker gang controlled by orcs and trolls the players were given benefits. Specifically he swapped the cost for orcs and humans and dwarfs and trolls. This made it more costly to play human and kind of pushed players into wanting to go ahead and play orcs and trolls instead of the humans and dwarves. For the most part everyone ended up playing either an orc or a troll but there was at least one player who decided to play human but it cost him points whereas ‘by the rules’ the points are different. Now I can see how some players would be offended by this. Of course there is always the ‘it’s my game’ argument but that really never got any DM very far in my opinion. I have used that one too to various successes and failures.
In a way it is brilliant because it really gives the game mechanics the flavor for players going for the setting and adds in the benefits of extra points to spend on character creation. The converse side of this is of course if someone just really wanted to play a human or dwarf character he would be out points. Is this really a big deal? Some say yes and some say no. It works in games like Drow underdark games as there are not very many humans around but Seattle is a big city and one could argue that the orc/troll gang did have humans and why should it cost additional to play the human? Why not just let people play orcs or humans at no point cost? In the end it’s up to the DM but I would like to hear from my readers about what they think in regard to this type of change to the rules for the benefit of the setting.
Next as the game was set around the biker gang he limited the tech that was available as the players did not work for large corporations. The tech wasn’t limited to no tech but some of the more costly benefits and perks were eliminated or completely restricted from the game. Again, I have done something similar in my Dragonlance game whereas because it is a steampunk environment the anachronistic weaponry of the dark ages such as particularly large swords must be purchased at a premium due to the advent of gun powder and the time and effort it takes to make such a weapon.
Conclusion and Final Thoughts
Let me leave you with this one question, does it really hurt the game to manipulate the rules in such a way as to provide this level of theme setting or is it just something that is expected of creative game masters? What have you done in the past that is similar in regards to manipulating the rules to suit the environment? Is this fair to the players who want to play a specific character type but feel limited in their choice? What if anything could be done to modify this to make it better?
I want to thank my buddy for the discussion as it proved lively and lead to the creation of this post at 7:00am in my hotel room in Durham North Carolina. I am looking out the window and I can imagine the next game adventure forming in my head as I take in the majestic scene and natural beauty of this state. I think that the next Dragonalance game will take place on a floating island covered in trees. Who knows, they might even encounter an orc biker gang. Until next time.