What’s the Point (in Gaming)?

At the end of a recent session of my tremendously marvellous Shattered Star campaign, we sat around chatting for a bit as you do. Talk inevitably turned to character concepts and what people were planning on playing next (if/when they die or fancy a change).

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

 

One of the players was enthusiastically telling us all about his next character. He’d decided to drink deeply from the multi-classing well and was planning a—wait for it—fighter/cleric/monk/rogue/sorcerer (at 5th-level!) One of the other chaps blurted out—rather harshly, I thought—, “What’s the point?” This rather took the wind out of the first player’s sails.

But luckily, I had the answer, and even more luckily, the answer was tremendously simple. (Which is good, because I like to Keep it Simple [Stupid] as you may know).

The answer is: to have fun.

It’s pretty much that simple. Sure, gaming can be challenging. Sometimes it can be frustrating. Sometimes you want to crush your dice into dust, load them into a cannon and fire them into the heart of the sun. But the objective is—or should always be—to have fun.

I think sometimes we forget that. In our rush to optimise or to complete the quest, crush the villain or sack the dungeon we sometimes forget we are there to have fun.

  • Who cares if the plot isn’t moving along as fast as it could be, if everyone is having fun?
  • Who cares if the players are having more fun roleplaying in the town than delving in the dungeon, if everyone is having fun?
  • Who cares if the GM got a rule wrong, if everyone is having fun (and no one died as a result)?

The point of the game is to have fun. But more than that, the point of the game is for everyone to have fun. Fun can sometimes be hard work (like anything that’s worthwhile), but superior players (and GMs) keep this in mind above all other things.

It’s your responsibility to have fun, and to make sure everyone else has fun.

Of course, characters will have different personalities and often they’ll argue between themselves (normally when it’s time to divide up the treasure and everyone wants a certain item). But these are relatively minor issues in the grand scheme of things.

However sometimes larger problems develop. For example, here are some things that are absolutely not fun. If you are doing any of these, please stop:

  • You argue over a rule that ultimately has so little bearing on the game its not even funny. Eventually, you win the argument because no one else cares and you get to move a whole extra 5 ft. This is an excellent way to spend 20 minutes.
  • You berate other players for their actions because they stop you doing what you want to do. (Not that you ever bother to tell them what it is you want to do). Clearly your fun is more important than their’s and they should get out of your way. Even better than this is when you think you are in charge and you get annoyed when no one follows your commands.
  • You deliberately create a character that hates members of a certain race or culture. There is a member of that race or culture already in the party. Because it’s what “your character would do”, you withhold healing or other important assistance from the character you hate.

As I hurtle to the end of this post (or possibly rant) I realise I’ve used over 600 words to talk about something to basic, so foundational to the hobby that everyone should just get it.

But, just in case, you still aren’t 100% certain what the point of gaming is I’ll say it again. The purpose of gaming is for EVERYONE at the table to have fun. Everything else is of secondary importance.

What Do You Think?

Am I fool? Should fun be subsumed in the relentless pursuit of shiny, shiny treasure and lovely, lovely XP? Let me know in the comments below.

Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

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27 thoughts on “What’s the Point (in Gaming)?

  1. For something as social as “gaming,” it sure seems to attract a lot of people who need refreshers on basic social conventions.

    Perhaps it’s because the image of our character only exists in the player’s mind. Therefore, it leads some people to forget that the character still has to interact with others in a meaningful way. No one in this world gets to “do what my character would do” for very long without serious repercussions!

  2. There are times when I’ve gotten to the point that I just say to my players (even before they RP the first meeting of the campaign!) as they make their characters,”Why are you on a team with your fellows?” (With the subtle emphasis on “team” and “fellows.”)

    Now, I don’t care if they’re a hierarchical mercenary band, childhood buddies, members of a church, whatever. But before we play, I want them to know that they are all part of a team, and that the antagonists lie outside that bubble.

  3. I have a player that sometimes wants to be disruptive just to be disruptive, especially in a fantasy setting, so usually I lean into him right away and begin with the declaration “Everybody in the group already knows everybody else. You are together for what reason?” and pretty much let them decide -how- they all know each other, but I make it clear that they -do- and that they have to get along and work as a team. Generally that does the trick.

  4. I’ve recently lost that “fun” factor in my gaming. Part burn-out, part I had lousy players. It is so vitally important to this game…. have fun. If you don’t…why play at all. That’s why I’ve put my gaming on hold until I get the thrill again.

    • I haven’t gamed in a number of years now, due to life in general though I am planning on re-introducing my self to gaming soon. (I understand there is a gaming group or two who might be in my area).
      Anyway, when I was GMing, we did hit a slump. So I changed things up a bit and even though we were mid campaign that was in a slump, I decided to run a Breaker campaign for a different game. And I decided to run something that would basically fit the players “dreams” in regards to their character behaviour. I ran Paranoia. I got to take the part of a megalomaniac GM, and they got to back stab each other left, right and center. It was tremendous fun, and we ran that for a few sessions and then we went back to the original campaign we were playing with a fresh perspective and it actually got new and a better momentum. This of course comes down entirely to the group dynamic, but it might be worth trying. Also another thing we would do is switch out the game and GM at the end of a major campaign plot piece (so if your campaign plot piece was to delve a dungeon be it for a specific reason or for just because its there), and on completion of that task, we would then switch out the GM and the game system. That way 1 GM does not get burn out and every player gets to understand the trials and tribulations of being a GM which in turn makes them (usually) a better player.

  5. I’m a bit worried that my dad can’t actually have fun playing rpg’s, because he’s so used to “video game option salad” that he can ‘t just go “my pc is a lumberjack, and i’m ok!”, actually that seems like a pretty good character concept if you’re doing a comedy 😉

    • the unfortunate fact of why i exclude him is that he always try to reframe everything so that he “wins”. i think he’s one of those Type A personalities because i was only trying to run a simple space travel storytelling game (no dice or anything) where the pc’s elaborate on things in outer space by glimpsing them through a shuttle window and as soon as he heard about a girl (it’s one of add one details at a time games), he immediately went “captain kirk” and threw in a “see a saw” joke to force an end to the game.

  6. At what point do you decide a rule isn’t that important? Let me give an example:

    I had a player that was a Pathfinder ranged fighter. He was using buckler, thinking this would give him + 1 to AC when using his bow because the rule states, “You can use a bow or crossbow without penalty while carrying it.” It wasn’t until a few weeks into the game that I was making my own character with a buckler and noticed a few lines down: “In any case, if you use a weapon in your off hand, you lose the buckler’s Armor Class bonus until your next turn.” I sent him a friendly message explaining we’d been doing it wrong.

    It became a big thing. He ended up accusing me of power tripping and left the game.Part of me wanted to let it go, because right now it’s only +1 AC. But later in the game, when it’s giving enhancement bonuses and a lot more armor, it’s not so big a thing.

    Part of me wants to hear I did the right thing, but is this an example of letting something small become big or nipping a problem in the bud?

  7. Quite so, though I would also stress that all of these presupposes that the group around the table is actually playing the game and not simply listening to half the group goof off. As I often find myself saying, goofing off is fine, but do it in-story, in-character.

  8. If ever it got to everyone being far too serious about things, or once a year anyway on the session closest to April 1st, I’d run them through a five room Looney Toons-based “adventure” Daffy the monk, Bugs the bard, Yosemite Sam the barbarian, that kind of thing. Bugs had been captured, the party had to rescue him, but the reward would only go to one person – whoever skipped out the dungeon hand-in-hand with the abductee. Included was the inevitable “whatever you next think of appears” event to blow up/electrify/flatten/freeze/shrink-to-nothing/expand-to-completely-fill/inflate them, and the whole thing was a ridiculous, over-blown, power-mad, anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-more-extremely chance to get frustrations out of the system. It was never achieved, mostly because Bugs was in on it and wasn’t actually tied up in DC50 knots.

    It always served the purpose of reminding the players about the fun. As April 1st approached, I’d be asked if “so-and-so” might be allowed – “Sure, of course! So long as it’s preposterous.” – and I always had a pretty good idea of the mayhem to come. I wholeheartedly recommend something similar!

  9. Hi guys, 1st time writing here. Firstly thanks Creighton for the astonishingly good articles. I think another point of gaming is it’s a mental workout, like a gym for your mind and imagination.

  10. There was a recent tip in another blog that I made use of when starting a new Gamma World-inspired short campaign. I started out as others suggest, with the PCs already knowing each other. In order to fully flesh this out, I had each player, one at a time, roll on a sort of “history” chart that gave them some meaningful event in their character’s life prior to this moment (such as “Escaped from slavers”, “discovered you are related to a member of the Baron’s Guard”, or “Got lost in ruins”, that sort of thing). That player was then asked to pick another player, and the two characters would share that historical event. I then asked both players a few details about the historical event (such as “Who were the raiders?” or “How did you escape?”) and whatever they came up with together became the rest of that event. Then the player that got pulled into the first event rolled his or her own event and brought in one other different player’s character into their event. The process continued until all PCs had at least 2 historical events and 2 connections through those events to the other PCs. It was great and seemed like a terrific warm-up to get the players, even those that don’t often seek much limelight, some extra drama. It went well!

  11. In Gygax’s words, “the ultimate aim of the game is to gain sufficient esteem as a good player to retire your character. He becomes a kind of mythical , historical figure, someone to look up to and admire.”

  12. That multieclass combo sounds awesome. If this is an experienced player (and I imagine they would be) they can certainly make this work.

  13. Obvious point, well taken. As you point out, we’re here to have fun.

    Personally, I find the quickest way to ruin my fun is for someone to start talking about rules or describing their character’s actions in terms of rules.

    But, it seems the more rules a game system has, the more people get distracted by them. When that happens, re-stating the obvious becomes necessary.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  14. To crush your enemies. See them driven before you. And to hear the lamentations of their women. (Pause) I rolled a 1.