Gaming is a two-way street, but for all the time I’ve spent codifying the obligations of GMs to their players, there’s been hardly any attention given to the reverse.
In part, that’s because to many gamers and GMs, the only player obligation is “show up.” For years, I was in the same boat, before a game called One Shot bothered to break down “showing up” into its intrinsic pieces.
One Shot itself is fairly unique for tabletop games, in that it’s intended for two players. Not two players and a GM – two players, with one acting as the Shooter (who has been wronged, and is being given a chance at revenge) and the Forces (everything that either helps or gets in the way). It’s similar to the GM/player model, but the emphasis on equal share of the game’s narrative led to a revelation for all tabletop gaming in terms of what the players should bring to the table.
Six bullets capture One Shot’s notion of the gamer contract:
- The Shooter always takes the shot
- Doors are always opened so the Shooter has the opportunity for one shot
- Even with open doors, the path to the shot is challenging; people, especially the Shooter’s Relationships, stand in the way
- The deal that gives the one shot and opens doors is always fulfilled. Always
- The Shooter and the Forces worth together to create the story of the events leading up to the shot
- The moment of the shot belongs to the Shooter, and no one else
The game’s designer, Tracy Barnett, goes into considerably more detail in the deceptively thin core book, but the basics are in the list above. “The Shooter always takes the shot” perfectly captures a player’s obligation to continue moving forward when the GM creates opportunities for them. The GM is similarly obligated to create a path for them with appropriate and meaningful obstacles. And in the end, any one shot or campaign has to feel like it belongs to the players, not the GM, to be memorable and enjoyable.
Now heading up Exploding Rogue Studios alongside Brian Patterson (of d20monkey fame), Tracy is continuing to push into the dark corners of gaming to find new perspectives that reshape the game. I had the privilege of sitting down virtually to ask him about the making of One Shot and the unique take that proved so enlightening to me about gaming in general:
“What gave you the inspiration to go with a one-on-one format for a tabletop RPG?”
TB: It was the concept for the game itself that led me there. I imagined the core conceit of the game (a shadowy figure offering instant vengeance at a cost), and I realized that idea would work best with just two people. I wanted it to be intimate, and to make sure that the emotional weight of the cost of vengeance didn’t have anywhere to go but those two players. No one else to turn the camera onto.
“How do you see the player/GM dynamic shifting in a game like One Shot versus classic, larger group games? What impact do you see that having on the relationship?”
TB: In One Shot, I think that the burden of creation needs to be shared nearly equally between the player and the GM. I make a specific point to not call either one a GM, but to call each a player. In a traditional game, there can be a lot of one-way communication – GM to player, with the GM being a final arbiter of a lot of things. I think that One Shot models a way of gaming that works for larger games, as well: the players and the GM work together to craft the narrative. The GM still handles the actions of everyone who is not a PC, but the GM is continually asking for input as to what those behaviors should be.
“One Shot is a pretty unique format for an RPG, but the outline of the collaboration between the Shooter (player) and the Forces (GM, ish) is so universal it works as a contract for nearly any game. What made you decide to outline the collaboration specifically, when so many other RPGs leave it as unsaid and assumed?”
TB: One Shot is a very small game. One of the reviewers I’ve seen calls it a scenario, rather than a game. Because of the size of it, I wanted to make sure that everyone who came to play it had the tools they needed. At the time of its writing, I wasn’t as aware of indie RPGs that foster a lot of player agency. Because One Shot only has two players, each of them needs to know how to approach things in a collaborative way. If that’s a set of ideas that’s new to either player, I think it’s important to have the ideas presented in a way that can be easily internalized.
“Of the bullets that outline the Shooter/Forces collaboration, which one has been the most important to you personally in gaming, either as a player or a GM?”
TB: The one that speaks to me the most is “Get in Your Own Way.” I do a lot of GMing, and nothing makes me happier than when a player suggests a complication to their own situation. And as a player, I try to see what’s going on around me, and to give that same kind of juice to my GM.
“Any other thoughts you’d like to share on the making of One Shot? Any parting advice for game designers looking to take the road less traveled?”
TB: One Shot is a game I’m very proud to have made. It’s a solid idea, and one that led to the creation of that GM/player collaboration agenda that prompted you to ask me questions in the first place. I think that One Shot is an example of taking an idea and running with it. At the time, I’d had success with the School Daze Kickstarter, and I assumed I’d be as successful with another venture. The advice I’d take from my experience in making One Shot is that success should not be assumed, but creating as if you’re going to be successful might allow you to create more freely and with less fear. You still need to do the work to make your game good, but creating without fear is important. Vital, even.
Tracy and Exploding Rogue have no shortage of projects in the works, from viking mecha to the fractured world of Karthun and beyond. The newest is Dead Scare, a zombie survival game set in picturesque 1950s America, proving that “creating without fear” doesn’t mean you can’t create fear itself.