Conflict drives stories, and stories drive games. In its simplest form, conflict is represented in our games with combat – one or more sides trade blows until someone cedes or dies – or as opposition to societal norms – Good vs Evil, Order vs Anarchy, Unknowable Neutrality vs an Emotional Perspective.
Transgression and Taboos also provide grist for the conflict mill – outlaws and lawbreakers vs unfair laws and totalitarian states feature heavily in our games, as do monsters that lurk on the edge of civilisation, waiting to drain our blood, enslave our minds, steal our children or subvert reality.
In our games we can find ourselves on either side of these divides, and often in the middle, and always by design.
If you play Firefly or Serenity, you’re signing up to play smugglers and outlaws; Star Wars, and you’re a rebel; Dungeons and Dragons, you pick an alignment and smite anyone who crosses your line in the dirt; Vampire: the Masquerade, you are the monster, struggling with the taboos you must commit simply to survive another night.
Many games come with predefined behavioural limits, either within the setting; such as the Masquerade in Vampire: the Masquerade or the Hermetic Oath in Ars Magica; or within the rules, such as the Morality rules within World of Darkness games or the Stability loss rules in Gumshoe games.
Once you’ve picked your side and drawn your line in the dirt, the GM then lines up opposition for you to interact with, and so conflict in born.
All of this is quite passive, though. The players react to conflict, the GM generates it. The players stick their stakes in the ground, and it’s up to the GM to throw horseshoes at them.
Well, f*** that noise!
What these games are offering you are checklists for adventure.
Whist rereading my Ars Magica core rules recently, I realised that games would be much more fun if the players treated the Hermetic Oath as a ‘to do’ list.
Consort with infernal forces? Done.
Enrage the fair folk? Twice, at least.
Trade with mundanes? Why do you think I’m second in line to the throne?
Kill other magi? Steal an apprentice? Deny another magi their magical potential? Every day, before breakfast.
Just one of these events can drive a season of adventure, if not more.
Why wait for the GM to write plot? Get into trouble first.
The Six Traditions in Vampire: the Masquerade offer similar opportunities for gleeful misbehaviour. I’m not saying that you should, by default, be playing a Sabbat game. On the contrary, the maximum amount of conflict, and thus fun, can only be realised if the player characters recognise the necessity of the Traditions and why they should be upheld.
Players, on the other hand, should seek to create situations in which their characters could unwittingly reveal the existence of the undead to the masses, or slip and accidentally drain someone of all their blood then you’ll never believe what happens next allow them to drink a pint of your blood from your veins, or drop their sire in the shit, or maybe destroy a rival in the heat of the moment.
You know, fun stuff. Fun stuff that you’re explicitly not allowed to do, but hey, here’s the rules for anyway.
Exactly like diablerie.
Gumshoe games provide a list of events that can test and drain a character’s Stability, their mental fortitude. These events are normally seen as ‘bad things’.
As far as I’m concerned, they’re signposts for Playing the Game Right. Especially if you’re plaything Trail of Cthulhu.
In fact, if you’re playing Trail of Cthulhu and have not tested your Stability or lost any Sanity by the second session, you need to have a polite talk with your Keeper.
Then you need to take control and explicitly put your character in situations where their Stability has to be tested. Confront that Mi-Go horde, tell the Hound of Tindalos to go fetch, read that book with the maddening cover.
I would rather play Loki than play Thor.
Stop playing safe and have fun.
The Misbehaviour Manifesto
- Actively seek danger
- Let your actions place others in difficult positions
- Be the story
- Do epic shit