A while back I wrote about Special Effects in role-playing games. To recap very briefly, any game will contain various special effects to create the proper feel of the genre of that particular game. The feel is achieved make capturing those moments of awesomeness that the players like about that genre. For example, If the game is a pirates campaign, and the players are into that genre, they will want lots of cool sword fights, ship-to-ship combat, and swashbuckling action. Since these genre staples are about risk and skill, the game system one chooses for a pirate campaign should be one in which the game mechanism emphasizes risk and skill. It certainly shouldn’t be too abstract a system; the player should feel like he or she is having to make the same choices and experience the same stress that a person in that situation would. Note: this isn’t really possible; it’s a game. But the game campaign’s special effects should create those feelings. Hence my use of the term “special effects.’

These special effects can be done on several levels.

  • The game rules system should be one that includes mechanics that make such pseudo-experiences meaningful, or at least doesn’t make them dry, abstracted, or unlike the genre conventions.
  • House rules can make the emotional impact greater, either by augmenting, simplifying, or even eliminating the features of the game system relating to the kinds of actions that the game should feature.
  • The Game Master is the ultimate special effect. He or she should run the game so that the adventures and the emotional payoffs are in keeping with the genre.

In other words, to fit the genre with the effects that the GM and (presumably) the players want, it takes the right rules system to allow those effects, careful tweaking/house ruling to make the game better fit the genre-based expectations of the players, and a style of play that makes the game fit those genre conventions.

When we are deciding what type and genre of game we want to play, it is not just the genre we choose. We are also looking for the kind of Moments of Awesomeness we want to experience. These then determine not only what kind of genre our game will take on, but also the style with which it will be played. Thus, games taking on a medieval world can either strictly adhere to historical fact, or can be fast and loose with the facts; it can even be ridiculous parody if the players and GM like that sort of thing. The special effects leading to those potential Moments of Awesomeness must also reflect the desired style.

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