Things I Like In Games

I walked out of a game yesterday night. I spent this as cause to think about some things I like, and don’t like, when I’m playing games. (As opposed to GMing them, or indiegames with their own special frameworks; this is for games with a strong GM/player dichotomy.)

Things I like:

*Having my character be awesome. (I want the GM to be a fan of my PC.)
*Having my character regarded as awesome by NPCs. (I want NPCs to be a fan of my PC. Unless my PC’s an asshole, in which case I still want them to regard me with sufficient awe. It’s not about always getting what you want; it’s about respect.)
*Kicking ass.
*Coming up with crazy plans, implementing them, and dealing with unexpected consequences.
*Rolling giant handfuls of dice. It’s a tactile thing.
*Exploding dice. It’s extremely satisfying to pick up a die and roll it again, again, and again, and generate a huge number.
*Making tactical decisions during combat encounters. After having played games like Exalted and D&D, I tend to find that many games have too few meaningful options each turn, but generally there’s ways to give your character more solutions, or the combats are at least faster. (The tactical options in AW for example, are much less in D&D, but the combats are shorter, and really now, no one expects AW to be D&D.)
*Figuring out what’s going on ‘behind the screen,’ the ‘aha’ moment where you figure out the GM’s plan, who the killer is, how the sliding block puzzle works, or what’s at the center of the conspiracy onion when you peel all the layers away.
*Hamming it up and getting into character.
*In character hard choices.
*Earning xp, and spending it!
*First sessions that start with a bang.
*Starting in medias res, in general. It works.
*Finding awesome magic items. Especially swords.

Things I don’t like:

*Having the system or GM work to make my character be lame. I am of the opinion that the player characters should be the most awesome people in the game.
*NPCs that all act cocky, mysterious, and spout mysterious smug bullshit at the PCs, and all have the same wry knowing attitude. Especially so if its every NPC in the whole damn game.
*NPCs that don’t respect the PCs. Especially so if it’s every NPC in the whole damn game.
*Having my character’s abilities or skill rolls being mechanically irrelevant.
*Long, drawn out planning sessions. Your plan should not take more than an hour to come up with.
*Too many d4s. They’re hard to roll.
*Games with too many houserules, especially uncodified houserules. If you houserule (and there are good reasons to), keep track of them, write them down, and let your players know them. Solicit input from your players when making houserules.
*Arguing about rules, or spending too much time looking them up. I really like knowing the rules, and generally expect the GM to know the rules.
*Combat encounters with no real decisions, just dice rolling over and over until one side runs out of resources.
*The opposite of the ‘aha’ moment, the mystery that must be solved for play to move forward. Whether it be a whodunnit, a puzzletrap, or just the general social framework, this is frustrating to the players when they don’t know yet, are on a different wavelength than the GM, or whatever, and the game reaches a standstill. It’s worse if the GM accuses the players of being dumb; of course the GM knows the solution and thinks it’s simple- they know it, and in most cases, they designed the puzzle.
*A specific subset of the above, situations with “only one solution,” where any overture that the GM had not anticipated results in failure.
*Long sections of ‘railroad’ or ‘boxed-text’ play, where the GM tells the players what’s going on and they have no real input into play. Doubly egregious if this is the first session of your game, and you’re trying to establish a ‘feel’ for the world. The internet, not the first halfhour of screentime is the time for that. You only get one chance to start your game, use to it highlight exactly the most awesome parts of what your game is about.
*Encounters designed to ‘frustrate’ the players: level-draining undead, teleporting invisible gnomes that steal your magic items, etc.
*GM PCs. Oh god, GM PCs. No good can come from them- they exist only so the GM can show how awesome ‘their guy’ is, when they should be showering that awesome on the player characters. (GM henchmen, on the other hand can be good, especially if their purpose in life is to shower awesome on the player characters.)
*Not enough xp or loot.
*Too much joking around and tabletalk. A little can be fun, but too much detracts from play. We only have a limited amount of time here at the table, people.
*Too much scenery chewing. Let’s cut to the chase, already.


7 thoughts on “Things I Like In Games

  1. buzz says:

    Barring the really personal stuff (e.g., liking big pools of dice), this is basically a manifesto for what makes a good game.

    Granted, I don’t need my PC to be seen as awesome in the game world. Sometimes it’s fun to be the underdog, at least for a while.

  2. Micah says:

    I’m having a similar dilemma with my current gaming group which I ranted about on Story Games the other day. I absolutely agree that games should be more awesome and less… ummmm… not awesome?

    It seems only common sense when you explain it like you have, but I can’t count how many times we have played out these exact (not fun) scenarios in games. I’m just as guilty as anyone else in my group.

    I think it just has to do with the fact that running good games is difficult. A good GM has to be a certain kind of person who can come up with interesting things at the right times which aren’t too limiting but are also meaningful and interesting. It’s just a lot easier to write a ‘plot’ and send the players through it.

    I’m really liking how Apocalypse World helps in that regard through the book text as well as the rules. It helps a poor GM with his duties.

  3. Sabe says:

    I think I’m only guilty of the cocky-mysterious-smug-bullshit thing, among that list. And that (single) character is somewhat satirically so.

    I find it’s a little difficult in D&D to really avoid railroading, because memorable encounters take a bit of preparation. I mean, if I prep an encounter where the party’s surfing down a lava flow or whatever, the party kinda has to go down the lava flume, or I’m out a good chunk of work.

  4. Willow says:


    I played in a game where every single damn NPC was cocky-smug-mysterious. To the point where my character stuck her gun in people’s faces, and told them if they didn’t talk straight, she’d shoot them. (And then they didn’t, so I shot them.)

  5. raven c.s. mccracken says:

    Go willow go.

    From raven c.s. mccracken.

  6. Gregor Vuga says:

    I pretty much agree with everything except that character awesomeness which I think isn’t mandatory. I’m happy to play an incompetent half-wit, *if I choose so*. If I want to play an awesome dude and the game/GM makes him not awesome then it sucks. If I want to play a clumsy oaf and the game/GM makes him awesome then it’s annoying, too. It’s more about expectations and goals than being awesome.

  7. Summed it in a nutshell. Wish I had seen this post years ago.

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