Tag Archives: sports

RPGs as Sports: Team Tracking Tools

It’s been a while since my last installment in my RPGs as Sports series, but while I was at SXSW Interactive last week a little cutie I met on a shuttle bus introduced me to a cool tool that got me thinking.

Gaming group management is a pain, and the few tools that exist to help with it suck.  I’ve used  Yahoo groups and other such things and that’s pretty much state of the art. But you know who has the exact same problems we do?  Sports teams, especially rec teams.  You need to keep up with a team roster, get info out to people (players and parents and whatnot) on games, share files, see who’s bringing snacks, even possibly collect dues. (I have a friend who manages a rec soccer team and getting the money out of the damn deadbeats for the ref fees is never ending.) Enter TeamSnap.  It’s designed for people putting together sports teams, but has pages on using it for clubs and other stuff.

I used to run the FORGE, the local gaming club in Memphis, and boy I wish this had been around then.  It does rosters, game scheduling, tracking player availability (scheduling games around our schedules is hard nowadays isn’t it old gaffers?), forums and messaging, player stats (think XP), photo and file sharing, payment collection, refreshment scheduling, shit it even has an iPhone app. Every bit of it is useful for a gaming group or organized play club. And it’s way slicker than anything aimed at the RPG sector specifically.

If you are having trouble scheduling games with your group, give it a try (most of the features are free) and see if it helps! I may try to talk my group into it…

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RPGs as Sports: Sports as RPGs!

On RPG Blog II, Zach had an interesting post about sports-based RPGs inspired by Clash Bowley working on a baseball RPG!  Zach has been thinking about a car racing RPG for a long time, and one commenter on his blog has some old tennis RPG!

With the massive popularity of fantasy football, it seems like this could be popular.  It smacks of building your own team and then playing them in Madden. Team building/franchise stuff is similar to empire building in an RPG.  There are a lot of computer “Sports RPGs” like Football Tycoon that do this.

Speaking of computer games, I have a friend in my gaming group who is obsessively playing Blood Bowl, a game of fantasy football in a different sense.  I remember the ads in Dragon Magazine for the minis version back in the day, it seemed awesome.  It’s based on the world of Warhammer, which of course also has an RPG.  Time for a Blood Bowl WFRPG supplement!

And what is more like the lives of adventurers than the shenanigans of professional athletes?  Money, sex, violence…

Is it a coincidence how many RPG scenarios have been “Tournament of Champions” type things?

I just bought a bunch of XCrawl supplements off the Paizo Black Friday sale.  In XCrawl, adventuring *is* a sport!  Here’s the blurb:

In Xcrawl, the players are superstar athletes taking their chances in a live-on-pay-per-view death sport. It’s a modern-day world with a fantasy twist, and the game is simple: the Dungeon Judge, or DJ, creates an artificial dungeon under controlled – but lethal – conditions. He designs the maze, and stocks it with monsters, secret doors, magical traps, treasure and prizes. The players must go through the dungeon and fulfill whatever conditions the DJ puts forth in order to win.

Xcrawl is a sport and the challenges are created, but the danger is no less real. If you die, you die. There are no second chances. Citizens of the North American Empire tune in every week to watch their favorite celebrities get eaten, paralyzed, turned to stone, and ripped apart. The nation’s hunger for blood and mayhem grows with every contest. How will you fare?

A commenter linked the Web series Gold in a previous article – in Gold, roleplaying is treated as a sport itself, has televised championships and all (kinda like Starcraf tin Korea).  Watch it if you haven’t, it’s funny.

Next Pathfinder game, I want to play a fighter or monk who kinda sees himself as a professional athlete…  He’s not drawn to kill because of his parents being slain by orcs or something, it’s just the spirit of competition!

What sports related RPGs have you played or seen?  Do you think it would be cool?

RPGs As Sports: Getting Cut

The latest installment in my series on treating RPGs as sports is about cutting players.  It’s inspired by the recent Randy Moss fiasco where he got cut from the Vikings after being with the club for only three games.

It’s somewhat the flip side of tryouts.  When do you decide someone shouldn’t be part of the team any more, who gets to say, and how does the cut get made?

Most groups run across this problem at some point.  Someone acts like a tool, or a freak, or just is making the game un-fun for everyone, or attendance is bad, and you want to unload them.

So what’s the line?  Well, to a degree it depends on how “serious” your game is – check out my post on categorizing your game as pick-up, league, or pro.

If your game is a pick-up game, then really you are almost never going to tell someone to leave short of them specifically doing something big that makes them unwelcome – messing up the host’s house, sexually harassing a female player, threatening someone, or other kinda “big bad” event.

On the other hand, in a “pro” game, you might let people go for poor attendance or just not making the team as good as it could be.

In a “league” game, it’s a lot more hazy.  It helps to have a process in place ahead of time.  (When Brad Childress cut Randy Moss, he kept emphasizing that “we have a process we use in these cases, and that’s what I did.”)  Just as in a sports franchise you have various stakeholders.  There’s all the players, and then there’s the GM (who you might think of as the coach) and there’s the host, who you could almost think of as the “owner”.

Why is the host so important?  In the end, it’s the host’s right to tell someone to “get out of their house” or whatnot (even if you game in a shared space, the game store owner or librarian or whatnot is the host and can chuck someone out).  The group can decide to move as a result, but there’s no such thing as “taking a vote” to see if someone can stay in my house.  But that’s more of a special case for the “one person specifically wants them gone because they did something” as opposed to the more usual “the group is getting kinda sick of them.”

Similarly, the strength of the coach (GM) varies from group to group.  In some, it’s “GM call” both on tryouts and ejections.  In many, it’s seen as a group decision.  But a lot of this depends on specific expectations being set.  Personally, I consider it a group decision to tell someone to leave the group, but my decision as a GM if I don’t want someone in my game.  (Kinda like it’s the host’s if they don’t want someone in their house.)  However, some groups may set the expectation that it’s not even the GM’s call on their game, so it’s worth making sure everyone’s on the same page there.

In the more general case of someone being disinvited from a group, please keep fairness and respect in mind.  It can become a very politicized thing that leaves everyone feeling bad.  “Jenny and Brad called the GM and said Bill had do go or else they’re not coming, but he’s friends with Ted, and it’s Ted’s house…”  If you get group infighting, everyone loses.

The best thing to do if people are seriously starting to grumble about someone is have a full group meeting without that person and hash it out with everyone there.  You don’t have to use Robert’s Rules of Order, but again it helps to set the process – is it “majority rules” or “anyone can vote him out” or “anyone can vote him in…”  Have a frank discussion about why people want the person out of the game, discuss whether the group in general feels like it’s merited, take a vote, and then act on it.  Don’t let it spin around for weeks – everyone will just have a bad time for that duration.

Maybe you all agree the person just needs a talking to.  This is even more sensitive – it’s hard to do this without the person getting put on the spot and feeling defensive.

Three real world examples after the jump.

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RPGs as Sports: Tryouts

In my continuing series on learning from sports as a useful metaphor for our RPG groups, we’ll talk about running tryouts.

This is something many groups have already started to do.  When I was young, there weren’t formal tryouts, but in the last decade or so most of the time I’ve joined a new group they’ve had some kind of procedure for it.

So You Want To Join The Team?

Running tryouts might be a good idea when forming a gaming group, or especially when adding people to an established group.  Everyone’s there to enjoy themselves, and group dynamics are such that if you add someone who people really dislike or whose playstyle doesn’t jive with everyone else’s, then you risk losing your established players in the bargain – or just having everyone enjoy the game less.  Gamers tend to not be able to create strong social boundaries, and I’ve seen many cases where someone joins a group and really royally messes it up for everyone, and the passive-aggressive defenses they can muster don’t help.  Some players just leave, others come a lot less, others come but seethe inside and cause trouble.  “Being nice” to one person (by issuing an unconditional invite to someone the group doesn’t know) shouldn’t come at the expense of being nice and considerate to your existing teammates.  Rule #1 is the team comes first.

Some gaming groups formed out of a group of friends already in which case there’s no need for it up front.  But when you move, or when someone you don’t know says “I hear you play D&D, I want to join” – either you just say no, or you just say yes and have a lot of potential unpleasantness to deal with, or you hold a tryout.

Setting Team Expectations

The group needs to discuss to set the terms of the tryouts according to their group culture.  Is it “the GM makes the call who to invite to one of his campaigns, and that’s it?”  (Maybe with a “is everyone cool with that” to get feedback…) This works well for some groups, especially if the GM is also the game’s host.  Is it “group consensus” of some sort – “everyone gets a veto,” or “majority rules?”  Majority rules is usually a bad idea; unanimity is better for an established group.  If you have the problem that you don’t really trust the people in your group to make a sound decision (e.g. one guy is jealous of anyone else who shines too much) then you have an issue you need to take care of before inflicting it on a visitor.

Is the tryout for one session, or several, or a short campaign?  Or is it a “90 day trial period”?   The team should be agreed on how this is going to work ahead of time, and some discussion on what a yes or no should consist of.  “We should only vote no if we really hate them,” or “Let’s be really picky, only vote yes if you really actively like them…”  In any event, once someone’s in, they’re in.  They are a teammate unless you really have a drastic need to eject them.  It’s not fair to have the “new guys” always tiptoeing around the “established players.”

Also make sure everyone understands that a tryout is just like a job interview – both sides need to make a good impression. Don’t just focus on “putting the new guy through his paces” – if he doesn’t like your group, he’ll reject you. It’s the usual “don’t change who you are, but put your best foot forward” thing. Make sure they feel welcome, brief them on what they need to know (where and when the game is, social rules of the house, etc.  Beware in that some established groups can be very off-putting to new people – lots of shared context, in-jokes, etc. make it intimidating. And whoever the new person is, it’s quite likely they’re less of a freak than at least one of your established group. So pre-discuss with your group how to act.

Setting New Player Expectations

First thing is to make sure they understand it’s a tryout and the terms of it. “Hey, we’d love to have you but want to make sure you gel with the group. Come play with us next Tuesday as a tryout, after that if everyone’s cool with it you’re in.” Or “We have three people trying out for our open seat, you’re first in so after your time it’ll be a couple weeks; we’ll let you know the week of the 5th.” Or maybe you’re not doing tryouts, you say “hey anyone’s welcome” – but if you say that, don’t call them up after and say “sorry they didn’t like you, you’re not coming back.” Or “come join us for this campaign, but for later campaigns it’s up to that GM to invite you…” Set clear expectations with them.

They should be on time, show normal “guest in someone’s house” graces, etc. Let them know about expected custom – if you’re a bunch of slacker pigs they probably should know that; if you expect no cursing, shoes off at the door, not a minute late, and bring pizza money they should know that.

Practice With Them Before Playing With Them

A lot of it is more about personality/group fit than anything RPG specific, so even a board game night will show if they get along with people or not.

As for trying out in game, I think it’s done better in a one shot than as a guest shot in an ongoing campaign – if the campaign is too in depth then they’re lost. In my current gaming group, my first session was the climactic session of their entire several year long previous campaign; the GM handed me a hundred page sheaf of docs on world background – quite offputting and hard to do well. Or at the start of a new campaign. If it’s in the middle it’s somewhat inevitable that they play a NPC for the first time – it’s understood this is a tryout, and it’s disruptive to introduce a new PC that might not be there next time (unless it’s a casual or high death game).

Make sure and think about saying the meta-stuff you don’t always say at a game. Expectations about attendance (e.g. it’s expected you call if you can’t come), kinds of preparation expected, gaming style (e.g. we adhere to the book rules without exception), and that.

Play the Game!

Everyone should relax and have fun!  It was all our first time once (usually more than once).  Everyone should try their best and go in with the attitude that it’ll work out and that the new player will add a new dimension to the game.

In one long term game I ran, a player brought in a woman from work who was interested in playing.  She had never gamed before, and you certainly would not peg her as “the type” – hot high maintenance career type with a yippy dog and disposable boyfriends, likes to go out drinking, etc.  But she turned out to be a great player and in fact was a large apart of what transformed that campaign into an unforgettable experience.

So think about tryouts and how you want to do them – and if you have been doing them, have they been a fair experience, or should you make them more like a sports team tryout, where everyone understands the format and results?

RPGs as Sports: League vs Pickup Games

Many pages have been written about the woes of RPG attendance.  Some people attend without fail, and others are super flaky and don’t show up without notice.

Gaming groups occasionally try to make self-conscious “social contracts” but usually conflicts over this are just a passive-aggressive fun fest.  RPG groups seem to have difficult times setting boundaries.  “But they’re just here for fun…  Who are we to tell them they have to show up?”  However, this causes problems for GMs, who are often trying to plan intricate plots around the players, and for players that want to invest more in the game.

Well, sports have that problem too.  And they have developed concepts to help formalize it.  Consider classifying your games as one of the following:

Pickup Game: Where people just want to play some ball and make it happen with whoever’s willing.  Casual games, for fun.  Anyone is welcome, attendance is not mandatory week to week.  If only a couple folks are there, then we’ll find something else to do.  It would be polite to tell folks if you’re not coming, so they don’t wait on you, but if you can’t come it’s no big deal.  This also signals the GM – they need to run one shots, or plan campaigns that accommodate lots of in and out.  If you don’t show up too much, then don’t be surprised if you show up and there’s no game or they moved it without telling you.

League Play: You have committed to a team of the rec league/intramural variety.  You recognize that there’s a team that needs a certain number of people to make.  Maybe you’re a regular or maybe you miss from time to time, but this signals a certain level of expected commitment. Like with a bowling team – if you don’t show up at least half the time, they are probably going to say “Hey man, we need to fill that seat with someone who’ll be here more regularly.”  RSVPing is mandatory.  This works well for the middle of the road kind of campaign – sometimes intense, sometimes light, it’s best if everyone’s there but there’s enough slack that the GM can work through  you being out.

Semi-Pro/Pro: Your happy ass is going to be there unless you’re injured, and even then you should be there on the sidelines to support your team.  Absences should be rare and well excused.  This helps support very serious or complex games, and the GM can “count on” players being there when crafting encounters/plots.  There’s no need to RSVP because if you don’t show up and no one gets a call, they’re going to call the cops and hospitals on the assumption there’s something very badly wrong.

Consider that, by discussing and declaring if a campaign will be pickup, league, or pro, you set excellent expectations among the players and with the GM.

I ran a Pro campaign once.  I said, “I want to run a deep in character campaign with a complex plot.  You have to commit to regular attendance.  More than one absence in a month means you get written out, period.”  I had five busy professionals play in that campaign, and it ran for five years.  We only had one person turn over and that’s because they moved out of town.  I ran a pickup game another night for the gamers in our circle who couldn’t or didn’t want to do that.

My current gaming group is League play.  Sometimes people can’t show up and that’s OK, but if someone really can’t show up time and time again then they need to bow out.

Sometimes, you don’t have enough people willing to commit to a higher commitment for a team to “make”.  And it’s important to know that up front – running a game that is pretending to be League but is really Pickup just ends up disappointing everyone.  Players that do show up regularly get disappointed that it’s “board game night again” because only two people showed.  The GM looks at their politics-heavy plot that’s not working out and sigh regretfully.  The local city league soccer teams have some teams that pretend they can make, but then just crumble and make everyone unhappy because they don’t really have enough regulars (and if you think playing a man down in a RPG is a hassle, play a soccer game a man down, you’ll be feeling that in the morning).  If you can’t get a team to make, just play pickup.

Using this terminology can help you all be honest with each other about your desires and what the group is going to do, and helps set expectations – “Oh, I should treat this like I treat my company’s softball team!  I guess I won’t just not show up and not tell anyone.”

RPGs – An Art? A Game? No, a Sport

I was reading and discussing various gaming related topics with people lately, like “how do you set attendance expectations” and “is it everyone’s responsibility to make sure everyone has fun,” and I kept thinking “Hmm, I’ve heard solutions to these problems before…  Oh, that’s right, from sports.”  And then it came to me; the closest analogy to how a RPG game functions is a sporting event, and the gaming group resembles nothing more than a sports team.  And that realization opens up a lot of extremely time-tested best practices for us to use.

For those of you who only dimly remember sports from enforced gym classes back in high school, let me explain.  RPGs are very dissimilar to board games, card games, and other pastimes of that sort because they require a “team” to play.  Just like a baseball or basketball team, you have a small group of people, who have somewhat specialized roles (instead of “center” we have a “fighter”) that have to work together to achieve victory.  Some computer games have gotten to this point, where within them you have leagues and ladders and whatnot. You have some competitive board game etc, leagues but those are mostly individual. And there are other relevant groups we could pattern our dynamics after, like an acting troupe – but I figured “being flaky and having sex with each other a lot” isn’t the direction I wanted to go with this.

I think refactoring the way we think about our gaming groups as a sports team adds a lot of healthy insight and clarifies a lot of the group-dynamics problems we tend to have. The human race has put huge money and effort into team sports and a lot of wisdom has emerged from that.  To a degree we have trouble figuring out how to conduct ourselves and our gaming groups because it’s such a fringe, uncommon thing, we’re not sure what to model after. There’s a lot of default expected behavior relative to sports teams (that translate across teams and even across sports) and it would be nice to have more of that in gaming.

I’m going to post separately about various aspects of this, but here’s a teaser list of topics where sports brings some good knowledge to our gaming.

  • Game Attendance – pickup game or league play?
  • Gaming Sportsmanship – being a good winner and loser and showing consideration to others
  • Players as Teammates
  • Player Behavior – show hustle, shut the hell up when the coach is talking, etc.
  • The GM as Coach – the GM’s other responsibilities
  • You’re Off The Team – why, when and how do you disinvite a player?

So meditate upon this truth.  What if my gaming group was, say, a city league soccer team?  What would we be doing differently?  Share insights here, I might pick them up for an article down the road.