Let’s play together (Burning Empires)

The tabletop roleplaying scene has been undergoing something of a renaissance over the past few years. The theory and experimental games fashioned over at the The Forge community have slowly started to surface into the mainstream.

One of the main points the scene has come to realize is that we should play together more. The classic setup of gamers as an audience for the gamemaster has come under fire, and rightly so. The GM has to do all of the work and with the gamer generation now in their early 30s, we just don’t have time for that kind of play anymore. I can barely make time for one night of gaming, let alone several nights of planning the game. Ten hours of work to five hours of fun doesn’t sound very smart to me!

Many of the these new wave games are focused on the idea of shared effort: everybody works and everybody has fun. Ideally, no preparation work is necessary. I’ve tried a couple of these games, to a very good success, I think.

I’m currently reviewing Burning Empires for a magazine. Last Saturday we went through the first session, which is basically making the world together. It was not only fun, but the world turned out excellent – much better than what I could’ve come up on my own. Everyone could immediately tell that this was a good thing: there is zero unnecessary detail, no lecturing and everybody identifies with the world. Since the game’s focus is saving a world from an alien invasion, it’s crucial that the players care about the world.

An even better experience was creating the central cast together. Burning Empires makes the group think up the central cast (protagonists and antagonists) together and the roles are dealt to the players only after that. I can’t emphasize enough how much I like this. I think it’s a huge problem with many games that the players don’t identify with their antagonists, but this way absolutely everyone knows what the big picture is and what’s motivating everyone. All of the characters turned out multidimensional: several of them actually switched sides as we thought who of them would be the “good guys” and who the “bad guys”. I believe this bodes well for the game.
We have yet to see how the game actually plays out – there is no pre-planned story, the mechanics should force the game to a satisfying narrative. Expect an update next week on that!






5 responses to “Let’s play together (Burning Empires)”

  1. Mark Featherstone Avatar

    I’ve found it harder and harder to keep a role playing group and a Warhammer40k group together as we all age and approach our inevitable demise…Eek! My group actually stopped D20’ing/WH40K’ing and switched to playing “magic the gathering”. The card game required no downtime from anyone so it was a hit. Everybody still yearns for some good old RPG’ing though. This game sounds really promising, let us know how you get on.

  2. joonas.laakso Avatar

    I will tell how Burning Empires works out for us, but every roleplayer with time management issues really should try these new wave games. They’re different and approach the whole hobby from another angle, but it’s one I’m finding better and better. Some titles to keep an eye out for: The Mountain Witch, Dogs in the Vineyard, Capes.

  3. Kai Avatar

    I don’t see why a communal gamebuilding approach couldn’t work for the more traditional games… Simplifying gameplay and giving more narrative power to the “players” could work in a D20 game, couldn’t it?

  4. joonas.laakso Avatar

    It definitely could. I’ve been using some communal techniques ever since my D&D years, but have always held back somewhat.

    Increasingly I’ve used the technique of only sketching in what we need for the game and leaving everything else a blank canvas. It has worked pretty well, but now I’m open to designing the whole shebang together.

    There are games where this wouldn’t work, at least with a group that’s unfamiliar with the given game’s conventions – like designing a Vampire city would be very difficult unless the players knew the basics of a Vampire setup.

  5. […] We’re playing a campaign of Burning Empires, as was established in a previous post. How did the actual game turn out, after the excellent session of creating the world and central cast together? In a word, great. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.