Mechanics as atmosphere
(Yet another roleplaying post. I have been running a lot of RPGs this year, what can I say… This is also a super short post as I realized it’s coming up on midnight on a Friday and I’m still at the office and I need a break from work.)
This is also yet another RPG mechanics post – there appears to be a lot to say about the relationship of mechanics with storytelling, even when lots of folks are saying their polarities reject each other.
We played a game of Heavy Gear last weekend. It’s my favorite roleplaying world and game, even if we haven’t played a ton of it. Easily worth tracking down even though it’s been out of print for years now.
I had a problem with nailing down the atmosphere of the game for the group. Heavy Gear is science fiction and it’s war themed, but it’s still anime inspired with over the top character archetypes, and all these watchwords and somewhat conflicting directions had my players’ heads spinning. I couldn’t think of a way to put it succinctly and cleanly – my long history with the game got in the way and I couldn’t see it from a newcomer’s perspective. (Entirely my failure, I realise it.)
This was all still bothering me when we got into the finale of the session. The players were portraying military intelligence operatives chasing two suspects in a desert. We finally brought the titular giant robots, Heavy Gears, on the scene and the players got into the whole power-tripping side of it, laying down autocannon fire at genetically-engineered supersoldiers and dominating the battlefield.
Then the first hostile shot of the game was fired, a hover APC gliding from cover and opening fire with a scatter laser cannon. Dice rolled and on an average result, on first contact, the players’ biggest gun, a Warrior Heavy Gear, blew into a fireball in the desert night, seriously wounding the player character inside. The mood at the table immediately shifted.
“Oh it’s that kind of game.”
“Now I get what you mean with the not-glorified warfare, albeit high action.”
With any other but the Silhouette system, this would’ve played out another way, and the players would still be guessing about the game’s direction.
Mechanics set the mood after human interaction and imagination had failed.