Role-Playing Lifecyles: Enjoyability versus Predictability

My experience has been that a typical RPG runs a fairly predictable social curve. (Of course I mean a game that isn't doomed from the start, which may in fact be more typical than not.)

The first session is always about potential: players are shy, characters are ill-defined, the system begins its exposition. Some players have already decided whether or not they are going to enjoy the game... but I think for the most part, people leave their opinions open after the first session, in a wait-and-see attitude.

The next few sessions--three, perhaps--build up to a climax of enjoyability, as characters start to develop, players learn one another's quirks, and the plot of the game gets underway. I've often seen characters trying out vastly different kinds of things in the first few sessions: usually starting out on the timid end of the spectrum, and gradually growing more bold. The fun of these sessions is still largely about potential, since the possibilities are still endless.

...But those multitudinous futures must, of course, be culled to a single destiny for the characters. (Image is (C) Sci-fi channel, used without permission.) Soon, the outcome becomes imperative, and the players become more tense... often (always?) because the players are unclear about the "correct" path to success. Sometimes they have differing ideas on how to achieve the goal, and are unwilling to compromise. And by this time (we're six-or-so sessions in, I guess), personalities also begin to clash, as each player gets perturbed by the others' predictability.

The honeymoon is over. What happens here has always disappointed me: the players become stuck in their roles; forward momentum is stifled. Idle chatter increases, as the players no longer anticipate what is going to happen next in the game. Players are more likely to miss sessions. Players have their characters do obnoxious things (and I will go into one of these in my next post).

What happens from there is highly variable. Some games make it, some fizzle and suffer awkward deaths. Some become campaigns. And those, I find, are often helped--not hindered--by the addition of new players. They help begin the curve again,. in my experience.

So the next time someone asks to join your game, tell them they can come in around the sixth or seventh session.

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