Friday, December 2, 2011

[RPG] Chemistry

In RPG's, I've found that the single most important element for a game to go well is chemistry.

Yes, maybe a little beverage helps....

Chemistry is inexplicable to those outside the game. In many ways, it's like obscenity- "you know it when you see it". I've had some games that were hilariously fun and I couldn't wait to play- but people watching from the outside had no idea what was good about it. I've also had games that, on paper, were stellar. Well known GMs, great players, interesting plot- but when the group was together, the chemistry was terrible and the game fell apart.

Recently I've seen games with great starting chemistry lose steam because a member of the group had to quit, and I've seen dying games take on new life with the addition of a single player. I've been impressed by the fact that in most cases, the key to good chemistry is a SINGLE person with a dynamic personality. At least in my area, when you add more than one 'big voice', things kind of go off the rails.

There's no crystal ball as to whether a game will work with the people in it or if you need to do some quick chemical adjustment. Because chemistry is fairly important to me, I often sit in on a session or hang out with the group I am considering joining before I agree to play in a new game. I know other people do a sort of interview to figure out if the people they will be playing with 'fit their needs' and others just hope for the best.

What experiences have you had with group chemistry, and what advice do you have for those having problems?


  1. Chemistry is of the upmost importance in a game. I have had several experiences like you talk about. The latest was a Champions game. When the "team" first got together we clicked! It was awesome! Then life happened and two of the original players left the game. Ok, we could live with this...and did. Then a couple of new guys joined and it all fell apart. None of us got along at all, to the point that if the campaign hadn't ended I would have quit.

    I'm not sure what the answer is to this problem. I've tried talking to players but if they have it in their head that they are ok, then nothing is going to work. Even the GM tried to help but to no avail.


  2. I dunno Lo, you seemed to sum it pretty good, can't think of anything that I can recall from my experience that differs on the issue.

  3. Chemistry is absolutely important.

    People can be the greatest of friends, but not mesh in a roleplaying sense. We all have different fantasies and play them out in different ways. Just because you get along with who someone really is, doesn't mean you'll get along with their alter ego.

    I used to roleplay in giant LARP groups of 15-30 people. That's a lot of diversity, so things mix up pretty good. But you could take 4 of them out of larp and sit down at a tabletop session, and things are different... maybe you got all the quiet ones, so nobody wants to take lead.. ironically, the most fun tabletop groups I had were with some of the most obnoxious larpers.

    Our LARPs were always more independent and cutthroat. (exciting, if you could out think / manipulate / befriend the others) Tabletop has more of a pretext or requirement that the group work together. It's just people fitting in or reacting to different roles in different ways.

  4. Anon: Your group was one I was thinking of when I wrote this post. The original group was.....frickin' magical! Everything worked in that group. And then two guys had to quit... and you managed to make it work without them, but it wasn't the same. When new people came in, for the most part it was just weird. Well,OK, it was all weird.

    DaveG: I really need to get you down here to play with us sometime in our WOD LARP/tabletop hybrid. I think you would fit right in with our group. (But I am the great recruiter for this game-- I have personally convinced no less than 4 people to play; so I think I am biased.)

  5. I quite concur with the plethora-of-big-voices assessment. One of the issues with the Star Wars group I played in for a while's that it had three quite, um, dominant personalities, and none of those belonged to the GM. I wonder if, given that it had been ticking along for a while before I showed up, I might have been the one-voice-too-many there. Hope not. Don't want to be game poison...