30.5.14

Running Naked: Advice on running campaigns without systems

They said it couldn't be done....

Okay, they just implied it couldn't be done, and "they" for this piece means all them RPG books I have read in that past 14 years of gaming (which isn't many, but I'm working on it).

I run games without dice. That may not be suprising, considering we have Amber Diceless and probably other diceless systems out there. But I don't run with those systems. I don't run with ANY system, when I do the games I'm talking about here and now.

And most suprisingly, I have found that these games are not actually that hard, and don't require extra courage, smarts, or cooperation, any more than anyother game.

Without further suspense, Let me tell you how I run naked.



Disclaimer

Running naked will likely get you in trouble with the law, unless you are doing it in private or with an invisibility cloak on. Running an RPG campaign without systems or dice will probably be fine though, unless you are running a game for the director of the NSA and she/he doesn't like where the game is going.

I have never run a systemless, diceless game with more than one player. That being said, I imagine it is fully possible for a whole group of people to run naked, if you do it right. I just can't say what "doing it right" would look like for me. So, take this following advice as fitting best with a duet.

How to run a naked campaign

Step 1 Characters are born naked

Naked games start like fully clothed games: with the miracle of character creation.

Just like in normal duets and multiplayer campagins, you can't do much without at least a conept of a character. Where naked games deviate is in the fact that when you make this character, you don't need a sheet of paper or numbers or math. Like Fate on steriods, every attribute is described. Actually, let me take that back: no attributes are described. In naked games, your characters are exaclty how they are described, rather than translated into rules.

Let me illustrate.

Say Im running a D&D game. My one player goes through the character creation process, choosing race (tiefling), sex (female), class (paladin), and rolls attributes, develops a background and so on until the process is complete.

If I were running the same kind of game, only naked, my player would say to me "I feel like playing a female tiefling paladin."
Our ultra cool PC, the tiefling paladin. She dresses
in black when she goes to battle, becuase its like a
funeral for evil.


In the end, both D&D and Naked accomplish both tasks, creating the character.

As a DM, all I need is the concept. Once I know she is a tiefling paladin, immediatley dozens of plot hooks and ideas come to mind. I imagine she is not popular with the church at large, being a half blood with a #$%^ing demon! Even if the church is geniunely good (which for me meaning forgiving, understanding, non-judgemental), that doesn't mean they don't have good cause to be wary of her. Surely, her other demon parent is around, and might have plans for her, or perhaps she has a "Ms. Hyde" type personality within her trying to bust loose and redistribute body parts. The concept gives me lots of questions to ask of my player (questions that lead to motivations...): Why are you a paladin? Which parent was the demon? Do you know you're a tiefling yet? How do you feel about all the stares you get? Does it hurt you to wear holy armor? Do you have siblings of darkness, or would you even know that?
"Trust a tiefling? NEVAAAR!" Our paranoid, but perhaps somewhat reasonable
war priest "handler".

You may notice that Naked character creation is pretty quick, just long enough to say "I am playing a tiefling paladin" at times. Am I therefore saying that dice are for plebs? No, but I'll talk about that later.

Step 2: As Always: Settings beget NPCs beget Plots

Ususally, I only choose a setting after the character is developed. Somethimes I buid the setting right there, but mostly I use my old homebrew (which will be written one day). My homebrew is flexible enoguh for all times and my players like it. Sometimes I will run a naked version of an actual setting, like Naked Shadowrun, Naked D&D, Naked Vampire the Masquerade (sexy...), etc, if the character was made for it.

Settings are never naked. I don't mean to say that you need to have dice and paper for the setting parts: I mean settings always have details that you can use. Settings should have geography, politics, economics, factions, cultures, knowledge, history, and all that jazz that makes fecund ground for NPCs and plots. As I said before, NPCs are vital to your games. Naked games still need fully fleshed out NPCs, you just don't need to develop stats for them.

Going back to my Tiefling Paladin, being ran in my homebrew setting, I would say that the paladin's church (the largest and most influential relgion in the land, obstensibly Lawful Good) is so mistrustful of our main here that they give her a handler: a war priest who is to watch her every move on assignments from the church. He may or may not be a love interest down the line, or he may betray her, but now we got an NPC. Then I would work on the parish she is currently stationed at, drum up some evil to investigate, and start introducing and tying in more NPCs as the plot grows (maybe an exorcist who doesn't agree that the church should even allow her to exsist, for example). Back to the tiefling, i'll say that some young people had went to a woodland party and turned up missing. Townsfolk, especially the local priest, point at the Tiefling, accusing her of leading a demonic ritual. Magically, the priest finds the bodies, and indeed, they looked sacrficed. The Tiefling suspects the priest has something to do with it, and while her handler doesn't believe her, but does acknowlwedge that it is odd that he found the bodies so soon.
Our exorsist does not agree with the church's weakness towards the Tiefling, and knows that
their god would not possibly grant the Paladin its powers. Surely dark magic is afoot....

When the tiefling goes to confront the priest is exactly where naked games deviate from system games the most...

Step 3: Agreeing to fight

Lets say our teifling and priest get into a heated arguement, and the priest says something incriminating. Now its time for the Teifling to arrest the priest.

In D&D, my player would probably say "I try to grab the preist." in which I would say "roll initative". We would have a potentially exciting time, as the priest runs from the tiefling, or uses cleric spells, or just whips out improvised weapons to avoid capture. Dice would clatter, 1s and 20s would tantalize, and fate would determine if the bad guy gets away.

In naked though, there is no system to arbitrate conflict. The fate of characters in combat lies only in the hands of the player and the DM. How do I manage this conflict, which could simply devolve into an argument of "Yes he did, no he didn't".

Simple: I rely on something that I see as the ultimate weakness of all human(oid) beings: the need for conflict.

No story is interesting without conflict, and me and my player know this, even if we don't think we do. When you put a player in a tough spot in D&D, dice have to come in to keep the player from just saying he/she wins without a good fight. In a naked game, without a system, the player can, more or less, say that he/she wins without a fight.

But that's the thing. They don't really want to win without a fight. It may sound suprising, but if your player is immersed into a story, and you give them all power to just say "I win", they typically won't take that route in my experience, espeically if you lay down a more exciting path.

In the case of our priest versus tiefling fight, in a naked game, we would play out the fight. In fact, it would not go much different than if we did actually roll dice: the priest would try to run, the teifling would grab the priest, the priest would throw a blast of holy light, the tielfing would be temporaily blinded, the priest would run, thei teifling would easily catch up and tackle said priest, and the chase would be over. In D&D, that's a successful grapple check, a failed attack of oppurtunity, a successful concentration check and a blinding falsh spell or something, the priest's run manuver, the teifling's fort save, the teifling's charge combined with a bull rush, and subdual damage sufficent to knock the priest out.
I mean, really, who would want to skip a fight like this by saying "I knock them all out with my whateverness"? Rather
most of my players be like "Its clobbering time!"

Besides, in most cases, the players have to win most fights to advance the story. If they get killed, the story ends for them. If the priest gets away, it becomes a chore to try to find him again. If the dice arbitrated that the priest got away, it shifts blame away from the people and towards chaos. If the DM says he got away, we all know who to rightfully blame.  

Why would a player cooperate in this improvied battle choreography? Becuase we both know what we want. I, as a DM, want the player character to win in the end, but not without an exciting fight. The player wants their character to win in the end, but not without an exicitng fight. If we run a horror or tradgey game, we might actaully both want the character to fail in the end, but not without a fight! So, we make sure that their are plenty of fights interpresed with progress.

This being said, I also stack the deck in a naked game with "fights" like social conflicts and investagations, but not more than any system game. 

All this being said, conflict management is the true limitation of Naked gaming: there is little to no possiblity of both the DM and Player failing at their combined task of helping the character win/lose without a fight. I fudge my dice in my normal games for the very reason that I don't want my PC to bite it unless thats what the players want, and I am suprised at how many times players have volunteered to sacrifice their character at a  dramatic moment for that reason. Dice games therefore are still vital, nessary, and better than naked games becuase it very well could be that your awesome character gets done in by a lucky goblin, and the war stories that embarassment creates. In games with a random element, the dice become a limitation, mutually agreed upon, that lets Chaos interject with its own twisted ideas. Naked games don't do this as well. Besides, their is something satisfiying about crunching numbers and making wise build choices that any Rifts or Hero System gamer can tell you about all day long.

Step 4: Repeat

So our tiefling arrests the priest, interrogates him, and finds out that he was frolicking in the woods with a married woman when he heard the screams, and went to invesitgate and saw the ritual. He saw an evil figure leading the ceremony, a female in evil spiky armor, and saw the murders. He didn't tell anyone at first, becuase they would ask "why were you out there in the woods that late at night...", but when the Tielfing Paladin came, he saw his scapegoat. Now, the teifling has to find the evil knight, and confornt her....
Our Blackguard makes our Exorsict seem resaonable...

And so I contine to run the game, tying in NPCs, devleoping the plot, resolving conflict in a choreographed way with my player, until the end credits roll. No dice, no system, just character setting, and plot. I would call it interactive storytelling, but that sounds harder to do than running a Naked game, which sounds more like playing an RPG, only with less clothes on.

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I hope you can use this advice to run your own naked games. They are great for one shots, or duets, or when you really, really, REALLY don't want to mess with numbers. They are also great for first time gamers, since there are no rules to learn.
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