September 4, 2011
4E Modern - Experts
During my Modern campaigns, I've consistently run into a category of player I like to refer to as an Expert. Experts can take a variety of forms, and have both positive and negative impacts to be wary of. A shrewd Game Master would be wise to look for the signs of The Expert(s) in her group, identify what type of Expert is at work, and use that information to enhance the campaign.
A common problem that plagues many Modern campaigns is the too-strict adherance to the functionality and practicality of the real world. It's very easy to fall into this trap, playing in a Modern campaign by its very nature leads to all sorts of implied assumpptions that only seem reasonable at the time. However, the Game Master must always be careful not to let too much of reality into her campaign. Why? Because reality sucks.
It realy does. Many gamers, especially us RPG folks, play the games that they do for the precise reason of escaping reality. I think a lot of gamers whom hold Dungeons & Dragons dear to their heart are put off by the idea of a Modern campaign because they fear it will be too realistic. We don't want realistic campaigns. Realistic campaigns would include day jobs, mortgages, car payments, and the legal ramifications of the adventurer's activities. It's for these same reasons that games of Dungeons & Dragons don't involve the horrors of medieval medicine, rampant infection, and the extreme limitations of a feudal society's economy. With a Modern campiagn, we turn our gaze away from realism and towards Hollywood.
Enter: The Expert
It has been my opinion that Modern campaigns suffer from an unwanted overdose of realism because 1). the modern world is immediately familiar with all players, and 2). there are Experts. An Expert is someone at your gaming table who knows the in's and out's of a particular subject. They love this subject; they love talking about it and they love speculating about it and to an extreme degree. Common Experts in my group have been "Car Guy", someone who knows everything there is to know about cars and agonizes over the stats of individual vehicles. I've also seen a lot of "Military Guy", someone whom has usually served in the Armed Forces in some fashion and rightfully knows their shit when it comes to modern military tactics, policy and equipment. I've also seen Experts in Languages, Politics, and Physics; although those are far less common. These Experts know their stuff backwards and forwards, and are horrified by errors in the game, any element that they feel is not represented accurately enough. This concept of an Expert is prevalent in medieval fantasy as well, but due to how common magic is and due to the lack of most campaigns in any real historical fact, the Experts in this area aren't geared up since the campaign is not impugning on their territory, per se.
Experts can become a disruptive force at your gaming table. They can interrupt your descriptions. I've had Experts interrupt and even redicule key plot details in handouts and NPCs' dialogue because it didn't make sense to their knowledge of the world. They can curtail all of your plans, blindside you, and make you look like a fool at the head of the table in front of all of your friends.
When you identify an Expert at your table, there are a few steps you can take to take that excitement, energy, and vast knowledge that the player is bringing in and turn it into a positive force. When an Expert starts spouting out their minutia, it's easy to take it as a criticism of your game, and by extension your skills as a game master. You've got to get past this. Most of the time, the Expert is trying to vet themselves. These people want to justify all the time and effort they've spent on their area of study. They want to be the shining star of the campaign who knows all about cars, or the wise and practical military expert/armchair general that everyone looks to for tactical advice. You want to use this to your advantage. Honestly identify the areas of the game that you feel an Expert would do better than you and plan to ask for help when it comes up. Frame your questions in terms that force the Expert to step away from rattling off facts about the real world, and instead makes the Expert apply that vast knowledge to help you by designing a particular mote of your game. For example, if you have a known Car Expert in your group, plan around that in Chase Scenes by asking the Car Expert to give you a quick and easy in-game mechanic or modifier to differentiate one make of car from another. Have the player tell you, why do the villains in your campaign prefer to use an Aston Martin V12 instead of a Ford Mustang? Imply that you have a real reason, and then go with whatever answer your Expert provides. The Expert feels like they've contributed to the campaign, like they've put that knowledge of theirs to work, and they're thrilled. You've just gotten a free, well thought out campaign detail figured out for you that makes it seem like your campaign world is more in depth and immersive than the players had previously thought. It's a Win-Win.
You Tell Me!
What kind of Experts have you seen at your tables? Are my own experiences common, or am I a lone wolf in this regard? How have Experts impacted your gaming table, for good or ill?