A lot of the time, when a gaming group gets together to pitch ideas for their next game, it’s almost an overwhelming avalanche of ideas at first (or maybe that’s just my experience, but that’s all I’ve got to work with, so I’m going to run with that assumption). And usually, just about everyone at the table is fine with just about all of the ideas. However, I’d like to direct your attention to the number of qualifiers in the last sentence, because everybody has a few deal breakers and they seldom match across an entire gaming group, and they also will change over time. Leaving aside material members of your group find offensive, inappropriate, or painful/triggering for some reason, there’s still going to be a disparity of taste in your group that you have to work around.
For example, I’m not terribly interested in anything that prominently features vampires, will need some serious convincing to play in a Star Wars or Star Trek game, and I also very strongly prefer my games to have what Ken and Robin refer to as “nerd tropes” in them – that is to say elements of science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror. I have no interest at all in my PC having a romantic relationship with another character in the world, and perhaps most importantly, I really don’t want to play a bad guy.
I know of other players that prefer their character have thick swaths of darkness, who don’t like Westerns (which makes me sad), and who prefer not (or even refuse) to play anything that isn’t their preferred edition of D&D or Pathfinder.
Once you get a group together, it can be challenging to get all of these “holes” lined up in such a way that you have a game that isn’t a deal-breaker for somebody at the table, and occasionally you hear of situation where people stop trying and form new groups because some player or group of players has a set of deal-breakers that the rest of the group can’t work around. And while this can sometimes be a shame and a monument to stubbornness, I’m going to go a little “out there” and suggest that it might not always be so negative. That will not, however, from suggesting that perhaps some of our dealbreakers (including mine) couldn’t benefit from a little bit of re-evaluation from time to time. Am I really that against anything involving vampires, or did I just need a breather? My recent acquisition of several Night’s Black Agents products, including backing the recent Kickstarter for the Dracula Dossier suggests otherwise. I’ve certainly enjoyed stuff in the Star Wars and Star Trek universes, and my objections there are mostly grounded in fears that, as a fairly casual fan of both properties, I’ll have insufficient “setting cred” to participate well. And I’m sure a game set during a sufficiently interesting time and place could overcome my ravenous craving for the fantastic in my gaming experiences. I could probably use to “stretch” a bit on these ones.
On the other hand, ask me to play a romantic lead or a villain as a PC, and it’s going to kill my buy-in. At best, I’ll be bored. At worst, I’ll be uncomfortable, and either will make the game awkward or otherwise un-fun for other folks who want these elements in their gaming. That isn’t to say that nobody I game with ever gets to do these things again, though – just that they needn’t invite me. And that, I think, is where the balance needs to be struck. Sometimes you need to stretch and flex a bit, but if you can’t or won’t and the rest of the group really wants to do something you have no interest in, it’s very much okay for them to proceed without you, and both you and they should be okay with that. This set of circumstances should also NOT spell the end of your friendship or contact with the old group, either! And this is where, by the way, the positive comes in. A lot of the time, events like this can create new gamers or groups as players or GMs find themselves a little short of the number of people they’d like for a given campaign. It also can create a loose network of gaming groups in a region after a while that will freely swap players around, which leads to cross-pollination of ideas and storytelling techniques, which is ultimately good for the hobby. If some of my older gaming groups had never broken up, it’s unlikely that I’d be writing this blog post today. So be flexible, but if you can’t bend any further, don’t make everyone miserable – start something new.
I’d be interested to hear what your “deal breakers” are and how much wiggle room you’ve got in there, as well as any stories that have arisen out of a group splitting over different creative desires. Let me know in the comments!