What’s a Game for, if it’s Not for Fun? Thoughts on Games for Charity and Entertainment

By Edwin Nagy

There’s lots of advice out there for running RPGs, and most of it is predicated on the idea of maximizing fun.  A lot of advice on the topic tends to focus on  the different ways we all have fun.  What if having fun is not the primary goal of your game?  How does that change what you run?  Two examples of this come to mind–one is running a game as entertainment for others, and the other is running a fundraising game for charity.  I’ve done both of these, and they do change the game.  While I’m still aiming to have fun, the same way I aim to have fun at my day job, it’s not the primary goal.

Slaying the Dragon by Fireflythegreat

In a charity game, the primary goal is taking money from one group and giving it to another.  Funny goal, that.  Sometimes it’s the players themselves contributing to the cause, and other times it’s the audience.  For these games, I often encourage things I try to avoid in a normal game.  PvP?  Bring it on!  Power creep?  Rock it!  Disconnected story and mass chaos?  The more the wealthier.  Each of these tends to bring out players’ competitive nature, and with that the greenbacks.  Generally when I run these games, money is used to affect the game.  Players can buy a better weapon for their character or turn the gaze of the enemy upon another PC.  For more money, they can drastically change the scene–new monsters, a door out of the locked room, an indoor volcano.  Keeping a light-hearted competition going seems to open the wallets.  Other aspects, such as role-playing and playing smart tend to drop away as the players focus on using the main tool–money–to craft the moments they want to see.

Games for entertainment are yet another kettle of (summoned) fish.  Here the focus could be on advertising a system or setting, it could be on entertainment through great acting, or, in a few instances, it could be on playing the game for real and trying to ignore the fact of the audience.  When the goal is to demonstrate a product  the game needs to use all the mechanics of interest or explore the nooks and crannies of the world that make it unique.  And those elements need to be explained.  When acting is the goal, the characters need to be deeper, players need to use character voices, and the final presentation may include graphics and sound effects.  The game system often drops down, and interesting bits of action occur whether the rules permit or no.

Dice and Character Sheet by Puggles

Rather than the goal, fun in these situations becomes a means to an end.  Charity games need to be fun in order to keep players engaged and willing to donate.  Entertainment games need to provide fun for the audience, and player fun can be an infectious route to there.  Using fun in these ways changes the games I run and write–not enough to make them unrecognizable, and hopefully not enough that we can’t have fun playing them, but noticeably and sometimes in surprising ways.

Edwin Nagy started his professional gaming work with Lesser Gnome as co-author and rules translator for the box set of Death & Taxes.  Since then, he has worked as an editor, rules lawyer, and author for Frog God Games, MonkeyBlood Designs, and Dark Naga Adventures.  He primarily focuses on fantasy games for Swords & Wizardry and 5th Edition Dungeon & Dragons although does play and write for Call of Cthulhu.  He is a regular member of Skype of Cthulhu and is the DM for a weekly 5e game broadcast on twitch.tv/froggodgames.

Edwin has been playing games to help the children for three years.  With his gaming buddies and the support of fellow con-goers, his teams have raised about $10,000 for local hospitals.  This year’s efforts started at SnowCon in Bangor, ME, are ramping up at Necronomicon in Providence, RI, and will have their finale with a live-streamed, 24-hour RPG marathon in November sponsored by Frog God Games and Kobold Press. Please join them for the insanity.  Donations can be made here.

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