Gung-Ho Gaming: Why Can’t I Make It Work?
There is a certain style of RPG that I really enjoy when I can pull it off… but it’s very hard to pull off. For lack of a better term, I call it “Gung Ho.” It’s not a genre in and of itself, but it is a definite style: if you see Abraham Lincoln riding a bear and carrying a machine gun in each hand? That’s Gung Ho gaming.
Gamma World is sorta the archetypal (and one of if not the oldest) Gung Ho RPGs out there, and the recent 4E-ruleset reboot actually worked fairly well as far as it went. Unfortunately, once we finished the initial scenario, I just couldn’t stay interested. I thought for sure that I would, and bought all the expansions… but it didn’t happen.
There have been plenty of other attempts in our group to start and sustain Gung Ho games: Teenagers From Outer Space appears periodically in our repertoire, and my own Furry Battle Academy! was definitely in this vein. But in both cases, while the individual sessions have usually been quite fun, the campaigns have just failed to launch.
Some of it is probably sheer exhaustion. Gung Ho gaming seems to require a massive caffeine/sugar rush to get the ball rolling, and once it’s rolling, you have to keep momentum or you end up needing to start all over again. Some of it is also probably just the mix of players… as weird and creative a bunch as they are, their personalities tend to range from “rather reserved” to “painfully shy,” whereas Gung Ho gaming requires the willingness to be loud and quite often to make an idiot of yourself.
My most successful “Gung Ho” game so far has got to be the Ghostbusters game, but it’s only a bit Gung Ho. In fact, aside from the occasional silly NPC name and the tendency to do a lot of collateral damage with the proton packs, it’s hardly Gung Ho at all. Just… eccentric. Sure, they’ve battled animated modern art, been chased around the streets of D.C. by an enormous ancient Hittite dog-god, and accidentally teleported to Saturn  once or twice, but it’s not like they carry around guns that shoot chainsaws or anything.
 Actually an alternate dimension. They just call it Saturn, a la Beetlejuice.
The reason this is on my mind is because I was pondering the possibilities of a Borderlands RPG. With its over-the-top badassery and snarky sense of humor, I could easily see Borderlands being a fun beer-and-pretzels setting for a game, and the story arc of Borderlands 2 is for all intents and purposes a “Plot Point Campaign” straight out of Savage Worlds. It’s a natural fit.
And yet… I don’t think I can do it. For some reason, I just don’t seem to be able to come up with enough ideas in the Gung Ho mode. If handed an existing scenario, I can probably take it and make it work (as I did with the Gamma World starter scenario), but coming up with new ones is like voodoo to me. My brain keeps trying to make things make sense. (“Wait… this dude has shotguns grafted onto his forearms instead of hands? How does he reload? For that matter, how does he tie his shoes?”) That kind of thinking is the kiss of death for Gung Ho, but unfortunately it’s often how I come up with my scenario ideas. By thinking about the antagonists and giving them goals that make sense, I can figure out what they will do, how, and why, as well as what they might do when their plans go south (as of course, they will once the players show up).
Of course, it’s not like we need another game anyway. Two Pathfinder games (one of which has only had one session) and Ghostbusters keep our plate pretty full as it is. But whenever I find a new setting or genre that I like, my thoughts on it must eventually turn to gaming. It’s just in my blood, I guess!