Okay, I admit it. I made it up. We often exist in a stew of ideas, so many it is hard to keep track of what is coming from where, but this phrase is one I coined while trying to best describe the way my friends and I used to play back in the early 1980s.
Most tabletop RPGs are Immersive or First-Person gaming. Each player at the table gets one character and while they are seated at the table they become that character. They use the character's name. They talk the way the character talks. Sometimes they even act the way the character acts. There is nothing wrong with this and much that is right about it, except that we are no longer living in the 1970's. For most people time is short and life is hectic. The people you gamed with last session may not be the same people you are playing with this session, so with omniscient gaming we sever those ties which so stiffly binds one player to one character.
Instead, your role is more akin to a Greek god looking down from Mt. Olympus, watching events unfold in the mortal world and changing them through the actions of your favorite heroes. Your characters are your avatars, your presence in the world. They say what you want them to say, do what you want them to do. You roll the dice of fate on their behalf. Sometimes you even use your mojo to bend reality in their favor.
Your hand of characters is a fluctuating entity. While it is recommended that you never run more than five characters simultaneously, you can have characters come and go as they please. You can have characters make cameo appearances. You can swap them with your friends at the table and then swap them back again. You can even split the group, just as long as each player at the table has control over at least one of the characters who is heading off in a new direction.
One thing you need to be careful about with omniscient gaming is to avoid confusion over who you are playing. If your characters are named Zitto, Penelope and Ralph then you should mention them by name whenever you switch between them.
Instead of saying “I walk up to the Barkeep and ask him if he has seen any Knights of the Black Orchid riding through town,” start with the name of the character who is speaking by saying “Penelope goes up to the Bartender and asks, 'Have you seen any Knights of the Black Orchid riding through town?'”
After identifying the character you can switch into that character and start talking as if you are that character. Or you can just continue using a pronoun as you banter back and forth with the bartender. However, when you switch characters again you should re-identify yourself as the new character.
While you can talk to your friends sitting around the table it is good to remember that this is not the same as your characters talking to one another. Character communication needs to be spoken aloud. If Dave is a friend of yours sitting across the table you shouldn't say, “Hey Dave, have Alphazar watch that window while Ralph tries to pick the lock on the chest.” Instead you should say, “Alright, Ralph says to Alphazar, 'hey will watch that window while I pick this lock?'” Changing your voice so you sound like Ralph (all rough and gravelly) while Ralph is speaking may also bring you some kudos.
In many ways omniscient gaming revolves around narrating your character rather than acting as that character. Feel free to mention things that normally wouldn't occur to an immersive gamer, such as the beads of sweat running down Ralph's forehead or his fingers trembling as he tries to pick that lock.
You cannot step outside of your realm of influence (which is Ralph) and say something like “he hears the tromping of boots in the hall.” Because unless the GM has already mentioned this it would be like you summoning up a troop of guards out of thin air. Most GM's however, will grant you significant liberty with the look and feel of the place, the ambiance of the situation.
Pros & Cons
Is it a good way to play? Is it a better way to play? Obviously, my answer to both is yes. Otherwise I wouldn't be bothering with it now would I? However Omniscient Gaming does have its drawbacks.
The biggest one is that you exist somewhat outside the adventure. You are only immersed in a character for short periods of time. For some people, especially those who enjoy the dramatic side of role playing games, this will never satisfy them. Another drawback is the relationships between the characters one runs. They tend to be buddies by default. Some players may even abuse the privilege and use lesser characters to protect a Mary Sue. On the flip-side, it can get quite weird when two characters you are playing are not getting along and choose to fight with each other.
On the plus side, Omniscience gives you variety. Immersive gamers often play the same kinds of characters over and over, partly because they like them but also because they fear being tied to an uninteresting character for what could be weeks if not months. Omniscient gaming not only opens up the possibility of playing different characters but also the use of strange and more off-beat characters. Often games set in the Star Wars universe ban players from playing Wookies because of the language barrier, but with Omniscient Gaming there is no problem.
Where Did It Come From?
As I said earlier, this is the way my friends and I used to play as kids, but where did we learn it from? That is hard to say. We learned how to play RPGs from the kids who were slightly older than us. Who taught it to them is anybody's guess. Omniscient gaming may however be a generational thing.
In 1982 I was eleven years old and just entering the sixth grade. This also means I was just leaving elementary school and moving out of a period of fascination with that halmark of Generation X - the action figure - Star Wars, Micronauts, GI Joe, Transformers, Shogun Warriors. My friends and I were nuts for them until we discovered D&D, so it only makes sense that we would carry much of that method of play over into tabletop gaming. We put the action figures away but we never abandoned the mentality which allowed us to easily bounce back and forth between having Han Solo in one hand, Chewbacca in the other, and Darth Vader menacing them both from atop a stack of dixie cups.
With a large table of kids (and those we did have) you cannot help but limit everyone to just one character, especially if you are not using miniatures. With a smaller group, not only could you get away with it but often you had to as the adventures themselves would come with party recommendations along the lines of "three fighter types, one magic-user, one cleric and one thief." So I don't think we ever intentionally did it. We never set down rules for it the way I have here, but - yeah - that is the way we used to game.
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