A Disney Approach to RPG Experiences

While I was in Orlando over Thanksgiving, I scribbled some notes about how my experience at Disney might apply to running RPGs. Storylines and adventures aside, since I'm sure we already mine fairy tales for story elements, noticing the experience of a Disney theme park made me think about how we as tabletop RPG players and GMs can improve the craft of running games.
"You've got at least
10 levels of dungeon
under that thing..."

Every Disney cast member made sure we had a great time. It was their prime directive, above and beyond their job description, with the possible exception of the guy playing Aladdin who was a fabulous snarky bitch, which entertained me to no end. If we ever looked lost, a cast member approached from less than 10 feet away to ask if they could help. We felt safe and well cared for the entire time. It felt like coming home to a place I'd never been before.

How can we invite more players to our tables beyond simply using "Yes, and..." when dealing with players outside of the game session?

Immediate Feedback
A group of teens ducked under the chain and cut us off in line. A cast member immediately held them back and let us and another family past them, explaining that the chains were there for a reason. You can't get away with much at Disney. There are rules for the good of all, rigorously enforced.

How can we encourage the behaviors we want at the table and discourage behavior that makes others uncomfortable? Is an explicit social contract discussion enough, or do you need a way to safely communicate your discomfort during play (an X Card or safeword)?

"One ringy-dingy..."
Between the wait times clearly posted at every ride or event, to the mobile app also listing the wait times, to the quick answers to any question, to the frequent announcements whenever there was any problem with the ride, I can't think of a single improvement to Disney's communications. At times we suffered from an overabundance of information, especially the often-repeated announcements during the very few times when a ride stopped temporarily.

Since miscommunication causes frustration, how can we communicate with each other more effectively, both as players and GMs?

For every ride with a wait time posted, we always ended up waiting for less time than posted. Cast members made sure that people churned through the ride at a blinding pace, fixing problems and smoothing out the traffic flow. When buying food, a cast member acted as traffic cop to make sure we got into the shortest line. Longer lines for rides had mini-games and distractions set up so the wait rarely felt like simply waiting. The design of the rides and the cast members removed distractions and allowed us to focus on the star: the ride itself.

How can we limit the distractions of the rules and the outside world to focus everyone's attention on the game? And how can we do this consistently?

"Good grouping."
Found at despair.com.
Consistency of Experience
The whole attraction of Disney rests on everyone having the exact same experience on each ride every time. You can say "I rode the Buzz Lightyear ride at Disney," and everyone who has ever ridden will be right there in the seat beside you as you describe your experience.

RPGs have a hard time with this by design, since they're predicated on letting everyone at the table control the story and the action. Running the exact same scenario at a con for different groups of people will produce wildly varied outcomes. Some think that more specific rules will help enforce consistency, but we can't mandate how a person reacts to the rules in play. Some people may get fed up with the rules and look for a lighter game to play. People play RPGs for different reasons and find different areas that they call "fun".

Should we even try to reconcile this behavior in a quest for more "consistent fun" in our RPGs? Or would that undermine the Tabletop RPG experience, turning it into more of a closed-world computerized RPG?

Sadly, most ride scents were this...
Most Disney rides already engage vision and hearing. Disney makes sure they engage touch, like the dark waterfall in Pirates of the Caribbean, and many times smell. I got sprayed or smelled something about half the time when riding. It helped with immersion into the world of the ride, but at times I found the smell aspect annoying.

What tricks and props do you use to control your game space environment when you go for immersion?

Disney provides so many things to do, that there's no way to get through them all in one trip. Some rides are popular, so you have the option of FastPass, which gives you a time window to come back later in the day for priority treatment rather than spending the whole day in line. RPGs have the edge here, since an RPG world can cater to every whim, but a theme park is limited to offering rides, food, and shows.

Were there times in your RPG play experience when you wished you had more options, even something like a fast-forward button to end a combat that the PCs have clearly won? What could you have said or done to make those options available?

Found at Genetic Anomaly.
RPGs and Communication
Tabletop RPGs have person-to-person communication baked into the premise. Can you imagine an RPG where you're not allowed to talk while describing a character's actions? (The caveman LARP comes to mind, actually...)

So why do we have such a hard time communicating about play instead of as part of play?

I hope this post sparks discussion around your game table and improves your RPG experience. These ideas can't make an adventure not suck, but hopefully your overall experience improves.

Thanks for reading!

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