Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Epic Game: Can It Still Be Run?

For a while now, I’ve been working on a big campaign. Like really, amazingly, tremendously big. I’m doing a lot of front-loading work on it—it isn’t a total “sandbox” game, but it’s been a pleasure working on handouts, dynasties, and more to give this world much more depth than it would appear at first glance. My goal is to give the players a short primer, and have the world naturally reveal itself through gameplay. We aren’t talking about players having to memorize stacks of dates and names; I’ve learned that lesson before. This is about the feel of depth, and a living world opening up to the players.

There a couple times as a GM, if you’re lucky, where you hit upon something you know would kill. It isn’t so much you want to tell a specific story (as GM, that isn't my job), but you want to put x and y and z in the player’s hands and see them take off with it. You want to see where it ends up as much as they do. And you know—you just know—that if you ran it, and folks were on board, it’d blow what you’ve done before clear out of the water.

I’ve done this sort of game before, actually within the past 2 years. We had a Rolemaster campaign that was epic, and I mean epic. World-spanning conflicts, characters really making the Hero’s Journey, and a massive, desperate conflict the PCs were key parts of, from humble beginnings to the end. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty great. However, that group met every week, with strong attendance. It felt an awful lot like one last huzzah for the sorts of games you’d run in college or the military. Our current group (by design) is more attendance-casual—we’re definitely in majority an older, more settled group, with families and additional obligations.

I absolutely love the gaming group I have right now. They’re enthusiastic, smart, entertaining, and good folks to know. But we have a lax attendance policy, which might be excellent for a West Marches campaign, but won’t fly for the type of game I’m thinking of. It’d be a tighter, more focused game, one that hopefully really grabs the players and won’t let go. It would rely a lot on continuity and continual engagement—in other words, the sort of game a lot of us find we don’t have as much time for anymore.

One option is to just run something else when our attendance dips below, say 80%. But for a gaming group meeting every 2 weeks, that can kill continuity if you miss 2-3 sessions in a row.

There might be a way to figure it out with our current situation, or I might have to accept that you can’t run all styles of games with all groups. It’s waited this long, it can wait a bit longer. I’m still thinking it out, and still need to get some feedback from some of the guys. I might just run it (if I can find time) for a smaller group, or it might bow to other projects. But I hope, eventually, it gets its moment in the sun (or fluorescent lighting in the back of the FLGS). It’s a problem I know other Game Masters struggle with as well as their life circumstances change. But I know it can be done.


Loquacious said...

I've seen it work where the GM just states up front- this campaign will have long overrunning elements that strongly encourage consistent attendance. Please consider whether this sort of game would work for you before joining.

A.L. said...

I'm not sure how big your play group is, but there is a middle ground.

Ask who is willing to commit to being a regular attendee and showing up nearly every session. Ask who wants to keep their attendance more casual and lax.

Structure the game, the 'epic' more around those who can give the commitment to showing up regularly. Don't punish the others, just explain that you're trying something new and people who can commit to being here much more regularly are going to benefit a bit.

You then have your 'main characters' and your 'important supporting cast' right there already set up. Don't punish the support, I mean it and I'm sure you know it. Give them their moments to shine, but hinge the story pieces off of those who can make the commitment to being there.

That way, if someone can't show up you still have your core group to go with. The people who want to stay casual attendance can stay that way, the others can invest a bit more for this one game, and reap some extra reward out of it.

Zachary The First said...

Very good advice, guys, thanks! Of course, talking it over with the group is always the first step. :)

trollsmyth said...

Frankly, I find the whole idea that people can't commit to playing regularly annoying. People used to commit to all sorts of weekly activities and they'd show up every single week: church choir practice, poker night, softball practice (with games on the weekend), various clubs and philanthropic organizations, squaredancing...

You can't seriously tell me that people are too busy to commit to those sorts of things today. And if they can do that, they can commit to regularly attending an RPG they enjoy. I seriously think the only reason they don't is because we refuse to hold each other to it.

Andrew Walter said...


I agree, except in my cases similar to mine where I work 12 hour shifts, including night shifts. Generally though, I've never understood the difficulty as long as people are completely clear on what type of campaign it is.