In my teens and early twenties, my games were marathon sessions. We’d game 8, 10 hours on the weekend, and occasionally pull all-nighters. When I was homesick and stationed in Korea, I lived for the weekends, when I knew we’d be playing Rolemaster, D&D 3.0/3.5, and Palladium Fantasy or Rifts. Every weekend meant RPGs, and lots of ‘em.
I think some of my frustrations with running games the past few years centered around a refusal to give up on the weekend-long gaming epics. Instead of all day Saturday and Sunday to game, I now had four hours or so, every other weekend. Other stuff kept dropping into my schedule.
Time didn’t matter as much in those earlier, longer games. It was nothing to spend 4-5 hours on a silly side quest or just BSing. When you play that much, you’ve got the time for it. We could knock out a campaign arc in a couple of weeks. That same one might take almost a year now.
That doesn’t mean I still can’t have the marathon gaming sessions; we’re trying for one this weekend. But they’re the special exception now, and not the rule.
I think sometimes it's almost taboo to talk about these differences online, almost as if we're lesser gamers or something for our circumstances changing. As with any fandom, the extremes always are out there; the ones with seemingly endless budgets, endless time, endless commentary on how they have both. But that's not the world we live in. Adjustments must be made.
I try now to make time for catching up and general talk before the game starts; it helps keep things more focused. Additionally, I’ve tried (with mixed results) to handle a lot of side quests and the like “off-table”, either via email during the week or on a message board.
I’ve also had an eye towards campaigns that aren’t so reliant on player attendance; missing a session shouldn’t be the kiss of death. For my upcoming Rifts campaign, the players will be part of a mercenary company hired to protect a small town; a missing player can be on “temporary duty” elsewhere without too much of an impact. Of course, you aren’t going to get any XP for missing a session, but I’m not going to stop play or kill your character, either.
Some older players, now strapped for time, attempt to get their gaming in with one-shot games here and there wherever they can. That’s fine, but for me and my group, I think we still see a benefit in having recurring, longer campaigns. Yes, you can do it as kids, family, work, and other responsibilities crowd your plate; you just need to be smart about it, and realize what worked in college might not work now.
Embarrassingly, 18 year-old me saw every campaign session as an epic tale, one that would eventually put into novelization or even the silver screen (I told you it was embarrassing). 31 year-old me knows rolling dice and having fun trump any sort of “art” I’m trying to create. We’re not there to create perfect fiction, we’re there to game, with all the warts, weird twists, illogical jumps, and craziness that entails. I think when people look back at games, they don’t recall those warts so much; they recall the overall impression it left.
The actual scheduling of RPG night might have to bend to reality somewhat, but it’s my goal that in that four-hour period of gaming we do manage, we don’t have to.