Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Game Doesn't Remain The Same

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.


Bill Heron said...

I hear you - I've found that you can't really run 8-hour games when you have work or families. I've found that most of my games have a cut-off point at approx 4 hours (that I write in) so that we can start afresh without trying to remember where we were in combat.

Patrick Tingler said...

I too had those long sessions when in high school and college. Now I prefer 4 hour sessions. I have time to do longer sessions, but I don't find that I'm interested in playing more than about 4 hours at a time. After that I'm ready to take a break and do something else.

Matthew AC said...

Good & True.

I am getting ready to run a new game, Dragon AGE rules.

For a while I was thinking of converting Paizo's awesome APs or doing something in Forgotten Realms . . . but then I realized I just wanted to roll dice and let the craziness go. SO we are going 'old-school' for us - ill-defined homebrew . . . a world that needs heroes.

Zachary Houghton said...

@ Patrick, Bill: I think 4 hours is a pretty common time frame for a lot of gamers with families and other obligations.

@MatthewAC: I think set up and type of game becomes much more important as your time to game increase. Ill-defined homebrew works for me!

Revil Fox said...

We play about six hour sessions, and we've met every Thursday night for almost ten years now. Until we went to GenCon last year, we didn't realize how lucky we were to be doing even that. Turns out we're spoiled.

Zachary Houghton said...

Heck yeah, man. Really cherish and enjoy what you have there. It's something pretty special.

clash bowley said...

We play about 5-6 hours, once a week. Surprisingly, I could play more, but it's the youngsters that have busy schedules.


David said...

I get to play an 8 hour sessions about once every 5-6 weeks. I'd much rather play more frequently, but that's what I can fit in.

Rob Lang said...

We keep a regular group going on an evening during the week. We're all in our 30s now. We have a player minimum of 3 and a max of 6. I fear we might lose another player soon (who's work has changed) and then we go through the difficulty of finding another.

The best thing is that I still get that buzz leading up to game night and the thrill afterwards. I can barely sleep once I get home as I am still ringing from the fun night with friends!

As it is a work-night the timbre of the game has relaxed a lot. I doubt I would run campaigns that delved deep into racial prejudice (through the medium of Sci Fi) or the corruption of privilege but I do try to make them just interesting enough. It's a balance - and not an easy one!

JoeGKushner said...

It's a problem I know well. When young, we'd all get together at some friend's house, get the cheap pizza and the cheap soda and game for the entire weekend. Thanks to the incredibly slow level advancement back in the day, while there might be some tales to tell, once the 5th-7th level barrier was hit, things would slow down and almost require all those fun side quests. Nowadays the 4-hour thing seems build into the level advancement making characters shoot up very quickly. Not necessarily a bad thing but in terms of depth and continuity...