Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dwimmermount, Session 28

Dwimmermount resumed after a two-week hiatus because of family and work-related interruptions on the part of myself and one of the players. While unavoidable, these interruptions are the bane of a RPG campaign in my experience. When playing only once a week, making sure that you do play once a week is essential to establishing and maintaining the "rhythm" on which good campaigns thrive. Any disruption of that rhythm ensures that, at the very least, it'll take a session or two before it's re-established and, at the very worst, could derail things sufficiently that the campaign suffers a mortal wound.

I've seen the latter happen enough times to fear the possibility, so I dislike it whenever we have to miss one of our weekly Dwimmermount sessions. Fortunately, my players are sufficiently tenacious to overcome the inertia of missing sessions, but there's no denying that the first session after any interruption is an unsatisfying one, at least for me as the referee. This past weekend's session was a good example of that. Although the characters continued to press on into the catacombs associated with the temple of the Iron God, not much of significance happened. I don't just mean that in the usual sense of the session's lacking any revelatory moments -- though it didn't. Rather, nothing really clicked. There were some combats, much exploration, a few bits of treasure found, and even some addition clues about the nature of the Iron God, but none of it gelled for me. I felt like I was going through the motions rather than actually playing the game.

That's what I mean about losing one's rhythm. I don't expect every session to be a coherent, dramatically-satisfying roller coaster ride of non-stop fun. Such an expectation is, I think, at the root of why the Old Ways aren't well supported in contemporary games. It's certainly not something I need for an individual session to be enjoyable, particularly in a player-driven megadungeon campaign, which, by its nature, will be uneven in its feel from week to week. Since I derive my fun not so much from seeing my plans well executed -- I have no plans -- I don't mind when a session consists mostly of the characters wandering around in the dark, stumbling across this or that, as they delve deeper into the dungeon. For me, that's the whole point of the game.

But what happened this last weekend was what always happens when my friends and I don't get together regularly: we chatted with one another about the usual topics before the game and we continued to do so during the game. There were many digressions, asides, and breaks in play as we simply socialized. Now, there's absolutely nothing wrong with this. I play RPGs in order to socialize with my friends, after all, and I enjoy their company even when we're not gaming. However, satisfying gaming, in my experience, demands a certain degree of focus that's hard to summon up when I haven't seen my friends in a few weeks. I'd much rather just talk with them, even about trivialities, than sit around the dining room table and roleplay.

Interruptions thus guarantee that the first session after the interruption ends will likely see not a lot of gaming. That's what happened this weekend. I'm not terribly upset about it, but, by the same token, I do like to have as many satisfying game sessions as I can and this last one simply wasn't satisfying for me (or, I think, my players). With luck, next weekend will see us get our groove back.

11 comments:

  1. Great observations. You're one of the only people I've seen focus on these contextual aspects of gaming.

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  2. Man...every week. Haven't had that since around 1982. During the 90's, when I had the most steady groups of players for very long stretches of years, we played maybe once a month. Those were 6-9 hour games mind you, but you can guess how many important details can be forgotten in a month. Every game had to start with the standard half hour recap session.

    These days my group meets every other Wed night for three hours. Feels like I'm gaming a lot, but I guess not compared to a lot of you guys. Every week. Jeez. Maybe in my 50's when my life calms down a bit.

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  3. A good observation indeed. Whenever our group meets, at least half an hour goes into small talk before we get to the nitty dritty, and sometimes they kind of have to be shepherded in. Unfortunately, I we usually cannot game every week. We are a long way from the high school days when we had time in excess to game. But yeah, it is tough, because we have refresh our minds again, the PCs get into their shoes again, and so forth... I guess one thing to do is if the feeling is not up to par then make the session relatively short, so as to be picked up the following week with hopefully better rhythm.

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  4. A good observation indeed. Whenever our group meets, at least half an hour goes into small talk before we get to the nitty dritty, and sometimes they kind of have to be shepherded in. Unfortunately, I we usually cannot game every week. We are a long way from the high school days when we had time in excess to game. But yeah, it is tough, because we have refresh our minds again, the PCs get into their shoes again, and so forth... I guess one thing to do is if the feeling is not up to par then make the session relatively short, so as to be picked up the following week with hopefully better rhythm.

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  5. Another great post.

    My own group has found weekly sessions a lot more immersive and enjoyable than the "every other week" pattern we used to follow. We also post summaries of each session to a private Yahoo group so everyone has their memory jogged again during the intervening time. (The yahoo group also makes file and link sharing, and reminding everyone about the next game or warning of a cancellation, a lot easier).

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  6. It also helps that we play on a weeknight, so family time/other obligations are less of an issue. 6-10 pm or so is plenty of time for an old-school game (when were playing 3rd & 4th ed, that was barely time for two fights...)

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  7. There are little dangers in playing with people who are already friends. Like all the chit chat. That was also a problem with my games in the 90's - almost everybody where people I saw outside games from time to time. Throw some Ale and tequila into that mix and we usually bullshitted for an hour before even getting to the last session racapping.

    Of my current six players, only one is a friend I hang with outside of games. She played in my games since around 1988. The others are great guys, but we don't really hang out besides the games. They are all busy businessmen or students or married (I'm not) or what-not. We catch up for like two minutes, then it's "game on."

    Outside chit chat during the game is a real mood killer. I do my best to avoid it, but even I get sucked into a conversation now and again.

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  8. Once per week? I don't think we ever hit that, even in our college days in the late 70s. Once every two weeks seems to be the standard all the groups I've been a part of have settled on - which, I agree, could lead to a problem with delays caused by "catch up chit-chat>" We were good about getting started within a half-hour, however, usually because someone was in a mood to kill something. :)

    To maintain continuity and "party memory" between games, I took to making a campaign newsletter, "The Olde World Tymes" (it was a WFRP game) that would have a recap of the session, plus bits of setting gossip the party might learn in passing. I found it really helped to maintain flow from session to session.

    Were I running a game these days, I might do something similar with a campaign web site, maybe through Google Sites. Otherwise, the inevitable delays and long layoffs would be truly disruptive.

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  9. Let me add my voice to the rest. Once a week! Be happy you can do that regularly. Most of us have to resort to regular play, but with bigger gaps between.

    You must have an understanding wife, calm kids and very dedicated friends, James!

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  10. I play once a week, though I admit I am also in college... doing an English major... so perhaps I have more time than I know what to do with. However, I would question anyone who proposed that D&D has some higher purpose than bullshitting and chitchat. "Story" and "atmosphere" are nice, but they're really just icing on the cake. At the end of the day, if you're not gaming with people you enjoy chatting with, you're probably not going to have much fun gaming with them anyway.

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  11. Hey James--long time reader, first comment (and this on an old post that I'm just catching up on now, hah!).

    I've recently started a group up after years of not playing at all, featuring a good mixed bunch of players of all levels of experience with the game, interest, commitment, etc. and I'm finding that the once-a-week meeting is really essential, as well.

    When I was younger, in college and right after, I took the weekly game schedule for granted--every other week felt like we'd have to wait too long to play, and more than once a week would mean too much of a time demand for the participants. But these days, although every other week would feel like less of a burden for many time-wise, I realize it would really throw off the entire game's feel.

    As it is, we have some players who only show up about every other week, and while it can be easy to catch them up (even beforehand) on what took place during the previous session, being away from the game for so long makes it harder to get them back into the swing of things when we reconvene.

    Love your blog, plan to keep reading and maybe start up a campaign blog with associated thoughts of my own once we get a steady rhythm established (I'm still feeling out my players to determine what kinds of adventure elements they engage best, and we recently exploded from 3-4 players up to 7-8 suddenly, which may be too many but we shall see!).

    Best,

    T

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