Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thank You for Your Concern but ...

I must confess that I found a lot of the comments to yesterday's Dwimmermount session report a bit odd. Even one of my players, who reads the blog, mentioned this to me last night and it's rare that he has anything to say specifically about the comments to one of my posts.

When I wrote the post, I consciously chose to talk about my mental state while playing the game -- my lack of enthusiasm, my tiredness, etc. -- because, too often, session reports focus solely on the events that happened to the characters in the game and say little or nothing about the people who are playing the game. Similarly, a lot of session reports come off as "perfect," which is to say, they downplay or wholly eliminate any mention of the ups and downs that are, in my experience anyway, part and parcel with tabletop roleplaying. So, I thought I'd talk a little about these matters in my session report; I assumed people would find them interesting and even comforting. I suspect that a lot of gamers have sessions now and again where things just don't "click" and my last session was one of those.

But the campaign as a whole is clicking and that's really what's important to me. That was really my point. I'll never understand the expectation that every single session has to be jam-packed with Fun™. I think that's unrealistic and I think judging the success or failure of a campaign on the success or failure of any given session (or even collection of sessions) makes about as much sense as judging a person's life on a couple of weeks, months, or even years out of the whole span of their existence. For me, the campaign is more important than individual sessions. I fully expect that some sessions, maybe even many sessions, will not be thrill-a-minute roller coaster rides of awesomeness. For one, that level of excitement is impossible to maintain for long. For another, any activity involving human beings is at least occasionally going to founder on their idiosyncrasies. That's just the way it is.

And I accept that. One of the reasons why I feel so alienated from much of the contemporary hobby is that I often don't feel as if that kind of acceptance is commonplace. There seems to be this idea that if a gamer isn't firing on all cylinders for every minute of every session, then something is wrong, with a wide variety of solutions being offered. Speaking as the referee of this game, who is close friends with all his regular players and in contact with them outside the game, I can assure you that nothing is wrong. The campaign has been going on solidly for the equivalent of two years of biweekly sessions and shows no signs of stopping. No one is unhappy, dissatisfied, or bored, or at least not enough that anyone has shown any serious signs of wanting to stop the game and try something new. If they had, believe me, it'd be obvious. As my players could tell you, over the last 10 years, plenty of campaigns have ended, often within a handful of sessions, if people aren't enjoying themselves. Indeed, we spent a good portion of one recent get-together extolling the virtues of another game we all liked and, despite that, there has been no groundswell of support for picking up that game and playing it.

I know I'm an old fuddy-duddy because I question the expectation that every moment of one's life should be somehow exciting, but there it is. If my nearly-41 years of life has taught me anything -- the jury's still out on that one -- it's that human beings are blessed with the ability to forget not just the painful stuff but also the boring stuff. In looking back on my time in high school, for example, I don't recall every single dull class I spent reading Victorian poetry or puzzling out algebra equations. Instead, I recall the great classes, the ones that first acquainted me with new ideas I came to cherish, the ones that inspired me to learn more. And so it is with everything in life. Years from now, when I look back on this Dwimmermount campaign (and I will), I won't remember that I was tired and unfocused in Session 52, but I will recall when the party first entered the dungeon and nearly died to kobolds, when Vladidmir the dwarf did die to yellow mold spores, when they first encountered the Red Elves, when the traveled to the pocket dimension of the Iron God, and lots more. This is one of the best campaigns I've ever had and a few dull sessions now and again isn't going to change that.


  1. In my experience, long campaigns also have plenty of different themes or types of sessions. Some sessions (or series of sessions) have more action and combat. Some sessions focus more on the interpersonal relationships of the player characters. Some on their relation to the world around them. One player shines in one sessions while the others stay in the background; then the next session its a different character that is the focus of attention.

    In short, variety in sessions is good too.

  2. One other thing I've noticed is that a session that's a dud for the referee may be really awesome for the players. We got bogged down in an endless combat on Sunday night and whereas I found it to be grueling and unfun, my players loved it.

  3. JM: I won't remember that I was tired and unfocused in Session 52

    Hehe. You wouldn't have, but I bet you will now.

  4. Dynamic range is not only natural, it's a must. People who feel that "firing on all cylinders for every minute of every session" are going to burn out. They'll argue against me, I know. But I've seen it too many times, with (honestly) no exceptions. Then again, sometimes life just rolls you a low Wis, and there you are.

    With no valleys, all the peaks just turn into a new, albeit exaggerated, baseline.

    As a side note, the enthusiasm and inherent fun of your current campaign come through in spades James. I envy your players :)

  5. Interesting - it's the exact opposite of reading about Chatty DM's 4e Gears of Ruin campaign on his blog, where he seemed to want to make every moment a Crowning Moment of Awesome, only to swiftly burn out and crash the campaign.

    I think there's a lot of truth in what you're saying.

  6. Dylan has a bad night & all the newbie folkies are tryin to save his soul from that dreadful rock'n'roll. Jaded DM alert! geez

    The "reality" aspect of James' posts, & how he has come to balance his passion for RPGs w/ the responsibilities of adulthood is the reason I find his blog so interesting & refreshing...

    It isnt like he is some Henry Darger-esque DM who is dreaming up myriad worlds that will never interact w/ a PC - instead his DM style fits into the reality of his life & how much he can spend on gaming which considers HIS ENJOYMENT as well... I'm sure if he was simply using pre-made adventures his interest would peter out rather quickly...

  7. There's really no way to look at someone coming to an old-school blog with the advice to drop everything and play Paizo Adventure Paths as anything other than an explosive and fragrant threadcrap. It's equivalent to going to a vintage car forum and advising the regulars to go with a kitted-out Honda CRX. It didn't really even merit a response in the comments.

  8. For my group we had many more dud sessions when we were younger and had more spare time surprisingly. Now, after 25 years of D&D together, we seem to have down pretty well what works and what doesn't for us. Maybe this is a result of our age and experience but personally I chalk it up to the changes in the game itself. To each his own though.

    I didn't realize your group has only been gaming together for 10 years. Hopefully you will get 10 more out of them at least. Good gaming to you and yours!

  9. Aos makes a good point. I've run a few sessions where I felt I was just 'phoning it in' but the players ended up loving it. I"m sure some of the player have had off nights as well but as DM we may notice it more as we attempt to run the sessions.

    We've had our ebs and flows within the campaign but everyone keeps coming back for more and the sessions, after a low energy one, are usually quite upbeat. I think it's the nature of the beast.

  10. I've noticed that I (and you, and Jeff Gameblog and a few other bloggers with lots of followers) tend to talk less about personal discomforts at the table than we used to.

    I don;t know about everyone else, but in my case it's because it's statistically inevitable that someone will take what I'm saying too seriously and pop up and start offering well-meaning but unsolicited and useless advice on how to run my game better.

  11. Only the mediocre are always at their best.

  12. I totally get the point of this post. I've just finished a 6 year D&D 3.X campaign and there were definiately individual sessions which had down points, for a variety of reasons, but that doesn't change my perception of the campaign as a whole. As others say, sometimes the dud sessions for me weren't the same for players too, so when I'm dissapointed or bored I sometimes get confused replies from my players who had loads of fun. :-)

    Any long-running campaign will have slow patches or sessions that don't work, but that doesn't always make the campaign a failure. I mean, not every episode of your favourite TV show is the best episode and there's almost always one or two episodes you think are rubbish but that doesn't change that it's your favourite TV show. While GMs obviously want to make each game session an enjoyable experience, we all know that every so often it'll fumble and you just need to ride it out and hope next week works out better.

    You mention that part of your problems are that you're on a sci-fi bent and Dwimmermount is no longer where your primary brain-space is running. In my campaign, we played D&D about 9 or 10 months of the year then paused the game for a break period - part one-offs/short campaign to try out other systems, part just meeting up for meals or board games. It sounds like your group has rejected the need for that, though, and are quite happy to keep on trucking - no small feat after two years of play, so go you! :-)

    George Q

  13. I don;t know about everyone else, but in my case it's because it's statistically inevitable that someone will take what I'm saying too seriously and pop up and start offering well-meaning but unsolicited and useless advice on how to run my game better.

    As it stands, most anything I post here is taken too seriously by at least a few people, but you're correct nonetheless: posting about my "inner life" as a referee is a good way to generate some of my odder comments.