Monday, January 8, 2024

Growing Pains

My House of Worms Empire of the Petal Throne campaign will celebrate its ninth anniversary in a couple of months. Interestingly, we just added a new player into the mix recently, bringing the total of active players up to eight. The campaign began with six players when we first met on March 5, 2015 and, while those numbers have briefly fluctuated downward, the general trajectory since the start of the campaign has been upward. I can't say whether that's unusual or not, but it's certainly welcome. The fact that this campaign, set in a weird, little known fantasy world, continues to attract – and retain – players pleases me greatly. If nothing else, it suggests I must be doing something right, which I imagine is something of which every referee wants to be assured.

My Barrett's Raiders Twilight: 2000 campaign is not nearly as long-running as House of Worms. Early December of the past year marked only its two-year anniversary. However, the campaign is still going strong, boasting seven regular players (down slightly from the eight with which it began in 2021). On the other hand, the Traveller campaign in which I am a player, started with five players in September 2022 and has since grown to six players. Again, not quite as packed with players as House of Worms, but still a decently large number of players who get together every weekend to roleplay together – especially by the standards of today, when smaller groups seem much more common.

As I have noted before, there are many distinct advantages to playing RPGs in large groups. I thought about this recently, as I contemplated adding another player to the House of Worms campaign. Initially, I must admit that I had some mild apprehension – not because I thought the potential eighth player would be deliberately disruptive, but because, after so many years of having a stable group of seven players, we were all in a nice groove. We'd spent so many hours together over the years that we all knew one another quite well, including our likes, dislikes, quirks, and foibles. By introducing a new player (and character) into the campaign, might this not upset our modus operandi?

Yes, it might, I concluded – but might that not be a good thing? 

The House of Worms players work very well together. Their characters have all found their niches within the party and they even have well-established "routines" when dealing with certain types of problems. Furthermore, each character has similar well-established interests and goals, many of which can be counted on to help direct the course of play during our sessions. This makes things easier for me as the referee, since I have some idea what to expect. Consequently, the House of Worms campaign practically runs itself at this point.

Introducing a new player into the campaign almost certainly will disrupt many aspects of the campaign. I can say this for certain, because that's what happened the last time I added a player into the campaign. Every time a new player has joined the campaign – or indeed any campaign – a certain degree of chaos follows in his wake. Everyone needs time to find a new equilibrium and, until that happens, old patterns are upended, including mine as the referee. Exactly how things will shake out is unpredictable, but I can be sure of one thing: the new status quo will be every bit as fun as the old one, perhaps even more so. As I said, I've seen this before.

A little shakeup from time to time can be good, especially in a long-running roleplaying game campaign. Introducing a new player can help clear out the cobwebs of one's imagination, as referee and established players alike have to contend with a newcomer who knows little or nothing of the previously established order. He'll bring with him his own ideas, interests, and goals, some of which may comport with them and some of which may clash. This is good. It's an opportunity to reinvigorate a campaign, to inject it with outside energy. No campaign, not even the House of Worms, is a perpetual motion machine. Without periodic infusion of outside energy, a campaign will die. I'm having too much with this campaign to let that happen.

Furthermore, a new player is a new friend. While I've "known" the new player online for a long time, I've never played an RPG with him, let alone done so week after week for an extended period. Over the years, I've made so many great friends through roleplaying, people without whom my life would be much less rich. For me, that's very much at the core of what makes this hobby is so wonderful. How often does one get the chance to make a new friend? When the opportunity arises, seize it.


  1. A little disruption can be a good thing, and change is usually welcome in any campaign. The supers games that I'm currently playing and running all use a system that's very generous about encouraging major character changes over time (modeling comic book reboots and retcons) as well as catering to players who can only play as "guest stars" or simply want to swap around between a small stable of characters when they feel like it (also something you see in real comic team books). Probably get pretty stale without that, but the designers did put some thought into facilitating it - much more so than most supers RPGs I've tried.

  2. I'm curious, how long is each gaming session? Back in the day, I would game all day from Noon to Midnight. Now, 4 hours is my max game session. Although, there are times I could/would game longer..

    1. For me personally (a PC), around 2 hours is the maximum amount of time I can fully concentrate on any given subject without starting to lose focus, so the sessions are about that long. It's not that I would not want to play for longer periods of time - 4 hour sessions or longer *seem* as fun - but unfortunately my brain does not seem to want to cooperate. Oh, well.