One of my favorite hobbies growing up was roleplaying games. I’m sure your first thought was Dungeons and Dragons, but honestly I never played much of that. My inclinations were more towards modern day, science fiction, or recent history rather than fantasy.
Anyone who’s had the roleplaying bug will understand me when I say that the time between sessions could be just as entransing as playing the game itself. I could spend hours looking over rule books trying to imagine the kind of character I’d want to play, or over equipment lists imagining how to kit them out, and the kind of awesome stuff I’d do.
Back in Ontario I had a pretty reliable group of friends to play with, and we played all kinds of games and systems, even making up our own in later years.
Unfortunately, it seems being able to reliablly play with friends is pretty much limited to high school and university for most people.
My last regular roleplaying group was in Victoria, where I gamemastered for several young ladies (one of whom I’d eventually marry). I like to think of those days as “King Nerd” days, because an all-girl RPG group was every male nerd’s fantasy. But once I left for Japan, that all changed.
I never completely stopped roleplaying, but I have gone on long haituses. We tried to make gaming over the internet work with limited success (this was early 2000 so it was more difficult then) and tried playing with other people in the cities I moved to, but nothing worked out long term.
Setlling down back in Vancouver, I hoped that might change. But the unfortunate truth is, once you’re out in the real world all your friends, new and old, have different schedules or live farther away or have little free time, so getting everyone to meet up regularly once a week or even once a month is difficult or impossible.
But I’ve never given up. I’ve managed to play a bit with a couple of players, but in doing so I’ve come to realize some other problems that happen with infrequent play. Loss of momentum, and rules leakage.
Loss of momentum is easy enough to explain. You spend your entire session getting your players excited and invested in what they’re doing, only to have to wrap up for the night. If you next session is a month later, you’ve lost any sense of urgency to what they were doing and trying to get them jazzed again can take some time.
Likewise, that month is a long enough time to get rusty on the rules. And the more time you spend having to look up this rule and that rule to ensure fair play, the more you’re slowing the game down, which not only slows excitement down but means you’re getting less actual game time in your limited window. It becomes a viscous cycle of sorts.
You can’t just “wing it” all the time, either. Without rules to follow you’re just playing make believe and the strings begin to show. The rules allow the players to believe their decisions matter and their actions have consequences, and that risk can pay off in ways other than the game master’s whim.
That’s why, as of late, I’ve been looking for ways to streamline my gameplay without sacrificing the mechanics behind it. And mechanics are important. Hell, sometimes they’re as much fun as playing the game itself. But more on that tomorrow.