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Pandemic Escape: Role Playing in 2020
Last February, an old friend from high school recruited me to play in his online D&D campaign. I didn't fall asleep, but I still struggled to pay attention during the inevitable long discussions about shopping, loot, and the elaborate plan. The only role-playing that I have enjoyed since 2019 was playing Thousand Year Old Vampire and playing pc games with a role-playing focus.
Gary Sax wrote: Tabletop RPGs were already on their way up in the culture. . .
Yeah, I remember being shocked when a teen that I worked with a couple of years ago told me he was playing D&D. Shocked because he was the coolest, toughest kid in school. I asked him "Is D&D becoming more popular because of Stranger Things?" He answered in his cool, detached manner; "It's a very popular show".
We don’t seem to have long discussions about shopping, division of loot, or elaborate plans to outwit the bad guys.
Money loot is divided evenly. Equipment loot goes to the person who found it, because usually our DM has purposely provided it for that character. Occasionally the person who found it will decide to give it to someone else, or give away the equipment it replaces. It usually takes one sentence.
Shopping is like “ You have arrived at a good sized town. Now is a good time for a smoke/bathroom break. Anyone who wants to shop can do it while we break Everything that’s on the standard equipment tables is available. Your used equipment can be sold for half price. Update your character sheets accordingly.”
I think our longest planning discussion has been, “The cleric has a command spell, so if if the bard fails her persuasion, and the pirate falls his intimidation, then we fall back on the command spell.”
Our longest discussions are about which route to take. If we can’t reach consensus quickly, we just take a vote.
Online playing has been truly transformative. Remember, I was already back deep into RPGs when COVID hit and was already realizing that the format was going though a boom period with the indie stuff happening. But once online play became the norm...suddenly it was possible to play two hour sessions instead of booking an entire weekend day with four other people to play. Suddenly there was an impetus to really dig in and learn to use the online tools. Suddenly GMing a game became easier than teaching a new board game.
I’ve gotten to play so many great RPGs remotely because of COVID...DCC, Mothership; Alien, OSE, Stars Without Number; Stay Frosty, SWRPG; Troika, Mork Borg...hell I am even about to play Pathfinder because one of my buddies wants to run it.
That’s the other thing. I am playing with friends I’ve known for 15+ years that live all over the country. People I used to see once a year at Dragon Con are now closer friends.
TBQH, I’m not sure “after this is all over” if I want to go back to the standard face to face sessions. I still want to see friends and hang out, but I think that will be a once a month thing with maybe a special long session. I do have one group that greatly prefers F2F and they actually kind of bailed on remote....which I thought was really weird. But they are also younger and want to drink,smoke, and cut up more. I was running a F2F 5e campaign with them for year before the apocalypse. I do really like playing F2F at home with my kids and their friends though...we have an awesome D&D game going - they just entered Quasqueton.
And my daughter just started running a D&D campaign she is doing- I almost cried. Actually, I did cry. It’s something to do with elemental panthers (!) and she insisted that I play a female Druid and her brother play a Kenku rogue.
I have got to get UVG going, that book is incredible. Maybe after this Pathfinder foray LOL.
As DM, I have tried to keep the focus on action by overpreparing everything. It is rare that the game comes to a halt because I need to look something up, either because I wrote the adventure myself or I read it repeatedly before running. I spend a lot of time reading and pondering the rulebook for an rpg before even starting a campaign, and I will happily make the occasional improvised ruling on the spot to avoid halting the game over a rule question. I create cheatsheets and summaries for the current adventure and clip them to the ref screen. And I like to run adventures where player delays have consequences, like allowing the bad guys more time to recover, recruit, or advance their evil plot.
One time I ran a published Stormbringer scenario ("See Hwaamgaarl and Die") that I suspect was loosely based on the movie The Warriors ("Warriors, come out and play!"). I kept things moving at a relentless pace. If the players paused the game to have a ponderous discussion, their pursuers would immediately catch up and another fight would break out. After a couple of these attacks, the group caught on and picked up the pace. A couple of the players realized what I was doing but not why, and were resentful, because they loved the ponderous strategy talks. A couple of other players told me later that they really enjoyed the fast-paced session.
In my experience, though, many players feel they have to do it. They might have the optimization bug that makes them think they have to haggle every last gold piece out of a transaction, or need to maximize every single possible point of damage per turn. Or they might be so attached to their characters that they are terrified of making a suboptimal equipment choice and then they are stuck without a mallet and iron spikes (or whatever).
For those players, rules changes normally help. Either house rules like Uba's, or a different system like Blades in the Dark. BITD has a few great subsystems that cut down on the boring stuff. One is that you choose your encumbrance level before a mission, but you don't choose your equipment until you actually use it. Another is that you can use "flashbacks" at any point to represent the planning you did previously. So you don't need to bribe a guard in advance, you can just decide you did it in media res. (There's no chance of failure; just a chance you might take more "Stress" if you roll poorly.) Also there's no shopping lists; your character sheet for your class just has a list of stuff you'd typically use.
For D&D specifically, I heard of a con game run by a old-school DM, one of the early TSR guys, who would start rolling on the wandering monster table every time the players started talking too much. That sounds similar to your Stormbringer solution but not quite as brutal, since there's only a chance of an encounter and not a guaranteed fight. (And the encounter might not end up being hostile.)
Michael Barnes wrote: I am playing with friends I’ve known for 15+ years that live all over the country. People I used to see once a year at Dragon Con are now closer friends.
Us, too! Absolutely the best thing to come out of this disaster of a year. Getting together with a group of our dearest friends on a regular basis just wasn't possible before because of the distance. Now we do it every week and it has been an incredibly important part of hanging on to my sanity. I really hope we are able to keep this going when "normal" comes around, but there's no way it's going to continue to be on Saturday nights!
Michael Barnes wrote: And my daughter just started running a D&D campaign she is doing- I almost cried. Actually, I did cry.
Me, too! Zoe has become a Roll20 master in a way I could never hope to match. She is also great a giving all the NPCs different voices. Cracks me up!
Michael Barnes wrote: I have got to get UVG going, that book is incredible. Maybe after this Pathfinder foray LOL.
You REALLY do. So much fun!
Shellhead wrote: One of the old school hard-boiled detective writers admitted that whenever he had writer's block, he would have a man with a gun show up to menace the protagonist. That would keep the story moving along at a brisk pace while leapfrogging over the writer's block. I'm guessing that it was Raymond Chandler or maybe Dashiell Hammett. Anyway, that was likely my inspiration for how I ran that one Stormbringer adventure.
I think this is part of the DM's job. Keep the story moving. I didn't know what to do with one of my groups of young men who just wanted to rob the people in town rather than go on the actual adventures. Eventually I realized the town need a big group of heavily armed police. . .
As the primary GM, I feel like I've earned the place to give an honorable mention to our Inspectres one shot. It's not a game that's easy to tell others about what made an individual game of it great, but I hadn't laughed that hard all year.