State of My Gaming: Or Be Careful What You Wish For

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My gaming options have been fluctuating widely this past year, and not for (just) the usual scheduling issues we all seem to run into.  In short, the economy sucks.

While I still regularly game with the same two groups I have written of previously, the composition of both groups has varied several times over the past year, and there has been consolidation.  Instead of groups of 6 and 7 with an overlap of two, the groups are now 4 and 5 with an ovelap of 3 players (myself included).  The changes are due to loss of jobs, and the subsequant consequences  some of which entailed players moving away to other states, or taking shifts preventing them from making traditional game times.  Included in these personnel changes have been the other regular GMs for the groups, so I’ve been running more, and more regularly, than I perhaps ever have.  Given all of the ideas I have for games, this should be a good thing, right?

In many ways, it is.  I get to try out new concepts, and run storylines that take several sessions to resolve that might have been truncated or skipped when I was switching off with other GMs.  On the otherhand, I need to spend more time each week to prepare, and in some cases I’ve drawn out certain scenes longer than necessary (and not always by letting my players shine in their in-character interactions – sometimes I’ve let them stumle around in trying to figure out a clue, or a course of action longer than I would have normally) or let a session end early because I had run out prepared materials.  I’m a great believer in going beyond preparation, and spotaneously adding elements to accomodate players – and I’ve been told I’m fairly good at this.  But I’ve reached my limit a few times this past year, and my GMing has suffered at times because of it.

And while I may have a wide variety of ideas, and systems I want to try out, the increasing homogeneity of the groups means that there are limits on how far from traditional rpgs I can go.  Which is not to say my players aren’t open to trying new things – not in the least.  We’ve had games using Spirit of The Century, Mutants & Masterminds, D20 Modern, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and D&D 4E in the past year.  In the past they’ve indulged the GMs by trying out Amber Diceless and Prime Time Adventures (both of which are closer to my preferred playing style), though the last was probably too far out of their comfort zone and got the least favorable reactions.  Indications are the current makeup of the groups prefer the traditional rpg model, with regular level and power bumps.

There’s nothing wrong with that.  I’ve enjoyed running and playing D&D 4E since it came out, and with the tools WoTC have made available online I find the preparation needed streamlined, and easier to scale to fit circumstances.  Conversely, I’m not sure I would want to run a full-on 3.5-style game anytime soon.  I was a subscriber of DDI until recently, and the character and monster builders, as well as a wealth of adventures to plunder from have been a godsend.  In fact, I’ve gotten a little used to that convenience, and now that I’ve let my subscription lapse I find myself missing the newer magazines.  I don’t feel much of a loss with regard to the character builder, as it became apparent with the move to an online-only model that it would be of limited usefulness to my players.  As another consequence of the economy, a few of my regular players have limited or no dial-up access anymore, so we agreed as a group to hold our characters to the second-to-last update of the old character builder (as the last update removed some functionality, and otherwise made some changes we didn’t need).  And while the Monster Builder is buggy, I find the ability to pull powers and traits from existing monster to skin my own beasties of paramount utility.  The numbers may be a little off here and there, but I can adjust for that during play if need be.  So, other than having fewer adventures to pull from, the loss of our DDI accounts hasn’t changed much else.

While I have continued with my re-imagined 4E Keep on the Borderlands campaign (the characters have just leveled up to 6th, and have yet to approach the Caves of Chaos – but that’s all to plan), the loss of one of our GMs meant I haven’t had a chance to play 4E in awhile.  Which is why my Not Your GM’s Keep on the Shadowfell column ended abruptly, with a partially written post abandoned since it was no longer relevant.  Upon hearing about WoTC’s D&D Encounter’s program, I was tempted to go out to the nearest (and coolest) gaming store in the area (Games Plus) to try out the 2 hr weekly sessions, but in the end I couldn’t see myself driving the 1 hr plus each week for just an hour or two game.  Fast forward to the new year, and I discovered a new gaming store (The Gaming Goat) opened January 1st in my town, just 10 minutes away!  Finally, another chance to play!

Checking in at the store, I discovered it was geared mostly towards ccgs (and who can blame them, given the economics involved) but had a small selection of rpgs (D&D 4E, Pathfinder, and a few WoD books) and they didn’t have anyone running the D&D Encounters program.  They were looking for someone to do so, though, and almost before I realized it, I was volunteering.  So, yes, in an effort to find a game to play in, I ended up running a third weekly game!  And have been at it almost a month (the last 3 weeks have been using the prepared D&D adventure, March of the Phantom Brigade – earlier sessions were filler from my own “4E Keep”  campaign while we waited for the WoTC material to arrive).  Fortunately the prepared nature of the Encounters program means it takes minimal work before hand, and doesn’t require a great time commitment.  There have been other GMs available after the first session, but I have been encouraged by a few of my players and the store owner to continue, so I’m in for the 13 week season.  With chaper one of the season coming to a close this week, I hope to relate my thoughts on the program soon, and perhaps add in details as the season progresses.

At times this past year, I have been concerned that my gaming groups would disappear.  One I created, but the other has been going strong for a decade before I joined.  It would be a shame for it to die out. Plus I wanted to continue to have the opportunity to run games.  And while we’re not out of the woods, I am running more than ever now.  I’ve been advertising our Thursday Night EAGLES games to the D&D Encounters group, so  maybe we’ll be able to grow from crossover with my third group.  That could be a lasting benefit that is worth the time expenditure each week, in addition to supporting a new gaming store that I can drive to on a whim.  And the store does support us, even if they don’t quite know how to make money on rpgs yet.  They want to encourage more groups to start up and play in their open gaming area (which is 2/3 of the store), and are offering 20% discounts on rpg materials on the night we play Encounters.  I can get behind that.

At the same time, running three games is going to start wearing on me.  I have two adventures sketched out for the 4E Keep game before I need to do some more work, so I am encouraging others who have ideas to take a turn at GMing if they want.  In the past I’ve been reluctant to turn the plot-reigns over, but I think I’m in the right frame of mind for it.  For the longest time I’ve wanted to do nothing but run.  Now, I’m ready to play, too.

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