Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Year in Gaming

This was sort of the year of the one shot, for me. I didn't as much gaming done as I would have liked, but what I did do was pretty fun. Pretty much all new systems, too; besides three sessions of a tragically doomed D&D 3.5 game, I don't think I played any of my old standbys. Here's the break down:

The Aforementioned Tragically Doomed D&D 3.5 Game: Four brand new players, one of whom never showed up after the first session and another who I'd kind of dragged into it and spent most of his time playing mah jong. Theoretically wilderness exploration, except for some reason I'd dumbed most of the hex map I worked up in September and replaced it with a really terrible random encounter chart. The play environment wasn't great either; we used a college provided study room, and the white board was handy, but the big glass window, terrible fluorescent lighting, and total lack of snacks just didn't set the right tone. Despite some really great play from the two players who wanted to be there, I just couldn't muster any enthusiasm for the thing, and stopped scheduling the games after a couple of weeks.

Feng Shui: In a trend that will continue, I got very excited about this on the train home from New York, played a single session that had a satisfyingly level of Nazi punching and general ludicrosity, and promptly forgot about the whole thing. Despite the fun we had with it, I haven't had the urge to play it again since.

4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons: Obsessed over it for, oh, a good eight months before it came out, ran a mostly successful short campaign using Keep on the Shadowfell over the summer, and decided it wasn't for me. Fun, yes, but a little too slick, and a little too streamlined.

Traveller: Mongoose Traveller gave me an excuse to get the book and see what all the fuss was about. Very impressed, spent a month or two rolling up a subsector. Never got around to playing it, though a couple members of my home group have expressed interest in it, and it's still top contender for games next semester and over the summer.

Swords & Wizardry: Finally started paying attention when the PDF version came out (especially since it's available for free at the official website) and proceeded to get very excited and spend a month and a half working on a crazy sandbox setting, which I still haven't run, and might not ever. I had fun putting it together, but it's still an irritating pattern.

Paranoia: A game my home group has been talking about for years, we picked it up on a whim and went home to play a crazy late night session. We managed to get in another game, and have some vague plans for a session next year, so this one may end up being a regular part of our college diaspora gaming landscape. It's been fun, and nice to be a player for once.

Vampire: the Requiem: Developed a bizarre fixation on the line, then got the book and became thoroughly confused. That's one to sort out in the New Year.

So I kind of got distracted every five freaking minutes, but I had fun doing it all so I'm not too unhappy with it. Hopefully I'll be able to run an actual campaign next year, but I'll tackle that when I blatantly rip off Amityville Mike's Gaming New Year's Resolutions.


  1. I've been reading your blog for a week or so, coming to it from RPG Bloggers, and I'm generally hesitant about posting, but...

    You seem to have a similar problem that I do :D.

    My preferred system is GURPS (although all of my mates prefer D&D or WoD (new)).

    Even still, I am constantly getting my hands on new systems and being obssessed with them, and then never being able to really do anything.

    My gaming library is ridiculous. Every GURPS 4th ed.; D&D 3.5 - 4th; oWod & nWoD; Call of Cthulhu (silly amount of books); all True20; several indie games (you should really check out Don't Rest Your Head :D ); 7th Sea; Rifts (silly amount of books) and on and on and on...

    And I play maybe 10% of them successfully.

    But they are great for different takes on gaming and as sourcebooks for ideas. So, advice, even if you feel like you never get to play any of the games you get your hands on and are excited about, keeping buying them :D (or downloading PDFs from Drive-Thru RPG, saves money on games you may not play very often). You'll find gems all over the place and great material for adventure design and game development (if you ever decide to try your hands at :D).

    Also, as a Grad. student now and still trying to game, successful gaming at uni has often been disappointing for me and the mates, even when you are trying to get new players excited (which I do as often as I can).

    If you find it frustrating and just can't get a cohesive group together but still want to play, you might want to try Play-by-Post at

    Just a thought.

    Dig the witty insight and humerous anecdotes. :D


  2. In gaming and other aspects of my life, I often have to artificially limit my own options in order to accomplish anything. If I have a wide spectrum of choices, my energy is diffused. If I force myself to focus, I'm able to accomplish more.

    I'm personally better suited, I think, to choosing a fairly simple and minimal palette and working it like a demon. Even then, I have to resist the lure of the new.

    I also learned that I enjoy the process of creation and preparation as much, or more, than actually running games. Running games involves such irritations as scheduling, logistics, and other human beings. I stopped beating myself up over it and now I just concentrate on what I enjoy.

    When and if I do start running games again, I'll probably stick with pick-up games in my homebrew setting. My grand plans for long-running campaigns rarely survive the chaos of engagement with players.

    Anyway, not trying to load you down with unsolicited advice, it just sounds like we may have similar tendencies, and I see no reason you should feel guilty about not running the Perpetual Campaign with the One True System. :)

  3. I think the situation described by you (and the follow-up comments) is pretty common and what a lot of people refer to as "gamer ADD." I myself have a HUGE collection of RPGs (we're talking about more than two dozen Indie RPGs alone), most of which I haven't played. I don't feel too guilty about that because I try to take away ideas from each to use in the games I do play.

    Ultimately, I think for many adults, the idea of a long-term "birth to retirement" type of campaign doesn't work - we get to play too infrequently, players come & go too often, and life gets in the way. There are also way too many good RPGs available nowadays.

    My advice (or at least personal approach) is don't try. Instead focus on games/campaigns built around specific objectives or finite story lines. Pick a system and some kind of story you want to tell and aim to play the game until that story is done. Once it is, move on to your next game and story.

    The nice thing about this approach is that you your ADD actually helps encourage that type of play and you don't need the same players to show up months on end. You also don't need a lot of players: 2-3 quality players work great.

    Some games I really like for one-shot or short-term (say 10 sessions max each) play are:
    * Primetime Adventures
    * Dogs in the Vineyards
    * Spirit of the Century (which you can adapt for nearly any setting). Awesome Adventures is a stripped down version that's even easier to learn.
    * Mouse Guard RPG
    * Committee for the Exploration of Mysteries
    * Truth & Justice
    * Don't Rest Your Head
    * Any GUMSHOE game (e.g., Trail of Cthulhu)

  4. John: I tend to be kind of twitchy about leaving comments, too. I appreciate your leaving such a nice one.

    My collection's not quite as extensive, but it's getting there. I've got a ton of d20 stuff I've never used, and probably never will. I have enjoyed reading them, so I'm glad I've got them. Who knows, maybe I'll run a really crazy 3rd edition game again someday. And there's always the game design thing . . . but no good can come of that, I wager.

    I had a bit of trouble finding players last year, being a newcomer to a relatively small campus. I should have that taken care of now, and I've got plans to run something next semester. Exactly what, I'm not sure, but I've got time to sort that out.


    I tend to find that I do better when I've got a game running, and some kind of actual deadline to work with. Otherwise I just spend all my mental energy planning huge crystalline edifices of imagination, perfect in their unachievability. And I like having the manic energy of a bunch of players to bounce off of.

    I am definitely thinking that short campaigns are the way to go, both for reasons of time (curse you, semesters!) and inclination. I appreciate the encouragement in that direction, since one obstacle to that (as with everything) is the sense that I "should" be doing this or that other thing. Mostly getting over that, but not completely.

    MJ Harnish: I've just about kicked the habit of planning long, extended games intended to last for years. Most of my good games were intended to have an end from the beginning, and right now it's not really practical for me to be planning anything to last more than four months. (The demands of the semester and all.) I haven't looked much into the Indie scene yet, though -- a lot of those are on my list of stuff to try some day, but I keep pretty busy these days just obsessing over nWoD and Traveller and the old school scene.

  5. If you're interested in trying out an indie style game on the cheap, I can send you a playtest copy of my current RPG project Kidz. It's a game about meddlesome kids and mysteries ala stuff like Scooby Doo, The Goonies, and Nancy Drew. It's based around the PDQ system which is very easy to learn. The genre, depending on the spin you give it, can even use source books from nWoD for inspiration since supernatural elements are often part of these types of stories.

    The book itself will probably be out in time for GenCon Indy though a lot depends on how long it takes me to write and edit the final few chapters.

    If you're interested in tryingit out, or even just taking a look, send me your email address and I'll send you a copy.

  6. MJ Harnish: Sounds like fun. I'm at natalie.oddysey (a)