Friday, January 22, 2010

Doom & Tea Parties: Regular, Long Term Play

So the Doom & Tea Parties solo hit the one year mark this month. Sixty sessions, as of last night. If I'm counting right. Which I'm probably not--I suspect there's a duplicate log or two in there somewhere. But anyhows!

One year. My previous record for campaign length was about six months. Twenty-three sessions. And that was as a DM. (The group game is right around that mark itself now, and shows no signs of slowing down.) I don't have as good records on my time as a player, but I do know that the record there was rather less than that.

Appropriately, I'd been grumbling about this lack of campaign length around the time that Trollsmyth talked me into joining the game in the first place, which he did partly on account of my professed interest in the longer form.

It hasn't disappointed, for reasons that James Maliszewski articulated back when he started his Dwimmermount campaign (right around the same time as the solo game, in fact) and that his own campaign has since confirmed:
One of my growing beliefs is that, for old school gaming to work, you need to play not only consistently but also regularly. I'd venture to guess that one of the big reasons why old school play isn't as popular as it once was is because gamers meet a lot less often than they used to and because they don't stick with a single campaign -- or game! -- long enough to let it find its feet and properly establish itself.

Regular, long term play. I cannot possibly stress how much of a difference this makes to a campaign.

The difference between this game and my previous campaigns isn't simply length. Those other games started out with the understanding that they would be short; either someone else was planning a game that would need a turn within a few months, or the players simply wouldn't be available once summer ended. Doom & Tea Parties, in contrast, is open-ended. It will end, someday. The characters will die, or find another natural conclusion to their stories, and eventually Trollsmyth and I will have other ideas that we want to explore. But when it ends, it will end on its own terms. No external force demands its conclusion.

Again, I can't stress enough the difference this makes: the idea that the campaign can be as long as it needs to be. We've spent the last four months just setting things up, playing through two weeks of my character adjusting to a new environemtn while she anticipates Major Happenings (both social and quest-related) but without any particular pressure to get to those higher tension scenes, because we both know that they would always be there. We can take our time, and linger on the quieter moments that allowed us to lay some serious groundwork that will make those events, when we do finally get to them, really sing.

Furthermore, Trollsmyth and I have both noted that a few months ago the campaign started moving in a slightly peculiar, very social direction. (It's gotten even more peculiar since then. When I got into this hobby I never could have expected that one of my all-time favorite gaming moments would be a ten-minute conversation about what to do with NPC's hair, but there you go.) And I've mentioned that the time we spent in the dungeon was a big part of why that social, soap-opera-y style has worked so well.

But it wasn't just that we were mucking about in a dungeon. It was because we were mucking about in a dungeon and had no particular time limit, other than the amount of time we could devote to the game each week. There wasn't any particular need to clear the place within a given time, no particular pressure to hit any goals or milestones or even to "move the plot along." I had time to explore, wander into brief digressions about elven society, and really enjoy each particular moment of the campaign. As long as I was having fun with each individual session, I could fool around and figure out what I really liked doing. No time limits. No schedule.

And when my characters friends were kidnapped and she and another went to go rescue them, there was absolutely nothing to derail when I decided that, instead of immediately get back to work and move on to the next bit of the "action," what I really wanted to do was play through my character waiting for news. To have, in fact, the kinds of conversations that one has at the beginning of a relationship -- granted, a relationship between "a dwarf who'd been transformed into a nixie and a human cleric," but that's what made it D&D.

Which is the kind of thing that I'd been thinking about doing for at least a few weeks then. I liked several of the various NPCs that populated the game, and knew just enough about them to want to find out more, but I'd never done anything quite in that vein, so it took some time to find the appropriate opportunity to just slow the game down and talk. If I had been paying more attention to those constant distractions of keeping the action moving and gaining XP -- if I hadn't been sure that we'd be able to (or attempt to, anyway) rescue those friends and then move on to explore the results if I took too much time up with other pursuits -- I might never have tried it at all.


  1. I guess I just don't get a ten minute conversation about what to do with an NPC's hair. I can't even picture how that would go. Perhaps that's why I am more about the game and less about the narrative.

    Of course, I can't even imagine participating in such a conversation in my day-to-day life. That may explain some of it, too.

  2. A big part of the reason it was ten minutes is that this is chat we're talking about. Chat is *slow.* In-game we're talking maybe two or three.

    Basically, the reason it was interesting was it was an opportunity for my character to get all embarrassed about thinking this one guy was cute. There was a little more to it that made it amusing, but that's the essential detail.

    And I assume by "the game" you mean mechanical doo-dads? I'm not really so much about "the narrative" either. I'm more about generating these little awkward/amusing/romantic/otherwise interesting moments and playing around with relationships, and while a story is great to hang that on, thinking too much about that level mucks with my immersion.

  3. Ohhhh. I get it now. No wonder you've been having such a rough time in 7th Sea -- you're a Merchant Ivory character that's been forced into a Michael Bay picture.

    I wish I'd known this earlier, it would have saved both of us much grief.

  4. Actually, if I was going to pick a movie that approximated my play style, it'd be Pulp Fiction. Weird as that sounds, given what I've talked about above.