Dire wolves pour into the room and surround the party. (The pink marker is a carnivorous ape… the blue d20 is a player controlled zombie hill giant… the purple d20 is an enemy hill giant, and the green markers are wolves. I had too many wolf markers out and I had to adjust them down on the fly– the large number of them were effective in scaring the crap out of the players so I don’t begrudge the error. It fit the moment!
Miniatures — I brought out a set of Mantic skeleton miniatures in the last game. Two of them broke during play. (A two player combat game is an entirely different environment compared to a chaotic role playing session.) That really clinched it for me, though. I won’t be buying any of Reaper’s new “Bones” line. Real lead… such as that in their P-65 line… it’s just a pleasure to handle. It’s tougher… it has a sort of verve to it. It doesn’t feel like a toy, either. As long as my son is gaga over miniatures, I’ll continue to buy them even though I begrudge every hour spent cutting off flashing, super-gluing them, priming them, painting them, and repairing them.
Players Handbooks — The learning curve on getting the hang of dungeon mastering is huge. If it wasn’t for my Car Wars buddies (and later on my kids), I don’t think I’d ever gotten into it. A whole lot of things just shake out over time as people get used to each others’ styles, but there’s always something that can be done to improve your game. This time I had three “player handbooks” made and spiral bound. They included all the character generation sections from the B/X rules, the spells, and the most used charts. I still ended up fighting over the books during the game– looks like I need a second set of complete rulebooks for whoever it is that’s playing the “caller”. Doh!
Prep — Speaking of prep, getting ready for a game at this point mostly consists of just getting a nap in if possible; if people are playing at my house, then cleaning up is going to use up any “prep time” I might have. This last time, I’d at least reread the module before the game… but the players never even left the room they started in. It turns out that what I actually needed was to carefully reread the combat rules and make sure to have sufficient hex paper on hand to help manage these gigantic battles we had to resolve. (This was the session that pushed my loosely run “theater of the mind” type biases to the breaking point.) So no, you can’t easily prep for a game where the players actually have real autonomy. All you can do is tune up some particular aspect of your game whether you can use it or not.
Spell Casting and Movement — I love it when you play a game a long time and study it closely and think you know it backwards and forwards and then end up playing it again only to stumble across a rule that changes everything about how you understand it. Classic D&D is infamous for this. In this case, it was the odd note in Moldvay Basic’s sequence of play stipulating that magic cannot be cast on rounds that you move. This is huge. This turns spell-casting into artillery. I might not have grasped this if I hadn’t been playing Dragon Rage where the a dragon’s breath weapon is infinitely more deadly than a wizard’s lighting bolt just because of an extremely subtle difference in how the sequence of play is set up! This is cool.
Playing Time — It’s odd… with the recent trend towards smaller, faster, denser, deeper, simpler games…. It’s getting harder and harder to find anyone to sit down to a two hour board game, much less a four hour one. But with role players… a session only seems to warm up after the four hour mark! Yes, the standard convention time block is too small for a solid role playing experience. And “real” role players are going to not only hang on until after midnight, but they’ll also ask to play again and again. Indeed, a campaign is unlikely to click until after a good two or three sessions even…. Two to three six hour sessions seems to be the smallest complete “chunk” of role playing that can register in the gamer’s consciousness.
Stupidly Fun — You know… I’ve run sessions that were random encounters in a hex crawl. I’ve run sessions that were all just one encounter combined with urban rumor gathering and a day’s travel to and from the site. This past one was pretty much one and a half gigantic epic huge combats. (I’ve never done anything like that in role playing outside of my Car Wars games.) There was this one moment where the party really wanted to win initiative and I’d rolled a five. They were all sure they were going to die and that this was the last straw. This one guy that had already botched a good dozen rolls that session took a very particular die from the table and shook it for like thirty seconds while the whole table waited for him. When it finally bounced down, it came up a six and the entire room cheered at once. This sort of thing seems to naturally emerge in role playing game sessions and I have no idea how or why it happens. But it is insanely, stupidly fun.
Nothing’s Changed — When I was getting my player handbooks bound, the guy at the copy shop was flirting with a classically good looking blonde. She was asking about his metal band and acting impressed; he struck me as being one of the cool hip popular types. When he finished my order, he made a remark about getting ready for game night. I couldn’t believe it, but it turns out he’s in a Pathfinder game with his manager and a couple of other employees. It’s just like it was when I was in high school: all sorts of people play these games, but you wouldn’t know it. Even that cool guy in the grade ahead of you is liable to be in a campaign. Heh.