Last night, I ran my first rpg session in a bar.
Last night, I assembled a group of seasoned, not-so-seasoned and so-seasoned-you'd-say-they're-preserved gamers at downtown Ypsilanti's fantastic Tap Room and we assaulted Goodman Games's Sailors of the Starless Sea. Some survived; most did not.
A few months ago, I toyed with the idea of getting together a group of gamers to play a relaxed, beer & pretzels-style dungeon crawl at my favorite watering hole (and a favorite of a few of my players, would-be players and, honestly, the place where my wife works) in hopes that if we got enough people, we could have filler games on off weeks, spinoff games taking up other tables, folks in the back playing different card games, etc. Basically, my hope was to turn an under-used room in the bar into a mini-convention, but now I don't even care about that part. Now, all I care about is my DCC game, its players, and having an amazing time with some amazing people.
A few days ago, I was starting to get worried that I wasn't going to have enough players for the session, so I started inviting as many people as I could find. A Starbucks barrista. Two coworkers. Sure, that one coworker could bring his girlfriend. Stuff like that. While I was originally hoping for old schoolers, one by one I watched the old schoolers drop off the "hell yes!" list down to the "that sounds like fun!" list down to the "if I can make it" list down to the "not texting or calling Adam back" list. That's when I hit panic mode and started inviting everyone who I thought might be fun at a gaming table. In the end, the "invite everyone, expect a few" strategy worked, sort of like DCC's character funnel, and I ended up with an awesome cross-section of players:
- Matt R.: A coworker, Matt's about ten years younger than I am but has a surprising amount of gaming experience.
- Chris L.: One of my favorite barristas at the Starbucks I go to when I'm at work (yeah, I know, hate me for going to Starbucks), Chris is a semi-pro computer gamer who has, somehow, never played a tabletop rpg before last night.
- Matt W.: Finally, someone my age! This Matt is one of my local old schoolers, but one who only just found out how many of us there are in the area. Matt may be cooking up a Runequest/Legend game for us here locally, but for now, he's at the DCC table and has, as a result of last night's session, become my "lieutenant judge."
- Terra E.: was the only person I didn't know before we hit the gaming table. Terra's Matt R.'s lady and is pretty damn bad ass.
We had another fella, a guy named James who knows my wife (you guessed it, from the bar) met up with us later, but at that point, we were already in the dungeon and didn't want to take time out to roll up four new characters.
Right, so, every player started off with the DCC-recommended four characters, a fact which took some people aback, especially when we saw what some of the ability scores were looking like. I didn't over-explain much and let a lot of explanation happen as the need arose. Things like saving throws were glossed over until it was appropriate. For hit points, I let each player roll 4d4 and assign the results how they liked, which turned out to be a popular suggestion; from my point of view, it cut down on the total numbers of rolls happening at the table, so it sped up the whole process. For most other rolls, though, we took turns working our way around the table, each player taking a turn with a d30 or d% to add details to each character in turn. I was worried that taking turns could cause folks to lose interest in between rolls, but it actually ended up engendering interest in what the next person was rolling. "You rolled a jester? Seriously all you start with is a dart and silk pajamas?" Yeah, lots of that. Once everyone had their starting PCs nailed down, I borrowed each player's stack of index card character sheets and gave a quick rundown of each PC's idiosyncrasies as far as the stats read.
We started in media res with me just reading the module's boxed text for the background and first area. I didn't bother trying to give them a story context or anything, we just ran with it. All in all, I think that worked better than if I had tried to wring roleplaying out of them since it was a brand new group where no one really knew each other (other than me). I'll add more context as the game goes on (and I'll cue you all in as that happens), but for now, it was time to get into the tomb robbing.
Sailors of the Starless Sea is a pretty solid site-based adventure that fits thematically well in the whole pre-genre fantasy, swords and sorcery vibe DCC is working with. Playing the game in a bar meant that, as the players racked up a body count (both of villains and of their own characters), they got more raucous, started cheering and many a High Life was consumed leading to both questionable decisions and cautious playing.
I'm not sure how many "spoilers" of the adventure I should give away, so I'll keep it light with a body count. These deaths are in order to the best of my memory (oh, and no one named any PCs yet; that just seemed premature, like naming a Dothraki child before the age of three or something):
- The scribe; fell down a well (Terra)
- The strong (Str 17) alchemist; burned by monster (Matt W.)
- The stupid (Int 4) scribe; burned by that same monster (Chris)
- The agile (13) blacksmith; killed by beastmen (Terra)
- The brawny (Str 16) wizard's apprentice; killed by beastmen (Matt R.)
- The strong (16) but horribly unlucky (Luck 4) soldier; killed by beastmen (Terra)
- Some sort of halfling (I've lost that notecard); killed and likely eaten by a sea monster (Chris)
- The jester who sucked at everything but being lucky (17); ended up being horribly unlucky and killed by a sea monster (Matt R.)
After the fight with the beastmen, Terra replenished her character pool with three new level-0's, but no one else took me up on the deal. Matt W. considered making the other three slaves, but was talked out of it when he realized that the other three folks who'd been freed from the beastmen were now armed and likely to try to get some revenge on a false liberator who had kept their compatriots enslaved.
Speaking of Matt W., there were three deaths that I didn't note in that last because they deserve to be talked about separately. All night, Matt W. had been the "loot guy" of the group. "I'll take that bejeweled longsword." "A flask of oil? Of course I'll take it!" The loot guy. His greed was becoming so legendary, that he was making HIMSELF roll Willpower saving throws to keep from going for the easy coin. Well, when the group investigated a cursed crypt and were frozen in place by the curse, Matt R. & Terra left all of Matt W.'s remaining three PCs frozen in place, slowly being encased in ice and dying from frostbite. Unavoidable, they said. We had to save our own skins, they reasoned. He was a jerk anyway, they rationalized. So they let him freeze. But, oh fuck, he had most of the loot, they rued. And thus did pass into history Matt W.'s halfling moneylender, guild beggar and elven forester and did the PCs (except for Chris's PCs, who did not participate in the crypt-robbery) keep themselves from being able to list their alignments as Lawful.
We still haven't finished the module, but should be able to do so next time, as well as get started on the next one and introduce some new players and PCs (new players have to go through the funnel, too). But what PCs survived the adventure, you might ask. Well, it was these guys:
- An orphan (seriously, that's all it says; not particularly good at anything); Terra
- An elf sage (stat penalties aplenty; this guy will probably not make it to level 1); Terra
- A wainwright (healthy and lucky); Terra
- A one-time squire, Terra's only original surviving PC has reached 1st level and become a thief (this PC's stats are out of control!)
- A merchant-turned-wizard who is deadly with a dagger; Chris
- "The Shoveller" was once a mere grave digger but has now become a determined (if not terribly skillful) warrior; Chris (seriously, this character, with no bonuses to speak of, accomplished more than any other PC)
- An elven artisan has turned in his 1 lb of clay to beome, well, an elf; Matt R.
- A locksmith put on a suit of chainmail and is wielding an ancient axe, cursed by chaos, and has become a warrior; Matt R.
The game was a blast to run and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, even the guy who lost all his characters. We're all excited to pick up again in two weeks and maybe we'll be able to add some other new players. This session proved to me that sometimes, people actually can meet in a tavern and have a great adventure together.