Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Old Gaming Group is Dead, Long Live the New Gaming Group!

So, the holidays killed my gaming group. The long hours that I have to work during the holidays and the holidays themselves getting in the way of play time killed my gaming group. There are other things that killed it, too, but that's the stuff that really drove the nail in the coffin.

And I couldn't be happier.

The group started just under a year ago as a group of friend-couples (couples who are friends with each other; I know, it's unwieldy, but I don't have another word for it) who were all members of the same community service group. On the way back from an event, it was posited that we might want to play some RPGs together, then I stepped up to DM the group and the rest was history (except the part where we added my brother, Phil, because he was trying to find a lady to pretend to his girlfriend so he could join the group; that's just a damn great story).

Before we go too far into this story and what's going to happen, allow me to address all you edition warriors out there. This post is not about any one edition being better than any other. That is something I just don't believe. Rather, I think that each edition has its strengths and that, for the group I was playing with, the version of D&D we were playing made complete sense. Before anyone says anything negative about 4e, allow me to reiterate for the nth time that I really enjoy 4e and believe that it can be done well and endeavor to run it to the best of my ability because of how rewarding it can be to both players and the DM. So, if you leave a comment blasting me for playing 4e, you can just fuck right off and know that that comment is not being published.

So, the holidays prevented any real gaming and led to two players (who had moved a few towns away) deciding that they're not interested in continuing to play. My wife, too, decided that she's not interested in gaming as a regular thing, and would rather do it sporadically and play games that, in her words, "let her goof off." She's kinda got this thing about being relied upon and not being able to deal with that I chalk up to "youngest kid syndrome." So, our gaming group ended up 3 people down (ish). To remedy this -- and really, before I knew this was a problem -- one of my players, Rad, dug up another couple from our same community service group who had been interested in gaming all along (I'd been inviting them to my DCC Game of Taps) to fill in the now-open seats. I've got players again! (And I'm once again back up to the magic number of five players.) The question now remains, "What to play?"

A little while ago, I noticed that interest in our D&D game was beginning to wane. I decided then and there that once our story had progressed to a certain point and wrapped up some major plot points, I'd like to try something different. I talked to the group about what games they'd like to try, even if just for a short story arc or single adventure or whatever you want to call it, and the group came up with a few ideas, most of which felt like it was a trip through my gaming shelf, Thankfully, no one suggested any WoD stuff. A Call of Cthulhu scenario was suggested (score!). The table top minis game Malifaux was suggested (as a sort of off-week and late night game for when we're done with the RPGs; I'm excited about the prospect of a low-cost skirmish minis game since I sank so much money into 40k back in the late 90s). My lovely wife suggested Woodland Warriors (an OD&D hack designed as a less story-gamey Mouseguard or Redwall? Awesome!). I suggested my "D&D bucket list" and the new FFG Star Wars Edge of the Empire game. A bunch of games got put on the table, and tonight, we're sorting through what we're playing when.

In addition, there are at least two other DMs we know who have volunteered (or been volunteered) for the job of running a short, two to three session arc for us. My pal Matt offered to run a Savage Worlds zombie apocalypse game which I think would be a blast (the community service group that we all belong to is called Zombie Squad and is based around preparing for disasters by preparing for a zombie apocalypse; if you have questions, see me after class). Rad's brother, Andrew, is a bit of an amateur game designer and has been toying with a game system for about the last ten years or so (I've been hearing about this system for that long, despite never playing it) and I think it's some sort of uber-crunch-a-thon that might be neat to try for a short period of time (never having played it before, the best I can say here is "hell yes, let's give this thing a shot").

I'm thinking about trying out some new games that I haven't gotten into yet, but have been piquing my interest. First is the above-mentioned Edge of the Empire by Fantasy Flight Games. Yes, there was recently a Penny Arcade comic about this, and that's cool and all, but really, as far as fantasy in general goes, Star Wars is my first love (and fuck you, I'm not having the "Is SW sci fi or fantasy?" argument; it's fucking fantasy, damn it). I'm a moderator over on G+'s Star Wars RPG community and there's been some buzz about it over there, and I'm never one to turn up my nose at a game without trying it (hey, I *did* play WoD back in the day, so I'm allowed to mock it now). Plus, the beginner box is designed for the whole group to be able to use it to learn to play the game together which to me says "minimal prep time" but also "limited replay value," but that's okay. By the time the full version of the game launches, we might have worked through the beginner box and the additional adventure for it, so I'm not worried about that. And, before you ask, fuck no, I would never pay money for a Beta of anything. Not a video game, not an rpg. No polish, no dollars.

I'd love to do a one-shot Call of Cthulhu game so the players feel little to no attachment to their PCs and won't mind when they die or have their minds rent by impossible fiends from beyond space and time. That's a theme that's common to a lot of my games, though. To get my horror fix, I'm also considering two other systems as well. One is Shadows of Esteren which is currently undergoing translation from French into English. I picked up the Book 0: Prologue pdf off of RPGNow, read it through and found the system to be mediocre, but the setting and where the system pushes the setting to be pretty damn neat. I could easily see myself running this as a sort of rules light dark fantasy where there's more fantasy and wonder in the game than you might find in, say, the grottiness of WHFRP. Don't get me wrong, I freaking love the grottiness, but it seems to fit a more violent conflict resolution method than I tend to like in my horror games and I'd be treating it more as a horror game (that just happens to be set in a medieval fantastic environment).

Another idea is to use the FATE Core playtest document to create a game. I think this is actually what's going to be done in the short term to come up with something that'll work for everyone (including my wife). I had the idea the other night for a game set during the Reformation period where the characters are all students at a University for arcane studies. Yep, wizard school. But, rather than go the Harry Potter route, this would be more informed by science, MAGE: The Ascension, history, my sense of just how powerful wizards should be (I'll give you a hint: very), Doctor Who and the "one hour drama" format. I see this potential game as an opportunity to "get right" all of the stuff that I feel that most writers and media "get wrong" about what should be possible if magic exists. I think this game would be more of a story game and more inclusive, since one of the premises of the game is that all bets are off, what with magic existing and all.

My D&D bucket list is something I'm hoping to get through here, too. There are a lot of versions of D&D I've never played or played so long ago that I'd have to play them again just so they could count. And yes, before you ask, I am completely up to substitute retroclones for the versions of D&D they represent (Swords & Wizardry for OD&D or Labyrinth Lord for B/X). The stuff that currently sits on my bucket list (and acceptable substitutes) are: OD&D ('74 whitebox; S&W Whitebox and/or Delving Deeper, preferably both), Holmes Basic (again, S&W Whitebox), Moldvay B/X (Labyrinth Lord and/or LotFP Weird Fantasy, preferably both), BECMI (it's been forever since I've played BECMI) and possibly even AD&D 1e (both with and without UA just for a laugh; I'd gladly do AEC or OSRIC so everyone could have the ruleset if they don't have the books already). I don't expect to see this idea getting much traction, though, since Rad is more of a crunch guy and prefers to have lots and lots of options at his disposal; he's the primary reason we're not planning on a retroclone right away (I'm sure most of my DM brethren out there could just, say, pick up LL or LotFP and run something today if they wanted and I'm firmly in that boat, too; unfortunately, Rad doesn't feel like rowing it). His desire for crunch but the desire of some players (like my wife) for something simple has led me to consider an option I thus far had shunned:

What about DnDNext?

Mother fucker. I had not foreseen this. I knew that when DnDNext or 5e or whatever it's going to be called finally hit the shelves, I was going to pick it up. I'd also play it at some point, even if I didn't play it regularly and it didn't become my game of choice. The idea of "crunch for some, fluff for others" really resonates with me -- as do all issues of choice -- and to be completely frank, I'm looking for a simpler version of D&D without as much incessant upscaling as is necessary in 4e. So, I'll be downloading the current D&DNext playtest package to see if it'd be fun for me to run, but I'm afraid the bastards might have gotten me. This was a sudden and slightly disturbing revelation that I had last night and I feel pretty awful about it, but how much different (from an ideological perspective) is it than running 4e? To be honest, not at all, and I'm scared to death by that. I might have surrendered the coming edition war before it even got started.

Tonight, the new group is meeting (or at least should be meeting) to discuss our future gaming plans. I have a guest DM (Matt Woodard and his potentially-terribly-appropriate Savage Worlds zombocalypse game) lined up for our next session, so I'll have plenty of time to work out what I'll be running next. If you, dear reader, have any ideas or suggestions or any thoughts at all about something I could be doing, should be doing or something of the like (as long as it isn't criticism of 4e), leave a comment. I'm serious about the 4e stuff. We're all sick of hearing folks blast the system.