Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Things keeping me from playing and how to get around them

I've been giving this a fair bit of thought lately. I like gaming, a lot. Yet it has been a few years since I had a regular group, and that was a couple (great fun, but) sadly abortive attempts back in Wisconsin that only lasted a few sessions before I had to move.

That was years ago now, though. Why don't I still have a game? I have a few roadblocks:

  1. Grad school. This one's new, but it's a bear. I'm now devoting the lion's share of my time here.
  2. Other hobbies. Most of these are things like video games and other computer-based past-times.
  3. Creation is stressful. I get fired up about ideas for things in play, but actually putting pen to paper and drawing up maps, keys, encounters, and even just descriptions is emotionally draining, rather than restorative. This is especially a problem because of #1 meaning I need restorative time.
  4. Setting. I want my own homebrew setting with its own set of things that make it unique. This is one of the things I love about DMing. Unfortunately, coupled with #3, this can be a lot of work to pull off.
  5. Regardless of everything else, recent moves mean I don't have a group.

That's a fair list. There's probably other stuff involved too, but that's the most of it.

#5 is the most important. I need to start advertising that I'm interested in playing a regional game and put together connections for folks who might be interested in giving mine a try. This should be easy once I know some people in the area, especially because I like inducting completely new players. (They don't come with preconceptions about how D&D should play.)

For #1, there's not much I can do. Grad school is grad school, and it's more important than gaming. It also takes up a large amount of my time. However, maybe I can work around it.

Instead of shooting for weekly sessions, I could go for one every two weeks, maybe one a month. Generally I get uncomfortable with this level of play, because it saps engagement from the players (and me) and it takes forever to get anything done. One way to get around this (if I can find a group) would be to run my game parallel with another DM, either as a co-op (long ways away, that) or on an alternating schedule. That could work.

For #2, something's gotta give. If I want to run a game, I need to dedicate some time to it. Plus, I probably should spend more time with the wife anyway. I'll think over some way of restricting my (non-work) computer time. Probably a schedule with a once-or-twice-a-week acceptable computer day... or something.

#3 is tricky. I am under the impression that most members of the OSR don't share this problem, and that for you guys creation is a restoring outlet that you go to to recover from the stresses of the day.

I've never really created a lot of dungeons or encounters. While I was a 'GM' for a long period of time in middle- and high-school, it was for a one-player over-the-phone game. I'm fairly good at improvisation, so coupled with a few GURPS Fantasy Yrth modules (Orcslayer anyone?) and a focus on overland travel and social interaction I very rarely got out the graph (hex) paper.

Part of the problem is also that I tend to aim too high. I want a cohesive idea to my dungeon, and that comes with specialized random encounters that draw from the local population and detailed faction maps and careful room descriptions and asking myself if this map makes sense for an old stronghold and where the privies are and how the denizens eat and and and and and... which might be great if it didn't keep me from getting things done. Finished dungeons with holes and static encounters are better than a bunch of really cool half-finished ideas.

I'm hopeful that setting myself some basic goals and meeting them will help with this. I mean things like 'This week we're going to create a three-flour dungeon with ten rooms on each floor,' or, 'Make a four flour dungeon with fifty rooms on each floor; you have to complete at least two rooms a day.' For one, this will get it done regardless of stress, if I can bring myself to prioritize it. Secondly and more importantly, I suspect this is the sort of thing where practice makes it less stressful. You probably learn to go faster, feel easier, and not sweat the small stuff.

I think I'll set myself a goal: I have a megadungeon with a side drawing already worked out. I want to get at least the first level and part of the levels above and below drawn and stocked before I begin play, since this may very well be the tentpole dungeon of the setting. In an upcoming post I'll outline my goals for this in detail with deadlines, and give a brief overview of the concept.

#4 has been a major stumbling block so far. The Desolate North setting I've been (oh-so-slowly) developing in this here space is my choice for a homebrew. I'm not exactly satisfied with it, though, which has retarded work.

For one thing, hexcrawling through wilderness is fun, but so is over-arching political tension. Native settlements, other towns (with the possibility of re-basing the PCs if they so desire), skirmishes, wars, and the like are fun. I want the world to feel alive. Unfortunately as originally conceived, the Desolate North wasn't really set up to support that. It was based on an Arctic Circle feel, which just doesn't leave much scope for the population necessary for frontier geopolitics. I've changed that by lengthening the growing season, and I'm shifting the 'feel' of the place from Alaska or Antarctica to Central Asia (with a touch of Siberia and Alaska still). I still like the cold, but I want more people.

For another, a homebrew setting makes it difficult to take tings whole-cloth from other sources, especially if you have design goals like 'no goblinoids.' Something like that is fun to think about - it helps make your place unique - but something needs to replace orcs or all your dungeons will be empty. Which means you have to work that up, with little help from established TSR/WotC support and modules.

Finally, I aim high here, too. For making my own setting, I want custom encounter tables, a grand sweep of history, hidden mysteries, fleshed-out cultures, etc. My first inclination is to go all M.A.R. Barker on the thing, but then creation-as-stress comes back to bite me.

I'm not yet sure about my solution for The Orc Problem. Probably what I'll do is keep them entirely and just call them something else with an aesthetic reskin. Men of some sort; maybe they're neanderthals or savage elves or mutated dwarves or whatever. Or maybe I won't, and I'll have orcs and goblins (but seriously, cut back on the huuuge proliferation, Gary; we don't need hobbos and buggies and and and) but have something different about them.

My solution to overcreation, thanks yet again to +Chris Kutalik over at the Hill Cantons, is to enforce on myself bottom-up creation. Have an idea for a setting element? It goes on an index card and you stuff it in a binder. Once you have players, then you can play around with the setting elements as they explore them.

Beyond that, I've set myself a strict limit: all I need to begin play in the Desolate North is the town of Queen's Landing (now done), a starter dungeon (nearly done), house rules (basically done), 30 rumours (without bothering with true or false), and a hundred rooms or so of the tentpole dungeon. At some point soon after that, I should put together a DM hexmap.

Which I guess means it's around time to start soliciting players...

The fifth and last problem is the easiest to solve. I just need to meet some new people, and either find a local group or put one together. That just means finding and devoting the time. Once the rest of these problems are solved, it'll be easy.


Whew, that was much longer than I intended. I guess when I have something to say I really can write a large amount in a single sitting...

For the three of you who've made it down this far: have you faced similar problems? If so, how do you deal with them? If not, what kinds of problems do you face as a GM?

And do you know a gaming group in the DC metro area looking for another member?

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