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Yesterday's lunchtime game saw the first use of the Calamity tables, and it was a calamity indeed. It almost broke the game. I don't want to blame the calamity table entirely, though it perhaps is a shade too deadly, as I think it's really a case of the straw that broke the camel's back. However, more than one player has considered leaving the game due to it, and now the game hangs on a dangerous precipice, it's fate relying on whether we can fix the meta-game issues or not.

Basically it comes down to this: the method of allowing for a shifting player base (the whole return to the roads and minimum passage of game-time per session) is at direct logger-heads with the problem of limited play time (1 hour sessions). Each session begins in town with a week having passed since last session and upkeep costs due (rations or gold must be spent). The players then spend some time in town with one chore or another (pay upkeep, buy/sell equipment, recruit hirelings, etc.) and spend some time roleplaying with the NPCs. Next thing you know half the session is gone, and with half an hour left the party tries to make it out to a dungeon or similar to make some money. They are hit with random encounters along the way, which suck up some time but much less than dallying in town, and finally make it to the dungeon. They then explore maybe one more room than last time, and have to book it to allow time to get back to town and hopefully not get hit with random encounters along the way.

They failed at the last item this time, got hit with a random encounter on the road on their way back, and rolled horribly on the calamity table. Three of four PCs died (or were good as dead), and one of two hirelings as well. The table wasn't really meant to be that deadly, but when several characters only have 1 hp left (or only had 1 hp to begin with), it meant even a little damage on their way out lead to death.

One player in particular was really upset. We're all mature adults, it's not like he stormed off or made a scene, but he did say that he was pretty sure he had to bow out of the game, at least for a little while. Another player wrote a very long email of how dissatisfied he was. Basically, they saw it as very disappointing to die as a result of 'an arbitrary die roll'.

I could point out that it really was their own fault for not leaving enough time to deal with the trip back to town at the end. However, I do think the meta-game system is kind of forcing them into it, so I sympathize.

At this point, it seems to me the best idea to just ditch the real world to game time correlation. We need to support the ability for the players to end one session in the middle of the dungeon and pick right back up where they left off in the next. I think this will ease the tension of having to do everything in every session. Some sessions will become pure dungeon crawls. Others will be spent entirely in town talking to NPCs and performing other tasks. With only 1 hour to play, trying to do some of each is never going to work. I think alternating the focus is fine, provided everyone can deal with the fact that some sessions will not focus on their favorite part of the game.

The only real problem is, how then do we deal with the shifting player base? Perhaps I went overboard in trying to be adaptable here. I had images of different players sitting in randomly, never being entirely sure of who might show up one session to the next. Fact is, I really do have only 6 regular players, of which 3-4 show up any given day. I probably should have learned this lesson from seeing what's happened in BJ's sandbox.

I think probably the correct course of action is just have all the characters present all the time, like any regular recurring game, and deal with player absence like we always have. Right now, in my Warhammer game, if you're absent you just have to designate another player to take care of your character. It's up to that other player to make use of your character or side-line him, but there's always the chance the character will die when you're not present. So far every player I've had in this system has been OK with that, and in general they try their best to protect the characters whose players are absent.

If we do get new players sitting in, I guess we can just cross that bridge when we get to it. Trying to set up a system to allow for an eventuality that never arises means we suffer all the costs without ever seeing the benefit. In all likelihood, we'll easily find some excuse to bring the new player into the game in some traditional way. Either he's tied up in the next room, or the player just plays one of the hirelings.

Right now I've got some emails out there to the players outlining a lot of these thoughts. Hopefully we can fix the game and breathe new life into it. Or maybe we'll find that 1 hour sessions are just too damn short, no matter how we handle it. I suppose only time will tell.
July 15th, 2009 - 08:13 am | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

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