Tabletop RPGs and good beginnings

So at the very end of last year I dragged the spousal unit to the “What should we play in 2017” meeting of the Albuquerque RPG group, and I’ve now attended all 4 of the weekly Thursday night gaming sessions that have taken place this year.

Why? That’s easy. Because it’s one of those meetups where what we play is sort of based on who shows up and pitches what, and no game is slated to run for more than a few sessions. Kind of like the sampling-buffet of RPG gaming, and for the way I am right now it’s perfect.

In week 1 we played Lady Blackbird, which was super fun. It’s an incredibly elegant little game with a lot of room for story that could easily have gone for more than a session but was satisfying as a one-off as well. Pick it up, it’s free!

In week 2 we played a Fate-accelerated homebrew kids vs. zombies game run by a member who had never GMed before. I always enjoy taking part in those because it’s very rewarding to see people want to try being on the other side of the screen (though actually pretty much nobody uses screens on the Thursday night games). She did extremely well for a first time and I hope she gained enough confidence to keep running stuff. It’s also always fun to play kids.

In week 3 we played another zombie game, this time with the End of the World rules, and that’s an interesting little system too, which shows very clearly how the underlying design assumptions affect how the game is played. As in, the design of D&D is almost exclusively based around killing monsters in dungeon crawls, and that’s what the game rewards you for doing – in general, players will tend to do what rewards them because duh, reward. We had to make characters that were basically ourselves, and I found that surprisingly constraining; it would have been a great deal easier to be heroic had I been playing anyone *but* myself, but of course that’s part of the point of the game.

It also demonstrated once again a principle I learned back in 1989, which is never to let the players go shopping in-character if you want the game to move smartly along. Especially during the beginning of a zombie apocalypse when you just don’t know what exactly you might need.

This week I was going to run Mythender, another free game where you get to punch Gods and monsters in the face (or get punched) (or end up as one of the myths you’re trying to defeat), but with one group off playing a multi-session Necessary Evil game we only had 3 players total and I didn’t want to have to deal with tweaking a system I only cracked open on the same day I was planning to run it. (Meanwhile, author Ryan Macklin kindly offered on Twitter to give me some tips, so I’m definitely rain-checking it for another night.) More on Mythender when it does get run.

So we ended up playing Dog Eat Dog because one of the players has been asked to run a game of it for a 7th-grade history class. It’s basically about colonialism and what happens on and to both sides, but has the potential to be applied to any kind of ‘colonisation’ where one entity takes over another — you could potentially apply it to cult dynamics, or even possibly to something as nebulous as the inexorable takeover by Hollywood of other, smaller film industries.

Two of us played the ‘natives’ and one played the ‘Occupation’, and it was fascinating to play out scenes of how the Occupation gradually killed off and/or assimilated the natives, whose violent rebellion (me) really only ended up making things worse. It made me notice how much the outcome is determined by our cultural expectations, because as a white European player I kind of assume that colonists usually end up ‘winning’, given the history I’m taught.

It shares some similarities with Microscope, which I’m also looking forward to playing one of these weeks.

The best thing for me about these weekly gatherings is that if I don’t feel up to it on a given week, I’m not letting a long-standing regular group down, even if I’d said I’d run something. Out of the 12-15 people I’ve met so far (there’s a core of same faces and the rest don’t always come every week), two thirds are able and willing to run stuff as opposed to just playing, and as a group we have pretty much every game under the sun covered. This takes all the pressure off me, which right now is very helpful.

It’s at least good to know that I’m able to get out of the house and interact with people again, though clearly I need to keep an eye on how much I commit to because my mental health and sensory issues don’t usually do what I want them to… Yet. Given the right mix of therapies that may change, but in any case I’m very glad to see I won’t be condemned to never play tabletop again because I have trouble being around people for any length of time. A good start for the year, if only on the gaming front.

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