sometimes the bar eats you

Things didn’t go as planned.

My character, Arnold Littleworth, survived the adventure, but I had to leave the session at the 4 hour mark, by which time we hadn’t even made it to the dungeon.  Don’t get me wrong, some fun stuff happened!  A high-level Wizard and her companions were sent to assassinate us (we negotiated our way out of trouble), we discovered the Thieves Guild had sabotaged our headquarters (and like half the buildings in town), and we cast limited wish to complete Adrian’s quest (restore his memories).  But no gold, and no experience points.

But the depressing thing is that my worst fears were realized: I had missed too much time, and was basically a tourist in an intricate adventure story.  I didn’t understand most of what was happening in the dungeon, the political shenanigans were opaque to me, and because I hadn’t helped recover the limited wish scroll I didn’t get a vote in how to use it.  (Not that I blame them!  This is a symptom, not a cause.)  I’m a short-timer, and therefore a second class citizen.

A new player joined our group today, and it’s interesting to compare experiences.  I think Lisa, playing the Lydio the Amazing Spider-Dwarf, was every bit as confused as I was.  But she also seemed pretty excited and intrigued.  I wonder if that’s because this was the excitement of learning more about a strange new environment, versus my sadness at learning less.  She’s got something to look forward to.  Whereas I’ll probably continue to miss more and more hours of play (I already know I can’t make the next game), and a campaign that I had once knew fairly well will become increasingly remote.  It’s like a gamer version of Flowers for Algernon.

Anyway, it’s something to think about as I reevaluate my relationship with the hobby.

None of this is a reflection on Tavis’s GM style, which is uniformly excellent.  Nor is it a reflection on the other players, who are a lot of fun.  (Chris, I want to see that picture of the sad-eyed griffon-puppy.  And it was nice to meet you, Nils and Lisa!)  Everyone else at the table was having a pretty good time.  But it kind of felt like going over to your friend’s house to watch him play video games.  It’s fun to hang out, but that’s a different kind of fun than being able to collaborate creatively with your peers.


8 Responses to “sometimes the bar eats you”

  1. October 4, 2009 at 12:56 am

    Oh, forgot to mention that we ran into some Labyrinth Lord players in the same venue, who play in Staten Island. Might have to make contact one of these days.

  2. October 5, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    James, I think your assumptions about disassociation from the game are unfounded. Sure, if you’d missed twenty sessions of a heavily plot-oriented game, you might find yourself out of your depth, but even then, it only requires a short cramming session with other players or the DM to catch up. In an adventuring-heavy game like this one, you just need to spend a few minutes of downtime asking questions to catch up. It’s what I did to get a handle on things, and I’ve played far fewer sessions of the game in question than you have.

    As a general rule, in a sociable roleplaying game, one’s fellow players will be pleased to help one catch up on what’s going on. This is especially true when the DM is focusing on the actions of a subset of the group, as is common in town-based adventuring; talk to someone else who isn’t currently under the spotlight, and you’re giving them something to do! And don’t forget that you can ask your questions in-character. Roleplay your inquiries and they become *part of the game*. Turn your troubles into fun!

  3. October 5, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Well: if the problem is simply not knowing stuff, as you point out that’s pretty easily fixed, and I had a lot of fun peppering people with questions before the game in order to catch myself up. So it’s not like I wasn’t doing my homework.

    While my knowledge of the setting was adequate in theory, I didn’t have anything resembling mastery or immediacy. Everything was remote (unsurprisingly). I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d become a hireling in my own adventure.

    It’s not that I didn’t contribute! During the tense stand-off with Philomena the Enchantress, I resolutely guarded our escape route, which turns out not to have been necessary in retrospect but there were a couple moments when that seemed to be critically important.

    But I feel like I’ve hit a wall in terms of my participation. The funnest part of Dungeons & Dragons isn’t fighting monsters or even hauling away treasure: it’s watching the campaign setting evolve and reverberate to the barbaric yawps of the players. It’s the long-form RPG equivalent of watching the sunrise or a flower bloom. Savoring the long-term development of the campaign setting is sort of the point of this style of play, and I’m not going to be able to appreciate it the way it ought to be appreciated.

    Now, there’s also the pleasure of outsmarting a fiendish dungeon etc. etc. but that doesn’t really require a long-form campaign: you can do it with a one-shot. The trouble is that the dungeon-delving side of the game is unpredictably between 25-50% of any particular 6-hour session depending on set-up and “what now?” dithering (which is hugely relevant for the long-term development stuff but frustrating from the “let’s delve! now!” perspective).

    And the question is, what does all this mean for me as a player? I’m still working that out.

  4. 4 tavisallison
    October 7, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    I think I hear what you’re saying, James. I’ve been impressed by how the party has become empowered not so much by leveling up or getting new stuff, but rather by mastering information about what’s going on and resources that let them get more information. That empowerment creates the possibility that some players will be relatively disempowered, I reckon.

    It’s tougher because you definitely invested a bunch of effort in gaining knowledge-is-power. I had a lot of fun answering your questions before the game – it flattered my own mastery and impressed upon me how much lore has accumulated in just a dozen or so sessions of play. So maybe the issue is that other people had the personal connection to the lore that comes from seeking it out despite adversity, while for you it was hand-me-downs?

    One thing to talk about is your experience as a player. I definitely want to have you participating in & enjoying the campaign whenever you can, and don’t want to let the accretion of lore become a barrier to new or casual players! From my end of things, I suspect we’re approaching the end of a period of expansion of information – the possibilities unlocked by the last info-hoard will be played out before too long, and some of the new possibilities (like the teleporter in the temple of Athena) go towards avenues where no one knows much yet. That might make it easier to make both regulars and drop-ins feel like they have equal stakes, and if we can think of other ways to do so I’m all for it.

    Another thing to discuss is how & why this happened! I feel like I started the White Sandbox based on much less information than you had for the Black Peaks (your forum post about that would make a great blog post, btw). Digging into the Caverns of Thracia certainly created a lot of complexity, aided by player-driven information initiatives like Maldoor’s map. It seems like players want to accumulate lore the same way (and for the same reasons) they hoard magic items, but I’d only ever thought about how the latter could be unbalancing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Past Adventures of the Mule

October 2009

RPG Bloggers Network

RPG Bloggers Network

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog & get email notification of updates.

Join 1,054 other followers

%d bloggers like this: