I want to state here and now so that there is no confusion, I would have a tough time surviving the apocalypse. I'm OK with it, I just thought you should know.
This weekend we were without power due to a windstorm which thwomped its way through the area last Thursday. We dealt with it fairly well, but power wasn't restored until Saturday evening and there was much work to be done to get back into a civilised existence.
Also, a few weeks ago I ran into Brent, the player mentioned in this article. An enthusiastic and thoughtful gamer, Brent unfortunately has no time for the hobby these days.
However, I hope you enjoy this one from the vaults and barring anymore special occasions or weather wonders, we will return to our regularly scheduled blatherings next week...
Life is full of little surprises, learning experiences, and constant change. This might be one reason why humans as a general rule are so resistant to change and so in love with routine. We crave the familiar, and wallow in habit, even if or habit is to constantly reject the habitual and move towards chaos. Yes, even doing things differently every day is a habit.
A couple of things occurred this week which reminded me that change and the unknown are good.
First, one of our longtime members who due to school has become a sometimes member started returning to game night. Now, he maintains that each week will be a crapshoot as to whether work and school and family commitments permit him to show up, but he is adamant that he would try his best. Mostly, because everyone needs to indulge in that thing that helps make the rest of the things tolerable, and for Brent, gaming is one of those things.
He had mentioned in previous weeks that he had been doing a lot of reading on the savage worlds system, and was pretty stoked about the whole thing. I have never had the pleasure of playing that system, but have heard many good things. And to fit with the theme of the article, one should be willing to try new things.
I mentioned to Brent that he was welcome to run a table, but he demurred, pointing out his potential for an inconsistent schedule. I totally understand his reluctance. One thing you must maintain when running a community gaming group is consistency. As I said earlier, people love routine and familiarity, even when playing games which remove them from the familiar. If they keep showing up each week and the game is called off for whatever reason, they start to reexamine where they spend their time and money.
I could tell by the end of our conversation though, that Brent really wanted to play savage worlds. He spoke of the streamlined simplicity of the system, and how much was left in the player's hands to design and flesh out. I'll admit I was more than intrigued. He's a passionate salesman.
In the end, I suggested to him that on any given Thursday, he was more than welcome to show up and take over my table. I have players who are very open and kind and live to try new things. We are of course, knee deep in our Princes of the Apocalypse campaign, but for Brent, I would be happy to suspend that for a week or two if it meant that he got to share this gaming system with us, and be able to give it a shot for his own fulfillment.
Last week he came good on our agreement. While I only know so much of the plot, he decided to run an RPG day adventure set in modern day Wisconsin. Not wanting to spoil things for others, I will say that bad things happen to people on buses in remote locations…
As people arrived, they sat down and looked generally unsure. I was obviously on the wrong side of the screen, and Brent had all the pregens laid out with his other player props for everyone's perusal.
As the basics were explained however, the mood began to change. We still use the same dice, the character sheets were fairly clear and easy to understand, and the system was not an intimidating coagulation of rules and charts and page references. In fact, the core system is often explained on three pages.
Overcoming everybody's initial nervousness, we sat down and got right to it. As a quick review of first impressions, we all thoroughly enjoyed it. It is easy, it is fairly quick, and the simplicity of the design necessitates player creativity. What that facilitated was a raucous session of hair raising adventure which had our grown up table being shushed by the young ones. Of all the nerve.
The lesson here is that sometimes you need to just jump on to the unfamiliar. Start cold on something unexpected and out of the norm and just let it wash over you. None of us were quick to point out any shortcomings, or to immediately start to compare it to other systems such as D&D or Star Wars, which are played quite regularly at our community group. We just let it happen, and it was well worth the adventure.
I’ve often pointed out that humans fear change and the unfamiliar. I am no different. I am a big time routine guy. I have a mental schedule of daily activities that I practice the same way every day, in every way. And if that routine is upset, it can throw me so far off track, I wonder if I’m going to make it back to the realm of sanity. My wife is the perfect foil for that, often and I think sometimes intentionally throwing wrenches and boomerangs and lemmings into the spokes of my habit regime just to see what colour I turn. And for that, I love her.
So the next time someone brings up a new game or system or LARPing, don’t immediately balk or turn up your nose at the suggestion. In fact, don’t think about it at all. So what if you’re
D&D game is about to face the ancient red bad thing of evilness for the last time and rescue Princess Maguffin. It’s nostrils will still be smouldering next week, and it gives her high fancy pantsness-ness another chance to adjust her royal attitude. Dive into deeper waters.
At best, you will discover yet another reason why this pastime is so awesome, at worst, you will find another dark corner of game design to shun in quiet circles. If you never try, how will you know?
The other thing I wanted to point out this week goes hand in hand with the above: If you are the person leading your group down the garden path of this amazing new game, for the love of Gygax, know your stuff and be prepared.
While Brent had to look up the occasional tidbit of information, he was overall VERY familiar with the rules. He explained the core mechanic to us and the spirit of the system quite succinctly and then dove into the game, not giving us a chance to complicate things with our adultness and ideas. He had all of his maps drawn and laid out for his (and our) convenience, yet he also left areas of his battlemat blank, so that we could add to the environment; a very fitting choice for a system that promotes player creativity and influence.
His bus prop was pre constructed, and he did quite a wonderful thing with “minis.” Because the game relies heavily on simplicity and creativity, he cut wooden dowels for the PCs and enemies. The enemies were grey and two different sizes, and the PCs tokens were coloured in six different hues, to match the six pre-gens. The kicker is, that he also coloured the “Benefit” tokens (Bennies) the same as the PCs, creating instant and simple association for the players.
There was also a troubleshooting chart that he had found somewhere in the webworld. It operated under the flow of “If you are having trouble doing A, try B, C, or D, and if you do so, those actions will benefit X, Y, or Z.” This prop came in handy for just about all of us at one point or another during the evening. Brent even printed out a couple of rule summary handouts, but we didn’t use them. Reason is, Brent knew the system well enough that if we asked about whether we could do a thing, he would just tell us, and the rules sheets stayed where they were laid.
We enjoyed ourselves because it was a good game, but the important thing to remember that even the best game in the whole damn ‘verse can be brought low and left wanting in the wrong hands.
So if you are going to try something new, make sure one of you knows how to drive the bus.
A final note to those who endured the recent Blizzardodominonipicus in the United States: I follow Board Game Geek on the Facebooks. So many gaming enthusiasts got together with their friends and family and groups to game out the storm. Many of them were playing favourite games, but just as many seemed excited to use the weather as the perfect excuse to trap their groups into trying new things. I think that’s great. I don’t envy the cleanup that all you lovely folks are having to deal with (of course, living where I do my sympathy only goes so far), but I greatly admire the optimism and palpable excitement and enjoyment you all seemed to exhibit as you posted your updates and summaries.
Except the ones playing Dead of Winter. You all seemed a little...nervous.