“Is someone in here?” The caretaker walked into the study, surprised to find a candle burning on the old wooden desk, red wax dripping down the side to puddle like blood against the base of the silver holder in which it sat. Beside it lay several sheets of parchment, an inkwell, and a quill made from one of the ravens that roosted at the top of the tower. The study’s sole chair, plain wood but for the crushed red velvet seat cushion, was moved back from the desk, angled slightly toward the only window in the room, as if its occupant had gotten up to look outside.
“Who is in here? Reveal yourself, or you will find yourself in a world of trouble.” The caretaker’s sparse white hair and liver spots on his face and hands belied his vigor, as he confidently reached inside of his coat to grasp his wand. As his fingers closed around the smooth mahogany handle, he recalled with wry amusement that his master had made him caretaker because his skill with wands allowed him to maintain everything here without touching it directly. He sighed sadly, though, for it had been a number of years since he last saw his master, and the wrinkles that spiderwebbed across his face were proof of that.
From the dark corner near the window, the silence was broken by the deliberate echo of boots on the wooden floor. The familiarity of that sound brought a myriad of memories with it, all related intimately to the tower’s owner, his own master. Entering the light shed by the candle, the figure stepped purposefully forward, black leather pants and blue tunic covered almost carelessly by a fur robe hanging open. The wide-brimmed hat atop the figure’s head did nothing to stop the candlelight from revealing his identity: the tower’s master.
Shock at seeing a master he had all but assumed was dead numbed his fingers, and the caretaker’s wand slid back into its pocket. “It IS you,” he uttered, joy tinged with confusion, because the last time he’d seen the master, it was as the latter was pulled through a portal leading to a world full of molten metal, murderous machines, and belching smoke…
First of all, it’s oddly appropriate to a blog that talks about creativity that I wrote that in first, second, and third person point of view, before settling on what you read above. I learned a bit about proofreading, editing, and the importance of choosing the right voice for your composition. But, I digress..
The point was to poke a little fun at myself for how long it’s been since I last posted on this blog. Unfortunately, it turned into something else, and I think I like the results better than my initial idea (talking about dust and disuse). Where was I, though? Oh, yes! I was going to write a post about the many different roleplaying games out, the adventures for them, and how I don’t have enough time to accomplish even a fraction of them.
First, I suppose I should list what games I mean. This list includes many things that catch my eye for one reason or another, and there’s no allegiance to system or setting or genre.
- Out of the Abyss (D&D 5e) – Underdark campaign that pits the players against the drow and the Demon Lords of the Abyss
- Reign of Winter (Pathfinder RPG/D&D 5e) – Go gallivanting around time and space in Baba Yaga’s Tardis, er, Hut
- Carrion Crown (Pathfinder RPG/D&D 5e) – Gothic horror story set on Golarion, and using standard fantasy tropes
- Jade Serpent (Pathfinder RPG/D&D 5e) – A travel campaign, where you escort a character from a western fantasy town, over the top of the world (ice, snow, and giants!), and end in an eastern fantasy setting, complete with Oni and Shugenja.
- Strange Aeons (Pathfinder RPG/D&D 5e) – Lovecraftian fantasy campaign. Madness is a thing, and you will face things that should not be. Nuff said.
- “Ravenhead” – gothic horror set in the Victorian era, loosely based on the album by Orden Ogan; original idea. (Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death 2e/3e)
- “Ravenhead” – gothic horror set in the modern era, based more directly off the album by Orden Ogan; newer idea that might better fit the concept album. (new World of Darkness)
- The Dark Eye (TDE 5) – Any of the numerous one-shot modules (The Witch’s Dance, A Goblin More or Less, The Molted Serpent, The Thorwal Drum, Kibakadabra) that will be coming with my copy of the core rules for The Dark Eye 5th Edition, using the German roleplaying game rules that I’ve been going on about for most of the last month.
Besides this list, I also would enjoy running Castles & Crusades for a flavor of old-school gaming (either a series of one-shots, or a campaign idea from several years back that involved a fallen god and escaped demon thanks to the PCs) or Star Wars RPG (using Edge of the Empire to run Jewel of Yavin – you have to steal the eponymous gem from Cloud City under the watchful eye of Lando Calrissian). Given 5e’s approach to rules, I could conceivably convert a bunch of PlaneScape adventures and run some outer planes adventures based in the City of Doors.
Why don’t I, then? It seems I don’t lack for people interested in playing.
The catch is very simple: planning a game takes time and effort. Converting a campaign (like with a Pathfinder to D&D conversion) would take even longer. I don’t have as much time now, as I once believed I did. Well, to be more honest, I am not as open to spending as much time on converting/planning a game now, as I did when I was 24-25, in part because I have more things vying for my attention now, and in part because when I’m tired now, I’m *TIRED*, and that extends to far more than just the physical.
So, that begs the question: what game above should take priority and receive the precious gift of my attention for development into a full-fledged campaign? Sadly, that also isn’t a cut and dried answer, as my enthusiasm level for a game changes from week to week. I can guarantee that each of those games above have held my singular enthusiasm in the past, and that I wanted nothing more than to run that game. Then, I have an “oh shiny!” moment, and I want to do something different.
It doesn’t help, either, if I am in the middle of a game. I can be running something I was really enjoying, and if I get a sense of a new game that excites me, I will find myself subconsciously wanting to end my current game to switch. It’s not that I dislike the old game, or that a story isn’t capable of holding my attention. Rather, over the years, I’ve grown used to following my level of excitement, and doing that.
Back when we started gaming regularly in 2000, we switched games every six to eight weeks or so. We rotated DMs so everyone could play, and we even rotated games as well (my D&D, another’s D&D, Brad’s Shadowrun, Mike’s GURPS, back to D&D, etc). While the idea of infinitely rolling up new characters is no longer nearly as appealing, keeping the mechanics and game engaging is definitely something that matters to me.
Also, if you exclude the entire reason I just listed, there’s also the fact that your friends coming over as much as 4-5 times a week to play games is a thing of the past. Now, at best, you can get a group over once a week or so. Factor in that, in some cases, it can’t even be weekly, so it’s even rarer. In the end, not only enthusiasm, but timing, limits the potential game nights.
When we do get together, we generally have about 4-5 hours at absolute most to game. How many of those would a game that runs players from 1 to 15 take? I think a general conceit regarding the recent editions of D&D is that a campaign should last around a year of once-weekly sessions. Factor in other obligations that limit when we play, and we have far fewer than 52 potential sessions a year.
Using Travis’s game as a guide, we started it in mid-March last year as level 4 heroes. We played pretty regularly until around late May, and we wound up breaking until July. We played semi-regularly until October-ish, and then took another break until mid-November, wrapping up the main first arc on December 7, 2015 (if anyone with a better memory wants to correct that, please do so). By rough count, that’s around 20-24 sessions. Researching Pathfinder Adventure Path duration on their forums comes up with around 45-60 sessions of about 4 hours each.
Interestingly, I don’t think I want to run a single campaign that lasts three years. I also find it interesting that knowing roughly how much time will be spent on gaming per year neatly addresses some of the concerns this post was to address. Look at it like this. We game 24 times a year, and Travis is running his game. We cut off one session a month for Leif, and Travis’s game is down to 12 times a year, unless we are able to gather more often. So, despite the fact that we believe we play one game more often, the actual number of sessions proves how little we actually play. (Again, this *IS* using the rough estimate of 24 sessions a year, or slightly less than biweekly.)
It also makes it easier, in my mind, to deliberately say, “I’m going to run a game for 5 weeks, doing one adventure, and when it’s over, we move on to something else.” Heck, the DM could hold onto copies of the characters, and if he runs that same kind of game (system/setting), he can dig the existing characters back out, as players want. My group back in 2000-2005 were far more likely to try out a new concept than playing the same old character time and again.
Now, this mindset only applies if you don’t want to run a long-term game. Travis with his game will certainly want to run more than 5 sessions at a time. Interestingly, while Travis could plan a long-term game, he could also plan for breaks (like the December-April one recently), and the group could decide who wants to run what during the hiatus.
Another thing that seems to be repeating is the timing of our sessions. We played pretty heavily in the spring last year, took part of May and June off, and resumed in July. This year, we’ve played pretty regularly (switching between mine and Travis’s, of course), and took part of May and June off. It will probably be July before weekly gaming is a thing again. Is there a trend that we can take advantage of to plan for later this year, and into next?
All of this does suggest to me that, until Travis is done with his story, planning a long-term game of my own is not likely to bear fruit. Far from feeling defeated as a result, it instead tells me that I am free to run that one-shot World of Darkness game for “Ravenhead”, pick an adventure from The Dark Eye to run when I get that material, or even dig Star Wars back out to run Jewel of Yavin. Heck, I could convert PlaneScape to 5e and run one of those or even run Castles & Crusades. Four to six sessions in what would’ve otherwise been a dry spell is a good thing, in my opinion.
On the flip side, though, “Out of the Abyss”, “Carrion Crown”, “Reign of Winter”, “Jade Serpent”, and “Strange Aeons” are all too involved to begin unless I have an open slate one day for several months at least (read: a new day to run, like Sundays or something). This is liberating, though, as I have, over the course of this post, determined how long I want to stick with a particular game, what I could do with another already running, and what I’m capable of putting together.
Conversely, I could run part one of any of the Pathfinder paths, and stop after that first adventure is done. Once sufficient interest spurs a return, I can go on to part two. The beauty is that, in the meantime between games, my players and I have a chance to reo
This also bodes somewhat well for my Red Sun 5e campaign idea. I can run 3-5 mini-campaigns of 5-10 sessions each, and then move into the “long-term” campaign for the main bit for about 10-15 sessions, and wrap up my story.
So, this seems to have addressed “time” regarding gaming. The next question is pointedly, “what do the people who play in my games look for from their gaming experience?” but that is a question for another time.
If you’re still with me, I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether they agree with mine or not. If I overlooked something, please let me know that, too. Until next time…