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From Con to Con: The Monthly Game
Posted By Walt Ciechanowski On May 22, 2008 @ 9:49 pm In Gaming Conventions,GMing Advice | 4 Comments
In my first post in this series I spoke a little about my experiences at GenCon 2007, concentrating on rookie considerations. Obviously, I’d learned much more than that and my experiences in actually playing con games also remained with me.
Last December, I’d decided that my weekly game, which took place on Fridays ostensibly from 8-11 (although we were usually lucky to get in 2 hours of play), had run its course. I was feeling burnt out and wanted to try something different. I also wanted to step away from a weekly schedule.
While at GenCon, I’d taken the opportunity to play a game of Victoriana 2e that was run by its line developer. As a fan of pseudo-historical gaming, I’d run a yearlong campaign of Victoriana 1e and was eager to try the new edition. I’d also been recently contracted to write supplements for the new edition. As I’d spent most of the fall drafting material for this game, I definitely had it on the brain. I decided that the new game would be Victoriana.
I also decided to move to a monthly schedule. This allowed me to recruit a couple of fans of the first edition of the game that couldn’t commit to more than once a month (and usually only one of them could make it). I realized that a monthly schedule would have its own challenges, so I set my ground rules.
Treating the Monthly Game Like a Con Game
Essentially, my ground rules just acknowledged the obvious. Players could not be expected to remember things from month to month and player absences could become a real problem (imagine trying to educate a player on what happened a month ago while she tries to mesh that with her memories from two months ago!). Recalling my experiences at GenCon, I decided to treat my monthly game like a monthly con.
First, I had the characters designed ahead of time according to my needs. Out of five players in the group, I only had one that insists on designing his own character, so I set up a special time with him and allowed him to do so. I then designed the rest of the group myself (since I’ve known all of my players for years, it’s easy for me to design something that I know they’d enjoy playing).
Second, I decided that each game would be self-contained. We would set aside 6 hours a month and I would run the adventure from start to finish. This would allow a player to be absent without disrupting play; he would simply join the next adventure.
Third, the players were expected to accept the “amazing coincidences” that brought their characters together. Since I was using published adventures, I had to do what I could to get the group together.
Fourth, I would have to monitor the pacing and clip tangents in order to ensure that we would finish in time.
Overall, this model has worked fairly well. I’ll be getting into the challenges of this type of campaign more in-depth as this series progresses, but I’ll share some general observations here.
Players have to hit the ground running. There’s little time to establish a character in a self-contained session. Completing the adventure is the primary goal, and there probably isn’t enough time to get sidetracked. The player needs to showcase her character’s personality and motivations while participating in the group goal.
Pacing is everything. I was used to pacing organically. After all, there’s always next session if things move slowly, right? Now, I had to get through an entire adventure in one sitting. While we’d set aside 6 hours and the players were willing to go overtime to do it, I still felt the pressure to finish. Thankfully, many of my short session tricks helped.
You control advancement. And I mean “control” in every sense of the word. Unless you are playing a game that all the players know well, it will be tough for them to make decisions about how to spend XP. If you regularly advance the characters every session (easy to do in games where XP is spent on individual goodies), then the players are going to have to trust you to upgrade their sheets and learn about their new abilities in play.
There is less emotional investment. Sure your players enjoy the campaign. They show up every month in spite of their busy schedule, right? Still, it’s tough to get emotionally invested in the game when you’re only playing once a month. This is especially hard with “roleplayers” (and I use the term affectionately; I’m married to one!) when you’re constantly interrupting their moments to push the adventure along. The best advice I can give is know your players and attempt to give them some spotlight time doing what they enjoy.
I apologize if I rambled a bit on this one. Just before starting this campaign, my group became a playtest group, so I’ll go into more detail into how our focus shifted next post!
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