It all started with a giant game of chess . . .
In one fantasy themed game that I ran the group encountered a giant chess board inside a hidden city. In order to get past the chess board they discovered runes saying they had to play out a game with it. To simulate this in an interesting way I actually found a Garden Sized Giant Chess Set which we set up in the living room and all stood around for the scenario. (They didn’t actually get to play chess, as once the first move was made, the pieces moved themselves in a predestined way each round. They did however have to fight off hordes of creatures which descended from the ceiling while climbing and jumping between chess pieces.)
This was one of the most awesome gaming moments I’ve ever had. Aside from the battlefield being a giant chess set that we used the miniatures on, and playing loose and fast with movement rules so that players could pull off awesome things, the biggest change was that we weren’t playing around a table, all sitting and waiting for something to happen. Gaming while standing and having to move to get to the tactical ground made everyone feel like they were more involved. It also upped the energy level in the room, made it feel more interactive.
Recreating The Effect
Now, understanding that the unique dynamics of the chess board might have had some effect, I decided to recreate the experiment. Instead of the usual 6 foot table, I got one small table that was used for the map and the minis, then had everyone sit on couches or chairs around the room and roll on small side tables. This changed the dynamic somewhat during social interactions and downtime, but it really changed it and got back to that same level of excitement when everyone had to get up and move around the table (with a pretty standard map) in order to move their characters. Players would stand there looking over the map and trying to decide positioning and movement. They would pace around waiting for their turn instead of sitting back down. At one point no one was sitting and we all looked like generals hovering over a tactical war map.
Now, I fully agree that this won’t work with all games and with all groups. My group switched back to table gaming for most sessions after that, but we’ve constantly gone back to standing and moving around for a few scenes, or when I bring some unique prop that we wanted to interact with. Geeks, by our nature, are fairly lazy and standing and moving for 6 to 8 hours for a gaming session can get tiresome. It can however change the dynamic for some situations, bringing an extra amount of energy and involvement to certain scenes in your game.
Pros To Getting Away From The Table:
- The table inherently puts some distance between the players, removing it removes a mental barrier to interaction.
- Less distraction as everyone focuses on the central element, and not on what else is on the table.
- If some gaming is done at the table, and some is done away from the table, it changes the dynamic between the scenes and makes some elements feel more important.
- Players tend to roleplay and get into character more while standing.
- Works really well for games where conversation or roleplaying is the primary element.
- Have to get up, and sit down, and get up, and sit down. It can get to be like playing Musical Chairs and might disrupt the flow of some scenarios.
- Harder to monitor rolls happening on side tables.
- Less space for materials without a central table.
- If a player tends to burrow into the RPG books at the table while gaming, they might find themselves more prone to doing so.
Places where it seems to be most effective:
- When using a prop or large set piece for the game.
- When getting closer to the larp end of the spectrum.
- When running a game that doesn’t require a map, but uses some central device (i.e. the Jenga tower in dread).
So, have you ever gamed without a table? I’d suggest trying it at least once. If you have, what was your experience like? What pros and cons do you see with the setup, and what situations did you find it most useful for? Come and sit down at my not-table and share.