It was twenty years ago today,
Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play,
They’ve been going in and out of style
But they’re guaranteed to raise a smile.
– The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
As best I can calculate, today is the 40th anniversary of my first tabletop RPG session, in which I played a 1st level wizard in a game of White Box D&D in a pub in Oxford with fellow members of the Tolkien Society. Good times, then and now, and to quote the Grateful Dead as well, “what a long, strange trip it’s been”.
Mike Mearls’ description in the podcast of “not playing the game you wanted to play” resonated with me, and combined with the usual end-of-summer-holiday weltschmerz has me considering all manner of crazy schemes, a kind of gaming mid-life crisis I suppose. Mearls’ argument is that there are gaps between RPG sessions when you want to play but can’t, and while gamers used to fill those gaps by (say) reading splatbooks or designing new vehicles, since the advent of videogames people use that downtime to play something else on their PC or phone. Thus their gaming time and dollars are going into other games, not the supplemental materials for their main tabletop RPG they used to buy in the 1980s and 1990s.
The challenge Mearls mentions is how to keep D&D relevant and interesting in that environment, and it looks like the answer is what Gary Ray calls “D&D Stable IP Edition” and the videogame industry calls “maintenance mode”; nobody’s working on the core game engine any more, and new content packs (for 5E, campaign books) are released just often enough to keep things ticking over.
The challenge I see is how to keep campaign setup time for a homebrew or published campaign comparable to the time it takes to download a new game from Steam, and I address that challenge with Savage Worlds.
Meanwhile, this line of thought makes me realise I’m still addressing gaps between sessions the old way, reading about and preparing for the next game – making a hobby of not playing the game I want to play. Solo gaming, generating setting material and so on are displacement activities, things I do because I can’t play what I want as much as I’d like. Food for thought there.
As to the weltschmerz-induced crazy schemes, experience teaches that the urge will pass in time.