Lessons from 2017

Posted: 16 December 2017 in Reflections

“I never heard of a puppeteer refusing to face a problem. He may merely be deciding how fast to run, but he’ll never pretend the problem isn’t there.” – Larry Niven, At the Core

Life changes. Not always in the directions I would like, but wishing things were different does not make them so, and I must adapt to what is, rather than what I would prefer.

I’m Getting Older

I’m 60 now. Let’s optimistically assume I have another 20 years of gaming left; I have enough material for at least twice that already, so I don’t need anything new, and anything new I want to run has to knock something else out of the queue, simple as that.

My eyesight is deteriorating with age as one might expect. Printing things at 70% at putting them in a handy A5 display book has given way to printing them at full size and using an A4 one.

Neither of those have a material impact on actual play, just a psychological one on me. Growing old largely sucks; but when I hear my grandson singing Christmas carols to himself as he plays in the next room, I have to admit, it’s not all bad.


Both story arc campaigns (namely Collateral Damage and Hearts of Stone) have collapsed; it’s just too difficult to schedule a consistent group of players on a regular basis. Every carefully-plotted story arc campaign I’ve run since the 1990s has failed in a similar fashion, so I’m done with those now.

It feels like my campaigns last forever, but the blog lets me check that, and actually they average about 30 sessions each over 1-2 years. I may fantasise about running a long-term, immersive campaign like (say) MAR Barker, but it doesn’t seem to be in my nature.

Group membership is transient, as ever; Collateral Damage has dropped from eight players to two, Shadows of Keron from nine to two, Hearts of Stone is down from 11 to 3 regular players and 4 intermittent, Pawns of Destiny from 6 to 0 as the players move on to Edge of the Empire. I’m currently too busy with work to play solitaire games.

On the plus side, the surviving members of Hearts of Stone have persuaded me to run a Mongoose Traveller game with a naval theme next year. However, between work, exams, and overseas travel, the gang won’t be back together again until at least early February now.


Two hours isn’t enough for a proper session, however you slice it. I have to find a way to extend it to something more like four hours; start earlier and finish later, I think.

Videogames are better at processing complex combat rules and characters with intricate skill trees. A live GM is better at weaving unexpected PC activity into the narrative, and can still hope to provide a more interesting story overall. There’s no point trying to beat the machines on their home turf, so it’s back to the Old School approach; emphasising player cunning over character statistics, and using dice as a last resort.

Some of my players like simple rules that don’t get in the way, and they’ll be fine with that approach. Others like complex ones, where optimising characters for tactical advantages in combat is part of the fun. The Pawns of Destiny players are firmly in the latter camp, so that campaign is unlikely to return.

Roll20 is focusing my setup too much on battlemats, meaning game sessions are now mostly combat and that’s getting repetitive and boring. That’s a problem with me rather than the software, I think, but it’s still a problem I need to fix, so we’ll try something like Skype next year.


Quite a lot of food for thought this year, and I shall spend the next couple of weeks marinading in single malt and scheming.

Have yourselves a merry little Christmas and a happy New Year, and I’ll see you on the other side.

  1. István says:

    Merry Christmas Andy!

    About attendance problems and campaigns: I think this is a problem for everybody after, let’s say college. I have a group of 7-8 players, but attendance is usually 2-4 (never the same players). What we decided on was to have adventures like in Solomon Kane short stories, rather then long ones like Moorcock novels; they always come to conclusion during one session.

    – they don’t forget clues which they didn’t follow up during play, as every adventure is complete in itself
    – they always have a sense of accomplishment (the case is closed)
    – it doesn’t matter if a completely different group comes together next session
    – we can start every session in medias res
    – we don’t have to remember rules like exploring wilderness or navigating a ship (since they start at the adventures)
    – considering low attendance, we opted to use systems with competent PCs (Scarlet Heroes, Barbarians of Lemuria)

    – a bit more difficult for me (self contained adventures, with minimal hooks to adventures before – I feel it is more work then a traditional sandbox. However there are tons of short modules for 50cent or less)
    – it is not easy to build up a story arc with short episodes only
    – complex mystery scenarios (like those otherwise great Call of Cthulhu investigations) are out of the question

    Generally it works, mainly when the source material also supports this style. (greek mariners/pirates exploring a new island each week, monster of the week, etc.)

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