Expanding on My Procedures for Open Table Gaming

I’m responding to some questions by irken][nvader on my previous blog post.

I would love it if you can fill in some details about a few things:

  • can you expand on: “Set expectations about DCC (and old school gaming)”
  • what about: “Look for connecting pieces”
  • why “Assume that I may need to run something different”, and how different? Different adventure? Different world/campaign? Different game?

Set expectations about DCC (and old school gaming)

When new players join the table, I recite something along these lines:

We will be playing a Dungeon Crawl Classics character funnel. Each of you will have 4 fragile characters to start. The goal is to make it through the dungeon with at least one of them alive. In campaign play, the survivor(s) would be your character(s) in further adventures. It won’t be easy, and you should think of your characters as pawns. Don’t risk them all at once.

My Dungeon Crawl Classics Agenda and Advice post has more on this topic.

Look for connecting pieces

I have run 3 funnels in Bitterweed Barrow. Joan has run 2 more. Each funnel creates a few possible subplots or ideas.

In each of the funnels, Joan has been the consistent player. To help connect characters from one funnel group to another funnel group, I look for things to connect.

A holy writ discovered in one funnel will come up later and may inter-relate with a map from another funnel.

Assume that I may need to run something different

At present, when I show up at the game store, if I have quorom (me and 2 other players), I’m going to run DCC. I have a primary crew, that is presently in the Tower of the Stargazer. My assumption is I will run that.

If there are players without characters, I’ll do what I can to incorporate some new level 0 characters. Otherwise, the table has one shared character (Obexa the Agent being a key example).

I’m going to encourage them to begin hiring hirelings and henchmen. There is wisdom in having more than 4 characters in your group.

If I don’t have two players from that group, I’ll run another funnel. I’m building up Bitterweed Barrow to be a place where people are coming to seek their wealth (see my “Guess Who’s Coming to Bitterweed Barrow” blog post for these procedures).

I also make sure that I’m bringing the following to each session:

  • 30 or so random characters
  • My copy of Barrowmaze Complete
  • Extra pencils
  • Extra dice

My Procedure for Facilitating Open Table Gaming

I am 7 sessions into a drop-in Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) campaign that I run at my local game store – Better World Books. I have made a personal commitment for the foreseeable future that whenever possible I will run an open table RPG session at the game store.

My Procedure

On Friday check my schedule, if it’s open:

Set aside at least two hours of solid preparation time to:

During commutes to work:

On game day (Thursday):

  • Show up at least 15 minutes beforehand
  • Bring pencils, character sheets, dice, paper, rulebooks
  • Create an open and inviting table
  • Set expectations about DCC (and old school gaming)
  • Assume that I may need to run something different
  • Say yes an awful lot; require luck checks
  • Take some notes

Afterwards

What is Working

Regular Schedule

The regular schedule is mission critical; Every week is optimal. I also run regardless of who is present.

Open Table

Keeping the table open – I have now played with at least 13 new players, introducing them to DCC and my interpretation of old school gaming. Each table has different dynamics; Seeing the camaraderie build over the session is rewarding. I do my best to ensure that I have an open and inclusive table.

Writing Session Reports

I’ve made a personal commitment to writing extensive session reports and sharing them across different channels. I also want people to see my session development process. James Maliszewski’s Grognardia posts are my inspirations. He developedDwimmermount, his megadungeon, session by session; Encoding lessons learned into the random tables, encounters, and history of Dwimmermount.

Writing Random Tables

I have found writing random tables helps my campaign preparation. I think about different directions the campaign could go, but don’t commit to going there.

Joining the Road Crew

The thing that tipped the scales in my decision to run a FLGS open-table game instead of a house game was the Goodman Games road crew program. The table appreciates the small tokens of appreciation sent by Goodman Games. It also builds in accountability into my proces.

Focusing on the Campaign and not the Characters

Yes, I think about what the King of Elfland demands of his patronee; Or how stealing a few silver coins from a road side shrine can have dramatic consequences. But my focus is on making sure I understand the campaign world as it emerges. That I can convey that understanding to the players. And that the players can build assumptions and take actions based on their understanding.

Start Them at 0-Level

New players start with a handful of 0-level characters. They are mixed with the seasoned 1st level characters. I have found this works, and the players grow attached to their survivors.

It also means that there is a steady influx of characters, implying that no characters are foundational for the campaign. The world goes on without them.

When in Doubt, Call for a Luck Check

Players are always coming up with plans; Some more outlandish than others. But DCC provides a perfect mechanic to address these brilliant plans; Call for a Luck check. Either roll under or hit a DC. Regardless it lets them know that Luck is important.

Sidebar: I am contemplating adding the DCC Lankmar “Fleeting Luck” rules to the game, but don’t know if that is yet the style I am after. I’ll test drive it in another funnel.

What Have I Done Differently

I have a deep love for campaign play. Characters developing. Growing a shared narrative amongst friends.

For years I kept trying to force a campaign by orchestrating schedules and clearing times that we could play. That is a lot of work. Now the requirements for this game are: I am running a game on Thursday, come if you are able.

This flips my previous dependency on others. If the game captivates the players, they will make time for my game.

I’m seeing the emergence of the campaign I desire. Seven sessions is the longest campaign I’ve run since running The Red Hand of Doom in 3E.

Dungeon Crawl Classics Agenda and Advice

Dungeon Crawl Classics is inspired by the literature that inspired the original Dungeons & Dragons. DCC is an homage to the play style of 1974. It’s a game of fantastical adventure, players skill, and collaborative world building.

The Character is Dead, Long Live the Campaign

You will lose characters. Yet without the risk of losing characters, their accomplishments are hollow. If you find yourself without a character, roll up some new ones, and I’ll introduce them straight away; We are all here to play the game, not listen to others playing the game.

We are at the table to play to find out what happens. We will explore the wending paths of story set in a world unlike ours.

As a Judge, I will strive for consistency in adjudicating the game. I am playing the game to challenge the players (and characters); I want to see them succeed, but I also will strive to challenge them.

Principles

Taking a page from Dungeon World, my agenda for judging a DCC game is to:

  • Portray a fantastic world
  • Fill the characters’ lives with adventure
  • Play to find out what happens

Some Advice from a Novice DCC Judge

Low-level characters are fragile. Spend your resources on recruiting some hirelings. There’s strength in numbers. These hirelings will serve both as a buffer to the “main characters” and as a pool of potential replacements.

Magic is unpredictable. This is the greatest deviation from original D&D. Unlike D&D, you need to roll to cast your spell. If you have a poor roll, you’ll lose the spell without effect. The higher your roll, the greater the degree of success and potency of your spell.

Engage the world by asking questions. Test your assumptions about the situation; Ask questions and check with the Judge if this assumption holds true. Ask questions about what your characters are experiencing. When you do engage with the world, state your intentions and any precautions.

Additional Advice from other Sources

Some of the player’s advice from Matt Finch’s Old School Primer (a free PDF)

  1. View the entire area you’ve mapped out as the battleground; don’t plan on taking on monsters in a single room. They may try to outflank you by running down corridors. Establish rendezvous points where the party can fall back to a secure defensive position.
  2. Scout ahead, and try to avoid wandering monsters which don’t carry much treasure. You’re in the dungeon to find the treasure-rich lairs. Trying to kill every monster you meet will weaken the party before you find the rich monsters.
  3. Don’t assume you can defeat any monster you encounter.
  4. Keep some sort of map, even if it’s just a flow chart. If you get lost, you can end up in real trouble – especially in a dungeon where wandering monster rolls are made frequently.
  5. Ask lots of questions about what you see. Look up. Ask about unusual stonework. Test floors before stepping.
  6. Protect the magic-user. He’s your nuke.
  7. Hire some cannon fodder. Don’t let the cannon fodder start to view you as a weak source of treasure.
  8. Spears can usually reach past your first rank of fighters, so a phalanx of hirelings works well.
  9. Check in with the grizzled one-armed guy in the tavern before each foray; he may have suddenly remembered more details about the area.

Why I am a Tabletop RPG Cheerleader

This evening and yesterday evening, I spent quite a bit of time preparing an informational website to help GenCon attendees engage with Games on Demand.

At this point, there is more work to do. Most of work is in other peoples hands.

I still have to write some procedures. And complete a few technical chores (eg Cross-referencing games and times). So of course I’m writing this blog post.

I do all of this because I am passionate about gaming.

Gaming has strengthened and enriched many of my friendships and created an opening for many more.

Tabletop gaming is a powerful social activity with a dose of mental calisthenics. Powerful in that I am sitting around a table interacting with other people in a shared imagined space. Returning to the land of make-believe, where as I child I would delve. It is a place of learning, exploration, and creativity.

I can both game and metagame because I am fortunate. My resources are abundant:

  • Spare time
  • Education
  • Adequate Income

I dwell in the upper echelons of Maslow’s hierarchy and relative to the world, the upper echelons of income and wealth.

So I do what I can to help ease the barriers of other people participating in this grand hobby of mine. Which has meant that I have had the privilege of interacting with a lot of people.

And I do my best to interact with each person as a unique individual. For the most part the people have been more similar than different – See: Not all that diverse.

So I am wondering how I can step beyond being a cheerleader to being an evangelist – To help show lots of different people why tabletop RPGs are awesome. To bring them into the larger community and help them find their group.

I want to increase diversity in tabletop gaming. People with baggage, privileges, and challenges so different from mine. I want creations in the larger gaming community that make me smile, think, empathize, and squirm.

I don’t need the larger gaming community to be comfortable nor echoing through a like-minded room. Because in this diversity, I can grow and see what this grand hobby of mine can do for me.