Yesterday, I played my first game of Numenera, Monte Cook's role-playing magnum opus. Before the game, I also snuck in half of a game of Thunderstone with two other players who showed up early.
Thunderstone went considerably better than my last attempts to play it (see my blog posts titled "Too Fast, Too Hard"), and it was a lot of fun. I'm pretty sure I might have even won, but then the last player showed up for Numenera, and since I publicized this meetup for that game, we quit Thunderstone.
I wanted everyone to make characters from scratch at the table, so we went over character creation first. The book made character creation sound like it shouldn't take longer than 20-30 minutes, and I would, overall, call that accurate. It did take longer, but that was mainly because there was a lot of musings and asides throughout the process. Character creation went smooth and easy. Part of what made the process so smooth was the abundance of Numenera paraphenilia that we had on hand. When I promoted this meetup during the previous D&D session two weeks ago, something about the game really struck a chord with Jim. He slipped into a bit of a mini-obsession, buying every single material available for the recently-released game, and hunting down all kinds of community add-ons and Kickstarter extras. He printed all of this material, put it in a binder, and had it ready at the table. He even had a system of colored beads and mini plastic containers for the stat pools! It was quite impressive, though he tells me his wife was not so impressed. I told him to tell her I only introduced him to the game, and I take no responsibility for the ensuing obsession. That's Monte's fault.
The game itself went pretty well, but I cut it short due to the extra time we spent on character creation. I also wanted to tailor further installments of the game to the specific characters that were created. We didn't do much more than two or three scenes: an introduction to the village the players were from, and then an attack on said village by mutants.
After the session, I received some interesting criticism. Jim (the budding Numenera addict) said he was mildly disappointed that the adventure devolved into one big fight. He had fun, he said, but he expected this game to be about discovery and exploration, and instead I plunged them all into a chaotic battle around their home. I did explain that we only played a small part of a larger adventure, and the rest of the adventure is considerably-less combat oriented, but I still found myself musing on that comment the rest of the day. I had a golden opportunity to show everyone what Numenera is about, and I blew it. I'm not completely disappointed, because I know what's coming down the road for the players and I think they'll be happy in the long run, but I was a little disappointed in myself for a typical combat scenario to be the start of the game. Jim, this guy who so clearly loves this game already, didn't feel like the adventure was completely in the spirit of Numenera. Looking back, I can completely see where he's coming from, and I have plans in motion to address his concerns for next weekend.
Some less-useful criticism came from HZ. She told me she wanted to see more roleplaying, moments after she sent me a multi-page email discussing her characters abilities, powers, and backstory. HZ is a new player; yesterday's Numenera session was her first time playing a tabletop RPG. Normally, I LOVE having new players. Bringing new people into the hobby is one of my favorite things to do. It's part of why I tend to publicly post my RPG groups instead of going private with a smaller group of friends. Every player I have brought in so far has been an eager student to the hobby, and were willing to go with the flow, which I think is very important for new players (sometimes, the only advice I'll give new players in my games is "whatever happens, roll with it!")
HZ is a different, rarer breed of new player, one I've encountered in the past numerous times, but have had the good fortune of not having to run across since making my games public. HZ is one of those new players who fails to grasp that this is a group activity. She thinks she understands this, but her wordy critique and over-thinking of her character are dead giveaways. What she really wants to do is lead the group, and have both myself and the other players play the game she wants to play. If she were a veteran player with a grand, ambitious vision, I might indulge this fancy of hers. But this is her first game ever, and I've been doing this for over 20 years, so I consider her "helpful hints on ways to get players roleplaying," unnecessary at best, insulting and condescending at worst.
The question now, of course, is what do I do about this? I'm still not sure. However, the whole thing has got me reconsidering my stance on public gaming. I have met dozens of fantastic people in the past year since I've been hosting RPGs for the public. I have all of their emails and phone numbers. It would be nothing for me to hand-pick my favorite group of gamers and begin a real game with them. Something substantial. Something like the vision of Numenera that Jim wants to see. It may be time to settle down and have a committed, long-term game, and not just my average Sunday RPG Meetup....