Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Ramp-Up Phase

My gaming life moves in phases. So far, the predominant phase has gone something like this:
  1. "The One Shot Phase." Where I host numerous one-shots for various systems throughout the year.
  2. "The Ramp-Up Phase." I eventually get tired of rotating casts and learning new systems, so I try to get a steady group together with an epic, long-term campaign.
  3. "The Failure Phase." The campaign starts, but usually stops soon after. Reasons are numerous, but it almost always comes back to me. I no longer like the system; the group falls apart and I can't put it back together; something happens in my personal/professional life and I no longer have enough time or the proper mindset to run. Whatever; it all falls apart.
  4. "The Regroup Phase." I usually leave RPGs for a couple of weeks/months, moving to board games or video games. The lack of human contact slowly creates a depressive front in me. I respond to this by returning to RPGs, even if it's just "one-shots so I can socialize." Then we start over again at "The One Shot Phase."
This has been the pattern of my gaming life for at least the past three years. Just looking back at all the entries in this blog, that pattern is crystal clear to me now. I want to change it, but I don't know how. I don't even know if I can.

Right now, I'm deep into The Ramp-Up Phase. I'm emailing and hosting meetups, scouting for people to get together for a couple of possible campaigns I'd like to run. I really, really want it to work this time. Of course, I said that last time. But I mean it this time! Of course, I meant it last time, too...

But sometimes it's the struggle and not the victory (or defeat) that matters. So I will keep trying to break out of my pattern, to skip The Failure Phase and go to the Regroup Phase only when the campaign I start is complete, and I inevitably want a break before doing it again. So for this year, here are some of my new strategies:
  1. I want to play a proven, established game. Typically, I get googley-eyed over whatever RPG has enthralled me at the moment, and I run with it, and only discover just a couple of weeks later that I'm no longer interested. This time, I'm only considering games that have been around for a long time, stuff that I've played, run, or read for several years now, so that even if "I'm not feeling the system anymore," I can at least rote my way through sessions.
  2. I'd like the campaign to be largely improvisational. I constantly talk about the importance of prep, and the reliance on improv only when necessary. I still believe that, but as it applies to me and this Ramp-Up Phase, I want a game/campaign where little to no prep is part of the game, so any prep I do end up doing is a bonus, rather than a necessity. Even in the case of running published adventures/campaigns, I'd like to be familiar enough with the game and my players that I can freestyle when I want to, then tie it back into the published material later.
  3. I want to play with my friends. The vast majority of my games are in public, and typically feature at least a few new faces every session. I love this, but for a long-term campaign, I want dedicated, motivated players who are as interested in seeing where the campaign goes as I am. I'll need their energy to keep motivated, myself.
  4. This is going to be the hardest one, but I want the campaign to be weekly. It's too easy to lose track of things in a biweekly campaign, too easy to lose momentum. By contrast, with a weekly game, a missed session here and there isn't that big of a deal. I know a lot of players...players I'd love to have at my table...cannot commit to that. I understand, and that pains me, but I need this to work, and this, I feel, is how it will work. It doesn't have to be the same time or the same place every week. It doesn't even need to be during the weekend. But it's gotta be weekly.  
So here's to hoping I'll avoid The Failure Phase this year!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Thoughts on Anarchy

Last week, I wrote a review of Shadowrun: Anarchy, publisher Catalyst's new "alternate ruleset" for Shadowrun. This is a blog addendum to that review based on my first playthough with the game, this last Sunday. My review of Anarchy can be found here.

For Sunday's game, I had four players. All four used the pregens: one was a shaman, one was a decker, one was a street samurai, the fourth was an "action archaeologist." The pregens for Anarchy are awesome, and do a really good job of both being playable and approachable while also providing precious hints about the world of Shadowrun, and material for player narrations. I highly recommend using pre-gens for one-shots in Anarchy, despite how straight-forward the character creation rules seem.

The run itself was more or less made up on the fly, by me. Inspired by one player's choice of the action archaeologist, I tasked him with creating an artifact to be the target of this session's run. Once he had something, I asked the decker player, an avid Shadowrun fan, to give me a megacorp that would conceivably be holding the artifact. We ended up with the legendary fragment of a wall in China being held by Aztechnology on display in a corporate museum. Coping the contract brief structure as presented in the corebook, I created three scenes, jotted down a quick list of tags, bookmarked the NPC entries for security guards and a couple of drones, and went to work.

I really appreciated how fast and easy run design was for Anarchy. To be fair, Shadowrun is a fairly easy game to make adventures for, anyway...a couple of rolls on the random tables in the back of the corebook, some bookmarks for relevant NPCs, and you're good to go...but the devil is always in the details, and many a Shadowrun adventure that I've ran (or attempted to run), have fallen apart under the many and varied systems and sub-systems that comprise SR's fifth edition rules. Anarchy had my back from the start, with a straight-forward, narrative-based system that empowered me to just keep the game moving rather than sweating the small stuff. That endorsement alone may be enough to convince any fence-sitters to take the plunge into Anarchy. 

Coming from a more-traditional RPG background, I was openly skeptical of Anarchy's shared narrative, the so-called "Cue System," but I did see potential. In practice, my assessment was spot-on. The player-run scenes were often awkward and sketchy, but when it worked, it worked really well. My main focus for the next time I run Anarchy will be to help direct the shared narratives better. For this session, I pretty much cut the players loose after describing the scene. Next time, I may make the players fully aware of a scene's tags, perhaps have some suggested ideas for narrations built on those tags, and maybe have some consequences (good and bad) ready to deploy, based on the player's narrations and their failures/successes on the dice. Like many "story-based" RPGs such as Fate Core, the cohesiveness of the narrative and the overall strength of the game lies in the players' hands as much as it does the GM (perhaps more so). This can be great if your group is up to the task, but if there are players at your table who'd rather BE in a story than TELL one, that can lead to problems. Nothing a good group can't overcome, mind you, but problems, nevertheless.

I have more thoughts on this, but I'm going to leave it here, for now. I look forward to my next game of Shadowrun: Anarchy!