Saturday, June 11, 2011

Invoking St. Gygax and Seeking Advice

Thus spake Gygax: "I cannot stress too much the importance of having mystery in the world setting...what the fantasy game world setting must provide is the environment to enable the participant to regain that feeling of the marvelous and inexplicable. The milieu is the vast stage upon which will be played countless dramas, and a few comedies and tragedies as well. What awaits, who will triumph, how events will turn out must never be fully answered. To do so brings one to an end as surely as does the last page of a novel...the milieu will be never-ending, unfold gradually, and always have some new mystery to explore, some challenge to overcome."

I saw the above quote on Grendelwulf's blog recently, and it really lit the fires of inspiration in me. It made me eager to game, and it made me anxious to experience that sense of wonder Gary talks about in connection with gaming. In it I hear the echoes of Bilbo Baggins singing about how the road goes ever on...

I feel like I need some good mojo from St. Gygax soon, since I volunteered to run a Castles & Crusades session on Free RPG Day next Saturday. I'll be running the session at All Things Fun, of course. The owners, Ed and Dina Evans, really wanted C&C to be represented that day.

So on Free RPG Day, I want to foster the sense of wonder that is the hallmark of a good gaming session. And I want to do a good job and represent the game system well, as I have a lot of admiration for Troll Lord Games and their game (not to mention that I really like Ed and Dina and their store).

Am I putting to much pressure on myself? I think that's probably the case, since I know myself and I have a tendency to be my own worst critic.

I've decided that I want to treat Free RPG Day at All Things Fun like a miniature convention. I want to prepare a good session, and enable anyone who plays to get a good idea of the system as well as get a character together quickly, so that we can maximize actual playing time.

So, I'm asking you all for advice on how I can make the most of the session next Saturday. I've never run a game for strangers at an event like this, so this is going to be another milestone for me. I figured I would perhaps bring some pregenerated characters. That seemed to be the most sensible thing to do. But what else should I do to prepare, what should I expect, etc. Any input is much appreciated!


  1. I've never run a session before for strangers or at a Free RPG Day, so I'm not really sure what the protocol is for things like that. But, I think a few things to help you prepare would be:

    1) What type of players are going to be there? Is there a way you can find out who has "signed up" for your session beforehand, and what their gaming experience is? I ask because this would help you know how much work you need to do to sell the system versus the RPG concept. My guess is that you'll have a mix of both, but personally I would concentrate more on making the session fun rather than espousing what it is you love about C&C. Let the players figure that out for themselves during the game.

    2) Be prepared to do a tiny bit of railroading to get them started. I hate railroading, because one of the benefits of playing an RPG is that you can do whatever you want. However, I found that when I started my current campaign, at the time the group consisted almost entirely of newbies. I put a scenario in front of them and basically said, "What are you going to do now?" and they all stared at me wide-eyed and hemmed-and-hawed for about 10 minutes. There's a reason, I guess, why some of those old-school modules start out with "Your group has decided to do this..." Not my cup of tea for every day playing, but good for a quick scenario.

    3) Definitely go with pre-gen characters to save time. But I would suggest also giving some freedom to the players once they get there to change a few things around. Maybe like tell the Wizard player, "I assigned you these spells, but if you'd rather, you can swap a few of them out for these other ones." Don't give them the full list, but just a few options so they feel like they can make a choice.

    4)Create a role-playing hook for each pre-gen. I've found when doing pre-gen characters for my one-shots, that my players have a hard time getting into character. But, the last time, I stole a page from James Maliszewski, which he in turn stole from Aaron Keshler. It was called "The Devil's In the Details." You can read James' post here. It gives each character a trait that's common their their race, a trait that only some of their race has, and a list of odds-and-ends gear that they always carry with them (one of my favorites: a ring or keys to unknown locks, and also a compass with cardinal points that don't correspond to any known direction). Just give each player like three things like this so they can get a sense of who their character is and it will help them a little with their role-playing. I also find it helps if you can tell them "Your character dislikes Character Y because he's a blowhard, and doesn't trust Character Z because you saw him pick someone's pocket once." Stuff like that.

    This is all really basic stuff so I'm sure you already have it down. It just came to the top of my head. And, it's really assuming that your players that show up are going to be newbies, not experienced RP'ers who are just looking for a new system or a free game.

    Have fun! Cheers.

  2. Even if you only do half as well as you did on the first night of your Dragonlance campaign, you've got nothing to worry about! Pre-gens aren't a bad idea. Maybe let people customize them a bit so that they feel more committed to their characters. You did a great job in our group developing everyone's back stories into adventure hooks.

    Also remember that some of your regulars will be there ready to take on any role the party needs. Feel free to use us as "plants" if a situation needs a little nudging in order to keep things moving along/prevent frustration with it feeling less like railroading.

  3. Martin: thanks for the detailed response! It will be an open session for anyone to come in and play, and that’s probably the most intimidating part! There is no sign up, so it’s going to be gaming pot luck! I agree that I should focus on the gaming part and let the actual “teaching” of the system to come natural from there.

    As for the railroading, I agree that there’s going to be a bit of that too. I think I’m going to put the players on a certain path, such as giving them a mandate from a monarch or having them already on some quest as adventurers for hire. And I’ll have a main quest for them, but perhaps allow for some side stuff. I too am against railroading at all costs in most instances, but like you said, it sometimes has its uses to get things moving along if the group has stalled. I’m a big fan of using random encounters if a group is hesitating too long ;-)

    As for the pregens, I think I’m going to download the PDF version of the C&C character reference sheets. They’re pretty good for newbs since they have all the abilities of each class summarized on them. From there it should be easy for me to roll up some stats. I agree too with allowing them some customization, like weapons, spells, and obvious stuff like names, alignment, etc.

    The Devil in the Details angle is great! I just might throw a bit of that in there! Thanks!

    @Wulfgar: It’s going to be great to have you guys there! That really makes me feel better to know that someone I’ve gamed with before will be there as “plants” ;-) As for characters for you guys to play, feel free to use either the characters from the Dragonlance campaign or from Rich’s Invincible Overlord campaign. That should be easier than rolling up new ones…unless you really want to roll up some new characters for the event, that would be fine by me!

    I am still sort of on the fence about trying to run sessions at 2 PM and 5 PM. That might be a long day of gaming (I’m going try to get there a couple hours earlier to just settle in and do some final prep). I’ll let you guys know this week.