Friday, December 20, 2013

The Demon Verge: Post-Mortem

Yesterday evening, I declared the Demon Verge campaign dead. (Go home, Marcie.)

The campaign lasted ten sessions, which I suppose is fairly typical of most RPGs these days. Still, I can't help but feel like a villain for ending it so soon. I was using B/X Dungeons & Dragons rules more or less by the book, which meant that even after those ten sessions there were a few characters that hadn't even reached second level. (That's partly because some players had missed sessions with big XP hauls, but still.)

I've repeatedly mentioned that the Demon Verge was intended as a tutorial for myself; a low-prep, low-pressure game where I could try some things out. I've been playing RPGs for many years, but most of that experience is on the player side of the screen, not in the referee's chair. I hoped to learn some things about game mastering, and I did. I've mentioned many of the things I figured out in my session reports, but here are the big take-home lessons:

Google+ Hangouts are probably as close to a face-to-face, tabletop roleplaying session as you can currently get online, but for me, they're still nowhere near as fun as the real thing. (I recently got in a little face-to-face role-playing and my mind was blown by how spontaneous, natural, and fun it was.) The nature of Hangouts lends a feeling of disconnect to gaming sessions. It instills in its users (well, me, at least) the odd sensation of waiting your turn to speak, as if everyone were sharing one telephone. It becomes too easy for the DM or a single player to hog the game. The effect is difficult to describe, but for me it utterly kills the free-flowing, conversational style of role-playing I prefer. It's highly unlikely I'll try running another game via Hangouts.

I can't run dungeons every week. I had fully intended to run a straight-up dungeon crawling game, because it's what old-style D&D is set up to do at its most basic level, and I wanted to make things easy for myself. That was a mistake, at least for a Hangouts game. It just made everything seem even more laborious and plodding.

My house rules were a mixed bag. Even I forgot to use many of them (particularly the revised weapon damage values). The Adventurer Conqueror King mortal wounds tables did see a bit of use. I enjoy that sort of thing in games like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay or Rolemaster, but for some reason, nothing makes for a weird D&D session like a maimed or crippled player character.

I need to be upfront about a campaign's intended style of play. I initially pitched The Demon Verge as a sandbox campaign, but ended up having an authority figure send the player characters on a series of missions. I'd like to think it wasn't a total railroad, but I didn't have the confidence or the rules familiarity necessary to really do justice to the free-form, go-where-you-will sandbox ideal. I should be more honest with my players and let them know when I just want a low-pressure sort of game.

I'm not sure why I bothered fleshing out the original Demonlord setting backdrop like I did. There's little point in creating a fairly detailed setting if you're just going to run it like a generic D&D world, and use other people's scenarios more or less verbatim.

So what's next? A few lovely people have asked if I'd like to play in their Hangouts-based games, and I will probably give some of them a shot just to see if the problem really is the Google+ interface, or if the blame is on me. Other than that, I'll concentrate on trying to get in more face-to-face gaming with local people. There's a chance I might be able to get some Rifts in with my original gaming group (which started back in middle school) next year, which would be a dream. I've also got ideas for my own game bubbling in the back of my head, but who knows how far that will get?


  1. Hangouts is strange and it agree with your "one telephone" observation, I think one of the issues is that most of the conventions of tabletop roleplaying are set up for tabletop play. Online is different, and some tools need tweaking. Visual aids help, I and others have been experimenting with several types of map reveals with some success for instance (right now the screen share of map with GM slowly erasing top layer of picture to show players exploration seems to be working for me). Changing how initiative is conducted seems to help players all getting a turn. I think better tools and systems (not game systems, but systems of play) will fall into place and people are developing them in their games that can improve the hangout experience.

  2. First, I just have to say that that OSR logo is a thing of beauty.

    I've found that with house rules, it's so tempting to make a list in advance, but the best way to handle them is to make the list through play. Otherwise, yeah, you get the phenomenon of having a bunch of rules you forget about in the heat of play.

    I'd definitely choose tabletop over Google Hangouts any day, but the technology's been great in helping me reconnect with my old high school/college group. As someone who has run games via chat in the past, it's a huge improvement. I'm kind of happy that nothing will ever really take the place of the experience of playing at a table, though.

    1. The "One Splugorth Retina" OSR logo was created by Cole Long. It's lovely.

      I probably came out more strongly against gaming via Hangouts than I really should have. It's likely I'll use it again someday, but probably not for a campaign that I'm running.