My gaming situation is pretty good right now. I’m running my West Marches game face to face twice a month. Despite the small hiccup when I switched from 5E to Classic, the group has rebounded better than ever! Which is not to say it wasn’t great before, but something about the current game, whether the system or the group of players (maybe both!) is working for me. I’m having much more fun running the game than I was under 5E.
In addition to the West Marches game, I’m occasionally play-testing my Caverns & Cowboys game [fantasy Western-themed hack of Star Frontiers] and that’s been a ton of fun to play! And then there’s Dean’s ongoing Eberron 5E game which is always crazy/silly/fun, and hopefully Jeremy’s Rad Hack game will continue, too (these day’s he’s wanting to play it and trying to get someone else to run it). All of these games are played via Hangouts and Roll20.
And then there’s the play-by-post games. I’ve been a fan of gaming on RpoL.net and have been playing games there for over a decade. Right now, I’m running two games – one with my Megadungeon, the other Isle of Dread, both using Classic D&D. The Megadungeon game uses the same house rules I’m using in the West Marches game, while the Isle game is by the book BECMI/RC (without weapon mastery or skill proficiencies).
And then there’s the games I play in. A long-running AD&D 1E game, where I have three characters. Two are in the standard fantasy setting the game’s been using for years, one more is in the newish Oriental Adventures setting the DM created. I’m also in a Star Frontiers game by the same DM. I’m in one other Classic D&D game, but it’s very slow and I’m not sure how much longer I’ll stay interested in it. Then I’m in four 5E games. One is the West Marches game that inspired me to run a WM campaign in my face-to-face. I’ve got three characters there (used to have 5 but the DM had to reduce the number of characters to a manageable level so the other two are on standby for now). The same GM also runs a 5E arena game where I have two characters, although one is currently a single failed death save away from dying. Then there is another fairly standard fantasy game, and another that is 5E but in an OA setting. I’m running a Yakuza (Rogue/Arcane Trickster with tattoos for each spell he can cast).
That’s an awful lot of gaming! Even if the play-by-post games are slow, it’s a lot of gaming.
So, what’s the secret of my success? For the most part, it’s just a combination of patience and luck. Getting into the right game, or waiting out the boring parts of a PbP game to get to the good stuff. But in the face-to-face West Marches game, I think there are a couple of things that are making the game run smoothly and why I and my players are having a lot of fun.
The System: Classic D&D is easy to run. 5E was also fairly easy to run, but I was still bringing in a lot of subsystems from Classic to pad out what 5E was lacking. I’m glad I didn’t let my reservations about losing players stop me from making the switch.
The Players: There are some players in the group who are very tactical, approaching each encounter as a problem to solve. Some are very immersive, trying to get into character as much as possible. Some are experimenting with the house rules as much as possible. One is just trying to cause as much chaos, confusion, whimsy and laughs as possible. And they’re all meshing together really well! The current group’s various play styles are complementing each other rather than getting in the way of each other.
The Dice: I’m letting the dice fall where they may. The only fudging I’ve done is with the occasional random encounter, if the same result keeps coming up all the time I’ll change it to get some variety. This means that PCs can and do die. A few players have had a bit of adjustment to how easily this can happen and how hard it is to reverse (at low levels) in Classic. But they’re rolling with it now. And the players are learning (if they didn’t know this already) that they should try to manage situations in ways that don’t require them to roll the dice!
My Attitude: I’ve been filling in this map little by little, region by region. And while the areas close to the Home Town are relatively low risk and fairly “normal,” the farther out I get in keying the West Marches, the wilder and crazier it’s getting. It’s got me excited for them to get to these places and explore them! But at the same time, this is a character-driven campaign, so other than providing rumors, it’s up to them what to do and where to explore. We didn’t game during August because of my busy schedule (plus that of some players, either also being busy or being away on vacation), but I did spend quite a bit of time filling in more of the map key. The way each session recently has left me energized rather than drained has helped with this. We’re in a positive feedback loop here.
Embracing the Craziness: Last October, I had a special one-shot game set in Castle Ravenloft. While exploring the dungeons beneath the castle, the party found the Deck of Many Things. They brought it back. It has caused all sorts of chaos (dead or missing characters, fabulous gains in levels/wealth, etc.) like it is intended to do. And I don’t shy away from it. I embrace it as part of the game. I’m letting the players hire henchmen and men-at-arms, which makes combats easier, but they also allow for more ground to be covered each session. And even with some players having two or three NPCs to control along with their PC, combat rounds are still faster than they were in 5E. The players are trying to pull off crazy stunts and schemes, and I’m sitting here enjoying all of it. Some of their ideas may “wreck” my world, but I don’t care. It’s their playground to wreck as they please. And it’s a blast to see them doing it.
That’s not to say it’s all perfect. My son had been playing (in the 5E days) but then my wife and kids went to live in America. And instead of coming back with me last week, they decided they liked it so much that they wanted to stay. And I agree, it’s been overall a very good experience for them. I’d originally started this game so my son and I could play D&D together, but now he’ll be away indefinitely. So there’s a bit of a negative there. He was really getting into the game before, and was consistently one of the most creative players. I think he’d love the way the new group plays, too. But this is just something a little disappointing for me personally, not something wrong with the game. The game itself is going really well.