Thursday, December 1, 2011

Varying the Approach

One thing that's been pretty consistent over the years in my gaming circles is the way we run things. It's pretty much people sitting around a table, screened DM at one end, battlemat & markers & dice & character sheets around the edges. The number of people and the size of the table varies, but this has been the Way It Is Done for me and the people I have played with since the early 80's. I've run every edition of D&D this way as well as Hero, Gurps, Traveller, and all the others. I'm of the opinion that the reason for this is because it works!

That looks about right

However, I try to stay open minded about how I do things like this. During one of my 3rd edition campaigns I was a little tired of toting the 8 X 4 table in and out of my living room so I decided to play without a giant table. It felt weird to not have a big table and a battlemat with everyone around it but having the players scattered around the living room made for a more casual atmosphere. I did this several times, mainly when I knew it would not be a combat-intensive session, and it seemed like the players did get into the non-mechanical aspects of the game more than was typical. I probably would not do it if the evening was going to feature an assault on a dragon's lair but if it's the lord mayor's summer masquerade ball I might do it just to change things up.

I also typically have everything I am running printed out and on the table or behind my screen - mostly because that's how I've always done it. In my main 4E game some of my players started bringing their characters on tablets and smartphones and it kind of surprised me. I suppose it's a logical continuation of the character building tool - build it on the computer, export it to some device you carry aaround all the time anyway. At first I was opposed to it but I realized there really wasn't much reason to rule it out as long as I can see it on demand. So I let it go and we had zero problems with it.  Heck, with a dice rolling program you can be game-ready without carrying anything extra! Even the rules are available online, so if you want to go totally electronic it is an option now, at least for D&D 3E & 4E (and probably others as well). The no-dice thing is still a little weird though. We all have a ton of dice - stash a backup dice bag in the glovebox!

I like this better than the spreadsheet approach but I think they outsmarted themselves on the d4's

Technology side note: Remember when printing out character sheets was a challenge? We used to go up to the library and pay a nickel or a dime per copy to get our blank sheets and we tended to be a little stingy with them because there was some effort involved in replacing them. That was the age when purchasing pre-printed sheets was a big deal - some of them even came in colors other than white! I remember writing programs in BASIC to print D&D sheets on my old dot-matrix printer but they were never as good as the pre-printed ones. Also, games that came with a pad of character sheets were just awesomely cool as well - James Bond 007 and one of the Lords of Creation adventure modules came with these.  I think one of the forgotten bonuses of the age of the internet and the cheap inkjet printer was freeing us from the tyranny of the copy machine! Even after that some games still put out packaged sheets. One of the supplements for Underground came with a pack of character sheets (and kill stickers!). Warhammer Fantasy Role Playing 2E had a supplement pack that included a pad of sheets too. Kinda retro but I still bought them.

Yep, that was it

The last few years I have picked up quite a few smaller games and supllements as PDF's. I used to always print them out if I intended to actually use them in play, otherwise they were just for reference.  When I decided to run ICONS I realized everything I had was electronic and I was low on printer ink. Not wanting to waste time and ink printing a 100+ page rulebook AND a 30 or so page adventure I decided to run completely electronic, something I had never done. To be really radical, I didn't get out the mini's, or the battlemat, or the table either. This was 3 Apprentices and myself sitting around the living room with no books. They had their dice, pencils, and character sheets and I had a laptop and my notebook and a pen. It went amazingly well! The change in approach from my usual table setup really emphasized that this was something different and they went with it - no complaining about the lack of maps or anything else. Now ICONS does cater to this approach by not being the kind of game that demands a grid - it's not that detailed of a tactical exercise - and it doesn't even have the DM roll dice. It was the perfect opportunity to change things up and I was very satisfied with the result.

I do not own this, and I am comfortable saying that.

I know those of you playing online are likely unimpressed with these revelations but these are big changes for me. Now I would not do the mapless thing with a Hero system game, 3E or 4E D&D, or probably even Savage Worlds as those games benefit from a richer tactical experience. I might give it a try with our Basic D&D game though as an experiment. The all-electronic thing I would probably be willing to try with about any game, and some of those more detailed RPG's might benefit from it even more! I'm not that interested in game-running programs but for keeping multiple books in an easier package I am a little bit interested. The only problem is that I have a LOT of books for these things, so it's likely to only happen for newer games. - and games not behind a paywall that charges per month.

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