Furnace, DCC and the Smart Party back again

Back from Furnace, a game filled weekend in Sheffield. My second time there, but follows a four year break from much of the Con scene. I had four DCC scenarios in my bag, as well as a box full of swag from the good folk at Goodman Games.

I had a really difficult experience at the Con. In summary, I loved every bit of it apart from the games, which all felt a bit flat from my perspective. I’ve done a lot of soul searching both at the time and in the hours and days since. I think it’s all down to many variables, and at least I’ve learned some lessons.

First the good things. Brilliant to get the old Smart Party back together. Hooking up with the best gamers I know and comparing plans, catching up on real life, having a beer and putting the entire hobby and every other geek genre to rights while laughing so hard I could barely breathe. Best bit of the Con. Also very cool to meet up with newer friends, some of whom I’d only seen on G+ or the forums. Wish I could have done more of that.

The Con organisation was cool throughout, and the Garrison is great accommodation for the price. Way too tricky to eat on site, especially with a tight schedule, but Morrisons saved the day. Also, got a good run in with Richard on the Saturday morning. That made me feel better about the cooked breakfast.

And then there were the games…

I’ve been playing DCC over G+ this year with three players for two hour sessions. Four months ago when the game was hot, I signed up to run four sessions over two days with six players in three to four hour sessions. I don’t think it should have come as such a surprise that I struggled to maintain my own interest in the event!

The scenarios were all prepubs, and looked great on paper. They work fine enough, but I think I would have preferred something more open and self generated in the end. I couldn’t flex and respond as much as I wanted to the emergent dynamics at the table. Sure, I saved myself a bunch of prep, but actually I think something I had more ownership of might have improved matters.

The system: ok, I’ve been spoiled by my online group. At higher levels, with all the classes in play, I really saw how much the game is all over the place in terms of balance and, arguably, fun potential. The magic using classes had all the toys, and the martial ones kept looking to their sheets and not finding any inspiration there.

And that’s a problem that extended beyond system considerations. I wanted to get inspired by the players ideas, schemes and characterisations. I wanted to laugh, and empathise, and feel the tension. I wanted to be entertained. All those things did happen, but never consistently, and often it felt forced. I heard minor grumbles about how the options were limited and especially about how the spells weren’t offensive enough. I couldn’t get much out of the Mighty Deeds mechanic, and the Halfling was always reduced to a support role. From a player input perspective I rarely saw anything but stereotypes. Largely two dimensional behaviour and reluctance to add to the larger game beyond the immediate plot. My OSR marathon weekend showed me that players don’t actually respond to OSR scenarios with OSR PCs the way they used back in the real OS days. I swear every session would have been more comfortable under a more modern rules set. I guess if you take seven strangers with sleep deprivation and put them in a small hot room that smells of hangover, it would be a miracle to get anything creative out of it.

All this added up to make me a grumpy, fairly passive aggressive Judge (with both a small and a large J) if I’m honest, forming a vicious circle of adequate game play at best. It’s not any one players fault, nor the system, nor me, nor the environment. I know that many of the players had a great time, and they thanked me for it afterwards. I’m grateful for that, so thanks to those guys who played.

So now I have a massive gaming hangover, and I’m feeling extraordinarily jaded and burned out on gaming. This worries me. I’ve been an enthusiasts enthusiast for decades now. I love RPGs. Am I falling out of love with them? I fear that if we have a trial separation, then I may never go back, and then what? The idea of no gaming is utterly terrifying, yet the notion of more flat, grey, workaday gaming is even more unappealing. And every solution I can think of is based on systems, and I know that isn’t the whole issue.

(I also took the opportunity to play a session too, in Andrew’s 13th Age game. I learned a ton about GMing and playing from that single session, some real food for thought about how I should approach scenario design. Again, I couldn’t say I enjoyed it exactly, but I’m certain that’s more about my state of mind than anything else. Andrew worked as hard as I’ve ever seen any GM work. Kudos)

Gaming feels like work right now. Not hard work, just work work. Work to prep, organise and play. I’m not getting the joy from it that I used to and I don’t know what to do to get it back.

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3 responses to “Furnace, DCC and the Smart Party back again

  1. Richard

    Chin up, Mr Cholmondley-Warner.

    As you know I was in that same place recently and I’ve pulled myself back from the brink in a variety of ways but most of them involved more gaming; granted, I had a year off. Furnace actually helped this recovery so was, at very least, a part of the process of reconnecting with RPGs; I played some great games and have two new systems to investigate further as a result.
    You’ve helped me along the way as well by putting on games online and inviting me to join in your group meets.

    As far as DCC goes I think a lot of your players at Furnace were not hard core old school guys; in fact, I think there were a fair few who were on the D100 side of the great divide between D&D and RQ in their formative years. That may have influenced events in terms of their willingness or ability to “recapture”. I enjoyed my DCC game though I was shattered and this didn’t help and I wasn’t the only one dealing with fatigue, it’s just a factor at cons. I agree that a personalised approach to the scenario may have helped; more work, though. It was a bloody ambitious undertaking in any case.

    Don’t forget I’m just down the road and willing to run and play games as long as we can get that damnable schedule sorted; heck, let’s just meet for a beer occasionally and slag off games although I don’t think I could hit the heights of certain folk. I’ll admit that one of the hangovers I’ve got from Furnace is that I was surrounded by people who are exactly the sort of enthusiasts you mention; could a bar table of gamers possibly have rocked with more opinion? I don’t get that elsewhere and I’m not talking about my family group games. I am re-evaluating whether I run games for my old group again and possibly for the final time.

    • Cheers mate, good to get your feedback.

      I’ve got to admit, the pre and post game banter holds massive appeal for me. So much so that I prefer it to the actual game! It’s like the session itself is now the delivery system for post game analysis and war stories. I think I’ve always felt that way. The memories are what it’s all about right?

      I think I need to apply myself to the pre game stuff more. I’ve always run prepub, and prided myself on the ability to make it good. It never actually saves me much time as I prep it so thoroughly. I think it’s about time I did what every other self respecting GM did so long ago, and pull together my own scenarios.

      If I can get the pre and the post sorted, then the middle bit, the actual session, should be more exciting for me.

      And yeah, let’s have a beer too.

  2. As Richard sez “As far as DCC goes I think a lot of your players at Furnace were not hard core old school guys; in fact, I think there were a fair few who were on the D100 side of the great divide between D&D and RQ in their formative years. That may have influenced events in terms of their willingness or ability to “recapture”.”

    I agree 100%

    Some of those “RQers” were FUCKING rude to me when I started running OSR D&D at Furnace. Almost to the point I pulled at the last moment and certainly had very bad stage fright as a result. I plowed on because no one tells IRON GM what I can and can not run! Fortunately come the game a Sat Night Lab Lord game, the players were golden and all regular D&D heads who were well happy with the game. 🙂

    I’ll recommend you to Tony and the Gang, next Furnace or Continuum, if you are at either of those cons.

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