This post has taken me ten days to put down on paper. Loads of personal stuff going on, all of which are sapping my creativity, energy, joy, happiness, drive, etc. Anyhow, that's a soapbox for a different day. Bear with me while I ramble through these thoughts, would you?
The one real bright spot in the last...oh...let's count it in months, shall we? The one bright spot was our game night last month. Why a bright spot? For that, we need to jump in the way-back machine.
First, some background information: I've had some great DMs over the years. I've had a couple bad ones; I've had a great one that went bad suddenly, violently, and all over the place. The last several years our group has cycled back and forth between two guys. They're both terrific at their craft. But both got a bit burned out a couple months ago and I didn't have the mental processes available to take over the screen...so another one of the guys jumped in and volunteered. The first couple sessions went great.
Now a confession.... I've told the guys this, so it's not really a surprise. My personal issues have taken some of the fun out of playing the past year or so. Don't get me wrong; I've had fun, but just not as much as I've had in the past. It's more of a "going through the motions" for me on game night.
Well, as I've mentioned before, our group plays Old School-style, with a home-brewed 3.x rule set. I will freely confess that--as much as I love the rule set--it can sometimes require some serious note-taking and attention-paying to track all the modifiers in play at any one time.
[Aside: Before anyone jumps in and points fingers with an "A HA!" moment to say, "See?!? 3.x is just TOO complex/rule-heavy/ponderous" or somesuch, take a look back at one of my previous posts wherein I shared the two-page THAC0 tracking sheet that was common in our 2E days. End aside.]
So, it can be complicated, right? So we surround the table with laptops with our character-tracking software of choice running. A few years back, we helped one of our buddies build a dedicated game room in his garage. For a while we gamed with a digital projector mounted on the ceiling projecting our maps onto an old dining room table.
Then we took the next step: the owner of the table called in some favors and, voila, we soon had a flatscreen television mounted inside the table, covered with plexiglass, and a removable cover to protect the television. A server was added and the DM suddenly had a digital tabletop map. This is how we've played for, oh, a year or more. It's a really sweet setup.
Now, we fast-forward to the present. One of our players broke his leg, requiring surgery, which would keep him from our monthly game. None of us wanted that, so we decided to take the game on the road and play at his house. When we all arrived, we found that the DM had forgotten the battlemap, one of our other players had no laptop, so he was going pencil-and-paper. A couple of us hit the road to a local game store to grab a battlemap while the others called in the Chinese food order for dinner. Yeah, we still sat around--most of us--with laptops. But it was around a gridded battlemap, the color of parchment. Wet-erase markers were the tool of the night, scribbling out rooms and hallways in the forgotten desert temple.
IT WAS THE MOST FUN I'VE HAD IN A LONG TIME. I don't know if it was the new setting, the use of the battlemap, or what it was. But it was fun. It. Was. Fun. I think the other guys all agree--we were riffing, and role-playing, like we haven't done in a while. I haven't talked to the guys about this, though, and I'm not sure what this means for the future. I don't think it means we'll be abandoning the game room, the digital table, or anything else. But it certainly raises the question for what happens next time I sit behind the screen. Do all the players need laptops? Could the DM track all the modifiers and crunch all the numbers instead? Could a battlemap and wet-erase markers, along with pencil-and-paper character tracking, be in our future? I dunno. But it certainly is food for thought.
And it certainly felt good. Really good. Really Old School.