Most of you are probably familiar with the “12/12 Project”, my big undertaking for the year to play twelve new roleplaying games in the span of twelve months (speaking of which, be sure to subscribe to the podcast chronicling the endeavor). It’s been an interesting ride so far, and I thought it would be worthwhile to share some initial impressions after the first two months.
Scheduling: Remarkably, this hasn’t been nearly as challenging as I anticipated. The idea of managing a weekly roleplaying game group terrified me when I first decided to commit to the project. In the past, I’ve usually defaulted to running bi-weekly sessions, but I’ve actually found that it’s more difficult to schedule games that way. When you only play every other week, the prospect of missing a week can be rather damaging to the overall momentum of the campaign. It’s very easy to suddenly go three or even four weeks without seeing the rest of the group. If you’re playing weekly and you’re forced to cancel a session, everyone is still pretty much eager to go the next week. The regularity of the weekly schedule also forces everyone to understand what they’re committing to. Bi-weekly games really aren’t that much less of a commitment; they just sound like they’d be easier to schedule around. Very often, players (or GMs) agree to a bi-weekly game but then start missing sessions frequently because their schedule can’t actually accommodate playing in an ongoing campaign. Weekly sessions force them to be more honest with what they can handle.
Continuity: When I laid out the basic schedule for the “12/12 Project”, I anticipated running three sessions of each game as loosely connected “one shot” adventures. What I found out very quickly, however, was that this approach made it very difficult for players to feel any kind of narrative or character continuity. Given the time constraints, I have to get them to the action fairly quickly, which means the hours of character building roleplaying I typically incorporate into my games is getting left on the cutting room floor. While that’s all well and good when you’re trying to test out the mechanical aspects of a game system, it creates a big problem for social interaction and roleplaying. In many cases, the players just don’t have enough of an opportunity to develop their characters as living, breathing people with motivations and distinct personalities. I think this is a fixable problem, but it’s one I didn’t originally anticipate and it cause me a lot of headaches in the first two games we’ve run.
Adaptability: So far, picking up new games has been a relatively painless process. We’ve been helped out in this regard by the fact that I had some familiarity with the Warhammer 40k family of rpgs before we played Deathwatch. Furthermore, the second game we played, Dragon Age, has a fairly simple rules system that’s easy to pick up. Devoting an entire session to character creation helps this process a great deal because players get to see how characters are constructed and understand how their stats interact with the game’s mechanics. I expect some games later down the line will make this more difficult (looking at you, Cthulhutech), but so far this has been a welcome surprise.
Buy-in: One of the problems lingering in the back of my head as we embarked upon this journey was the fear that players wouldn’t like switching to different games just when they started getting the hang of the current game. In fact, one player I was hoping to include decided not to participate precisely because he didn’t want to have to learn a new game system every month. Fortunately, this hasn’t been an issue so far. Everyone enjoyed Deathwatch, our game for January, but they wound up liking Dragon Age even more. Now, there’s no guarantee this will continue. Sooner or later, we’re bound to play a game that isn’t as well liked as some, or maybe even any, of our previous games. But at this point, I think it was helpful for the players to see that there are a lot of great games out there and if you never give them a chance, you might be missing out on something awesome.
Unexpected Challenges: The biggest problem I’ve encountered so far have to do with striking the right difficulty balance as a GM. Most games provide guidelines for appropriate challenges for characters at various power levels, but there are a lot of things you just don’t know about setting up encounters until you’ve run the game several times. I’ve made a LOT of mistakes in this area so far, whether it was setting up encounters that were far too difficult for the players or failing to provide a meaningful challenge at all. In a long-term campaign, this isn’t much of a problem. As a GM, you figure out what players can handle pretty quickly and you can course correct provided no other factors change. When we played Dragon Age, however, we made the decision to play each session at a drastically different power level in order to experience more of the game system. The first jump, from level 1 to level 6 wasn’t too bad, but the jump from level 6 to level 16 was simply too much for me to compensate for as a GM. Had we played a long term game and gone through levels 1-15, it would have been pretty easy to anticipate what challenges would be appropriate for a party of level 16 characters. The ten level jump, however, left me guessing, and it wound up producing a situation that wasn’t all that difficult for them to deal with. Everyone had fun, but it definitely revealed one of the challenges of this approach to gaming.
We’re moving on next week to Exile Game Studio’s pulp adventure rpg Hollow Earth Expedition. It will be a fun change of pace after a far future sci-fi game and a medieval fantasy game, so I’m looking forward to running it. If you want to know more about the “12/12 Project”, be sure to join our Google+ page and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. I’m looking to expand the podcast’s focus a bit in the coming weeks, so be sure to subscribe if you want to stay up to date.