Why I Have a Library in the First Place
I’ve spent a lot of time, comparatively, talking about various Paizo products like the Savage Tide and Carrion Crown Adventure Paths. While talking about DungeonPunk themed games, I made a point of listing out half a dozen games that I am conspicuously not playing right this minute. While I make mention of a larger stock of games in my sizable collection, I keep circling back to variants of the same theme, namely some flavor of D&D. With the exception of Exalted, which I’ve devoted a little time to, and the new Star Wars, which I still haven’t devoted any real play time to, there aren’t many games out there that I really delve into.
Is this a particular bent on my part? Is it showing my inability to expand beyond the mainstay of the industry, one way or another? Do I focus on D&D because it’s the best?
The simple answer is no. And like most simple answers, it actually answers nothing.
The actual answer is that I would absolutely love to sit down and play other games, but the timeframe that I have to work with is one factor, and the player attention is quite another. And this is not to mention that, nine times out of ten, I’m the guy that sits down and runs the damned game in the first place.
I don’t have a huge playing group. I’m in the midst of transitioning from one place to another, and my ability to go out and recruit new players is balanced by the understanding that, some time in the next year, I’ll be moving on anyway. This has a chilling effect on some more experimental games, in that I can’t commit to a yearlong campaign without knowing exactly where I will be. And this is not to mention the state of flux that my players will be in, given the directions that a number of them will be dispersing in.
This leaves me with a strange state of things. For one thing, there’s not a huge pool to draw from in the first place, meaning that my ability to run games hinges on what games are already known, else I have to sit down and teach something new. I’ve made a point of doing this in the past, but the learning curve of a given game requires a set number of introductory sessions to establish a working knowledge of the rules. A few years back, there was no hesitation in considering a Deadlands game or Exalted or Torg, since I knew that I’d have time to sell my playing group on the idea of the game, teach the intricacies of the rules and be able to run enough sessions to make the investment of time worth everyone’s while.
It doesn’t help that I’m absolutely horrible about running short games. While I love the idea of games like Fiasco, where everything can be generated within a short window of time and played out over the course of a couple of hours, I will wait until some of my other gaming obsessions have been satisfied before I make that particular purchase. For me, a short game is one that only takes six months of dedicated gaming to reach a plot point or finish out a particular arc. This outlook tempers the way that I approach new games, especially if I have to teach a lot of new rules of aspects of setting. If the game isn’t going to run long enough to justify my efforts, I’m more likely to pick something that can be wrapped up that much quicker.
The end result is that I’m given a binary choice in what games I’m afforded to run. If I want to run something that most players are familiar with, it’s going to be some flavor of D20 Fantasy. If it isn’t, I’m going to have to sell the players on an entirely new idea or genre, shortly before sitting down to help them make sense of the new rules and systems. This will necessitate putting time into character generation, rules overview and setting details.
If I’m looking to play in a game, that’s an entirely different sort of animal to consider.
There’s some optimistic part of my scattered thinking that believes that I could happen into a group of players that wants to run some choice bit of esoterica out of my library, so I could sit down and play something like Weapons of the Gods or Fading Suns or Kuro instead of having to dive into it myself to make sense of all the rules and ideas. The grim reality is that, while I maintain such hopes and dreams, I’m a lot more likely to find myself running such a game than happening into a random session of such things in the wild.
If there was one recurring motif I’ve found myself examining, it is this one. Any game that I well and truly love is one that I know I’m unlikely to ever play. The most egregious example is Torg, where I managed to play in exactly one session of the classic system and world at a convention. Since then, it’s been a case of playing in other people’s worlds, which coincidentally use the system, but the Possibility Wars, such as they are, were a vague reference or a layered in-joke rather than an actual plot element.
Otherwise, I’ve managed to play in the occasional non-D20 game that occurs, but most often it’s the result of having made a point to teach one player or another the game well enough to hand off the GM’ing reins for their own purposes. These days, it’s something of a rare experience.
And while I may not be playing more than a couple of systems within a given year, I’m constantly reading and making notes on the next great game that I’m going to run, using disparate aspects of the different sourcebooks as a form of inspiration. Even if I don’t run one game after all, some of the ideas might translate into another game somewhere down the line. And the variety of systems at my disposal allow me to find the proper game for my purposes, when the time comes, and tweak it specifically to fit the ideas that I’m working on.
If nothing else, I may not be playing a specific game right this minute, but it’s there if I ever have an idea that no other game will be suited for.