One of my goals for 2020 was to get 20 sessions of roleplaying games in over the course of the year. This would be probably twice what I managed in 2019, and more than any year since my kids were born.
Two factors led to my being able to hit that goal only halfway through the year.
The first was somewhat anticipated and factored into the goal: my kids aging into being capable gamers. I’d played a few sessions of No Thank You, Evil! with them in the past, but these were limited by the knife-edge attention span of a pre-schooler: they either couldn’t pay attention to something for more than a minute, or they would take off monologuing for ten minutes, leaving the table to go off and collect toys to enact their own story with, missing the shared narrative of gaming.
As kindergartners now, they were not just better able to handle the turn-taking and listening parts of an RPG, but also can write, do basic math of adding numbers to dice rolls, etc. In fact, with school shut down because of covid, Dungeons & Dragons turned out to be by far the most compelling way to get my kids to work on their handwriting or math skills. Best of all, my son even created his own Star Wars roleplaying game that he ran for the rest of us. (The basic mechanic being a lot of freeform roleplay with the GM occasionally rolling a d20 and squinting at it while coming up with an idea for what to do next.)
Covid of course was the other factor that sped up my gaming pace. During April and May especially, my group’s calendars were wiped clean of the weekend travel plans, evening work meetings, professional conferences, etc that normally make it challenging to schedule games. Rather than struggling to find a free night every two or three weeks, everybody was suddenly available nearly any night of the week. For the first time in at least a decade, I had a game that was meeting weekly, more or less. We’ve been playing Pathfinder 2, using Roll20 for maps and character sheets and Zoom for talking to each other–I don’t like talking to people when we can’t see each other, and the thumbnail webcam views within Roll20 are too small for my tastes. (We’ve also tried Discord video chat, and Google Meet, but Zoom seems to be the consensus least-glitchy.)
The overall count for the year so far:
- Played: 3 sessions of an in-person science-fantasy sandbox run by my friend Stephen. We’d started last calendar year, generating the world via Microscope and then gameplay being a homebrew system inspired by d20/D&D and Dungeon World. My character is an octopus imperialist archeologist.
- Ran: 2 sessions of Blades in the Dark. The first was in person, the second by Google Meet. I didn’t continue this for a couple reasons. One is that it is aggressively anti-GM preparation, while I am very much not an improv GM, and my player group is generally resistant to co-generation of the world/plot, so it felt fairly flat. The other is that a game set in a city of eternal darkness and corruption, where Stress is a primary mechanic and individual characters are expected to die or burn out just wasn’t the game I want to be playing in a pandemic? So I retreated back to power fantasy.
- Ran: 12 +/- sessions of Pathfinder 2, via Roll20+Zoom. I’ve been using Paizo’s published adventure paths for this, counting on the existence of digital assets and fan-conversions of 1st edition Pathfinder content to make life easy. Originally I’d planned to run Rise of the Runelords, but after we added an elementary-aged player to the group I decided it would take a lot of editing to make that AP age-appropriate, so I shifted into the Baba Yaga-themed Reign of Winter. (The 9-year-old has been a stupendous add to the group.)
- Ran: 3 sessions of D&D 5 for my family. They’re all students at the Shadowdale Academy for Magical Studies, a Hogwarts in the Forgotten Realms. This is a very episodic game–on days that we plan to play, I ask them for ideas during our morning walk, then prep during the kids’ quiet time, then we play in the afternoon. We’re also only using a partial ruleset–each character basically gets whatever single trait of their race is most interesting (Dragonborn: fire breath. Done.), and I’m ignoring class abilities that require close tracking of resource pools. I’m really enjoying the regular cutscenes: my kids have been spontaneously explaining actions and motivations via flashback to their characters’ pre-Academy lives.
- Played: 1 session kindergarten homebrew Star Wars. It’s probably my favorite Star Wars RPG ever. A recent episode of Roll for Topic (hi y’all!) touched on the problem of RPGs in well-known settings, and trying to tell original stories without violating everybody’s prior expectations, and this has always been my difficulty with Star Wars-based games in the past. The solution is apparently to play with kindergartners, who can simultaneously lean into the canon while also being completely unconcerned with continuity. Of course Kylo Ren can have R2-D2 for a sidekick and go on adventures with Yoda, dad–why would you question this?
Overall, it’s been a good six-month year of gaming. Since I’m trying to be optimistic about our ability as a society to contain covid sometime this year, meaning folks’ calendars will start to fill up again, I’m not setting expectations that I’ll be able to fit in another year of gaming before January–but we’ll see!