The Seven-Sided Die

Too much of a good thing

Posted Sunday October 25, 2009 at 01:31 AM

I have a serious glut of systems. I love that, no mistake, but it mismatches the irregular gaming non-schedule my group has.

In the last while[1. "While" being defined as "the last few months".] we've played some HackMaster Basic and some Diaspora. Neither have we played much, but I'm optimistic about getting at least a decent campaign out of the latter. Science fiction is a nice change of pace for all of us, and it's even more of a change for me since I get to be a player instead of the GM.[4. HMB might turn out to be a campaign of some note too, but for once I'm letting the players drive whether we continue with it or not.]

I like to try new systems. That's not the best feature to have as the group's default GM, but I have yet to find a system that suits me well enough to stand head-and-shoulders above the field of contenders. I have been looking for a new system that felt like "home" ever since parting ways with the venerable lineage of Dungeons & Dragons—and, having looked up from the vast continent of D&D Land, there is an entire world of games to explore. It's wonderful and frustrating in equal parts.

I love the potential in Burning Wheel for deep, character-driven stories and long-term development. I really like how easy Savage Worlds is to customise for any setting and how it makes things easy to stat on the fly. I'm intrigued by the mechanics and setting of Reign, and I especially like how flexible its magic system is for both the GM to customise and for the players to use in-game. HackMaster Basic's crunch level is not too high yet remains satisfying, and it supports D&D-style setting assumptions well. The Shadow of Yesterday is just deliciously player-empowering and has some impressive game-design pedigree behind it.[3. And pedigree "ahead" of it, too: So many games I've read cite The Shadow of Yesterday as an inspiration.] The Riddle of Steel sounds like a lovely combination of deadly combat and player-driven stories.[2. If only the copy I ordered two years ago had ever arrived, or my multiple email inquiries ever been answered, The Riddle of Steel might have become my default system. I'm hesitant to even mention it now, given my tainted feelings about the game. I could have pirated it ages ago without compunction since I've paid for it, but I really prefer a physical book. But, I digress from the digression.] Those are just the systems for fantasy that I really like, and it looks like there will be a FATE-based fantasy system out this Christmas to expand the attractive options even more.

I don't think there would be any problem sampling so many systems if we played even half as regularly as some groups. It does seem, though, that my interest in a system is tied not so much to how many sessions we play it for, but simply how much time has passed since it caught my attention. I think if we played more frequently I'd feel less like a magpie, catching every shiny thing that comes near, simply because we'd get a half-decent campaign out of every new discovery. As it stands we get one or two sessions out of a game, and those are the ones I've been lucky enough to get any play out of at all.

I'm not sure what purpose this post serves except to air out my brain. There doesn't seem to be a good solution, apart from magically increasing the frequency that we get together to game. There's no way for me to commit to a system for the next ten sessions or so, since that represents the investment of six months to a year of gaming and that's a lot when I don't even know if I like running the system. That's leaving alone how much of a commitment that would be asking from the rest of the group when I'm the one excited about an obscure game's reviews.

Does your group play, or try to play, many different games? What has your experience been? How do you balance group commitment to a campaign against the desire to try the latest and greatest game?

Comments (4)


Sunday October 25, 2009 at 04:25 AM

I've often wondered who the target audience was for all those gaming books I see at the game stores. How many of the bought books ever get played, I wonder? Or are most people, like me, just getting their money's worth out of reading gaming books and imagining the fun that could be had?


Sunday October 25, 2009 at 02:34 PM

We only did this once, but it's something I wouldn't mind trying again: we had a sidequest with a different system. A lot of the group was gone and I didn't have much prep time, but the ones who were still around wanted to game, so I ran a one session long sidequest using Wushu (we normally play 4e). We had a lot of fun, and most of the group really enjoyed the system.


Sunday October 25, 2009 at 03:32 PM

Sometimes it's nice to go through a period of variety. I did the same thing when I first broke out of the "D&D Ghetto" in the late '90's. Also, a campaign doesn't have to be infinitely long; you can plan for mini-campaigns that people find rewarding.

One approach our group uses that satisfies both the experimenters and the traditionalists is to have two games going, alternating weeks. So two weeks a month we're playing a long term D&D (Pathfinder, in this case) campaign. The off weeks, we do other things - most recently, Savage Worlds and Alternity. Sometimes one shots, sometimes tightly scoped mini-campaigns, sometimes "campaigns for as long as people still want to go on in this system."

You don't mention y'all's frequency other than to say it's low - you could always attract another gaming group. Traditional campaign playing often gets occasional because you don't want to play without too many regulars. If you're doing "let's experiment with this game this week" you can use any random group of people. Maybe just have a couple subs on tap, and when you're going through scheduling hell for your normal campaign and everyone can't commit for a month out, you say "well whoever can make it, let's meet in a week and try out a random thing" and if you have 1-2 others that are on tap for occasional stepping in you're good.


Monday October 26, 2009 at 11:47 PM

I play in two different groups, each with its own pace and goals. My "home group" ('cause that's where we play) runs a system on alternating weeks [or so] year long campaigns. We often run two games in parallel; currently D&D is primary and Serenity is secondary.

My other group was designed to play at most every two weeks-- for long stretches we only succeeded at monthly. It is geared for 5-10 session "short stories" where we try out new game systems for each story. It's been a great run; we're currently trying out 4e and it's hit or miss for everyone. Knowing it has an end date makes it easier to embrace the good and look beyond it for the bad.