So, you want to run an RPG, eh? Well, you’ll need some things, first of which would be players.
That last one is a bit tricky. Player schedules are, as we know, the death knell of all RPG groups ever, everywhere. The Star Wars group is currently on the frazzle as one player gets promoted at work, one player has two weeks’ teaching to do next month, two players and the GM have to clean up their house for a parental visit and one player is everyone’s taxi service on account of his having a car and time on his hands. You know how it is. Things always seem to go down this way and it tends to be after four to six sessions, for some reason.
The other great poles that exist in arranging and running a game, between which the act of actually playing a game exists, beside commitment and availability, are inspiration and motivation. Sometimes people are just not up for it. Come game night, if two of us have had a shocking day at work and one is plagued by the Black Dog and just wants to hide in the kitchen and make food at a prodigious rate, and another of us has some EXTREMELY GOOD NEWS that just has to be shared with the world, it’s unlikely that any satisfactory play will be available. And sometimes the GM is just stuck for ideas and the players can’t be arsed thinking their way through a situation and everything goes to hell in a handbasket.
As is my way, I look a situation like this and, instead of changing the four poles betwixt which it exists, wonder if we can’t just change the situation. Why does it have to be “we find one regular time slot in which seven people can all fit into a room” at all? We have exciting lives (shut up, we do!) and we live in the twenty-first century, when all sorts of things can be arranged on the flash and on the fly.
That’s why, as I gear up to finally running that Iron Kingdoms game I’ve been planning since forever ago (here defined as ‘four years ago when I first bought the books), I’m not marrying myself to the idea of the regular slot. I don’t like running for six people anyway. Instead, I plan on announcing “I want to run a session on this day at this time, who’s free?” to the Facebook group we’ve set up. All sessions will take place in a sandbox that can gradually be explored and negotiated by any combination of players available at the same time as me, one encounter at a time (or, if people turn out to be available for short bursts of regular sessions, maybe one extended excursion with a more developed plot at a time). Think more “series of short stories” rather than “serialised novel” and you’ll get it.
That’s the scheduling conflict hopefully sorted out, and I have my setting chosen already, this being an “I have an idea, who wants in?” kind of game rather than a “hey, let’s get our game on, what do people want me to run?” game. I like the latter too, but that ain’t what I’m about this time. The next real choice I have to make regards the system, and this is where I turn to some sage advice.
See, I have my preferences, but they are not as rigid as they used to be, and since trying D&D out for the first proper time I’m willing to give it the time of day. I prefer stripped-down-make-it-up-as-you-go-along-retroclone-D&D to build-optimisation-unique-snowflake-there’s-a-skill-for-that-D&D, but I figure we’ve enough rules experience around the table to compensate for my shying at complexity, and there’s a certain charm in asking a player to look up the rules for magical parasites or whirlwind attacks once they’ve committed to a course of action. I’m willing to leave this call up to the players, operating as I do on the principle that “what do you want out of this?” is the most important question a GM can ever ask a player, especially in pre-play where expectations are set and ground rules established. It’ll be restricted to systems I either own or can borrow off them, but that’s still a pretty broad set of options.