The Star Wars game has turned and turned again, settling on a point where the player characters have had a job go off smoothly (K was shocked, to the point where he almost shut down in sheer terror, the laws of reality having obviously been compromised in some fashion) and can potter around for a few months doing strictly legal work while they wait for the Imperial heat to die down a bit.
That means I’m up for the GMmin’ seat next, so the Goblins! are lined up to explore the industrial hellhole that five years of war have made of their city. It also means, alas, that my usual excuse of “it’s not my game, I just provide the house” no longer applies, and I have to herd the various cats together in order to actually get a session going with people in the same room as me.
Yes yes I know Google Plus embrace technology yadda yadda. One: I like having other people in my house. Guests are good. Being in the immediate company of people is good. Being in the immediate company of more than just the two people you live with, now and then, to stop you getting cabin fever and stabbing your flatmates, is very good. Two: I also like the immediacy of having people sat around a real table rolling real dice and making real notes on real paper with real pencils. I don’t like saying “it’s different” when I can’t quantify the differences… but there is something pleasantly immediate and tactile about playing games with people without the intermediary Machine. Three: seriously, I need an excuse to not look at monitors from time to time. Four: the scheduling problems will not go away if people have to be at their computers at a set time. The problem isn’t with where we play, it’s with when.
Now, this is the part where I veer off-topic for a moment and tell you a story. Many of you will have heard this one already, but for the benefit of those who haven’t: consider Alexander the Great, a man who set out with the determination to conquer the world, to roll back the edge of the map and write his name all over it. When he arrived in the city of Gordium, he was confronted with a problem – a knot of fearsome complexity and elaborate nature, a knot that featured on no page of any Boy Scout handbook save that clasped in the paws of the very devil himself. The knot was said to be unknottable.
Confronted with the Gordian Knot, Alexander drew his sword and sliced the bugger apart.
Rather than commit to solving a problem which everyone told him was impossible, he bypassed the beast altogether. So it goes with the GamesMastering business. I have six players (so far). I have devised five characters and a setting. I propose simply to keep open house for a span of time when I feel like running and hot-seat the whole business – it works for ConstantCon, right?
If five people are free, great! One person per character, same as ever. If only two people show, two characters each and they can flip or take turns for the fifth. If all six people show, one of them gets to take a turn behind the screen and help me roleplay NPCs or manage big combats (or I might sneak off and pick up another Goblin from somewhere, maybe a big fat drunken cleric?) If someone fancies playing a different tactical role and thus a different character… why not?
It involves something of an attack on the givens, the shared assumptions about roleplaying – here’s me, here’s my character – but the beauty of the hot-seating idea, to my mind, is that it doesn’t stop someone saying “I like playing the rogue, can I have dibs on the rogue when I’m there?” It might result in some interesting quirks of character behaviour from a narrativist point of view, with characters suddenly acting in completely different ways depending on who’s steering them, and that might be considered a threat to continuity and immersion… but if the characters are sketches and archetypes rather than fully fledged out individuals, and if the context of play is exploration, discovery and extra-party conflict rather than backstory, development and intra-party interaction, I think it should still work.
So right now, in between working on Squirrel’s commission (an old Ork Warbiker that he wants painted up), I’m also preparing for an eight hour roleplaying session. I don’t know how many players I’m going to have, who’s arriving or leaving when – and if I’m right, none of that should matter.