So I was reading Mike Mearls’ Legends and Lore column, you know so I can fill myself with indignant rage to fuel my sleep deprived workweek. Anyways, it was the article about “what happens in between adventures” in D&D Next that started this ball rolling. Apparently they have created mechanics for what your character does in between adventuring that then confers some kind of benefit. This covers things from socializing and gaining beneficial acquaintances/contacts to the old favorite of spell research (yes we are back to that again). My initial response was “Why the fuck are they doing this, like really who needs this in their lives?” Were the faceless masses, with flaming dice bags in hands, screaming and demanding this? It seems like it flies in the face of their primary design goal to strip the core rules down to the very essence of what D&D is. I guess I always thought you just had conversations about what happens in between adventures and what you did or wanted to do, you know you kind of talked it out or role-played it out or whatever. It doesn’t really seem to make sense to put mechanics to these things, it feels…..burdensome.
The article, aside from causing agita, got me reflecting on my own gaming style and how it has changed over the years. I find that I don’t really do much with the scenes in between scenes these days. Any Interaction scenes, set up by me, are meant to drive the adventure or impart necessary information for the adventure. Gone are the shopping trips, visits to the tavern, or just shooting the shit with the locals. I might flesh out player ideas or goals through some Q&A that can be built into the adventure or narrative of the game, but that’s about it. The 4E game system might have something to do with it, as there is an emphasis on encounters, or it might be a slight withdrawal from simulationist aspects, I don’t know. In some ways I think I just have less time.
You see back in the old days much of the gaming sessions were spent in these scenes between scenes, sometimes more so than the actual adventure. Throughout high school I mostly gamed with my best friend. We played Runequest and Champions, with each of us taking turns running games for our characters (yes the GM played his own character). Sometimes another friend of ours would join. In the summer we played in my 2 car garage that never housed a car. We were surrounded by multiple weight benches, free weights, and other implements of pumptitude. The walls were adorned with various comic book and basketball posters, sport illustrated covers, and anything else we thought was cool. Our playing surface was an old wood boxed television set with an unused door laid across the top (I know sounds super ghetto but it was awesome). Like most teenagers we had nothing but time and our sessions definitely reflected a certain lack of urgency. Everything was played out because we could and it gave us the opportunity to bull shit and make each other laugh. We were the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of gaming. Nothing was important but everything was important at the same time. The game could pause at the drop of a hat so thorough discussion could be had on hot girls, sports, movies who had the coolest super power, what superhero would win in a fight etc… Anything that wasn’t accomplished or gotten too was easily done tomorrow night. It also helped when you were a little light on the prep or ideas.
These days I just have so little time that I get agitated if something’s not happening. I need to be smashing something in its face before the sessions over or I get too tired to remember where I am and what I am doing. I am not really looking to know what happens in between adventures, unless it is substantive, and then we can handle it through some quick Q&A. I also really don’t want to be talking with every npc on the block, especially if it doesn’t give me vital information or lead directly to me kicking something or somebody in the nuts. The thought of adding mechanics or minutia makes me nauseous and seems the opposite of streamlining and more like bloating. The people I know that have playtested D&D next have been somewhat neutral about it. It hasn’t’ been horrible, it hasn’t been great; it’s just kind of whatever. With so many options out there these days I do get the sense that WOTC needs D&D Next more than we need D&D Next, or at least than I need it.