It dawned on me yesterday: I've been in the gaming hobby for almost 25 years. A quarter of a century. Since I was ten, rarely a month or even a week has gone by that I didn't play a tabletop RPG, a wargame, or a boardgame. During that time, I've learned a thing or two about what makes a gaming session fun for everybody. In fact:
There are no mediocre gaming sessions. A session is either great or it sucks.
Also, I am convinced that often what happens before a session starts determines whether or not a session is great. Both players and GMs can prepare to have a great session.
Victoria Praeparatio Amat (that's Latin for "Victory Loves Preparation) is a new series from d20 Dark Ages that explores what makes a gaming session great, and what makes them suck. This series focuses on players of RPGs, yet players of wargames and boardgames can benefit from this advice, too. Furthermore, while there's lots of advice for Game Masters out there, VPA addresses both GMs and Players.
When a gaming session is great, it rocks.
--It's D&D, when everybody uses teamwork to defeat that final villain.
--It's wargaming, when your own sound tactics defeat your opponent's forces--and yet both sides shake hands in the end.
--It's playing a boardgame with family and friends, and it doesn't matter who wins because everybody is having a great time.
Everybody walks away from the session feeling great. You want to play again and again. You want the good times to last because, well, leaving the table means getting back to other business (a.k.a. real life).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, when a gaming session sucks, it can be one of the worse experiences in the world.
--You can't wait for it end.
--You sit there, being polite, when you'd rather being doing something more productive.
--You want to slam the rules lawyer's head off of the tabletop.
--You want to break your friend's smart phone.
--You feel distracted by a dozen thoughts, suddenly building a tower of dice sounds like a good idea.
You walk away from the session, feeling mentally drained, even exhausted. That's if you stayed for the whole thing. If you'd been in your right mind you'd have cut out hours ago. Maybe you're kicking yourself for playing with the same group of morons... yet again. You might even want to abandon the hobby as a whole because the experience was that bad, especially if you're new to gaming.
I've seen it happen. Brand new players to role-playing, wargaming, or boardgaming get run off by a bad session, never to return. The first session is key for getting somebody hooked into the hobby, followed by the second, and the third, and the fourth.
Heck, every session is a unique experience that can make or break a gamer. I've seen veteran gamers sit at home, doing something "more productive" (even if its just watching TV), rather than join a bad game.
I can't blame them, because there are no mediocre sessions.
A good session is when you have a good time. A great session is when everybody has a good time. When you don't have a good time, the session sucks.
Odds are, in a group environment, that while you're having a good time somebody else might be bored or upset about something.
Tabletop gaming has enough competition as it is--movies, TV, sports, other table games that you don't play. Overtime a session sucks, that increases the chance of somebody leaving to do something "more productive."
Don't make your session drive players to the competition.
And when I say "you," I'm talking to "you" as a player, a gamemaster/referee, or both.
Victoria Praeparatio Amat offers material I haven't seen in articles on running a game, or at least not in a long while. It's about coming to a session prepared to have a good time and helping others do the same. Most articles are geared toward the GM, with lots of tricks and tidbits that really don't apply to players. I hope to change that with this series.
The only article that I know which comes close is Five Geek Social Fallacies, by Michael Suileabhain-Wilson. Even though its over ten years old, you should read it. If you've read it already, re-read it: it has some important "aha!" moments every gamer needs to experience.
Next Wednesday, I'll share with you VPA's first "aha!" moment:
Be a friend.
It sounds simple, but amazes me how people can be friendly in real life but end up being jerks at the tabletop.