Now that we’ve completed our third annual spring dungeon crawl with the return to the remote dwarven community on the World’s Spine and their confrontation with the shadowdragon which they had originally encountered in the first dungeon crawl, not to mention going strong into our forth season of play, it seemed like a good time to do my yearly round up and talk about some of the things I’ve learned running a tabletop game like this for such a long time. Granted there are games out there that have undoubtedly run longer, but on average it’s rare for a group to be able to keep the momentum behind a serial game. Most eventually peter out, and more often than not because of life, than any other reason, finding it difficult to keep a schedule that all of the players can continue committing to over the span of years.
Having recognized early on the inherent difficulties of scheduling around television production, and that it more likely I’d never have the same group of players available from session to session, such that the very first lesson I laid out was the necessity for keeping story arcs short – spanning two or three sessions – along with some liberal use of Island Theory, and having an “out” should a player not be able to make one. Thankfully the TSR Forgotten Realms campaign setting comes with such a built in option, being notorious as both a place riddle through with passageways allowing for not only travel across the Faerun, but even between planes, and that travel magicks can be unreliable, allowing for characters to become “lost in transit.” This is especially true if such transportation is by means of a temperamental air elemental. This has proven invaluable, ensuring that people can come and go as their schedules allow, while providing a “believable” reason for their absence as the continuity of games and their settings can be sensitive to such comings and goings.
Not only has this ensured semi-regular attendance, but has created sub-plots that allow players to take part in architecting surprise – an aspect that I’ve struggled to incorporation since I mentioned it in my second lesson, given my inclination to play everything out in the open – when they’re revealed to other characters not present for that segment of the game, keeping things fresh and interesting for everyone around the table, not to mention contributing to a number of great in-character discussions as the players work – or not depending on their character’s motives – to bring each other into the loop. All of which however leads to another of my lessons, in knowing when to be the facilitator that your game needs, and when to give the players enough lead to carve out their respective parts of the story. That investment, above all others, is where you get the real dividend. So you need to steel yourself against the inclination to “clarify” or remind players. I’ve learned that they in fact remember, and as a result are intentionally sharing what they want shared. Stepping in can in fact be detrimental.
It’s the same instinct that you need to hone when deciding how long to let an in-character discussion go. But with a little trial and error you should get a feel for it.