This is the last installment of a five-year run for my column at RPG.net, titled "The Horror!" It ran for the length of my horror gaming campaign. I'd like to thank Shannon Appelcline for giving me the platform to share my stories when I was just starting out on both the game and writing for the public.
Well, it's been a good run. I mean that in two ways: this column was fun to write and that my D20 Modern Delta Green campaign came to an end. Unfortunately, it also ended my long-term relationship with most of the gaming group.
The players were all my friends from junior high, high school, and beyond – we played almost constantly through my undergraduate college years until I finally moved away to pursue my graduate degree. When I returned to the East Coast again I struck up a new campaign. The first was a 3.5 Dungeons & Dragons game in the world of Arcanis, the second was the D20 Modern Delta Green game.
In retrospect the, Delta Green campaign was doomed from the start. As you may recall early on I tricked my players into playing survival horror. The group never really bought into the necessary disempowerment that's necessary to play a conspiracy game. We were always one step away from someone not wanting to play any more over the five-year life of the campaign, but I admit I found it an exciting challenge. Could I keep my players' interest in a game that catered both to their power gaming fantasy and still occasionally dipped into darker territory? Some days were magic. Others, not so much.
But there were other constraints as well. As an adult my campaigns were punctuated by the birth of children – my son's birth concluded the Arcanis game, my daughter's put the D20 Modern game on hiatus, and the pending birth of my brother's son and my godchild was a good place to conclude the game anyway since he wouldn't be around.
The players had challenges too. One steady player moved to Australia. Another got married and found a very busy new job. Still others had personal difficulties that made it hard for them to show up to game. My own efforts to game took considerable effort: I would take my son with me on the ferry over from Connecticut and my parents would pick me up to watch the boy while we gamed. Bringing any kind of accessories was challenging to say the least. It was fun for everyone except for my wife, who spent her weekend handling my daughter.
We also didn't game frequently enough. We played once a month with sessions that lasted six hours or more, depending on ferry and transit times. I wrote story summaries, but my players rarely read them. They couldn't remember important NPCs, plot points, or previous scenarios. It started to become clear that the only person interested in the campaign was me.
The last game was apocalyptic. There would be no happy endings. But even though I attempted to wrap up everything that had gone before, the players didn't remember enough to be able to connect the dots. The final scenario resulted in a suicide pact as our heroes realized that they were actually the cause of the end of the world. So they turned a satellite laser on themselves before they transformed into Nyarlathotep's vessel to herald Ghroth's arrival on December 21, 2012. The End.
At the campaign's conclusion, the players professed that they didn't really like the game's concept anyway. My tentative plans to start a new campaign set in a post-apocalyptic future in the same timeline were scuttled right there. It was clear it was time to find another group.
My New Year's resolution was to game with players who want to play. The Internet is chock-full of people in similar situations, adults who need the flexibility to game when they'd like, but who are willing to make the commitment to a long-term game. So I put the word out to 30 people I knew, we agreed on a campaign type (D&D 3.5), I picked the setting (Shackled City), and tools (RPOL and Roll20), and I waited.
RPOL.net is an excellent tool for role-playing with a small group. We measure combat rounds in days, so players have one day to react before forfeiting their turn. Exploration or interaction can take as long as necessary. We use Roll20 for maps and real-time gaming, which we save primarily for larger, complicated combat.
About 10 people showed interest. Of those, a good half disappeared without explanation. We agreed on a weekly time, which ended up being Sunday evenings at 8 p.m. EST. We began with eight of us total including me, but we're down to five now. With an online record of everyone that plays, it's pretty clear when someone isn't making the time to game.
It's a new feeling to game with someone who wants to be there, who pays attention and takes notes, who cares about the characters and the game. I've discovered life is too short to play with anyone who doesn't really want to play. And just because you're friends doesn't mean you should game together.
I wish you all the best in gaming in 2013.
Want more? Subscribe to this column; follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and the web; buy my books: The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games, The Well of Stars, and Awfully Familiar. Become an Examiner and get paid to write today!