Five of us got together in The Batcave on Saturday night to finally resume our D&D campaign, on hiatus since November. The holidays are a frantic time to try to get together, and afterwards I had been preoccupied with working on Serenity Gulch (which I hope to return to this week!).
Talk of work and the workplace kept us preoccupied while I set up my screens and hauled out my copy of Pyramid of Shadows, looking for the Post-It note I left in the last room cleared. When I found it, I took a look at the overall map of the complex, and tried to figure out a way to get the party headed in the right direction.
Looking at the next encounter, I quickly determined that it had little or no value in terms of providing the party with either equipment or information needed to progress to the next level, and quickly decided to bypass it. However, looking at the next room after that, it was more of the same: another trap and some more monsters, with little narrative or drama to add to the proceedings.
Thinking back over the past few months, I couldn't remember that last cool 'war story' or innovative tactic; tales of players thinking outside the box or a novel approach to a problem. When we had come to the 4th edition of the rules, the clarity and simplicity had tremendous appeal. Now those same qualities threatened to turn thrilling adventure into perfunctory millwork, something no game should ever be.
In the meantime, discussions about the more mundane but no less challenging elements of our varied lives played out before; there was no compulsion to return to the fray, no burning desire to pursue the path to see where it led, or discover what fiendish behemoth waited at the end of this level. Had the time come at last for us to lay down, if not our swords, at least our dice?
I hesitantly explained my concerns to the players, and was relieved to discover that they had all felt similarly; in fact, more than one had said they found themselves hoping we would have too few players for quorum, meaning we could paint gunfighters or play something else.
As with so many things in life, it pays to know when to make a graceful exit, even in D&D, and we all elected to do so now. I am confident we will return again, some day, in some fashion, as the intrinsic thrill of slaying monsters, finding treasure and 'leveling up' has an inimitable appeal.
November 2009 (!)
I'm grateful to 4th ed. D&D for bringing us back into the fold; having not played an RPG since prior to moving to Toronto in 1995, it felt good, really good, to pick up character sheets, to push miniatures around a grid filled with dungeon walls, traps and all manner of fell creatures, and to see those same beasts bested with bravery, cunning and fortunate rolls of polyhedral dice. But 4th edition's focus on tactics and player powers meant that the storytelling and problem solving that I fell in love with as a youth were often relegated to the back seat.
Some of our group hadn't role-played in some time, one of us hadn't really done it at all, so 4th ed. broke the seal on that as well, and makes a wonderful set of RPG training wheels, if you will. I hope it paves the way so that when my Kickstarter copy of Spirit of 77 comes in later this year, we can jump straight in to a free form, extemporaneous game light in mechanics and heavy in soulful storytelling and collaborative improvisation between the players and the GM (or 'DJ' in this case).
Our busy lives as workers, bosses, contractors, parents, and children made it difficult to get together as often as we might have liked, and as Earl pointed out, is only likely to get even more busy as life progresses. As a result, we probably only got to play D&D a dozen times last year, but I still think it is nothing short of amazing that 5-8 mostly middle aged people could sustain such an endeavour for more than five years, regardless of frequency.
In the end, the choice not to continue a game that wasn't as much fun as it had previously been is not very likely to make anyone's top 10 list of momentous decisions, but it was still surprisingly hard to do. We all felt a little bad that we weren't able to at least finish off the Pyramid of Shadows, our current module, and there is always the risk that one person's tedious drudgery is another person's outlet for destructive tendencies.
Thankfully, we are an understanding group, committed to fellowship and fun, in that order, and as long as that remains the case, I am confident that new adventures and challenges will continue to present themselves.