I know it’s been a minute since I’ve posted, I’ve been busy with life in general, but now that it’s summer and there are almost no students on the campus that I work on, hopefully I’ll be able to keep this series a little more lively.
This week’s installment is about the space that gamers play in and how that can have an effect on the game. Available space, the type of seating (and how people are seated), even the surface that you play on can have an effect on the game participants as well as how the game goes. Some might say the impact is negligible, but in my experience the impact is always noticeable.
I’m sure everyone wished for a game room that’s like this:
But in reality, we all probably game I an environment more like this:
Perhaps not quite the same ambiance as the pictures above, but that can all be manufactured (I’ll discuss props in my next installment). Regardless of your set up there are a few things that you want to make sure that you have: 1) Enough Seating, 2) Ample Space, 3) Easy to Reach Reference Materials, 4) Access to snacks. In this post, I plan on focusing primarily on points one and two and things that I have learned.
Point number four, I’m not going to dwell on too awful much as it’s pretty self-explanatory. The only comment that I will make is that if you are hosting a game night, make sure your either rotate who is in charge of snacks, or you have everyone contribute to the snack pool. My husband and I were the soul providers of snacks for quite some time for our group and if you’re on a budget it can put a big dent into it.
Let’s dive into my first point: ensuring that you have enough seating. This seems like a no brainer, but I have gamed before where there wasn’t enough seating and people had to sit on the floor or prop up on sofa arms and things like that. When there’s not enough seating or the seating is rundown or older, it can have an adverse effect on the overall experience. Whether you’re the player or the DM, an uncomfortable seat can easily translate to a lack of focus and a case of “ants in your pants” syndrome where you are constantly fidgeting and attempting to get comfortable.
If the session that you’ve planned requires this anxious feeling then…congratulations! You have achieved what you set out for! For the rest of the gaming groups out there, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle to keep players (and yourself) engaged.
For example, the chairs that you see in the picture of our dining room above were not the original chairs for the table. These were the original chairs:
When I originally inherited the set, there were 6 chairs. After about 5 months of gaming, we were down to one. For a while our game group was sitting on (almost literal) pins and needles because we were afraid of breaking these chairs. After a few session dozen session of leaning back, settling, and shifting, we started busting chairs – namely the wicker backs and splitting the legs. Nothing disrupts a game worse than someone plopping down in their seat and hearing a crunch/snap and then suddenly having to sit on the floor.
Working hand in hand with ensuring that you have enough seating is enough elbow room for your players. In general it’s nice not to feel crowded and to be able to have room for your character sheet, dice, and note taking apparatus (notebook or laptop). This of course doesn’t count things like maps, grids, diagrams and other large items. It also helps with dealing with power gamers and cheats…
Thus begins my sidebar:
Let me tell you a story of a gamer that was part of our group for a short time…We’ll call him Steven. Steven…there are so many things I could say…he was a good kid, a nice guy, and we enjoyed having him in our group. The problem with Steven was that all of his Role-Playing experience came from World of Warcraft.
Now before you start slinging arrows my way…there is nothing with playing World of Warcraft. Heck I played WoW for 8 years before I finally kicked the habit. Anyone from the Argent Dawn server remember running with a Human Priest named Izzybella? Hey! Hi, how are you doing? I loved World of Warcraft, but it got to a point where it was either I pay bill or pay for my subscription. You can guess what won.
The thing with WoW and other video game based RPG’s (and how they differ from a table top RPG) is that typically they are geared toward some ultimate end goal. Linear plot or open world sandbox…they are not infinite and you will eventually run out of things to do (until the next expansion or DLC) and/or wind up repeating the same quests over and over. A player cannot take a left turn and throw the program off its game like you can with a table top game. An example of this is the Dungeon and Raid system in WoW. The bosses are just patterns that players learn. When players face a new boss, they can grind until they have a strategy perfected – Enemies that are programmed to do specific things in a specific sequence and pretty close to non-reactive.
Additionally with most of these games, there’s the grind…the goal to reach a maximum level, to get the best gear, and do the harder challenges. Most of which have no impact on the world at large – to me this was the biggest issue I have with video games – the static versus dynamic worlds that you get in table top RPG’s. You are an active player that completing quests to change the world that you are in and when you complete the quest you get an award (gold or XP), but nothing really changes. Someone will come along after you and get and complete the same quest from Ma Stonefield to kill Princess the pig.
And while WoW boasts millions of players…an overwhelmingly large amount of the content can done as a solo player, making you self-reliant on things like healing, defeating difficult opponents, etc. As I stated above, the dungeon and raid system doesn’t really lend itself to building up team work…as long as you know the boss patterns and do what you’re supposed to, you get to stay in the party. If you don’t you get booted without as much as a peep from the party leader. Thus creating a gamer that is used to doing (and getting) whatever they want.
My final observation is that the RP in video game RPG’s mostly refers to your class and/or what skill set you place importance on…a literal role versus taking on a completely different persona. This again has to do with a static world versus a dynamic one. While some games do provide dialogue options, so you can give your character a bit of personality, you’re still being limited as a player. I realize that there are some strong RP guilds out there and RP servers…but most of that is confined to Goldshire Inn (if you know what I mean…if you don’t count yourself lucky).
Allow me to reiterate, I’m not trying to rag on WoW. The game is incredibly successful as an MMORPG with fun and addicting game play…but what the game values and rewards for a video game RPG doesn’t necessarily translate to a table top RPG well.
For our dear friend Steven, he viewed the D&D game like it was logging on to WoW: I’ve got to be the strongest, the fastest, the best…I’m going to do whatever I want because it’s not really going to affect any one or thing. Oh…how wrong he was…
So, second session in on a D&D campaign that my friend Kyle was running resulted in us coming across a Dragonborn camp that had been ravaged, massacred bodies everywhere, with a young child still being a live but barely holding on to life. Steven was playing a rogue gnome that was on the Good axis of the spectrum…however, he went with immediately ignored the child and started searching the tents looking for loot, deciding to light each one on fire after he had “searched” it. Granted, pretty sound logic for a gnome rogue…somehow…but he spent about as much time searching tents as it takes to right click a mob’s dead body. Not enough time to thoroughly search, so he didn’t find anything.
At this point I feel compelled to tell you about our tank (as played by our friend Rae) who was a Dragonborn warrior, who has backgrounds making him very proud of his heritage and hateful towards those that did not show his people and culture respect. Needless to say the gnome gotten a new one ripped wide open. But Steven was not deterred – in fact his game style continued along the same vein as he played with us…focusing on himself and what he wanted to do and ignoring any plans the group was attempting to formulate. There were several times where our characters would literally grab his by the scruff of his neck and hold on to him so he couldn’t run off.
I understand that was how he chose to play his character, by over emphasizing the mischievous nature of a gnome. But there usually comes a breaking point where a player realizes the group is getting tired off it, and they back down for the sake of group cohesion and everyone getting enjoyment out of the game.
Additionally the whole situation was compounded by the fact that Steven broke 2 cardinal rules of gaming – altering dice rolls and meta-gaming. I plan on doing a separate post on meta-gaming and dealing with meta-gamers (essentially people who break the 4th wall…Deadpool is the ultimate meta-gamer). Dealing with people who alter dice roles ties into your game space. Ensuring everyone has enough elbow room to roll is key, but making sure that people roll on the same surface keeps them honest.
We gamed in our living room for a long time as it was the only room with enough seating for our entire game group, but even then it was a bit of a squeeze and someone had to sit on the floor. We didn’t have near enough flat surface space for everyone, so many of us had clipboards with storage compartments that we could use to roll our dice on. A set up like this almost begs for someone to fudge with their numbers. And for Steven, it was just too tempting of a proposition.
Steven, as a level 3 or 4 rogue in D&D Next/5th Ed, was on average rolled a 27 on his hits (using a bow and arrow and NOT flanking his target) often getting between 7-10 natural 20’s in a night of playing. After making his roll it would often take him an additional 2-3 minutes to add his various bonuses to his rolls. I’m an English major and I can quickly add 3 numbers…I may have to use both hands, but dang it I get the job done. With Steven, you could tell he was trying to figure out how to doctor his number so it wouldn’t sound too out of line.
And I get it. I know everyone wants to be the perfect badass and nail the shot every time…but half of the fun of D&D is getting the critical failure and dealing with the fall out. If it wasn’t for critical failures (on both the player’s and my part as DM), my current group wouldn’t have background stories for the following: #faylivesmatter, #mudmuffin, #hagmuff, #downtowntopoundtown, #Joe’sNefariousLLC.
When we got the dining room table and started playing at that, suddenly Steven began not rolling so well. Everyone could see his roll instead of him rolling it on a side table where only he could see it. So when he rolled a 2, the response from the group would be, “Aw…bummer, dude.” Instead of rolled eyes when he told us that the once again rolled a 30 and hit the monster. Having the appropriate amount of space and an appropriate play area will (literally) put everyone on the same playing field, to share in the triumphs and failure of dice rolling.
Ultimately, you have to remember that’s what the game is all about…having fun, socializing, and not seeing who’s the biggest and baddest in the group. Having the correct space to play in is important to the mentality of the group, and should be a consideration that’s at the front of your mind when you start to play.