Grim’s Tales: My Gaming History I & Q&A

Imaginative Play
Growing up I was surrounded by books and my dad and my grandmother were teachers, almost all my immediate family were bookworms and my dad had a consuming interest in science and, along with that, in science fiction. I still have most of his old paperback classics of the 70s and 80s in my bookcase (Why don’t they still make those short paperbacks I ask you? Why does everything have to be a Hamiltonian or Eddingsesque brick?). I was encouraged to be creative and to let my imagination fly and I was also surrounded by beautiful countryside, the very countryside that inspired Tolkien, Lewis, Richard Adams, Kenneth Grahame, Carroll and A.A. Milne. It was a fortunate childhood and I’m fortunate enough to find myself in the same surroundings again now as I’m writing this (though it’s not exactly convenient for the shops or gor getting a gaming group together – more on this later).

In short, it would have been a miracle if I hadn’t grown up into the creative whackjob I am today.

Like most children I got my first taste of ‘roleplaying’ without even realising what it was, we would play out Star Wars or James Bond in the school playground, occasionally – under the threat of kooties – we would be forced to play house with the girls, or occasionally some vague fantasy thing involving princesses and unicorns where it was never quite clear what the whole thing was about. Unlike the other kids I wasn’t also interested in football and my interest in imaginative games lasted long after most of the other kids had decided they ought to ‘grow up’ – around age ten or so – and that they didn’t want to play army and run around the woods like a mad thing any more.

Looking back on it I can see the evolution of my interests towards role-playing and it’s really as a sort of a justification to continue playing games after the others around me had, instead, gotten into – progressively – football, pop music, girls, studies, work and, ultimately, babies. The structure and the study that goes into it is, basically, an excuse and a method to continue that child-like play at make-believe and to ward off the barbs of critics, not that this always works and not that I’m saying this is a bad thing, not by any means.

I remember one game, a transitive moment in fact, very clearly. Myself and a friend had been dragged into playing one of the girly games (under threat of The Dread Lurgy) but had hit upon the idea of making it far more interesting to us, as boys, by playing at being knights – knights and princesses go together after all. We galloped around the school doing our best impressions of riding on horseback, something which, on reflection, probably resembled a cross between ‘I’m a little teapot’ and skipping and loudly proclaiming that we ‘Must save the princess’.

That was a mistake.

As we passed one of the older children teapot-skipping and dramatically declaring our intent to save the damsel from the dragon, he turned and – with sarcasm I have yet to hear equalled, so withering that it instantly aged me two years – said ‘Oh yes, we muuuuussst‘.

Instantly we felt like the most foolish creatures in existence and stopped, sheepishly creeping away to go and play British Bulldog instead to reaffirm our boyness. For all I know the poor girl is still there waiting for her knights in shining armour to save her from the dragon.

As roleplayers we need to recognise – and even be proud of – the fact that we’re playing, that we’re persisting in what children do. We dress it up in rules and shared game-worlds and canonical reference but really, at heart, it’s still playing. All that other gumph is just our armour against sarcastic bullies and it works very well indeed.

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Q&A
asks me about what to do with players who fall asleep in the middle of a game, but then goes on to give his own – very good – answers, rendering my advice largely redundant. Thanks cockbag! 😛

So, what should you do if one of your players falls asleep on you at the game? Well, that depends on the context really. The most obvious and universal answer is probably to poke them with a sharp implement, a pencil works quite well – and try to get their attention focussed back on the game while intraveniously feeding them Red Bull. Failing that:

If it’s very late: If you’ve been playing a while before someone falls asleep then you should feel flattered. Clearly they’re enjoying the game and are invested in it or they’d have begged of for beddy-bye-boes before they passed out at the table. You should probably come to an agreement with the rest of the group and play on up to a good point for the game to take a break until the next session. You can always poke them with a stick first and see if they want to try and stay awake and play, but the odds are that if one person is passing out then others aren’t that far behind.

If they’re just really tired: If someone’s falling asleep before the game starts, right at the beginning of the game or while the night is still young then things are more complicated. One person shouldn’t be allowed to spoil the game for everyone, whatever the circumstances. Falling asleep at the end of a long session is understandable and excusable, falling asleep at the start or in the middle of the action is not so understandable and is a bit disrespectful. If they’re that tired they should have stayed home and you could have worked around (see Emergency Contrivance below). Give ’em a poke first to see if they can stay awake,otherwise play on without them, the rest of the group deserves to have a crack at the adventure with or without them.

Of course it might be: As unpalatable as the thought might be the problem could just be that you’re being incredibly boring. Your masterpiece adventure might be slow and dragging, you may have slipped into a monotonous drone or you might be concentrating too much on one player at the expense of the others. Yes, boredom factor and sleepiness can be your fault as the Games Master. Consider switching things up a bit, throwing in a combat scene or an argument, getting up and gesticulating, varying your vocal tone. Anything to keep the player’s interested and don’t be afraid to ask them if it’s boring.

Emergency Backup Contrivance Omega IV:If a player fails to stay awake, or, indeed, fails to show up, you can always use the Emergency Backup Contrivance. This can take various forms but ultimately it is a means of providing an In-character excuse for the Out-of-character absence of a particular player and their alter-ego. Use one of the excuses below and consider giving the party a Non-Player-Character hireling or ally to make up for the gap:

  • The character has been kidnapped by the villain and his lackeys and is out of play for now, adding to the group’s motivation to get to the bad guy and rescue their companion. If they wake up before the end of the game then they ‘escaped’ with valuable information.
  • The character is ill and needs to be left behind to recuperate.
  • An emergency at home or some other obligation has called the character away.

Yes, these are all terribly contrived and unsatisfying excuses, but they’re better than nothing and a great deal of role-playing is built on contrivance and stereotype. ‘You’re all at the inn when a mysterious old man enters…’.