Starting reading Robin Laws Hamlet's Hit Points that I picked up at PAX. I read the beginning and ending chapters around the analysis of three narratives that the book focuses on and I am underwhelmed. The beginning briefly writes off using literary criticism for its purposes, saying that it's all about words or theme or politics. Laws is either ignoring or ignorant (more likely) of the wide range of narratological lit crit that exists and would be suited for his purposes. I'm thinking of things like Russian Formalism, or the works of Gerard Genette, and in particular Barthes' S/Z which seems quite likely to be useful in the context.
Laws makes up a classification of "beats" to the narrative: procedural and dramatic being the primary ones, attached to a rising and falling motion that seems based on some audience reaction element. It's a bit squishy, but allows him to create diagrams (with icons and arrows!) of his analysis.
What, in reading the ending, he seems to fail at, is clearly applying this analysis to gaming. There's a brief comment about how of course in a game you have to allow for player choice, so it's not the same as plotting out a consistent narrative, but there's nothing practical about how to deal with that. In general, I'm lost as to how any of the "beats" are supposed to help me run a game, at least one that is not some sort of predetermined story path adventure.
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Anyway, I've probably already written about my game prep issues and related matters. As usual, I did have a few ideas come together at the last minute (yesterday mostly) on some larger elements of the campaign, but I'm still always worried about the smaller scale stuff at the moment. How do engage the players? How to add suspense or mystery, how to make sure I am offering the players choices. Feels like someone should have written a book about stuff like that by now. My main remaining prep is to find a decent spaceship map in case we get to the next scenario. If necessary I'll steal a dungeon map and try to adjust it, I guess.
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Though I also have my Stars Without Number game Saturday, which I have not at all prepped for yet (as usual). I find myself less and less enthused about this game, even only a couple uneventful sessions in, but I'd also feel super guilty about getting everyone to try this game and then giving up right away. It's not the game itself, but my own lack of clarity for how the campaign should go. I had all these ideas, but most of them were perhaps too vague. Maybe after all this time I just wasn't cut off for game mastering. I keep having trouble translating the ideas I get enthusiastic about into something playable.
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Yesterday's game was the most distracted session yet. Progress was slow and minimal, chatting, jokes, and digressions were maximal. In one sense, that's bad for the game, but just for the social aspect of our gathering it was fine. A big part of the game for all of us, I think, is just getting together. I don't see everyone in the group very often (some, really only when we play), but I really like everyone in the group, so even if we aren't focused on the game itself, it's still nice to just hang out.
I probably could have done better to keep things on track, but after a certain point I was feeling a lack of confidence in myself and my plans for the session, which made it easy to just not try to reign everyone in.
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We've been playing for more than 6 years now, though since we play approximately monthly, that only comes out to less than 70 sessions. My shifting desires for play also means we're now on our fourth campaign. After a early old school D&D game that I was completely making up, we tried a 5e D&D from one of the campaign books (well actually two since we started one and it sucked then switched to another), and then I tried another old school game set in the world of Dragon Age, and now we're playing Stars Without Number. In the end, I kind of wish I'd stuck with the first game, in retrospect I think it was my favorite cause it just... went where it was going. I started out with a map of Earthsea (I think I was rereading that at the time), picked an island to focus on, made a sort of map, and then a town and a city. I used the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh as a starter and then went from there. I hadn't run a game in forever, so it was a lot of me figuring out what I was doing, and I think in that respect I ended up being dissatisfied with my failures. I don't even remember why I ended up ending that campaign exactly, I think I wanted to spend less time prepping. With hindsight I think I was overprepping and hadn't learned enough about making use of tools to prep less, improvise more, and surprise myself more during the game.
Our second campaign started with the 5e dragon cult adventure on which I had read good reviews, unfortunately they were people I later learned to not trust for their taste in adventures. That quickly turned boring as I realized how inflexible the adventure was, so I worked up a way to migrate the game into the Curse of Strahd adventure, which I had read better reviews of. That went better, and we did end up getting to the end of that one (though I played Strahd too easy in their final fight, just to get it over with). Strahd was a lot less prep for me and was fun, but it also felt very limiting, particularly in regards to the PCs. They were pretty disconnected from any of the events. I also find 5e's rules too involved, especially when it comes to combat. Sometimes a single combat would take up most of a session with everyone using all their special abilities and the monsters having crazy amounts of hit points.
Our last campaign started as a good idea to make use of an already created world that I was familiar with as a base for a campaign. I thought that with a world I didn't have to create and one I knew really well it would save me time and effort. Unfortunately, the players (with one exception) didn't know the world, which made it feel like I had to do too much explaining to them. I placed the campaign in an area of the Dragon Age map that was otherwise unexplained, made a map and thought up a bunch of plot ideas and locations. Why did I end up wanting to give up on it? Maybe I'm just too restless to keep a campaign going. I always get all these ideas but then the follow through on them becomes tedious.
This new campaign (today will be session three, though much of session one was character creation) is science fiction and based around the central idea that the PCs wake up and have lost their memory. My hope is that it is a concept I can take to some endpoint without it taking years and years. To that point I need to make myself actively push the threads of that idea to the foreground, not draw out the mystery, the clues need to appear early and frequently. We'll see how that goes.
As usually the game starts in a couple hours and I'm still not sure if I prepped enough. It usually ends up that I prepped too much, but I still always have the fear I will be caught off guard and... what? My friends will laugh at me? Stop playing? Think less of me? Seems unlikely.
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