As Britain enters the (rather strange and seemingly mythic) “post-pandemic” era, I have been thinking a bit about how to work towards a regular face-to-face game. I’ve had a couple of stabs at this but life is, as always, a bit more complex than our naked hopes might care to admit. I don’t think my Friday night game is quite dead… but it might be on hiatus.
I think the answer, long-term, will be to offer and run an Open Table. Again, this is one of the big influences of The Alexandrian on my thinking over the past 3 or 4 years through his Open Table Manifesto. What it boils down to is running a classic fantasy Megadungeon and/or Hexcrawl game which is open to whomever is interested and available for each individual session. It’s the opposite of a “dedicated table”.
For me, this was how I opened the School Gaming Club at my last school: the students could drop in, roll up a character, dive into the Megadungeon for a couple of hours, and then come along next whenever they wanted. The table quickly grew to having about 15-18 players with maybe 6 or 7 in each session.
With all of this in mind, and while working on an OSE-powered one-shot, I decided to develop the game world to be ready to run as an Open Table. The reasoning was simple: while it is fine to set up a single dungeon, I was enjoying the trip back into the classic games structures – dungeoncrawling and hexcrawling – and got excited about an idea for a small hexcrawl map. Once I made the effort to design the map, why not key it and set it up for play?
The great thing about Open Tables is that anyone can play at them. My current interested players for the one-shot are all online (being in Aus and the USA) but there is nothing stopping players more local to me from picking up some characters and entering play as a separate group. Once you have the infrastructure of the world and the game structures in place, it’s trivial to prep and run a session anytime.
This is, as The Alexandrian points out, exactly how we used to play “back in the day”:
To understand what I mean, let me cast your thoughts back to that time when I used to game all the time: Lunch hour (or any other snatch of free time) would roll around and we’d pull out our D&D manuals and our character sheets. One of us would volunteer to DM and that guy would grab whatever dungeon he was currently working on (or he had just read through) and we would start playing. Eventually lunch hour would come to an end and we’d pack up our things. And the next time we played, we’d either continue exploring that same dungeon or we’d start exploring some other dungeon (possibly with a completely different DM). Maybe we’d use the same characters; maybe we’d have rolled up a new character or feel in the mood to play somebody else from our stable. Whatever worked, we did it.The Alexandrian, “Opening Your Game Table“
On a practical level, what this approach does is make scheduling less of a problem. Rather than wrangling about who can or cannot attend the sessions, the GM instead sends out a message to anyone interested and says, “We’re playing on (say) Friday, anyone interested?” As the prep is the same each time, the set up is quick and simple, and the players don’t need to be consistent, well… it takes a lot of pressure off everyone.
As I look forward, I think the idea of developing an Open Table sandbox game which is packed with content upfront but all ready to play anytime is just right for tempting shy, nervous, lapsed, and dead keen players alike back to the table. In fact, as I get older, I start to wonder if the dedicated table is always the best thing. As much as I love my deep worlds and characters, there is much to be said for a quick treasure-hunting raid on a megadungeon and a knock about with some mates.