My friend Bob was the first player to take a character across The Veil in the realm of Hiraeth last night. The fact that he was the only player and we had a duet session made it no less exciting or enjoyable. Along the way, I learned a few more things about running an Open Table.
Run With Whoever Shows Up
The biggest learning point was to run the game with whomever shows up. To make the session viable, I decided to place Donart (Bob’s character) into a small scouting party tracking down the dog-like humanoid creatures who had desecrated a nearby burial cairn. With one player character, a scout leader, and three scouts – that’s four NPCs – the expedition felt reasonable. I think making it possible for the players who show up to have a session is vital.
What was particularly good was the way in which the player rose to the challenge of exploring the wilderness and, ultimately, found out what happens when you cross the mystical Veil. For those who are new to my campaign world, The Veil is described as a tall pale and blue shimmering mirrorlike disturbance in the air and through it can be dimly seen an alien vista: tangled roots and tall thin trees with broad-leaves in a dense jungle.
Donart also found the way to a new location and has opened the path for other adventurous players to follow. Discovering the ruins of some ancient civilisation, half buried in the jungle swamps, was a significant moment in the campaign.
EXPLORATION IS ITS OWN REWARD
I’ve long enjoyed exploration games and I have always wanted to run a hex- and dungeon-crawl game in this style. What pleased me last night was the way in which Donart’s expedition revealed some rich and interesting details in the world and simultaneously engaged Bob in playing. It was clear that this player enjoys finding out stuff in play and it was mutually gratifying to share that with him.
One of the fascinations of roleplaying games for me has been this explorative element because it is intrinsically rewarding. It’s enjoyable to many people to delve around the setting and figure out what’s where. While some may claim that extrinsic rewards like treasure and experience points are important, I am coming to realise that the enjoyment we take from exploration is in itself valuable.
SHORT SESSIONS ARE BETTER THAN NO SESSIONS
We played for about one and a half hours before Donart and the party agreed that discretion was the better part of valour. Having found the ruins and spotted a small group of the dog-like invaders apparently on guard at the top of the tallest structure, the decision was taken to withdraw. Although the retreat cut the session short, it was still great to play and preferable to saying, “Hey, there’s only you tonight so let’s rain check.”
In the past, I would probably have not run the session. For a dedicated table, where you expect the players to show regularly, this would certainly be the case. But with an Open Table, where you run with whomever shows up, I think honouring Bob’s attendance was vital. More than that, I think honouring my own prep was important too. As a reward, we found a way to create an interesting session and discover some things about the world.
This morning I am feeling energised and positive about the game. My sense of doubt has evaporated: while I was afraid the game would never get off the ground, I think that starting with whomever shows gained us some momentum. My hope is that other players will join in and they can arrange another session soon.
One final piece of learning: even though the rules are behind the screen, I have taken the decision to tell players the Experience Point awards they have earned each session. It’s the only game-related number on their Character Record but I feel that giving them those awards – and telling them what they earned points for achieving – is an important tool for giving players a gauge on their character’s development.
And now, given the enthusiasm I feel for the game after a good session, I’m off to prep a little more.