Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Long-form play and open table on the Gauntlet

Most events on the Gauntlet Calendar are part of a four or five session campaign, long enough to explore setting and characters, to allow for character growth and to emulate the typical story structure of introduction, complication, climax, and resolution. However it is short enough to be manageable for grown-ups trying to juggle jobs, family, and hobbies.

Some games, on the other hand, demand more commitment: While Apocalypse World is designed with a definite end of the story in mind it will most likely take more than four sessions to finish the story arc. While it is possible to play a satisfying single session of Night Witches it can be much more fulfilling to play a literal campaign from Engels Airdrome to the final duty station Buchholz—or to travel on the Orient Express from London all the way to Constantinople.

Not the Orient Express

Apart from being difficult to plan and organize, longer campaigns also exist in tension with the open table policy of the Gauntlet: As a player you have to sign up for sessions individually and GMs can’t be sure to have the same players over the course of a campaign, a feature that prevents the balkanization of the community when countless in-groups only ever play with the same few players. On the other hand, the series of events that are supposed to form a campaign might feel disjointed if the cast of players constantly changes. Another challenge is to manage relationships between PCs or PCs and NPCs. Many games track the relationship status—e.g. Strings in Monsterhearts—or prompt players to answer relationship questions. Others have NPCs tied to a certain player, for example in Urban Shadows or Apocalypse World. When the players don't take part in the campaign, Strings, relationships, and NPCs cease to be important or disappear completely.

Discarded NPC judging you silently

An obvious way to enforce coherence and continuity is to encourage signing up for all sessions. Almost every event on the Gauntlet Calendar will mention this. The Gauntlet GMing best practices document advises GMs to be cautious about going beyond encouraging this (e.g. by requiring that players sign up for all sessions of a series) so as not to undercut the open table policy.  The GM or facilitator can, however, reserve a spot for a regular player, or—if it is a continuing series—limit signing up for returning players at least for a certain amount of time, usually 24h.

Another less intrusive way to provide a more cohesive experience is to use information on the character keeper (NPCs, places etc) and write session reports or in-fiction documents. Lowell made this adorable session summary in-character for his World Wide Wrestling series and Puckett wrote a slightly exaggerated account of events for our campaign of Ultraviolet Grasslands. However this requires work for the person providing the information and for the new players to actually process them and in general continuity seems to be less of a concern on the Gauntlet. In a casual survey on the Gauntlet Slack most GMs declared that they weren't worried about it.

Wonders of the West

Examples of long-form play on the Gauntlet

One way to organize campaigns on the Gauntlet is as a quarterly. While GMs are normally encouraged to keep all the sessions contained in one month they can opt to either put all 12 sessions of a quarterly on the calendar at once or indicate that the first four sessions are planned to be the start of an ongoing series. Notable examples are David Walker’s Masks campaign (14 sessions) and Leandro running the entirety of the Band of Blades campaign in 15 sessions. Quarterlies can also be linked in order to play even longer campaigns: Leandro ran through all the playsets of Masks playing 41 sessions in total.

Alun R. approached long form play in a different way with his 30+ Eotenweard games: he occasionally would put a couple of sessions on the calendar that are set in the same setting with characters from one campaign leaving their influence on the world: t. Likewise Donogh used the same class room setup and relationship map for his Balhir run of Monsterhearts 2. In Donogh's 20+ 3:16 campaign NPCs had the biggest influence on continuity. Both didn't limit their sign ups although Alun would sometimes reserve a spot for a returning player. Rich runs several sessions of his Star Wars Saturdays each month but picks a different system from one month to the next. Players can bring back characters from previous series or spinoff new ones based on events in the games they have played. There is a wiki for Star Wars Saturdays that lists the PCs, links to the character keeper and the YouTube vids of the sessions. In December several Gauntleteers joined Rich in running Star Wars games in a big community event.

Lastly, long form play can be organized as living world campaigns where several GMs run games in the same fictional world with events in one game potentially having effects on another game. Notable examples are the now defunct Gaunt Marches (a Dungeon World setting with four GMs), and the ongoing Gauntlet Comics, a multiple GM-effort that is set in the same city, with neighborhoods created by players and GMs. An introduction to Gauntlet Comics can be found here: https://www.gauntlet-rpg.com/blog/gauntlet-comics-101

A Super Hero

I am currently running an ongoing campaign of Ultraviolet Grasslands, an epic pointcrawl over a vast map, with more than 30 sessions played and no immediate end in sight. Initially I was worried that the series wouldn't be suitable for  the Gauntlet. Would there even be interest in long-form play? How would it work with a constantly changing cast of characters?

To mitigate that I reserved a spot for one returning player (Puckett, who only missed two of the sessions); set up this blog ); created a dedicated channel on the Slack; and designed a sprawling character keeper that tracks trade goods, market prices, locations, NPCs etc. to create a sense of coherence. But looking back I think I shouldn't have been worried at all.

Not only is there a demand for longer campaigns, there is also supply: In October there were 20 events on the calendar that were part of a campaign with 7 or more sessions, in November there were 26.

Not only is it possible to run longer campaigns with an open table policy, but Gauntlet GMs have the will to make new players coming into an ongoing campaign feel welcome and the players coming into a campaign have the ability to make the sessions stand on their own and feel meaningful.

Proofreading by: Alun R and Alexi Sarge

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