Thursday, June 23, 2011

Changes, changes

Old habits die hard: tabletop miniatures games
"Very pretty John, but
what does it mean?"
(Damned if I know BTW)
When you're depressed you often become withdrawn to the point of being reclusive. The resulting emotional disconnection from so much of your life means that a period of depression really isn't the best time to make decisions of any consequence about your life, not least because coming out of depression means that you face putting back together everything which has been disrupted when you were down. So you could easily dispose of things or give up on activites which are really important to you because you take your depressive emotional disconnection at face value, when you're really just expressing your dread of the effort it'll take to get everything sorted out when you're feeling better.

Memories, sigh
All of which is by way of preamble to an explanation of some changes in my gaming tastes and habits which have come upon me in recent months. First and foremost is that I'm giving up tabletop miniatures gaming. This is something of a painful break, and even as I type this I'm struck by a sense of unreality, not to mention wistful nostalgia. After all, my life as a hobby gamer started nearly 40 years ago when my brother and I made up our own rules for playing proper games with our Airfix 1/72nd Napoleonic toy soldiers.

An all-too-familiar sight!
Tabletop miniatures gaming- or to be more precise, collecting miniatures with a view to tabletop gaming; this has been part of my hobby whenever I've been active as a gamer. And I've always enjoyed my tabletop games- eg. last year's games with Penumbra's Talons. The sad reality though is that games have been few and far between. More important than that: I just can't be arsed with the effort of army-building. It's too much like hard work for me, which turns the most important part of tabletop miniatures gaming- the visual appeal, into a dreaded chore.

Hexes, lovely lovely hexes!
More than all of that, I must confess a longstanding sneaking preference for boardgames. Why? Several reasons. First: it's in the nature of boardgames that the location of every piece in the game is well-defined. It's in the nature of tabletop games that it's not. This is the old measurement problem, and every tabletop gamer will have their stories about 'creative' measurement. I like the fact that boardgames circumvent this completely.

Elegant functionality:
a beauty all its own
In addition, boardgames are typically deeper and more challenging games than tabletop games. I must qualify that statement with the recognition that this isn't necessarily true of tactical games, all the more so because simplicity seems to be increasingly the trend in some corners of both genres. By and large though the statement holds true, especially when you consider the vast range of operational and strategic level board wargames which, by definition, are beyond the scope of tabletop gaming as such.

Just a small selection...
Talking about "vast" ranges of board wargames brings me to another salient point: variety (check out this list of board wargames @Wiki to get an idea of what "vast" means in this context). Ringing the changes with your boardgaming experience is a relatively simple matter: you get your new game; prepare the counters and study the rules; get your willing opponent in front of you, and you're good to go. Tabletop games bring with them the added complications of all that painting, as well as finding opponents who've collected their own armies should you be interested in a game which is out of the mainstream.

Under a large shadow: roleplaying games
"The Shadow knows!"
It's been 2 years since I last played an RPG: during Keith Baker's 2009 visit as part of his ongoing Have Dice Will Travel world tour (also to be found on The Escapist Magazine: Live Bookmarks feed here). I wrote way back in May 2009 of my hopes that I'd get over my burnout following on from my Ashes of Middenheim campaign and get some more roleplaying going. Sadly, that one game with Keith aside, this just hasn't happened.

I'm soft & cuddly,
Reasons for this are various, general lack of player interest in the Sunday group being primary. Also important though for yours truly is this "large shadow". Less the various problems associated with the aforementioned burnout, this is really a matter of the burden of the past. Let me explain. Regular readers might remember how I wrote last year about my friends' and my own intense engagement with our games and our PCs in our free and easy student days back in 80s. The outstanding result of this was a degree of emotional involvement with our PCs which enabled the GMs cruelly to manipulate us by pushing the psychological buttons we had so conveniently laid out before them. Oh how we loved it!

Gotta get inside your head
For me then, these peak gaming experiences mean that roleplaying is strongly associated with the particular psychological payoff you get when your identification with your character is so great that you are literally choking with emotion as you make an empassioned speech, or do something just plain stupid because it really is what your character would do when they'd been pushed to the extremes the GM has put them in (not to be confused with doing something stupid in, say, D&D because you're a party-fucking dipshit).

I may be the
Master of the Universe,
but I'm only human
Of course I was typically PCing back then. I was the GM during the Ashes of Middenheim, but I rarely felt that my players were giving me anything significant to work with in the terms I've described above. Honesty compels me to note that this could've had as much to do with my limitations as GM as anything else (and there were plenty of those on show). Only my players could really adjudicate on that and we never really got to discussing issues like these, neither during nor after the campaign.

So I'm left with this hankering for that special something which only roleplaying can offer: not just the form of playing a single character; but the content unique to that form, content which even the most satisfying boardgame victory can't deliver. Writing this I find myself wondering if our youth might've been the decisive factor in our willingness as players to step up the way I've described. I can't say for sure, but I hope not because this is an itch I really want to scratch.

And so?
Aging grognard
on the prowl
Giving up miniatures games has had no effect on my time because I've actually done so little associated with that hobby in recent years. I just no longer spend time poring over various Space Marine codexes dreaming about army lists. It's possible that I will return to miniature painting as a relaxing aside to other activities. I don't really know, but I certainly haven't given up the notion. Meanwhile, I'll be continuing recent efforts to play more of my collection of wargames (if you look at my boardgame collection over at BGG you'll see that there are many wargames there which have few or no plays). In any event dear readers, don't expect any more Penumbra's Talons battle reports or articles drooling over the latest Space Marine goodies from that old money-sucker GW.

Dig those
threads man!
As for roleplaying? Hopes of a return to the Warhammer Old World are still alive. More significantly perhaps, I'm considering investigating the Indie games scene. Regular readers might remember that I first met British indie publishers at Conpulsion 2010, and I met them again at UK Games Expo 2010. I've not yet had a chance to play any of the 3 games I bought at those events. Interestingly enough, one night some months ago I sparked Gav's (last seen leaving a hapless princess to her fate in a game of Descent) interest in Dogs in the Vineyard (a game which had conspicuously failed to interest anyone else). The rules rapidly captured his imagination in no uncertain terms and he spent the rest of the night reading them with mounting enthusiasm. Unfortunately this didn't translate into a playing opportunity.

"Do you feel happy punk?
Well, do you?"
Chances to play some indie games and find out if they're to my liking currenlty hinge on Glasgow Indie Gamers, a group I discovered on Facebook last year. I went to one of its early pub meetings last year, before the downswing kicked in bigtime. There was a healthy turnout of an interesting variety of people. The group is also frequented by the indie designers who live in Scotland. I guess it's time for me to shift my ass and turn up to another monthly meeting. The next one is Monday coming. Fingers crossed I guess. ;)


gnome said...

Ah, yes, the same sad story I too experienced. Time for painting, preparing, etc minis and the money needed to grab them has been far too short. It's been almost 5 years since the last time I played Warhammer, Chronopia or anything else miniature related, and a mere 6-7 months since the lasts time I enjoyed a RPG.

Then again you are right. Board games are cheaper, sleeker and way more compact. Also non compulsive gamers tend to also enjoy them, which makes playing them a distinct possibility.

"A bit political on yer ass!" said...

Time for painting, preparing, etc minis and the money needed to grab them has been far too short.

Yeah, well I've got too much time on my hands, so it's more a matter of will for me. The whole thing's just too much bother.

A significant moment for me (which I neglected to mention in the post) was when I was faced with some relatively minor work to prepare for the Partick Crucible tournament I wrote about in June 2010. I just couldn't be arsed. This led me seriously to question whether I was really that interested in the whole business. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that the cost-benefit analysis meant that I wasn't.

"A bit political on yer ass!" said...

BTW, I meant to ask: what do you think of my jokey wee captions? I'm having fun with them. ;)

gnome said...

I quite love them! Give the whole blog a more magazine-like feel and -of course- add an extra splash of humour.

"A bit political on yer ass!" said...

Thanks matey. And I've just remembered my idea for the missing caption on today's post...

Dangerous Brian said...

Oh, I wouldn't say I lacked emotional engagement for my character, Seigfried, in the Ashes of Middenheim game. Actually, he was one of my favorite RPG characters for a very long time.
I was pretty choked up when we finally got the young lass Bianca to her uncles Seneschal. I have to admit that the scene where a madman attempted to capture the little girl in the inn had me particularly engaged. No way was I letting that sick bastard kidnap a fellow orphan.

And then there was that time I stupidly charged down an open sewer in pursuit of the skaven that tok down Alathra. I knew it was nuts and saw that lost fate point coming a mile off. But damn it, I was playing a thug with delusions of self-important grandeur. No way was he letting that litle Rat get away.

Too this day, I still rate that campaign as one of my very favorites. And thats not just nostalgia talking. It was a great game and a fun group, warts and all.

"A bit political on yer ass!" said...

Thanks for the kind words Brian, and I'm pleased you have such fond memories of the campaign. I do too, even if Siegfried's mishap while up to his neck in ordure probably isn't one of them!

I guess I may be overstating the problems and disappointments of the campaign, and downplaying the successes. For example, I would rate in-character conversations- both in the group and with NPCs, as a measure of player identification with their character. This is important for the GM because it's a vital part of their fun; and for the PCs because relaxing into and being your character with the other players is invaluable for the players' fun and the overall group dynamic.

From the campaign I can remember the feeling of disappointment that there wasn't enough of this going on (inter-PC dialogue especially), on the one hand; yet on the other hand I can remember some particuarly enjoyable speeches of my own, which must've involved PCs to some extent. I don't know for sure, but I do still feel that it was difficult to get people to talk as their characters often enough. Or it could all be that the shadows of the past loom very large.

Dangerous Brian said...

Honestly, I feel it's fair to say it was a bit of both. We tended to have IC conversations amongst ourselves, but not all of us used the word "I" when referring to character actions as much as you would like.

I also recall that many of our planning sessions were OOC -which I think was one of your major fraustrations. However, I loved the IC byplay between Berty and Siggy - and the "just keep walking and dont look back" incident with Grundi was pure IC comedy gold. One of my favorite moments of the campaign.

There was also a great deal of inter-character banter (usually slagging one another off IC) and lots of IC complaints and moaning from Bertholdt (though sometimes it was hard to tell if the accusations of stupidity were coming from Andy or his character.

I think John, that you very much underestimated how much we were all invested in that campaign. Not as much as you certainly, but thats true of every campaign I've ever played in. It always seems to be the GM's baby more than the players. I think thats just the nature of the beast.

I miss gaming with you buddy. We had some fun times. And I'd just like to say once again how happy I am that you're feeling well again.

Dangerous Brian said...

And by the way, your portrayal of many NPC's - Bach and that mad Ulrican priest was fantastic.

But your best-played NPC of the campaign has got to have been that accursed magical skull! The damn thing got everywhere.

Not every Dm can give something as inanimate as a skull a sense of personality John. You should be very pleased with yourself that you did it so well.

"A bit political on yer ass!" said...

Thanks for these comments Brian. They're helping put some things in context. I'm beginning to think now that the major problem was communication: I kept trying to get feedback on what you players liked and disliked, so that I could more closely tailor the sessions to your interests. I can state with 100% confidence that feedback was rare. Nobody seemed interested in talking over sessions after the event, and my efforts to get these conversations going just fell flat.

In fact, Andy told me something interesting relevant to this whole topic; last summer I think it was. I asked him why he never talked about the WFRP campaign. His answer was that it was done so that there was nothing to talk about as far as he was concerned. This surprised me greatly, because I happen to think that roleplayer's 'fish stories' are an important part of the life of a roleplaying group for a variety of reasons, many having nothing whatsoever to do with the GM's fragile little ego(!).

And yes, I had fun tormenting you all with the Brass Skull, and playing out the rantings of poor Father Ranulf. But Bach? I can't remember any Bach. Unless he was that Captain Siegfried tried to pick a fight with?

Anonymous said...

So glad you are back!! I have checked your blog faithfully over the dark months and was getting a bit worried latterly.

Anyway all the best for your future gaming.

Love Ros x

Dangerous Brian said...

Hi Ros. Hope your keeping well.

You're right, we were a pretty poor bunch for giving feedback, and we never did seem to talk about the game during dinner in the pub afterwords. I think it was because, unlike most groups, we did our socialising and catching up AFTER the game. Not before.

We tended to have pretty sharp start times if I remember right.

"A bit political on yer ass!" said...

Hi there Ros. It's always nice to know that you're keeping your eye on me out there. ;)