RPGKnights founder, Mark Knights, wrote his review of the 2d20 System Conan roleplaying game not too long ago. It reignited a fire in me to check out the tabletop RPG myself. I have since written several pieces on it including a review, some homebrew weapons, and player aides. I just had my second game night with my local hosta—I mean, um, local group: my family. The lessons I learned in our recent live play are not new, but solid reminders.
First, it’s important to keep in mind that while I have been playing roleplaying games for almost three decades now, I am coming off of an extended break. I have played numerous games over the past few years, but the last year or so I have been kind of “meh” on gaming. I hit a lull. My interest and energy were down. This wasn’t because of the people I played with, the games I played or anything like that. It was a cross between real life and a sort of burnout. It happens to many of us and that is okay.
The Conan roleplaying game by Modiphius has helped reignite that fire and interest in me. It is the first time in awhile I have been interested in a game not just because it is new. I have been able to dig out craft supplies I bought over the years for making terrain and actually started doing so. I have been bringing back ideas I always wanted to try or that have worked well for me in the past. But, most importantly, I am having fun playing—and talking about—this game.
There are a number of things that I have either learned or been reminded of and while it’s kind of like riding a bike, I have suffered some figurative bumps and bruises. In a way, it’s almost like being a new player. These things quite likely are not new to many, if any, of you. For me, it is interesting to remember or relearn why I did things the way I did.
First, Rule of Roleplaying Games: People Want to Play
If you’re playing FATE or Savage Worlds or a host of other games, one of the selling points is minimal prep. This is one of the reasons pre-written adventures and modules even for more rules-heavy games such as Pathfinder have been successful.
Preparing for a tabletop game can be a lot of work. This is also one of the reasons it can be difficult to find a Dungeon or Game Master. The majority of that work is often hefted upon them as part of their duties. They need to prepare the dungeons and traps and antagonists and everything that is not one of the players.
Over the course of a week or two, I had slowly made my family’s characters with them somewhat sporadically.
“Hey, what are you doing?”
“Great! Pick up some dice.”
I didn’t even tell them what they were doing really. I was enjoying myself and knew we’d try and play soon, but I wasn’t sure how soon. I didn’t want them to get too hyped up only for me to not start the game. Even worse, I wasn’t sure if my own excitement would diminish once the shininess wore off.
By week three, I knew the interest was going to stick around and I didn’t have to worry about running one or two nights and then never returning as has happened with games in the past.
However, I had helped everyone make their characters, but I didn’t transfer them over to the character sheets yet or pick out all of the talents or gear. Printing out sheets took a minute, but filling everything in and explaining things along the way took awhile. Literally, we spent hours doing this.
There was a certain amount of disappointment when we nearly didn’t get a chance to play because everything else had taken so long. So, we did play, but it was a somewhat abbreviated session.
With the way the XP rules in Conan work, I decided to give everyone a full session’s experience, because I didn’t want anyone to feel cheated because I had made some mistakes.
How to make it better?
- Pre-generated characters: fully printed out and ready to play
- Done less explaining in the beginning and explained the rules only as they came up
Pre-Written Adventures Can Really Help with a New Game
I was thinking that finishing up our characters and some quick explanations was going to go a lot faster than it actually did. With that, I thought we could have kind of a starter session where everyone got to know one another—the characters, not the family. This would also enable me, as the GM, to build an adventure custom tailored for the group.
That didn’t happen.
Back in the day, I was never a big proponent of pre-made adventures. Just another way for them to get more money from me. Right? Not necessarily.
Here I am, somewhat a gaming a veteran, and the genius of these products finally sinks in.
Listen, I know they tell some cool stories and people have all sorts of different reasons for playing adventures from publishers. That’s great, but I really enjoy adventuring and running adventures in my own worlds.
Here, however, as I am still getting the system straight in my head and I am trying to teach the other players through gameplay, the beginning adventure in the Conan core rulebook just makes sense.
It might be considered a cop out and I might get some digital fruit lobbed my way for saying this, but it makes my job a bit easier, because I can spend a bit more energy and mental focus on the rules and lean on the story in the book like a crutch.
Once everyone is more comfortable with the rules and the training wheels can come off, the story can be my main focus. Already, in my second session, this is happening. I’ve altered that beginning adventure a bit and started to look at the book a lot less.
Make Sure They Have the Tools
This has proven to be an issue both during the first and second game. I have provided the players with cards for their Talents and they understand how their characters work, but there are things that they still need to reference the book for regularly.
Most notably, these things are Momentum and Fortune. They understand when they get them now, but they don’t know how or when to spend them—or, more generally—what they can spend these points on.
Displays are something introduced during our second game night. They don’t know what all these options are either. So, looking it up, explaining it, them mulling the decision over in the heat of battle can certainly slow things down.
How to make it better?
Print out this information in an easily referenced format for the players—like the Gamemaster’s Screen. The screen won’t work too well for them, so I have a few ideas. I might use cards or even just a printed handout with some tables on it. I might also make those printed handouts take up the back of my GM screen, but I will have to check out if that’s easy enough for them to read.
Put the Damned Book Down!
I have played roleplaying games for a lot of years. Learning a new one isn’t that hard. One caveat I would make to that is that it is often difficult to unlearn what we already know. Often, in learning a new game, we expect certain things to work a certain way. These are vestiges from our pre-existing familiarity with other games.
As a result, I tend to look things up when playing a game the first couple of times. Admittedly, I look things up A LOT.
That happened here with the 2d20 Conan roleplaying game being new for me, The first game, everyone was very understanding. Couple that with it being late in the evening before we started playing and having to switch gears like I did, things were a bit rough and even slow.
The second time we played, however, running a combat was super slow. I didn’t even realize how slow until I looked at my watch. I could see some disinterest and aggravation around the table. I knew it was bad when I jokingly commented about someone not knowing what they wanted to do when their turn came up. After all, they had all that time to think about it when we looked something up for the player before her.
Man, looking things up like I did took way too long, even with notes and PostIt tabs.
How to make it better?
Make rulings on the fly. I had already made a correction at the beginning of our second night because I explained something incorrectly during our first night. As long as the players are cool with it, there is no reason not to rule it how you think it should work on the spot, look it up, and correct it if needs be later.
There is a Lot More Where That Came From
The things I mention above are just a couple of things that I thought mentioning, because they were so fresh in my mind after the recent game. This doesn’t begin to account for all the other things I do after years of playing roleplaying games including the rule of cool, colorful description over bland stat, hitting the beats, and so much more.
Has this ever happened to you? Do you suddenly remember something to make games run smoother and be more enjoyable and it’s kind of like an Aha moment? What other tricks do you use to teach your players a new system?