Saturday 16 June 2018

My rather disappointing Free RPG Day (that turned out not to be so disappointing after all).

Ready to play Star Trek Adventures: Biological Clock

Today was international Free RPG Day and our local friendly game store, Rules of Play hosted a sort of ‘play-on-demand’ event at ‘The Gate’ community and arts centre in Roath, Cardiff.
Five days ago in a fit of reckless abandon I volunteered to run Star Trek Adventures, specifically the fabulous, Biological Clock scenario by Fred Love. I’d attended the event last year but as a player in Andy Jones’ Runequest Quickstart game. This year I thought I would try my hand at GMing. It is, after all, a laid back event and it would be a good dry run for my stint at the Owlbear and Wizard Staff in Leamington in September.
Five days of furious map-making, paper model making, trips to the printers, reading of the rules and scenario and copious note-taking ensued and by 11:30 this morning I was ready.

It didn’t start well. I got to the venue by 11:55 but couldn’t find anywhere to park. I drove round and around but it was a hellscape of resident permit holder parking as far as the eye could see. I eventually found unrestricted parking at Roath Field just over half a mile from the venue and walked it.
By the time I got there it was 1pm and everybody was already well into their games with every table pretty full as far as I could see. There was only one table left. A long one with two women sat at the far end drinking coffee and clearly not part of the event. At the other end I set out my bits and pieces, dice, pencils, character sheets, phaser, tricorder, space ship etc and sat there, waiting, looking at Twitter. I was fully prepared to have no players if I’m honest. The event, as I’ve said, is very laid back with no real GM registration and no booking system. All one has to do to run a game is declare that you will on Rules of Play’s Facebook page, show up on the day, set out your stall and see if anyone’s interested. I was fully prepared for nobody to be interested at all.
What I wasn’t prepared for was for my players to be a dad with two four-year old kids.
‘Is this Star Trek?’, he asked, having clearly been sent over by the game coordinator. My heart sank. However, he’d clearly brought his kids along to play games and by volunteering to run a game at a promotional event, I feel I’d essentially declared myself an ambassador for the hobby. The very worst thing I could possibly do at this point would be to turn him away claiming that it’s too complicated for his kids. Without batting an eyelid, I said, ‘Yes. take a seat.’ It wasn’t a problem, I decided. I’ll simply dump about 80% of the rules and keep it mostly to talking with some very simple dice rolls and that should make it kid friendly. I explained to the dad that that was what I’d do and we got into it and to be honest, they were as engaged with it as I think four-years olds could be expected to be and things were going okay. However, about half way through a couple of twenty somethings sidled up to the table and asked if there were any spaces. Now what was I to do? My task was to try and balance the game now so that it was simple enough for four-year olds but gamey enough for twenty-somethings. I was juggling a bowling ball and an egg and I can’t honestly say that I managed it very well.
They all stuck it out until the end of the scenario and succeeded in brokering a truce between the Opterans and the Kavians. The scenario couldn’t have played out better, really but because of the simplicity of it we barreled through the whole thing in about an hour and a half. I was disappointed at the way it had gone and decided to call it a day but then, realising that there were still two and a half hours left of the event, I figured I could reasonably run it again. I reluctantly reset the table and sat there for ten minutes but it became apparent that no-one was looking to join a game and I was starving so I decided that I would chalk it up to experience, clear away and go home.

Running the game for the dad and his kids was great. I did have to throw most of the rules out of the window but it was fun describing the various situations to them and seeing how they reacted. Despite my initial disappointment, that part was actually very positive. If I have any real regrets it’s partly that I still haven’t got to really run a game of Star Trek Adventures properly, but the issue that is troubling me more than anything else, was that the couple who joined us half way through had not played a roleplaying game before and I’d hate to think that they were in any way put off the hobby or, indeed, Star Trek Adventures by participating in a  pretty ‘bleh’ example of it.

Anyway, I must point out that none of this reflects badly on Rules of Play or The Gate who put on a really successful event, I think. I will definitely do this again next year but I think I need to run something that is not only an open-ended pick-up game that folk can dip in and out of (as opposed to a story based game where you really need to be in it from start to finish) and something that can be nice and simple for kids but at the same time, crunchy for adults. I think a straight forward D&D5 mega-dungeon crawl might be the way forward. I’ll give it some thought. I have a year.

On a much more positive note, however I got to meet Andy again and as I was packing up, one of the event organisers commandeered my table to lay out all the freebies and I got first dibs, acquiring a pretty decent haul, I have to say. I tried not to be greedy and only nabbed stuff that I thought I might actually play or be very interested in reading.

Overall I got Kids on Bikes, Wrath and Glory: Blessings Unheralded - the new WH40K rpg quickstart, Starfinder Skittershot (I know it’s Space-Pathfinder but I’m strangely attracted to it), Tunnels and Trolls Adventures Japan, and Call of Cthulhu - Scritch Scratch by Lynne Hardy (and friends). That’ll keep me occupied for a while :D

A pretty decent haul.

Supplemental: After writing this and linking to it on Twitter, the Dad of the two kids (one of which was eight, not four - oops) got in touch to say how much they'd really enjoyed it and that his son was now wanting to watch Star Trek. I was totally blown away by this and it made me realise that far from failing, I'd actually done something really positive. It made me re-read this post and wonder what exactly what it was that I found disappointing about the event and I have to confess that really, it's just that my pre-concieved expectations of what my players would be wasn't met and that's absurd. The fault is entirely with me. I really enjoyed running the game for the little ones and I'd do it again in heartbeat (but with a much simpler rule set). I still feel bad for the couple that joined us later and I hope that they weren't put off but knowing that the kids really enjoyed it, balances things out, I think.

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