Redundant systems for more reliable performance

So there’s a guy out in NYC who’s running a regular weekly game.
Yes, to me that’s notable and enviable enough that I find it worth remarking on. No, it’s not what the post is about.
Anyway, what he’s doing with this game is:

(a) recruiting from a pool of people far too large to get sitting down all at one table.
(b) setting the weekly hard limit of participants at a first come, first served, six people
(c) setting the whole thing in a static location (one town)
(d) wrapping up loose ends each session well enough that the NPCs of note are ‘free’ (not in the middle of some other ‘thing’ and thus unavailable) for the next session’s events.
And I think these criteria deliver both a reliable ongoing campaign and a lack of dependency on the variable schedules of people. I like it.
Come right down to it, I feel the need to remove every possible impediment from a game actually happening because right now, between sudden cancellations and people playing twice and then dropping the games permanently, I’m beginning to wonder if the problem is me, that I’ve utterly forgotten how to run a fun game, and I should just play video games from now on.
So I’m pondering this model for a game. Here’s what I see as some potential must-haves:
– A quick and clean character generation/system, so people can come with a concept and be rolling with a playable character in short order.
– A game that lends itself to non-contiguous play sessions. (Thus totally ruling out PTA and its screen presence arcs.)
– A little crunch, but no so much that I can’t play by the seat of my pants, depending on who’s ‘in’ for that week.
– An easily grasped setting and situation.
Petrana, using Shadow of Yesterday, is potentially that game — the only problem there being that I took a perfect set up (static setting) and immediately put everyone on the road for a trip. My only excuse there is that that situation was supposed to take one session and has instead gone on for three sessions (and about four months) — it wouldn’t honeslty be that hard to rejigger things to make that setup work for this, though — just a little exposition and scene framing and we’re back in the city. Voila. Don’t know if it’s the universally ‘grasped’ setting I was talking about, though.
Other possibilities include:
– using Heroquest in a fairly straightforward fantasy setting.
– using Spirit of the Century in a straight Pulp setting… maybe… okay, that’s perhaps a leetle bit harder, but honestly something like the setup for the old Pulp d20 thing I did would work easily enough.
– using Over the Edge/Risus or something else that’s been around a good long time with a solid track record of quick playability.
The other major problem I have is that i just done have a particularly big pool of players to pull from at this time. Being ready for anyone to show up doesn’t do me much good if the pool of players is the same size as a ‘regular’ game that never happens because not enough people can make it. Not entirely sure what to do about that.


  1. And it occurs to me that PTA would work (except for the Crunch part) — running a game kind of with the same structure as Heroes.
    Let’s say you have seven players. They make up these story arcs for a “five episode” season.
    Player 1: 1 – 2 – 2 – 1 – 3
    Player 2: 2 – 3 – 2 – 1 – 1
    Player 3: 2 – 2 – 3 – 1 – 1
    Player 4: 1 – 1 – 2 – 2 – 3
    Player 5: 1 – 2 – 3 – 2 – 1
    Player 6: 1 – 2 – 2 – 3 – 1
    Player 7: 1 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 2
    Then you run, say… Nine actual episodes. Maybe.
    Whichever session you show up for, you use the ‘next’ screen presence on your sheet, whichever one that is. Some sessions you’re not there? That’s fine – it’s the kind of show where a ‘lead’ character might not have even one scene. That’s cool.
    You play so much that you run out of arcs? You switch to the “guest star” rules in PTA for the rest of the season (1 card in any scene, no Edges, can give/receive fan mail as normal).
    Yeah, that would actually work.

  2. 1. Dude, it is so not about you, or the fun quotient of your games. I tell you three times.
    2. That said, setting things up so that folks can come or not come as they can is actually a clever idea.
    3. The biggest problem I see is that individual play bits need to be resolvable in a single session. No road trips. No dungeon crawls.
    4. It also requires player (and GM) discipline. If 1/3 of the session is taken up with chit-chat, and another 1/3 with cooking/kidcare/etc., that makes it tough to resolve bits. Not that we don’t want to socialize, or that kids don’t need watching, or that food doesn’t need cooking. We just need to try and focus on the game (and playing regularly, of course, reduces the need for haven’t-seen-you-in-weeks socializing and promotes strategies for minimizing time with other distractions).
    5. Setting a schedule is incredibly important, I think. Having something plotted out months in advance (“Oh, is that a Game X weekend?”) allows both for people to plan around the game, or to know that they are/aren’t going to be there next time. That entails an extra burden on the GM, I think, too.
    Of course, I talk big about all this … 🙂
    (The PTA thing you describe could work. If the *setting* is in place — it might be worth using some Producer Fiat for that, just to make it happen — then an actual character can be developed pretty darned quickly.)

  3. I am so setting myself up for some craziness, but I’ve now mentioned it to Keeley and Jay, so I might as well tell you guys — I am considering running a session of Tombstone for you. Maybe. Maybe. Perhaps.
    If nothing else, you get to see the fun, kick-ass, shoot-you-in-the-face system, and get a better sense of another game style.

  4. Sounds fun!
    Though I suspect it’ll be more of a trip back to some favorite types of games, rather than something unprecendented. I think it’ll be fun. 🙂

  5. When we had enough people locally to do games (you know, when we lived in Denver and suburbs) we’d have game day basically every Sunday, and everyone in the pool was welcome to come by, and depending on the participants we’d know what to run: either grab the boardgames, a campaign we were working in, or a one-shot if someone had had an idea/set something up.
    Or, um, a Throne War. (We’d play Throne Wars anywhere and everywhere…)
    I need to meet people down here. [sighs]

  6. Well, if Tombstone is half the fun it keeps sounding like, you need to bring it back home, pronto …

  7. You left out the explain-o factor. We keep switching sets of rules…which then have to be explained. And then we don’t play that set of rules for a while, so everything has to be re-explained. And then Doyce has this discussion with the game designer, which then has to be explained.
    Now, I like listening to you explain stuff (to a reasonable extent), but it does mean we burn a lot of time on rules instead of playing.

  8. Same conversation I had with Lori today.
    Every rules system takes some time and, more importantly, repetition to learn.
    We never get the repetition. Every session is coming at the rules for the first time, and it’s not as though we can say “jeez, you can’t remember how the rules worked from 2 months ago?”
    Hell, we can barely remember the characters names, let alone how the skills work.

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