Being the Grown-up Gamer

Stumbled across an old article on Pyramid’s site entitled “How to keep Gaming after Adulthood”. The author makes some excellent points about what makes gaming as an adult more difficult than it ‘used to be’.

[…] the conditions under which most of us learn to roleplay — high school and college — are ones that afford us more free time than we ever see again. As a result, we tend to develop a roleplaying style that involves hanging out for hours, slowly meeting NPCs in town adventures or making our leisurely way through a room-by-room dungeon or a massively epic adventure, secure in the knowledge that whatever doesn’t get finished can be picked up next week. After all, you have the time and no one’s going anywhere.

Gaming in [your youth] is a form of hanging out that actually seems to invite a time-wasting approach — one that lends itself to very intricate game worlds modeled on all those bulky fantasy trilogies that have maps at the front, or sci-fi novels that have the answer to every technical question worked out in advance. The GM probably whiles away the idle hours during the week by adding new game-world information for fun

… looking at ***Dave, here 🙂 …

and the players (if they’re anything like me and my friends were) make up characters that will never see use, just because they can.

Umm. Guilty. Duh.

This is all well and good for that life-stage, but if you try this as an adult, you’re going to spend a few bored hours waiting for the excitement and then going home wondering if it was all worth the time. Usually it isn’t.

What you need to do to survive the transition is to rethink your playing style. This is a fairly major shift that encompasses everything from session length to genre to player selection.

I didn’t wholeheartedly agree with everything the author had to say, but by and large the thing was packed with great tips (and good advice on using genre television as good outline for scenario design).
I have thoughts on a few of the ‘for starters’ bullet-points, specifically.

Keep the Party Size Small: In college, when everyone was simply hanging out, seven players was not an unheard-of size for a party. That won’t wash anymore. Two to four players is all you should need.

This is something I really need to heed. I’ve been unconciously doing this with some of my more recent games, but in at least a couple cases (DnD, Nobilis) reverted to the ‘youthful’ group size and suffered for it as a result.

If you don’t like turning people away, consider breaking them up. Running two satisfying three-person campaigns is often much easier than running one satisfying six-member one.

Heh. This is the Big Debate I’m currently mulling over with Nobilis: I have a seven person group I’m seriously considering turning into two four-person groups — provided I can figure out where to fit in the second game 🙂

Keep Player Expectations Modest. Let people know you will not be running epic adventures. There will not necessarily be full-color maps, dressing in character, sound effects records in the background, etc. You will probably not lavish time composing paragraphs of evocative description to read aloud at key moments. The point is simple social entertainment, not fictive absorption.

I’m not sure I agree with this 100%, since I still really want to see a lot of involvement in the story, but the he’s dead-on when he talks about all the fancy game prep stuff that you just don’t have time to do anymore.

In a related note, don’t expect this to last more than three or four weeks. If it happens, as it often does, then great.

I would say instead that you should build the ‘main’ story arcs that wrap up in three to six sessions (perhaps ephemerally tied together with some nice 25-session Over-Arc), so that you can always be within spitting distance of some Closure if the campaign looks like it’s not going to turn into a half-decade gaming zeitgeist.

Keep the Logistics Flexible. You’ll want one or two people you can count on to show up every week as your core group. But after that, anything goes. This means that the party itself may not gel like the heroes of old, but it also means you can usually play regularly. If you have four regulars and only two can make it one week, fine. Play with two.


Don’t Cancel Unless It’s An Absolute Emergency. I particularly recommend not cancelling for the first three weeks, and never cancelling two weeks in a row. This way, you establish a habit of meeting and people learn to trust that the game will be there if they just remember to show up.

I think this is really what made TiHE work — that was really the game that pulled in my ‘core’ group of gamer friends and got everyone into a habit of regular gaming. We started that game with seven people, immediately dropped to five, then to two and a half, then four, then five, and finished with seven again (after NINETY-ONE sessions and nearly three years of play): the important thing was always to make sure that the game happened.
These days, I’m more willing to cancel a game if one of my players can’t make it (or simply run something else), since we’ve gotten to a point where missing one game isn’t going to get us out of the habit — our social life really revolves around those events (pity or envy us, your choice). That said, I tried very hard to be regular and dedicated with the first six sessions of Nobilis, simply because I really wanted to get people addicted (then we’ve had to go a month with no game, but that’s life).

Have a Core Group. As mentioned above, you’ll want one or two players you can always count on to show up, and who you will play with even if no one else can make it.

I’m lucky in that I have four such players (five, if you count Justin, which I usually do). I disagree, however, with the author’s assertion that homeowners and people with families are bad risks for such ‘regulars’ — children are simply something everyone eventually has to learn to deal with (and I’m not just talking about gaming), and if house-related emergencies are cropping up so frequently that they regularly intervere with weekly or bi-weekly games… well, there’s bigger problems you need to deal with, there.

One comment

  1. Excellent article, by the bye. Definitely going into my “read before each campaign startup” file.
    I think “our group” has a bit more flexibility, in terms of time blocks we usually game in. But better to start off running lean and then flesh out, than start off overweight and have to pare back. Definitely.

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