Thursday, April 29, 2021

Is the plague over yet? No? Ugh.

It's rough these days to be a tabletop gamer who will not under any circumstances play live games online. I miss playing D&D and all, but I have better things to do with my time than put myself through that kind of misery.

I've played short games here and there with close friends and family and coworkers, and they've been fun and all, but it's not the same thing as running a real campaign with a big, open table where just about anyone could potentially sit down, join the game, maybe experience classic D&D for the first time (or come back to it after years and years), and perhaps change the direction of a whole adventure in unexpected ways. 

On top of that, it's only really during this past year that I've come to understand something vital about early D&D: that it was designed with troupe play in mind. That is, the early D&D players who gamed with Gygax &al. always had several characters in the running, even if they only ever actually played one of them at a time during a given adventure. And that is both (a) extremely useful information, because it helps a lot of old rules that people usually don't like (3d6 in order, dead at 0 hp, racial level limits, even level drain) make a whole hell of a lot more sense in context, and (b) mind-blowingly different from the "traditional" way of playing RPGs, where a player only has their one precious character at a time, only ever replacing that character if they're killed or retired. Having only one character leads to emotional attachment and protagonism and other effects that I'd argue just aren't very good for the sort of open-world, living sandbox milieux that early D&D was designed for.

But since I didn't really know this before—which is to say, maybe I was causally aware of the fact, but I hadn't yet considered the implications or realized their importance—it means that I've not really had the chance to put it into practice in the past. I've yet to run a proper "living world" campaign with multiple parties (or no definite parties at all, West Marches style) who don't all come together and meet regularly once a week like a traditional RPG group. I can't do that because there's still a damn plague making public gaming untenable. 

That's what I'm here to gripe about. Even if I do manage to get a genuine, long-term campaign off the ground with people I know, it won't be a "real" old-school campaign. I'll just be another trad campaign with a more-or-less fixed "cast" of characters and an eventual endpoint (whether I eschew traditional "plot" structure or not). While the pandemic persists, there are no other options.

And that's depressing, because it feels like the end of the pandemic should be in sight. It's been more than a year. Vaccines are going around. I'm vaccinated. Most people I know are vaccinated. And, frustratingly, we still don't know. We still don't know if some new strain of the virus, already laying waste to this or that major urban center, will itself prove resistant to the vaccine and then go global and keep this nightmare going for another year.

On top of everything this once-in-a-century disaster has cost the globe, in terms of human life, and economic wellbeing, and political and social and psychological health, we have to tack on the anxiety of not knowing when we can go back to our normal lives. Miseria super miseria, heu.

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