Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Away From The Table

The session has ended for the evening, and everyone is wrapping up to go home. It'll be another week or more until the next one and that's it for the game for this week, right? Not necessarily. Some of us like to keep things in mind for a tad longer and may go out of our way to do something extra. Something special. If you're like myself, you may want to go the extra mile and bring just a tad more depth to what's already been done, now that you've been left to your own devices.

So how does one go about this? What would you do and why would you bother? Excellent question. I'm glad I asked it. Time to explore the notion of going above and beyond.

What'chu  talkin' about Jackal?

The premise is simple: extend the life of the game beyond the bounds of the table. I've been fortunate to be in a group where this is pretty routine ops, and the means of doing so ranges from mundane to extravagant.

Let's start with something basic. Many DMGs and other guides to running games often bring up the idea of adding props or ambient music to enhance the experience at the table. You might further this by crafting a complete soundtrack for the campaign as a whole, selecting tracks that conjure up certain memorable scenes from the game, or even personal character themes. Maybe even just some that give the general tone of the setting as a whole. Instrumentals from various movies fill this role nicely, as they are already meant to invoke specific tones. Anything that generates a specific mood or feeling, or even a general idea in your head can work, and help the campaign feel more alive.

Arts and Crafts

This type of hobby attracts people of the creative mindset and it's no surprise when they start to do their thing. Artists and writers may come up with drawings of their characters or short fiction detailing the mundane goings on of their day-to-day downtime. Both of these further the idea of the character in a visual way or with additional screentime. As one who takes great pleasure in doing both, yes, it can help yourself and others become further invested in the characters involved, and I don't know anyone, player or GM, who wouldn't want to see a picture of the cast. The less artistically inclined may even go so far as to hire someone to do the work for them. For example, our group does a lot of short fiction, called bluebooking, to not only develop the cast, but also enhance the setting. Through just a little bit of writing on the side,  one of my fellow players and I have already built up a great rapport between our characters leading up to what looks like a terrific friendship, and we've only had one session of this campaign. Once the website gets updated, I'll likely set up a link for those interested.

It might not even stop with pictures and words. While I haven't seen it done, I have heard tales of people who make stuffed plushie versions of their characters or even custom Lego minifigures. Whatever gets the creativity going is a good thing.

General Data

Email lists, like Yahoo Groups or Google Groups, are great for organizing your gaming circle and starting discussions on the setting or the plot of the week, or even other things that may be relevant to the campaign in general. If you're into player empowerment, this is a great way to further flesh out the setting by getting the players involved, and coming up with new ideas or things that you as the GM just maybe didn't think of. Maybe the players come up with an interesting plot twist that a sly GM may turn into a reality. Whatever generates interest in the campaign helps to prolong the fun. Some of us even go so far as to have these types of discussions simultaneously in and out of character, further developing the character or just getting their personality across in a way that may not crop up at the gaming table. Or just as something fun to do.

It's usually a good idea to provide a brief recap of events at the beginning of the session to remind the players of what happened last time. Let's take this one up a notch. Dedicated GMs might decide to recap the events immediately following the session via email for players to reflect upon and consider at their leisure. Players may even go one step beyond and retell the session in fiction from their characters perspective, maybe as a short story or as a selection from the character's personal journal. Both of these work well together, especially if the character falls into the unreliable narrator territory. Databases and webpages full of campaign information are also valuable tools. Websites detailing people or places  the characters have encountered go a great deal towards organizing the various plot threads being thrown out and serve to clear up any confusion. These can put a lot of work into the GMs lap, and might not be for everyone, but if players are willing to help out the workload is quite manageable. It also serves as a place to showcase all the extra stuff like character portraits or various visual aids that might have been used.

Further Craziness

As I said, some things edge into the extravagant territory. In a cyberpunk game rife with megacorps, someone might customize some merchandise with an iconic corporate logo. Maybe some custom dice or t-shirts or hats. Players might have  a few props to show off aspects of their character, such as a certain style of hat made famous by a certain archaeologist, or maybe their character smokes a pipe when they think, or maybe they have a hip-flask that they are always drinking from. Some players may even go the whole nine yards and show up dressed as their character. I know this has been stigmatized in the public eye thanks to the media and our own sense of parody, but so what? If it gets the players invested, it's worth a shot.

All of the ideas present here have one thing in common: they help get people invested in the campaign. Personal investment is key to keeping a campaign healthy and happy, especially a long lasting one. If investment wanes, interest is likely to follow. I'm not suggesting that these sorts of things are necessary. In fact it's quite far from that, but if it enhances the experience it may be worthwhile to encourage it. Some game systems like Hollow Earth Expedition and Savage Worlds that use in-game bennies even go so far as to suggest using said bennies to encourage this kind of behavior. Even if your system of choice doesn't utilize this kind of thing, it's still possible to reward the enthusiasm. A little extra xp here or there, or maybe a bonus to some die rolls, or even a few re-rolls may suffice. If you have writers who bluebook regularly, I can't encourage enough the use of these for subplots. More often than not, it's worth investing in those who invest in your game.

Whether you game at the table or game on the go, Stay Classy.


  1. This is a great post and raises many good points. Hats off to you sir!

    1. Thank ya, sir. I also have you to blame for some of these points. =P

    2. Not a problem! And I will happily shoulder this blame. It's fun.

  2. DId I mention I have a 17" Mac PowerBook I can bring home if needed? June 8th is going to be fun.