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Hack For More

WEEK 7: 04/08/04

by Edward McEneely
Apr 20,2004


Hack For More

WEEK 7: 04/08/04

My system received a nasty shock this Saturday when I learned that Nate had been called to active duty in Indianapolis in preperation for shipping out to Iraq.

As if that weren't enough, Laura had custody of her daughter this weekend, and had understandably opted to back out of gaming to spend some quality time with her child.

I'll be honest; I'm certainly very worried about Nathan; despite all of the jokes I've made at his expense, I have a great deal of respect for him as a person. Nate isn't merely the gung-ho stereotype he may seem to readers of the column, although he often choses to pretend that this is the case. I hope that he will find his tour of duty mercifully uneventful and that he will return home unscathed and unchanged.

(I'll move on, so as to avoid tainting the column or the forums with any political discussion regarding Iraq; for the purposes of the column, it is a non-issue, no matter how any of us may feel about it, and while I encourage you to discuss your views freely, I even more heartily encourage you to do it elsewhere.)

The end result of this was that Erich and I found ourselves the sole representatives of a group that was in grave danger of a sort of lethal creeping shrinkage brought on initially by the inability of players to attend. As almost any gamer will tell you, apathy is the quickest killer of a campaign. Once one session is missed, it becomes easier to miss another. Soon things snowball to the point where even when a full group can be assembled, the players all want to do other, non-game-related activities, which is roughly how we'd all stopped gaming in the first place.

Needless to say, I was hoping that this wouldn't be the case. If nothing else, without a group, I'd have nothing to write for, and thus would lose my generous royalty checks, sent to me with clockwork precision on the thirteenth of every month bearing the imprint of a well-known Swiss financial concern. I mean, I'm living on my residuals here.

Less importantly, it's always hard for a GM to watch his group die. There's nothing more devastating to a GM than apathy; it gives them the feeling that all of their hard work has amounted to very little if the players can't be buggered to roust themselves over to the table once a week or so. In addition, there's the colossal expense of it all; Erich, Laura and I have spent a combined total of roughly $200 on rules and sourcebooks for HackMaster, and I really, really don't make enough money to consider a paltry six weeks of gaming a respectable return on my investment.

Fortunately for me, Erich had some good news; a friend of his had expressed some interest in joining the group, so we might once again have three players in the coming weeks. It's always been difficult for me to "find" gamers, inasmuch as I've ever actively recruited any. I've usually just asked friends if they wanted to game; when a sufficient number could be found, we played. When there weren't enough people to justify it, we didn't.

I like to think that this is typical of a lot of gaming groups, which are perhaps less invested in a particular system or specific plotline and more interested in a social gathering inside of a fairly odd framework. If I hadn't graduated college once already, I might be tempted to explore the relationship of gaming as a social experience with the common feelings of social alienation and isolation in the post-modern era, but I have a pretty good memory for what happens when I try to impress people. (Here's a hint: I don't.)

I've never really been a member of a more serious group (although I'm not sure that's the correct word), one wedded to a long-term campaign. I've often wished I were, though. If I felt more confident in my abilities as a GM, I'd eagerly jump at the chance to run Planescape (a brilliant setting hobbled by a system intended for something else entirely---I dearly wish it had been continued under D&D3, where it might have flourished in somewhat more fertile soil, metaphorically speaking) or Ble Planet, or hell, even Underground, another setting that I liked with game engine I found incomprehensible. (Underground, however, suffers from two problems common to many satirical games: 1. A tendency to run in every direction at once, carrying everything beyond its logical extreme, and 2. the difficulty inherent in translating little one-liner jokes into full write-ups for the supplements.) Like most GMs, though, I wish I could be a player in one of those groups. Like not quite as many G Ms, though, I make a lousy PC. It's hard for me to stay in character, and even harder to play myself. So instead, I stick to the GM's role, and make life miserable for the players.

This evening, with only one player, and no real chance of a game, Erich and I pretty much just hung out, chatting fairly aimlessly about comics (Erich's getting back into them; I dropped out of it once I had all the Sandmans and most of the Deadpools, and never looked back), what defined our favorite fictional heroes, and various random subjects that crossed our minds (the inexplicable cuteness of Rocker Girls. Rocker Girls! We are out over here! Just so you know. Because you might want to know this. Just in case. )

It was a pretty aimless way to spend an evening, but I'm glad I was able to. It's nice to know that outside of gaming, my friends (or at least Erich and I) have other things we can talk about, even if they are pretty geeky things. It reinforced for me the essentially social nature of our gaming sessions, which give us all a chance to unwind as a group in a goofy way, but which isn't the only way that we can enjoy each other's company.

I know that I'm not a terrific GM, but I like to think that I'm better off as a bad GM with players whose company I enjoy, rather than a stupendous GM with friend who I can only tolerate when I'm gaming with them. I like to think most gamers feel the same way.

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