taking joy in human unreason

A D&D One-Shot with Coworkers

I ran a blitz Tri-Stat dX one-shot with my coworkers a few weeks ago, and they decided they wanted something more “traditional”, and with combat.

So this past weekend, we did a D&D one-shot.

It was far less successful than the Tri-Stat game (unsurprising in retrospect), but folks still had fun and got to hang out in the context of roleplaying.

I used a Chaos Scar adventure printed in an issue of Dragon, “Elves of the Valley”. It was a good adventure that showcased combat and skill challenges well, and I was able to scale the difficulty way down during combat when things started going downhill.

Let me say first that the social gathering itself went well enough for this group. Only one person was late, only one person had to leave early, dinner was well-received, and the birthday girl was pleased by the decorations and cake. I also think that everyone had quite a bit of fun, even if it wasn’t quite the fun I expected.

Unfortunately, D&D just isn’t a good fit for these gamers. Too many numbers and dice, the usage of powers was confusing, it demanded too much attention, and I think some of the background concepts and metaphors didn’t resonate with them. I know that a few of them had seen Lord of the Rings, and so I tried to draw some parallels with dwarves, for instance, but my understanding is that none of these ladies are sci-fi/fantasy readers or watchers.

For example, they didn’t seem to understand (until I made it explicit) that once they killed the evil tree in the middle of the forest, that the forest would heal of its blight. The concept of a “source of evil” or a “source of darkness” that the heroes can vanquish to make an entire area better is an idea from fantasy writing.

To add to the difficulty, they came in with a lot of wine. Urk. I was intending to (and told them ahead of time I would) provide a bottle of some of my favorite wine for the 6 of us to share (meaning very little per person), but they brought a bunch themselves and drank heavily enough to impact their attention spans and coordination. At one point, the birthday girl dressed herself up in the decorations we’d put up and danced around the apartment while her wife played her character for her.

I’m generally not a fan of getting tipsy during a roleplaying game (barring special games where it’s agreed upon that people will get tipsy), but now I’m pretty strongly against it. I hadn’t realized they’d go quite that far, and it exacerbated all of the issues we already had (attention span, interest, complexity).

With their difficulty in getting attached to the plot (the Tri-Stat one-shot premise of “save the children!” worked much better) and the fact that the character sheets seemed to be just full of words, they got bored, and that was the doom of the game.

Game ran about 30 minutes past time (we started about an hour late, but I cut out an entire combat), and I was again faced with a lot of questions to the tune of, “Wow, is the game supposed to take this long?”

I was pretty clear and up front about how long game would take (it was slated to run from 15:00 until 21:00), and emphasized being on time, that we’d need all the time, blah, blah. And they understood from the Tri-Stat game that two hours was way too short. Nonetheless, they marveled at how long a session could last.

The final blow was when they beat the final boss and let its minions retreat, and they asked, “So, how do we find our missing mentor?”

I wanted to cry. The fact that she was gone (presumed dead by the townspeople) was the reason they’d sent in such new recruits. There’d been no one left to save the town from the evil in the forest (etc., etc.).

But the mentor had been gone a week. It had taken them about 6 hours to get to the center of the forest. She was dead, and her sword was in the tree. I’d tried to imply and hint that she was dead every time I mentioned her, but they felt as if they’d failed the mission by not bringing her back out alive.

I should’ve had the damn tree transform back into their mentor at the end so they could take her home. I let my frustration make me inflexible.

There are no words to describe how glad I am that I didn’t write my own adventure for this from scratch. If I’d put in the hours I had in the Tri-Stat dX game and it had gone this poorly, I’d’ve probably had less of a sense of humor about the whole thing.

As it is, though, I think I’ll stick with simpler, less plan-heavy, more narrativist systems/games, like Lady Blackbird for groups like this, although there’s still the problem of understanding the setting/domain knowledge.

  • I feel your pain; it’s hard to get a good group together for role-playing. It’s just not the same as a boardgame or a card game – roleplaying requires a certain level of attention and suspension of disbelief, of investment.

    I’ve been lucky enough to play with some really good groups, but it’s been ages. I’d kill (someone I didn’t like) for the chance to play like that again.