These are halcyon days, dear readers.
Back in the early 90s, I had the misfortune of coming of age in a gaming desert. For reasons best left to a doctoral thesis on the statistics of population distribution, I attended a junior high and high school that was extremely gamer-poor. There were absolutely no established gaming groups at my class level, and very few at higher or lower grades. So I got used to taking it as it came, gaming with whomever I could scrape out of the recessed corners, often serving as mentor to would-be gamers who had never played but were interested. In the process I made friendships that endured to this day, but I also gamed with some notable duds, and group size almost never rose above four people.
In the years since my adolescence, I've gone through periods of further gaming want as well as periods of gaming plenty. But nothing compares to what's going on these days, plenty-wise. If you take a gander over to the right-hand column and scroll down a bit, you'll see that - as of this writing - I've got four "What I'm Running" boxes up. Yes, that's right. I am currently running four campaigns, three of which meet weekly.
I attribute this unprecedented-in-twenty-five-years-of-gaming level of activity solely to the advent of web technologies that have made it easier than ever to connect with fellow gamers both near to home and far away. My current face-to-face group (the Deadlands campaign) was assembled primarily through Meetup.com. Not only was I able to put a group together using that site, I was put in touch with enough gamers that I basically ended up with my pick of group members, a luxury I've never before experienced. The Dreamlands campaign is the latest venture of a Google+ group I've been running since January of last year consisting of the core of my old gaming buddies from the gaming-poor high school. The Barebones Fantasy campaign materialized just recently as a bit of a surprise; when I was living in San Francisco, I tried to put a group together during a period of gaming downtime that quickly fell apart due to conflicting schedules. Now, thanks to Google+, I've resucitated the group at the players' request. (Kind of flattering that they never gave up on the dream, even though we last gamed four years ago.) We've even added a third PC via Facebook who piped up with an "I want in!" when one of the players posted about the campaign - social media strikes again! And, as always, there's the Pendragon campaign with my wife, the only campaign currently going that arose through "old fashioned" (i.e. non-digital) means.
Needless to say, this is making for a ton of gaming on my plate, so much so that I feel my knees wobbling slightly under the weight. My wife has very sagely counciled that, social media or no, things tend to move in cycles and that I should just sit back and try to enjoy the ride for as long it lasts, as there are bound to be periods of gaming downtime in the future. And I'm looking forward to handing off the GM baton in at least one of my groups in the next couple months, and the Pendragon campaign is on track to wrap up around the beginning of autumn (more on that in a moment), but for now it's a bit like spinning plates trying to keep four campaigns running. So how are those campaigns going? Glad you asked!
* I had a couple false starts with Savage Worlds last year trying to use the system to run conversions of Rifts and Uresia: Grave of Heaven. Lesson learned: don't try to convert an existing setting (even a rules-free one like Uresia) using a system you're just getting to know. That lesson in mind, third time's proven a charm with my Deadlands: Reloaded campaign that I'm running for my face-to-face group. There might be something to the fact that the two failed SW ventures were being run online; the system uses a lot of fun props like poker chips, playing cards, and "adventure cards" that lose something when they're merely digital props on screen as opposed to physical artefacts the players can hold. But I think the prime reason for the campaign's success so far has been the fact that I'm using a setting designed to be run with the system. The fact that it's Deadlands, one of the most gameable settings ever put to paper (and one I've been wanting to run ever since it first came out in the late 90s) can't hurt, either. By way of example, our next session is set to kick off with a showdown between our heroes and their six-shooters versus a gang of Chinese tong rascals armed to the teeth with traditional kung fu weaponry. I can hardly wait til Sunday rolls around.
Overall, I've been enjoying the SW system tremendously, in no small part for the ease of preparation it offers a beleagured GM such as myself. (Although I have somewhat dimmer opinions on the writing in the "plot point campaign" I'm using, but that's a topic for another post.) My players are really enjoying it too; Des has even committed the heresy of contemplating the virtues of a Savage Pendragon game! So I think that Savage Worlds can settle safely into my projected niche of second system of choice after BRP/Cthulhu.
One final note on my table-top group: without actually planning it this way, for the first time in my gaming career I find myself playing with an all-female group. As a grown-ass man, I find this fact of only trivial note, but I do have to admit that my inner 15-year-old is high-fiving me for "job well done."
* The Call of Cthulhu/Dreamlands campaign has just gotten started after the Pathfinder adventure path fell apart last month, but it looks promising as a mini-campaign of 6-10 sessions or so. The Dreamlands is another campaign I've wanted to run for a long time, so this should be fun. Honestly, as this is the group that consists of my oldest friends (to say nothing of my oldest gaming buddies), I'm just happy that technology has allowed us to connect over such vast distances on a weekly basis. As far as the current campaign, though, I'm really just marking time until one of the players in the group is ready to run The God Machine Chronicle for World of Darkness. WoD is not on my list of systems I'd want to devote time to mastering as a GM (or Storyteller, if you will), but I'm super-jazzed to participate as a player, particularly for an old friend who has wanted to run WoD for a very long time indeed (and has a track record of being able to supremely creep out the rest of us when he puts his mind to it).
* Speaking of systems I hadn't intended to master, there's the Barebones Fantasy campaign. I ordered a copy of Legends of Anglerre a couple weeks ago with an eye towards beginning my self-tutelage in FATE, but as that's brand new to me I've set it aside for the immediate future in favor of running a more rules-lite system that's easier to pick up and run with. Barebones definitely deserves the many glowing reviews it's received: it strikes an excellent balance between old school mechanics and newer design conceits and is dirt-simple to teach to newbies, of whom two out of the three members of my group happen to be. The group is also very much a "beer & pretzels" sort, so there's really no point in trying to foist anything overly complex on any of our collective shoulders for the time being. I'm giving Uresia another go, and the lite and flexible nature of Barebones has thus far proven itself extremely well-suited for adaptation, thereby adding a corrolary to my admonition above about trying to convert a setting to a system you're getting to know - it's okay if the system is super-simple. At any rate, it's been fun to indulge in some good old-fashioned fantasy tomfoolery of the sort that features an obese satyr wizard (chosen focus: sex magic), a centaur scholar, and a rat-man named Shades.
* Des and I have been steamrolling ahead with Pendragon whenever we can. In fact, we're now more than a dozen years ahead of the last update I posted here. I'll get caught up with the updates in due time, but the campaign timeline is really accelerating at this point and most of my energy is going towards maintaining that momentum. As I mentioned above, I'm anticipating finishing the campaign by the end of summer. That will mark a little over three-and-a-half years since we started this crazy experiment. Easily the longest campaign I've ever run. I've also been working on plans to put out a deluxe PDF collection of the game write-ups once the last one is in the can, so look forward to that probably sometime in 2014.
Speaking of other things to look forward to, I've taken to recording my face-to-face group's sessions and I think I'm going to set up an RSS feed and iTunes podcast link, so if you're into listening to actual play recordings keep an eye on this blog for the announcement of when that's ready to go.
As I said at the top of this post, these are halcyon days for my RPG hobby. I've never been more occupied with actual gaming, or more satisfied with the state of my gaming as I am nowadays.