Friday, August 05, 2011

how to run a crappy old game at your local store

Here's an email I got yesterday from Aplus, author of the blog People Them With Monsters.
I am working on preparing for a monthly megadungeon-style game using B/X at my (not quite) local game store. I was hoping I could talk you into posting some tips, tricks, and observations about running such a game, since I understand you are running or have previously run a Holmes game in such a fashion. Here are the things I am most interested in.

  • logistics issues of running an out of print game (if players want a rulebook, the fact that the store won't have it, etc.)
  • how to keep the game awesome, promote player creativity outside of the boundaries of rules
  • how sessions are broken up
  • dealing with alignment and/or inter-party conflicts, douchebag players, etc.
  • house rules (do you document them, or just go with the DM is the boss and that's that!)
  • scroll creation and other "downtime activities" - do you do this sort of thing in game store games?
  • anything else important I may have missed
A short guide of how to run a successful out of print D&D game in a public setting, based on your experiences is basically what I'm looking for.
Whew! That's a lot to handle in one post, so I'll start by giving brief answers and Aplus or anyone else can ask for expansions on any particular thread.  And hopefully some smart people will be along to provide their own answers to this stuff.

Logistics on running an out of print game:  First, allow me to congratulate you on choosing BX D&D as your game.  It is objectively the best RPG ever created, which can be proven by the fact that it is the version I started with.  QED.  But in all seriousness, I recommend that you consider switching to Labyrinth Lord.  It does an excellent job of emulating BX play with only a modicum of minor changes.  And it solves two basic problems for you.  1) Your players can get both shiny new hardcopies and free PDFs.  And 2) your host store can be the one who sells the hardcopy to them.  On the other hand, you can get some people in the store interested in your game just because they see your crappy ol' rulebook out of the corner of their eye.

This first issue can be overcome.  Prices have inched up a bit for BX rulebooks on the eBay, but even the 10 to 15 bucks (plus shipping) that seems common now is a steal for these excellent manuals.  PDFs of  the B/X originals can only be aquired illicitly, which I would never, ever, ever recommend.  The second issue, the game store, you will have to judge yourself.  I'm lucky in that I've known the owners at mine for 20 years and they are official Cool People.  A less cool owner might not understand that any gaming in their store gets asses through the door.  These types will feel put out if you don't run something they can get through distribution to sell you.  Of course, if you preach the good word of Zocchi dice to your players you might earn some goodwill with the owner.  I went into the GM/store relationship a little bit more here.  I also cover how to deal with douchebag players just a bit in that post.

Promoting player awesomeness:  Sometimes the direct approach works.  For example, I had two new guys at my last Boot Hill session.  I held up the ridiculously slim rulebook and said something to them like "All this covers is how to shoot someone and how to get shot, at the simplest possible level.  To be better at shooting and less likely to get shot, make something rad up.  I will play ball.  At worst, you'll get a die throw to see if your cool idea succeeds.  If I really like your ploy, we'll skip that part and go straight to you being awesome."  Sometimes you get players thinking by the ol' pressure cooker method: make the game too hard for their stats to win on auto-pilot.

Structuring sessions:  For a drop-in, drop-out casual store game you really need to enforce the rule that every session is self-contained.  Start at the tavern or just at the entrance to the dungeon, end back at the tavern or at least say "And then you leave the dungeon."  If a player insists on ending a session in the dungeon make them roll on the Triple Secret Random Dungeon Fate Chart of Very Probable Doom.

Interparty conflict and douchebag players:  Really, I don't care if the PCs hate each others' guts.  I run a hostile enough game that they cooperate anyway most of the time.  Douchebag players?  I recommend not playing with them.  Nothing wrong with a polite but firm warning the first time they cross the line, but if you allow multiple offenses they are running the game and not you.

Documenting House Rules:  I'm now going to hurt the feelings of some GMs, but what I am going to write next is God's own truth: Regular players don't want to read our crappy houserules.  We as GMs take this shit several quanta more seriously than they do.  They are much more interested in things they can use to their advantage right now or unanticipated obstacles to wealth and glory.  Use as many houserules as you want, but it is incumbent upon you to know them backwards and forwards and to remind players of them well in advance of their application, each and every time that they might come up in play.  Eventually the regulars will remember some of them.  I've even got some guys who routinely brief newbies about my crazy d30 rule.

Downtime activities: Check at the beginning of the session if anybody wants to make scrolls or anything like that.  That's another good reason to start each session at the tavern.

Anything else:  Invite anybody who walks by the table to join you.  Bring your own charsheets, extra dice, plenty of pencils and a pencil sharpener.  You might also want to come with some pregen PCs as sometimes you can lure slightly hesitant people to your table with "I have a PC ready to go; You can drop in right now."  Don't despair if no players show up on any given night, just bring along a book or something else to do.  For all you know four new players might walk into the store an hour later.