Gaming in 2020

2020 has been quite an unusual and unexpected year. Last year I’d hoped that I’d get in more variety this year, but that was not to be the case. Mostly because games I thought would be finished within a few months lasted until the end of the year, but partly because of this little thing called COVID.

We started the year with a new game of Zweihänder, finished a game of Blades in the Dark and planned to finish a long running Pathfinder campaign. We had also started playing the Tainted Grail board game during gaming sessions when not everyone was around, but that stopped as soon as we went into lock down in March and that was the last board gaming we did.

Virtually

Blades in the Dark was one of our Friday night Roll20 games which I’d started running in 2019. I’d been wanting to try Blades for quite a while, however, my final view of the game is that it’s not for us. It’s a game that I found railroads the GM in running the game in a certain way, and it wasn’t a way that came naturally to us.

I finished running Blades soon after lockdown happened, and we switched to playing some more Delta Green, which is a good filler game since our GM runs it as short episodic scenarios that each last for a few weeks. Since this was all happening on Roll20, gaming on Fridays was pretty much unaffected by COVID.

That gave me enough of a break to plan for some Traveller. I haven’t run an actual Traveller game (as opposed to one using my own rules) since a one shot in the 90s (T4), so it was an interesting choice to go for. That game is still running, so I guess it’s been successful. I chose Mongoose Traveller 2nd edition since that seemed to be the edition that had good quality resources coming out for it rather than by doing any actual comparison of the different rule systems.

August was WorldCon, which was meant to be in New Zealand, but because of COVID ended up being online. This made it possible for us to attend, and during one of the various chats on Discord I ended up volunteering to run a game for some people who either hadn’t played RPGs before, or who hadn’t done so for a while. For me, an introvert who finds it unnerving to meet new people and who is very self conscious about their GMing skills, it was a definitely a big step outside of my comfort zone.

Since I was already running Traveller, I chose to do a Traveller one-shot. Pathfinder/D&D would have been the traditional choice (I did think of We Be Goblins), but I decided to try something non-standard as an introduction (it’s a shame that many people seem to get introduced to the hobby with D&D as the only option). The one-shot has become a monthly game, running on a combination of Discord and Roll20. Due to timezones, sessions aren’t quite as long as I’d like, but it’s a completely new group.

We’ve had one player drop out (without telling us – they just went quiet), one new one join us, and now another is joining us from the US, so the time zone difference between all players is stretching to 12 hours.

But I’m having fun running it, and the players seem to be enjoying it.

Virtually As Well

We started the year with a new Zweihänder campaign as our Monday night face to face game. I’d played Warhammer Fantasy RPG back in the 90s, so vaguely knew what to expect. We’re getting close to the end of the game, but aren’t quite there yet.

It’s an interesting setting, but suffers from the restrictive nature of the character generation. We had a reasonable balance of characters at the start, then when COVID hit we switched to Roll20, which was a shock to the GM who had played using Roll20 previously, but hadn’t run anything on it. He seems to be getting used to it, though it does highlight that Roll20 possibly isn’t the most intuitive system out there. Being an IT geek, and capable of writing my own API scripts, I’ve found it quite straightforward. I think for more normal people though it can be a bit of a challenge.

One of the players also got COVID, and took a few weeks to recover enough to be fit to play. He then decided that he’d stay dropped out since he’d missed quite a few sessions. Unfortunately that meant he’s now been out for over six months, and we’ve been down any character really able to do social skills, and with no easy way to get them.

We were also expecting to finish our monthly Pathfinder Serpent’s Skull campaign (ongoing for over 6 years now). This had to take a break since the GM for this was the player who got COVID, and then he was expecting things to be back to normal in a couple of months so put off starting anything up again in order to finish it off face to face. It soon became apparent that it was going to be a long time before we could meet up again, so we switched to Roll20 for that.

Fortunately we were pretty much into the last ‘map’ of the campaign, so he only had to prep a single map in Roll20. Again, he’d played in Roll20 for several years but (apart from a single session due to being snowed in once) hadn’t GM’d in it. The advantage of playing this game online is that it cut out all the travel to obscure locations, especially for the player who needed to catch multiple trains to get there.

We might have completed our penultimate session of this now, so hopefully we’ll wrap it up in January.

Roll20

All of our games have moved to, or are on, Roll20. There are other virtual tabletops out there, but Roll20 was the one I chose back in ~2012 and I’ve stuck with it since then.

It’s cloud based, which means it runs on all platforms. I run Linux on my main desktop, as well as using laptops, and sometimes use ChromeOS on a chromebook, so being able to access a campaign from any device, regardless of the OS, is a real bonus. Something like Fantasy Grounds just isn’t an option for me because of his.

Because I have experience with Roll20 as GM, and others have experience as players, for everyone else moving to Roll20 was I think a no-brainer. It may not be the best choice (the learning curve can be steep, and the interface not entirely intuitive at times), but we’re familiar with it and it’s good enough for most of what we need to do.

What We Didn’t Do

I didn’t run any GURPS Dungeon Fantasy. That would have been a Monday night thing, so Zweihänder running all year effectively blocked that out. Also, I think I’d prefer doing that one face to face due to only having the books in dead tree format. Eclipse Phase was also another game I’ve been wanting to do but haven’t. For that though, I think I’m getting my SF hit from Traveller, so that’s dropped down by priority list.

I have looked at the Pirates of Drinax campaign for Traveller (which seems to be highly praised), but my plan is to wait until we’re meeting physically again before putting that forward as an idea.

One thing we haven’t done is any board gaming. RPGs seem easier to do online, and once we went into lockdown our Tainted Grail game came to an end. I have looked at a few online boardgame stacks (such as Virtual Tabletop), but never quite got the hang of it.

Wargaming is something that I haven’t really done anything of either. I’ve got close to finishing painting of a couple of armies for Saga Age of Magic, but haven’t finished them. The skeletal warriors I have are very fiddly to paint, so I spend more time looking a them trying to figure out how to paint them, rather than actually painting them.

Apart from the “we moved to Roll20” though, 2020 probably hasn’t had that huge an impact on our gaming. We missed some sessions, but on the whole all our games continued. I expect that we’re going to be continuing to play like this for a good part of 2021 as well.

2021?

Once Zweihänder is finished, we’ll be going back to Pathfinder Strange Aeons, to get more of that campaign finished. The GM was pretty much running it out of Roll20 anyway (despite it being face to face), so that just needs the players to get their characters into Roll20.

Traveller is likely to continue, for a while at least (the Deepnight Revelation campaign might be a useful addition to our Friday night game), and I have a feeling that it’s going to be my system of choice for a while – at least until I get bored of it and need to find something new. Mechanically it’s a lot simpler than Pathfinder, but I find that it requires more work on the setting.

Hopefully though at some point we’ll start up face to face gaming again within six months, but I’m expecting it to be towards the latter half of that time frame.

Samuel Penn

Samuel Penn