GenCon: Tunnels and Trolls
Saturday morning I got up and wandered on over to the Hyatt for my Tunnels & Trolls game. Burn-out was starting to be noticeable, our GM eventually joined us after we were all gathered together but he looked a little shell-shocked. And the first thing he tells us is that Ken St. Andre (original creator of T&T) would like to play with us, but we may have to move to another location for him to do so. Everyone was ready and willing to do so, but it turns out Ken was just downstairs, and so he came up to play and we didn’t even have to move.
Now, I own the many editions of T&T (including even the mythical 6th edition), and have played plenty of solo adventures, and even once ran a game of it for my group. I’ve never played though, and sadly though I own 7th edition, I had dismissed it as overly complex for my taste. Naturally it turned out that was the edition we were playing. Still, several folks at the table were quite knowledgeable in the system and happy to help me spin up my character, and though my rolls were crappy, I felt like my guy had a little character to him and I was excited to play.
Except then I discovered the GM made one of the classic blunders — he tried to run a mystery plot at a convention game. Mystery plots can be enjoyable, but the fact is they can only really engage one or two players at a time. Someone inevitably takes the lead talking to NPCs and putting the pieces together, while everyone else just coasts along. Perhaps in a home campaign this can still be fun, especially if the other players are all invested in the setting and NPCs involved. But at a con game, where you have zero context, it’s a horrible bore. Sure, I probably could have asserted myself to try and be the guy who drove the plot, but it would have been at the expense of someone else doing it, and frankly I just didn’t have the energy for it. Thankfully the game was a shorter one — only 3 hours, and I decided to just put on a glad face and ride it out. I suppose I could have just up and left, but with Ken there, well, it seemed just a bit too crass.
Interestingly, I think Ken, though being nice to a guy who was at least a casual acquaintance prior to the con and possibly a friend, pretty much agreed with me. At one point during a break he said something like this (and my apologies to Ken if I get this horribly wrong as I paraphrase here):
I hate these adventures that take so much time to explain how everyone got here, instead of just getting to the adventure. My adventures start with “You’re surrounded by goblins, you remember how you got here and you wish you didn’t, what do you do?”
Now maybe he was talking about another game and not this one specifically, and perhaps his analysis that the game was dragging because of too much introductory stuff was a bit off the mark (I think the entire scenario was flawed), but ultimately I think Ken is pretty much dead on here. The one thing I added to the game I ran that I didn’t do the first time I ran it was add a quick fight at the start to get the party to gel right away. Then when they were in the tavern following leads it started to slack off, and while some players were excited about it, others were clearly growing bored. But perhaps I’ll save all this for a final summary post so I can compare all the games I played in and see how it might affect how I prepare for the next convention game I have to run.
Ultimately, I don’t think the GM was a bad GM, I just think he chose a bad scenario to run at a convention. The fact is, it did not feel horribly railroaded like the Warhammer game, the players were given plenty of lee-way to tackle the problem as they saw fit. We tried a lot of pretty crazy ideas, including setting up a fake meet with a bunch of smugglers to try and entrap them into giving away their superiors. Though as I think about it, if the GM had been a bit more flexible, he might have realized that this was the most engaged we were and altered the plot a bit to make this pay out instead of falling flat as it did. Ultimately it ended up feeling like a waste of time. Hmm, which is worse, a GM who is obviously reading from a script such that you know you’re being railroaded, or a GM who lets you try all kinds of things that simply fail completely due to them not fitting into the preconceived story? As I write this, I think I’m changing my mind completely, and will likely avoid both these GMs in the future.
Now, if I could manage to get into a T&T game run by Ken St. Andre, well, that’s a different story. His game sounded pretty darn exciting to me.