Saturday, April 3, 2021

The Campaign That Wasn't: Curse of the Wednesdays

Woof! Now that's what I call a hiatus. Rest assured, I've been active gaming (in particular, learning a new system) and don't intend to stop writing for the blog. Just need to work my way back in with a few short posts before diving into any systems or writing longform. 

I find true the maxim that if you need something done, ask a busy person to do it. Around last month I very suddenly became less busy, and my drive to write fell substantially as a result. So here's a story of what I did(n't get to do) in between. 

Over my little break, I unexpectedly dove into Legend of the 5 Rings RPG, a system and setting based on the collective card game of the same name. I ran my first session earlier this week after some ill-fated attempts to join a game, which resulted in playing a quarter of a session over two weeks. This is about that latter tale. Next post is about some system considerations and how that impacts player expectations. Right now, funny story. 

Just two blokes against the GM's world

The Curse of the Wednesdays

When I first got into L5R, I obviously wanted to find a game to try out the system. I had little luck. Most games were for the 5th edition, not the 4th I was interested in. Still, I applied for a 5th ed game promoted by a GM looking to upload the recordings online and build a career as a paid GM. 

And I got rejected, as the game was already full. Ah well. I put it behind me and looked elsewhere. 

Imagine my surprise when I got pinged a few days later asking if I still want to play. It turns out his group had unusual bad luck and, despite the large group he'd recruited for just this purpose, needed another player for this session to go forward. 

The game was in 3 hours, of course. Cue speed-reading the rulebook and making a character in a system I don't understand. 

When I arrive on their server, I get an inkling of what's going on. Seven players, besides me, had been gathered explicitly to offset the tendency of online randoms to flake, find schedule conflicts and disappear without warning. Nevertheless, one player suffered a sudden death in the family, the Lion player had work at the time, the Mantis had recently developed a kidney stone and was in and out of the doctor's office, and the remaining players either flaked, ghosted or were unavailable for miscellaneous reasons I can't recall. This would have been their second session, except that they had missed a few players the previous week and only had a session zero then. 

It was me (CRAB CLAN! BEST CLAN! CLACKETY CLACK!) and the Falcon player with the GM, waiting on the Mantis, who insisted that she would be present at a slightly delayed hour and the game could go forward. 

I found the Falcon to be good company, and the GM was largely quiet. Good thing as well, as we spent the next two hours waiting before it was called off and delayed to next week. We learned the next day that our Mantis had truly abysmal luck on her end, running out of cell battery at the same time that her PC decided to buckle down for a lengthy update. 

I tweaked several errors in my character waiting for next session, looking forward to actually playing. In the intervening days, a couple players I didn't know left the server. I spoke with the GM, and in one conversation he told me that he was looking at paid GMing because, after so many years of running the game, he was fatigued and it just wasn't enough to run without recompense. 

I really should have run at that point. 

The next Wednesday rolled around and it was me, the Falcon, and the Lion. The Mantis was once again unavailable. Still, 3 is a quorum and we got down to playing. 

Now, I don't want to come across as overly harsh here. I want to come across exactly as harsh as necessary. I've spent most of my RPG-playing career as a GM. I treasure moments to sit on the other side of the screen and play, especially when the GM is new and just spreading their wings for the first time. It has its own charm, and even GMs with very loose system knowledge can run solid sessions with enthusiasm and reasonable calls.

So I was surprised to find a GM, supposedly very experienced and looking to get paid for this, delivering an extremely low-energy exposition dump, at the end of which he simply fell silent. Only with further player prodding did he realize that he forgot to set the scene. So he set us in the middle of Winter Court, called for us to make Earth rolls to stay awake during the proceedings (we failed) and then had a major NPC break into the room and make a startling declaration. In the GM's own words, both the NPC and the news were "a big fucking deal."

The Lion player developed convenient connection issues early into the game and had to drop out, leaving just me and the Falcon. As soon as the second wave of exposition was over and our characters were awake, I finally got to investigate a bit. Literally, exactly as the GM was telling me what to roll, his voice sputtered out and he disconnected from his own server. 

The Falcon and I spent the next few minutes laughing our asses off and confirming that the other had experienced the same thing. He even pointed out to me a detail I'd missed, that the GM's repeated swearing in odd places, beyond killing the tone, also would have made it difficult to monetize the audio on Youtube. And lest I not stress this enough, this game was supposed to be a demo reel in support of getting paying players. 

When he reconnected, we learned that his entire neighborhood's wifi had gone out, and the session was delayed again to next week. 

I would like to say I left immediately, but it took the Falcon letting me know he was bailing to do the same myself. He ghosted, but I took the time to write a polite, but firm message to the GM explaining why I left and that I wouldn't advise GMing as a career for him. His only response was, "Well ok." 

I subsequently invited the Falcon to join my regular server, opened a side-game there to introduce players there to L5R 4e, and had a fun first session that I expect will continue for the foreseeable future. It even took place on the same day and time as the old game, the cad that I am. 

Thus was the Curse of the Wednesdays broken.