The Von Show #16 – All Good Things…

Lovely up-the-nose shot there. And still no pop guard for my microphone. I bet the cat’s nicked off with it.

Sometimes, you’ll get lucky, and your hand will be forced by forceful forces beyond your control. Sometimes, you’ll be clever, and pin it all on Mysterious Circumstances. Sometimes, fate and fortune will conspire against you, and you’ll have to face the most onerous trial a gamesmaster ever has to face…
Ending The Game.

Nothing lasts forever, not even cold November rain, and sooner or later we all have to face the music.

Lots of things can drive a game to its conclusion, and not all of them are shames, cautions and eldritch horrors. The worst case scenario is that the game simply IMPLODES, with drama, rage and hilarious personality conflicts driving it to either a swift, quiet, merciful death behind the garden shed, or a seething eruption of fury that leaves chunks of nerd shrapnel in the walls of the gamin’ shoppe.
We’ve talked about that before, by implication, and I want to give it a miss this week, before it ends up taking up the entire instalment with its festering negativity. Instead, I want to explore a few other, less horrible reasons why games have to be put to bed.
Sometimes, you simply reach the end of the material. It’s been known to happen. When I was a younger GM, and harboured strange ideas regarding ‘telling my story’, and also ‘not having a game succumb to the Most Common Cause Of Game Death’, I devised a Dark Heresy game around ten major events, the idea being that while it might take a few more sessions to resolve, there’d be a definite end in sight, and an underlying structure that would ramp up the interest and see it through to the end. This is also the natural end of one-offs; you have brought people together to play for four or eight or twelve hours and when it’s over, it’s over. This is fine – it’s a fat sight better than the Most Common Cause Of Game Death and, for my part, that tends to be why I’ve done it.
Sometimes, you are cruelly deprived of a player. People will insist on becoming employed and falling in love and going home or away and just generally leaving in a semi-permanent fashion. (To be fair, in my groups, it’s usually been me doing this.) Now, this isn’t necessarily the end. Some groups will continue without the errant player or players. Some will go their separate ways, only to reunite in whole or part at some later date. But some will fall over and die, those where the absentee was in some way vital to the group dynamic. Sometimes the group will collapse there and then – “we can’t play without Frank,” they’ll say, “his endearing noobery was what kept us together!” Sometimes it’ll lurch on, but something will be off. There won’t be quite the same delicate ecosystem of goals and styles, the game will not be what it used to be, and the Most Common Cause Of Game Death will be there, looming on the conceptual horizon.
Sometimes, you just fancy a change. Perhaps you’re all Vampired out, and want to give Call of Cthulhu a try. Perhaps your GM has been lagging a bit of late, and rather than face the Most Common Cause Of Game Death, you want to change things up, encourage them to yield up the throne. I’ve done it, now and then, when I’m in desperate need of an intellectual jigger, and it’s generally worked. While I’m not entirely comfortable on the outside of the screen, I like to see how other people do the thing I like to do. It’s invigorating, occasionally inspiring, and very rarely there’s a tiny dose of schadenfreude as you say “you know what, I may have been a bit wobbly of late, but I’m not as bad as this guy.” Whatever happens, in this case the game is wound down, or put on hiatus, but the group continues, game night stays on.
Anything’s better than the Most Common Cause Of Game Death.
The Most Common Cause Of Game Death is just… petering out. There’s no epic flash-bang of nerd drama, nobody’s left or moved away, it’s just… a session ends, and nobody really bothers to organise the next one. It’s put off “until next week, sometime”, or “maybe after the holidays”, or “when Frank comes back for his second year”, or… you get the idea. A couple of sessions may happen, weeks apart. They’ll be phoned in, perhaps. A couple of people will be missing, and nobody quite knows what to do with their characters, or whether they can get away with killing them.
The thing about roleplaying games is that it’s perversely hard to get people together for them. I’ve never been quite sure why. People who will climb over their own grandmothers to get their wargame on and sell the trodden granny-bits in time for Friday Night Magic will suddenly be at the mercy of the calendar when you’re trying to organise some Pathfinder. If by some miracle you have managed to herd the cats, you have to keep herding them – it doesn’t take much, it seems, for someone to find better things to do with themselves. It just seems that RPGs are the first to fall when time starts a’squeezin’.
There are ways and means around these endings, for sure. The rise and rise of PDF rulebooks, video chat, online dice rollers, Dabbleboard and Obsidian Portal means that in theory you don’t actually need to worry about physically making it to sessions. The emergence of ConstantCon means that, in theory, it doesn’t matter when you’re awake and bored and fancy stabbing some orcs, someone somewhere is running a game.
Thing is, at heart, I’m a bit of a Luddite. I spend my working days looking at screens, working remotely, communicating via email if I’m lucky. On game night I’m actually in the physical presence of other people for a change. I like the tactility of a notebook and pencil and a hastily-sketched floorplan, and the threatening rattle of dice. There’s something there with which drawing out plans with a trackball and listening to sampled WAVs of a couple of dice just can’t compete. Playing like a throwback means game time becomes tactile, disconnected, immersive, personal, intimate. It becomes very unlike work time, and if there’s one thing a game should be, it’s not like work.
That’s the killer, in the end. When gaming starts feeling like an obligation rather than a pastime, it might be time to stop. Or at least to change. Consider what you’re doing. Revise and revitalise. And, if necessary, wind things down rather than letting them stagger and fall.
That’s why this is the last Von Show.
Stop that despairing. I hear you there, despairing in the corner. Pack it in. I haven’t finished. In fact, that’s basically the point. I haven’t finished. But I don’t have time to script and record and edit a video every week. April is the busiest month in my working year even when I’m not moving house in the middle of it. And, to be honest, I’ve felt that one or two of the recent instalments have been, well, a bit wobbly, and I haven’t necessarily had that much to say in them. Time for a breather and a change of direction.
Apparently Frontline’s keeping the seat warm for me. Be nice to him, now. I’ll see you in four weeks.

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