Sunday, October 15, 2017

In Praise on the Open Table

If you listen to the surviving old-timers, you will learn that they didn't run their tabletop RPG campaigns the way that is assumed as normal now: organizing a specific group, which plays and acts like a team, that meets at specific places and times to performance as a team for a specific duration (in hours). It might as well be organizing a team for a bowling league with strict attendance rules.

I know, from decades of experience, that this scheme leaves the least committed with the most leverage over the group. If they don't show up, for whatever reason, it's not uncommon to abandon play altogether because some combination of player and GM decisions made the no-show guy a mission-critical element. As with a car without an ignition key, getting going otherwise tends to be beyond many to pull off, and can often lead to other troubles.

The Open Table paradigm avoids all of that. It's a paradigm of Pick-Up Play. The GM shows up, sets up, and runs the game with whomever shows up. You want a (somewhat humorous) example? Go read the posts by The Alt-Right GM about his ongoing Open Table campaign. Very little needed in terms of preparation, no need for narrative elements at all, and self-sustaining once the players start becoming players in the setting because cause-and-effect gain sufficient momentum to keep play going indefinitely.

Which is why more videogame designers and publishers of RPGs--MMO and otherwise--are doing the smart thing and adapting this more and more to their own medium. They have been for years, but business and technical limitations still forbid the fullest degree of implemenation. Especially the MMORPGs with persistent worlds, like World of Warcraft.

Fire the frustrated wanna-be novelists and get more wargame veterans on the payroll instead. Embrace the Open Table paradigm, and its key feature of drop-in/drop-out play, and enjoy adaptation and retention (in both tabletop and videogame media) as people stop being bothered by the fear of commitment to a psuedo-bowling league. Instead, knowing that they can dip out whenever something that matters comes up--job, kids, whatever--they can just go handle it and never leave anyone else in the lurch.

The Open Table is good for players, good for publishers, good for developers, good for retailers and convention organizers (for tabletop, specifically), and good thereby for the community as a whole. No hobby should yoke you like a job. (Yes, World of Warcraft, specifically the Raid-or-Die crowd, I'm looking at you. "Raid Guilds" should not be a thing.) "Schedule Your Fun" needs to be dragged into the street, beaten into a pulp, and then shot dead for good measure- for the good of all forms of gaming.

The Open Table. The superior play paradigm. Adopt it today.


  1. Not gonna disagree there, but it does need a higher initial player count.

  2. "Schedule your fun" - but the GM still needs to schedule games, unless he's willing to GM whenever people turn up at his house. I'm planning to run an open-table campaign soon but it's going to be fortnightly as that's what my own schedule can handle; I'm not sure how well this will work. I do have a megadungeon (Stonehell) suited to episodic play.
    I'll need to unlearn some modern tropes like the 'party treasurer' who hoards all the cash and (hopefully) doles some out; that can't work with variable player group. I think being strict with "You get XP for gp IF the cash is returned safely to base & individually allocated at end of the session" will help a lot.


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