The Breaking of Fellowship

They all have to go their separate ways eventually, right?

They all have to go their separate ways eventually, right?

The truism is this: all good things must come to an end. We like to think that our current happiness or contentment is permanent, but nothing is permanent. Friends move away, loved ones die, prosperity fades, possessions are destroyed, philosophies are undermined – everything upon which we often base our idea of happiness is transient. Gaming, as it happens, is no different.

I organize my gaming life into several epochs. First was Junior High through High School, known as the D&D Epoch. I ran 5 campaigns; I played in 5-6 or so, plus innumerable one-shots and campaigns that never got out of the first session. It was mostly the same 6 people. We lost a few along the way, gained a few. Then college drew us to different states and we moved on to ‘real life.’ I looked back on those days while in college, feeling like I hadn’t yet fully capitalized upon what RPGs could do and wishing I could try again.

Then came the Pelham Epoch. Some friends of mine – all gamers and nerds – moved to this apartment in Arlington that became our gaming Mecca. I ran 5 campaigns there and played in 2-3, plus again the innumerable one-shots. This was my gilded age of gaming – a bunch of unmarried adults with no kids and few obligations getting together every week for tons and tons of geekery. It seemed like it would last forever. Of course it didn’t – people moved away, many of us got married, many of our jobs became more and more intrusive into our lives. Some of us just tired of gaming altogether and pulled back their involvement. The Fellowship was broken, to borrow Tolkien’s idiom.

What followed is the current epoch, which I have taken to calling the Diaspora. The once great gaming group is scattered and occupied with other things. Games are happening, but not all in the same place and often without our collective awareness. I know there’s 1-2 campaigns going on that I’m not involved in, but unlike in the Pelham days, I know nothing about them. I don’t hear the stories. I don’t pass through the room while the fun is happening. I never spectate. I’ve run 6 campaigns in this era and played in 1. Lots of one-shots, too. The gaming is as fun as it ever was, but rarer and more constrained by time and distance. Gaming has drifted down the priority list for most, coming in a distant third or fourth behind things like family, work, and other ‘grown-up’ activities.

This epoch, also, is moving towards its end, I feel. I don’t know what the change will be, but it’s in the wind. I grow frustrated with how difficult it is to arrange a game, with how hard I need to work to get my friends in one room again. It spoils a fair amount of the fun for me. I feel like some kind of weirdo, bugging people who don’t really care anymore to play games they pretend to like in order to assuage my ego or something. I can’t emphasize how much I hate that feeling. It makes me angry sometimes, and none of this should involve anger, ever.

So, where is all this going? Well, I could talk about gaming-as-metaphor for life, but that seems grandiose. Let me just say this: enjoy the moment, be there for your friends now.  They may always be your friends, but they won’t always be sitting in your living room eating popcorn while slaying a dragon. Nothing lasts forever.

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About aahabershaw

Writer, teacher, gaming enthusiast, and storyteller. I write stories, novels, and occasional rants.

Posted on May 19, 2014, in Gaming and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Well-said, Auston. My group games in large part because we understand the active commitment is necessary to not let friendships whither, The game offers us a chance to both get together as a larger group *and* do something for ourselves instead of letting work and family subsume us. The latter is a skill that our parents had that our generation generally seems to have lost.

    And, as always, you are welcome to join us. 🙂

  2. I agree that the “golden age” of Pelham gaming has well passed, and it makes me sad to a certain degree. But I’ve been luckily able to maintain more of a consistent gaming presence in my life due to a number of factors that I don’t think would tide you over in the same way.

    The main advantage is that I’m a less-than-experienced gamemaster. So that helps me in many ways. First of course, is that I’m happy to run D&D. Now granted, having played in all the innumerable other game systems we’ve done over the years, I fully admit to its shortcomings, but the fact that it’s still the most widely know system and very easy to get into, means I have always been able to find and plug in new people to any of the games as needed. People know what D&D is… many have played it in one form or fashion at some point over the last 40 years… so the idea of playing again isn’t as scary and perhaps more intriguing than suggesting playing a Champions or Shadowrun campaign would be.

    Secondly, because of my lesser experience as a GM (and I without nearly the same interest or passion in storytelling as you and Perich have)… my games have a rather shallower depth. So this means I have a wider player pool available, as many of my non-improvisor gamers are happy to play at the same level that I’m comfortable running at. There was definitely something to be said for RPing with very strong improvisors and the Pelham games produced a level of character realization and a connection to story that was extremely hard to match. But being inexperienced enough as a GM that I don’t need to reach those levels for me to maintain a level of enjoyment as a D&D dungeonmaster… means I don’t need to worry about the level of players I have at my table.

    And third it’s just the basic game maintenance. 3-hour weeknight games are so much easier to maintain than trying for 6-hour weekend games. Playing at 7:30pm in the suburbs is easier for many players who live along the 95/128 band to get here. And playing a less-intensive D&D with not as much story depth and characterization means I can have a larger party of players, resulting in far easier swapping in and out of due to absences but still keeping the momentum going.

    These are all things that I dunno if they would hold as much interest for you (as a player or more especially a GM). And indeed, if I was *playing* in my own game that I’m running, I dunno if I’d be able to hold my own interest either, LOL! But there is definitely something to be said for having a game of fully-committed players who are able to stay on track and keep campaign momentum going that produces a consistent, enjoyable experience.

    • Yeah, the ‘scaling back’ idea I’ve entertained (throwing a wider net, at it were), but then I feel like the time (which is precious) wouldn’t be well spent. If I’m not going to spend an evening/afternoon with my kids/wife, then it better be pretty awesome.

      In a perfect world, I’d slowly gravitate over to 40K/WHFB and play with a smaller group of dedicated folks on a regular basis. Our gaming group, though, isn’t likely to provide that (despite my efforts), in that few of them are actively interested in modeling, which is a deal-breaker for a game like that. It’s too bad–it would totally fill my need and yet isn’t asking for people comfortable performing and only needs to be arranged with one other person at a time and only takes 3 hours (tops) to play.

      I will still run RPGs, sure. I just don’t know how often or with whom at this point. Ravenloft has been awesome, but it’s drawing towards its conclusion and the future beyond that looks foggy.

      • Michelle knows me well enough to know that I tend to get cranky if I haven’t socially gamed in a while… so even a wider-net or “scaled back” experience is still a lifeline for me. The one night a week used for gaming more than makes up for the “cranky Fish” they otherwise would have to experience even if I used that night for more family time.

        And if not RPGs… I just find the mechanics of many boardgames more varied and interesting than any miniatures wargaming, which is why I fall on the side of pulling out Dixit or RoboRally as opposed to trying to maintain a semblance of Warhammer army. Although you are correct in that the “modeling-heartbreaker” also has a good deal to do with it too. But boardgameshave the advantage in that you can instruct and play a boardgame with new people much, much easier than any sort of miniature wargame.

        So unfortunately for you… you’re stuck in the deep end on both sides– roleplaying games that have a depth to them in terms of character and story… and wargaming that has a depth to them in terms of cost, production, and time spent actually learning how to play and putting an army together. You never found a more simplistic gaming hobby that you could still sink your teeth into. 😉

      • Yeah, I disagree with the boardgaming assessment. They almost always lack either depth or narrative interest. Boardgames don’t scratch my itch. They’re fun (sometimes), but not satisfying in the way that Warhammer or RPGs are to me. I like the time investment to create something impressive. Basically I’m the opposite of the stereotypical 21st century gamer–I have a long attention span, and something that doesn’t tax it doesn’t usually strike me as worthwhile.

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