courtesy Evil Hat website

Over the last few years, my best friend has done an amazing job at wrangling a far-flung group of friends into playing D&D over Google Hangouts. All of us are in different parts of the world, from Los Angeles to Rwanda, so it takes a good deal of planning to get everyone’s schedule lined up correctly. It’s worked out for the most part, and about once or twice a month some of us get up early (or stay up late!) and get our video chat on to play.

It’s been super fun. The difficult part is getting into a groove- because not all of us are generally available for any given session, we’ve been playing a lot of one-shots instead of progressing through our main campaign. Anyone who’s played Dungeons and Dragons knows that it takes time to develop chemistry and camaraderie, and fortunately we have that- we’ve all known each other for more than ten years, since high school. It makes the one-shots go more smoothly since we can just jump right in and start improvising.

We’ve been playing together for long enough that we’ve started taking turns at GMing, and even though things don’t always go according to plan we always have fun. I’ve started to think about how I might run my own game and it’s got me feeling both inspired and a little nervous.

There are approximately one million tabletop RPGs and they all have different appeals. I’ve thought about making a D&D campaign or one-shot but I’m intimidated by the amount of numbers. I instead went with a different game. What I want to run is Blades In the Dark, a tabletop RPG that focuses more on storytelling than mechanics, with less stop-and-start than D&D. At least, that’s the idea behind it. I’m working my way through the rulebook and it seems overwhelming but I’ve been assured that a lot of the systems become much more clear through play. There are even sections in the rulebook where the author makes a point to say, “We know this sounds complex, but don’t worry about it your first couple of times through” as if anticipating my nervousness at tackling a brand new system.

On Splitscreen, Kotaku’s podcast hosted by Jason and Kirk, they discuss what it was like to play D&D for the first time- and Cecilia mentioned Blades as a great alternative for people looking for an alternative to D&D. I think I had just ordered the game online when she mentioned it, so I feel heartened and encouraged to dive in.

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I have a group ready and I’m making an effort to get everyone familiar with the rules and roles but I know that for the game to run smoothly, I’m going to have to delve in and learn the game inside and out. It gives me just a touch of anxiety. The time commitment concerns me; I’ve been on Reddit and seen the amount of hard work that people put into their campaigns. From my own experience, I know that the more work the GM puts in, the smoother the game will run- and not just from a rules perspective, but from a lore and worldbuilding one. I like to think that I’m fairly creative but it feels like a lot to carry on my shoulders!

However, I know that I have a huge support base. There are entire online communities devoted to this one game and its variants. My D&D friends are all about committing to making the best game possible, and everyone pitches in with worldbuilding. The hardest part of all- finding people to play with- is already solved. I know that I’ll be able to muddle through the basics but what I want is for the game to be memorable and something that we can keep going back to. I’ve heard about campaigns and characters that last for months and even years at a time and I’d honestly love to get to that point one day.

Learning to run an RPG is a crucial part of learning about game design and I’m excited to see what I glean from the experience. All I can do is prepare, let it fly, and write down what happens to the best of my ability.