2018 Year in Gaming

Hangouts Gaming Recap The Gauntlet

Hey, everyone-

One of my 2018 resolutions was to keep a diary of my tabletop role-playing for the year. Unlike that vast majority of resolutions, this is one that I actually kept. 

I used a pretty basic Google Sheets document to record the date, game and session title, venue, my role, who GMed, and a sentence or two of notes about the session.

Here’s a link to a view-only copy so you can check it out yourself if you’re curious and/or just want to follow along as I break it down: https://tinyurl.com/ybtmud8g

So, a few things to keep in mind as I discuss this and what it might mean: I joined the Gauntlet online gaming community at the very end of 2017. It typically takes a few months to get acclimated and really get into the flow of signing up and regularly playing games there. You also don’t end to look to hard to see where I closed my game store, and how that action affected my gaming. Gnerally speaking, you’ll see the front half of the year heavy on F2F play in the shop and at cons, with post-June moving nearly exclusively to on-line play via Google Hangouts with the Gauntlet community.

The Stats:

I played or GMed a total of 165 sessions of 2+ hours in 2018. I’ve left off a few playtests and experimental things, but that’s nearly all of the actual RPG Play I got in this year.

In news that will surprise no one who knows how the tabletop industry works, my most-played game was Dungeons & Dragons 5e, clocking in at 17 sessions. I basically ran it weekly for the store from January through the end of May (with breaks for a couple of cons). So that’s 15 sessions as a DM. I snuck in two one-shot sessions as a player after the shop closed, one at Con on the Cob, the other with my pal Lauren at the 20-Sided Store in Brooklyn. If the store had remained open, or I’d done this last year, I’d have racked up something like 4 dozen D&D sessions as I have for the last 15 years or so running in the store (with a year-long break after I moved to NY in 2011). That makes D&D my most-played game (by a hair, see blow), and by far my most common F2F game experience. With the shop closed, I expect that 2019 will look very different indeed, unless I end up running it for streaming or doing a bunch of kids’ parties or something.

The new version of D&D is sharp, they know what they’re doing, and it’s easy to pick up and play. I spent a lot of time playing it with kids, including some kids with social adjustment difficulties, and despite all the flaws we all know D&D has as a vector for problematic replaying habits, its ubiquity means it’s the single best gateway to tabletop role-playing, and I embrace it as such, warts and all. That said, of course, given the choice for me, myself, I’ll play other stuff to get my fantasy fix, and indulge an occasional D&D session as a lark or an opportunity to visit with friends or chill out with low-investment gaming at a con.

Speaking of ‘other stuff to get my fantasy fix’, in news that will surprise no one who is a regular on The Gauntlet, my second-most played game, at 16 sessions, was Dungeon World. That was mostly play! There’s a ton of DW run on the Gauntlet, so it’s easier to get into games than just about anything else. I also joined in on a shared-sandbox ‘West Marches’-style game mid-year called The Gaunt Marches, so I ran my first DW sessions as a DM for that. I expect that DW will likely be my 2019 most-played game, if only because I want to try and run one Gaunt Marches series a month between now and December.

After that, my ill-fated ‘home’ game of Star Trek Adventures was the second runner-up, with a dozen sessions played F2F, half at the store, the other half at another local venue. I loved that game, but the difficulty of scheduling us after the store shut down combined with my emotional need to make a clean break from it, caused it to just sort of stall out. I really like the system a lot, and we had great characters and did three really engaging plots, but we routinely got only 4 of the six players, and often only 3, and with my increasing engagement with the Gauntlet, it got to where it was so much easier and more fun to rack up online sessions that I called it in September. You’ll notice we didn’t manage a single session in July or August between summer cons, family stuff for the other players, and general summer schedule issues. For the most part, closing the shops has been a huge burden lifted off my shoulders, and I fight feeling guilty about how much less stressful my life is now that they’re gone. But the disappointing stall-out of this campaign is my real, lasting regret for gaming in 2018.

After STA, we mostly get into games I played in the standard Gauntlet 3-5 sessions per month format. So, like, 8 sessions of Zombie World (4 as player, 4 as GM), 8 sessions of Masks, 6 Monster of the Week, and a dozen-plus in the 3-5 session range.

I played 34 one-shots or bit of campaigns that dropped in and out of. Those included a handful or super-fun full-session playtests of (Game of Love, a Final Girl hack for dating reality shows; Imp of the Perverse, Victorian monster-hunting from Nathan Paoletta; Heart of the Star, an SF romance early beta by Emily Care Boss; the creepy SF horror joint Darkness Lies Within the creepy SF horror joint Darkness Lies Within by Shane Liebling; and of course the Cthulhu Dark session of what would Trophy by Jesse Ross). I played in a few other shorter or incomplete playtests that I didn’t include on the list because we didn’t necessarily get a full session, or we replaying to test a system as opposed to doing a test run of the full game for fun in addition to feedback.

Some lessons:

D&D is a commercial juggernaut that I have no particular personal need for any more. I respect and appreciate what they’ve done, but seeing the extent to which I only played it because I had to (despite really enjoying it when I was playing) was eye-opening going back over this. That said, the genre its emulating will always have a pull for me! It’s entirely likely that my Dungeon World sessions for 2018 will roughly equal my D&D plus DW sessions for 2018. Find monsters, slay them, and take their stuff is a universal gamer connector, and I expect that’ll remain true for a long time.

I absolutely confirmed that cyberpunk as a genre just isn’t for me. I played some cyberpunk game sessions I enjoyed (Hack the Planet, The Sprawl, Rockerboys and Vending Machines), but it’s always an effort for me to get engaged with the dystopian crooks and grifters who are the default protagonists. Maybe it’s because the world itself is enough of a corporate dystopia right now that I’m not keen on leaning into that, even satirically, or maybe I just missed the boat in my formative years on doing the reading and media consumption that built an appreciation of it. Probably a little from Column A and a little from Column B.

I absolutely confirmed that I am slavishly devoted to my love of superheroes, despite all the deeply problematic and retrograde stuff that can flow out of that genre. I do my best to make sure character choices are diverse, and that the heroes are just that, but in the end, it’s the genre that’s had the most impact on me as a pop culture consumer and occasional creator, so my gaming gravitates in that direction because I like it and by all accounts I’m pretty darn  good at laying down an entertaining supers game at the table. My ‘Super Tuesday’ project to tweak a few games I liked that weren’t explicitly ‘super hero’ games went really well and were a couple of the high points of my year GM-wise: my EX.T.R.A run of The Ward set in a hospital for metahuman patients and normal folx injured by their powers was amazing, so much so that I’ll definitely be running more of that in 2019, and our run of Pasion de las Pasiones with super-heroic soap stars, was a hilarious delight. I also played a bunch of Masks, and confirmed just what a gem that game is, in terms of driving at the core of what makes those stores engaging. So yeah, nothing I didn’t know, but good to confirm that leaving the comic book business didn’t adversely affect my desire to engage with super powers as a story element, or superheroes as protagonists. My involvement with the ‘Gauntlet Comics’ shared superhero sandbox campaign spun up by Rich Rogers along with our co-creators Lowell Francis and Brandon Conway (designer of the aforementioned Masks!) is so exciting that I can’t really express it adequately, and I’m really pumped up for lots of comic book-inspired roleplay in 2019.

I was deeply worried that migrating from F2F tabletop gaming to playing online via Hangouts would be difficult and scary. I shouldn’t have worried. The mentorship program in place at The Gauntlet, overseen by the gracious and talented Michael G. Barford, eased me into the process, and ramped me up on the technology, which of course proved to be pretty basic and easy to master. I was down on online play mostly as a defense mechanism attached to my day job. Now that I’ve done a bunch of it, it feels totally normal and natural. I’m deeply relived that at 50 (turned in October) I can still learn new ways of doing things that expand the possibilities for who I can play with and the kind of games we can enjoy. The challenge for 2019 is taking the next step(s), joining in some Twitch streams and doing some podcasting. I’m optimistic.

So that’s 2018 in gaming for me in a nutshell. I’ll do a separate Convention Recap for 2018 next week. Let me know if you have questions or comments, especially if it’s about a game we played together in 2018! I welcome your additions to the list if I missed anything, and encourage you to do the same for yourself this year!


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  • James Crocker on

    Jesse, great to see you here! One of my main goals with Gauntlet Comics is try and blow it up so it feels like an entire comics line, with monster comics, crime comics, etc. We want to create a thing where it feels like there’s a whole history, not just a modern superhero line. So I expect I’ll be doing a lot of games that aren’t just straight-ahead ‘superhero RPGs’. For January I have a drift of ‘My Life With Master’ that’s going to explore the lives of henchmen for a supervillain, in February a ‘Monster of the Week’ campaign that’s about being weird monster-hunting cops in the 70s, like a cross between a Warren monster mag and a detective pulp, stuff like that.

    Given the ability of even small press games to effectively find their audience, I don’t think there’s anything lurking too far under the radar, I guess? I’m more interested in seeing how the socially-disruptive trope of super-powers can add a twist to other genres. That said, I’m going to go take another look at ‘Godlike’ for metahumans during a time of conventional warfare, and maybe ‘Mutants in the Night’, to see if there’s a way to work those into the structure of what we’re doing. There ins’t a really solid PBTA solution yet for doing MCU/DCU ‘cinematic’ supers yet, so I’d love to see something like that.

    -Jim

  • Jesse Ross on

    Really nice write-up, Jim. Any thoughts about the kind of supers games you plan to run for Gauntlet Comics this year? Are there any hidden gem supers RPGs out there that need more love?


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