For a few years now, I’ve cultivated two hobbies that relate to RPGs. They interact and inform each other but wow are they different.
The first is my home gaming. That’s the long campaign-y stuff like Pendragon and Mutant: Year Zero and most recently The One Ring. It’s my ongoing creative sustenance, my weekly sanity check, my only reliable real-world social outlet to be honest.
The second is my convention gaming. Meeting internet friends, one-shot intensive, highly improvisational, super-challenging subject matter.
I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t have the one, I couldn’t have the other.
My convention gaming is for stretching my skills and exposing me to new ideas. I watch how other folks facilitate. I get to trot out stuff that my home players just aren’t especially interested in. My personal politics are indulged and obvious and right there at the table, largely because the convention audience is entirely sympathetic. Or if they’re not, that’s also obvious and I can filter for that.
My home gaming is for retrenching and building and cultivating the stuff I picked up through convention play. Not strictly necessary, I don’t think, since I ran games for many years between my big con-going eras (my last regular convention schedule was 1993-1998ish, when I was writing for the b-/c-list publishers and working booths).
Complication: I don’t like hitting the convention space unprepared. I find it tacky and, for lack of a better word, unprofessional, to not know what the fuck you’re doing if you’re asking a bunch of friendly acquaintances and total strangers to trust you for 4 hours. So I do try and run nearly everything that’s gonna show up at a con at home. I’m very grateful my home folks indulge me now and again when I roll out, say, Fall of Magic or Durance or whatever.
The thing is, it’s such a fraught process for me, introducing my home folks to my con games. It’s almost certainly self-inflicted! But familiarity breeds contempt, as they say.
There is the entirely practical matter of the fact that our social rules typically require a thousand small compromises. If I’m going to be inflexible, well, that means nobody ever plays with me ever because not everyone is me. And like it or not, I still respect my friends even when they don’t behave how I’d like them to all the time. I’m sure I’m a constant low-level disappointment to them as well.
So, you know, rolling out something like Carolina Death Crawl once means steeling myself for how the racism is going to play out. In nearly every case, honestly, my home folks are absolutely fine with it. It’s not exciting or dramatic, it doesn’t fulfill the punch list of preferred characteristics, it’s always interesting (talking about more than CDC now), but I can honestly say that I’ve never had an “oh my god you disgusting troglodyte” moment with the folks I play with at home.
And yet. And yet.
Man…rolling out Night Witches spooled me up for a solid month before we actually played it. And it was good! In fact the folks at the table that night asked for more sessions, and that was cool. But you know, I don’t ever feel that kind of tension when I put it on the table at a convention. There are so many folks and they can opt in or out as they wish. I’m never going to see them again, mostly. I can be completely free to explore literally any subject matter. Awesome.
Meanwhile, my home game? I love that I can rely on my players to dig in and learn the game. They are so good at it, and that certainly indulges my own efforts to dig deep into these things. I can’t really rely on any kind of system mastery at any convention table for any game I run, so that requires I think about the event largely as a demo, rather than a collaboration. When I lucked into all-star tables at both New Mexicon and Dreamation for Sagas of the Icelanders, it took some effort to get out of demo mode!
There’s really no point or takeaway to this post. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about. I do love how both hobbies enrich each other, but of course that comes from my baseline assumption that these things can be enriched, that roleplaying is worthy of work and effort and improvement.