The past couple weeks, Jonathan Perrine has been running Epyllion for us. We just wrapped our third session and we have one more to go before we lose one of our regulars. I don’t know what the plan is beyond next session. But whatever happens, another player in the group is starting his Burning Wheel game whenever Epyllion wraps up and I’ll be playing in that one as well.
This will be the longest stretch as a player in long-form games for as long as I can remember. Like, I literally cannot remember the last time I did this. Possibly a MET Vampire L.A.R.P. 20 years ago? A WOD mashup game around the same time? Hard to believe it’s been literally decades — god I’m old — but there we are.
I’m taking this time to really dig into a few things.
My favorite side activity is observing player dynamics on the player side of the table. Super interesting! Kind of aggravating! From the GM’s seat, I can enjoy the fireworks because I don’t have fireworks exploding in my face. Quite different when you’re operating in the immediacy of character play. I’m playing in ringer mode (mentioned before: there in a support role to help make the GM’s job easier via modeling play or whatever) so I’m keeping my own character and the rest of the table kind of at arm’s length. But I definitely feel the engagement/disengagement of each player in a different way when I’m among them, and not dedicating all my bandwidth to facilitating the rest of the show.
I’m reeling my play waaaaay in. I could probably shoulder my way into the action, but I’m trying to feel out new ways of being fulfilled by the experience other than by being the center of attention. The hardest part of this, for me, is fighting my worst Star Player urges. The thing I mentioned in that old essay about Star Players generating energy but also demanding energy? Yeah, giving up being in the middle of everyone’s attention is hard. I spend a lot of time sitting and listening and trying to figure out to throw softballs to the other players. I’m kind of bad at being a helpful sidekick.
Another interesting thing for me is feeling out authority among my peers. An Epyllion specific thing: the economy of handing out friendship tokens. Quick version is, each character has a virtue, and the player hands out their tokens when they see that virtue played out by someone else. It’s a clever way to keep the players engaged in scenes they’re not in and to pay attention to each other. Our table is kind of terrible at it. Since I’m a fiend for reward cycles and chasing economic inducements, it’s actively aggravating when the table ignores it. A couple times I goosed another player about what it would take to get one of their tokens, which unfortunately also creates kind of bad or awkward feelings: nobody likes to be called out. This is something that jumps out at me as a player more strongly than it would as a GM, since it directly impacts my play priorities. I’m singing and dancing as hard as I can but I can’t get tokens from anyone! Anyway, the point of all this is that bringing this topic up as a player, to another player, just feels different than as a GM. In a perfect world we’re all perfect peers regardless of table role. We live in an imperfect world, though.
Oh, last priority of my purposeful play experiment: observing another GM’s craft. I kind of never do this in a one-shot convention setting where I’m a player, unless something really interesting shows up. But I’ve got time and space to do that in this game. One interesting bit I saw Jonathan do was take detailed notes about mechanical engagement, as in what widgets did we not use? That’s an interesting level of analysis. He noted to himself that my Crafter hadn’t had a chance to use his dris An Eye For Detail move and then muttered “that’s on me.” And I was like…maybe? Could be an interesting exercise in some future game I run to evaluate that sort of thing.
Anyway, it’s been in turns interesting, relaxing, and aggravating. I know for sure I’ll be raring to go once my vacation is over.