Thanks to a friend coming into town for the first time in a few years, I was able to run my Sunday night Dungeons and Dragons game in-person for the first time. There is the unfortunate caveat that the game was 4/5ths in person, since one of the players was still remote, but that’s a setup I’ve dealt with many times in the past (it was the default for my pre-pandemic Sunday night game for pretty much the entire time I’ve had a Sunday night game). This time, though, the guy who was usually the remote player got to be there in-person! It was a fun change of pace, even if I had to basically dismantle my computer and office in order to get the whole setup working since most of my notes, resources, and tools are digital these days.
It was also incredibly exhausting in a warm and rewarding way. I forgot how good it feels to be able to look around the room at people, to look them in the eyes as I murder their characters without needing to do the awkward “one of us has to look at our camera and the other at our screen to accomplish this” dance. Which didn’t literally happen, but it sort of did. They all died in the (in-game) hours after their friend perished while fighting a boss battle they stumbled into by accident. They stuck around the desecrated church a ritual had just been completed in; stuck a massive, foreign tree in the middle of a courtyard; and kept tempting fate by leaving each other alone despite the clear precedent that being alone in this place was an invitation for things to get fucky. So they all died to the negative energy unleashed by the ritual, the malevolent spirits that haunt the world they’re in, and then the local guards who were trying to arrest someone wrecking a courtyard. It was rough.
But they all learned they were caught in a place outside of normal reality and cut off-from the afterlife, so they eventually started the day over again. A second try, to figure things out and maybe NOT wander into a boss fight they’re totally unprepared for in a way that gets them all of the violence and fighting of a boss fight but with none of the plot advancement and resolution of a typical boss fight. Well, I mean, they got all that, they just don’t understand what any of it means. In time, I hope, they’ll figure it out. We will be back to playing online, though.
To be honest, it wasn’t until we played together that I realized how much I missed playing in person. Even with one person still remote, the energy was very different. We only had to worry about talking over one person and the pickup quality of my microphone meant that it as easy for the remote player to hear us. It was super easy for me to run the game and deal with players as they acted while the others cracked jokes or collaborated on what to do next in the background. It was also the first time I was able to use my game room/office for it’s originally-intended purpose and it proved just as useful as I thought it might, aside from some wrinkles when I was getting ready for the session. Setup and take-down will be easier in the future, since I know exactly what I need to do now, but it will likely be a while before I have reason to use my game room to host anything.
It just felt so great to be around people I care about, having fun and making each other laugh as I prompted them to come up with their own call-and-response secret code phrases. I like to think of “telling stories” as one of my love languages and just like any interpersonal interaction, virtual is better than nothing but it just isn’t the same as in-person. Maybe someday, with immersive virtual interfaces and an actual sense of physicality, virtual interactions might reach the same level as in-person, but not until them. And definitely not with whatever bullshit facebook is putting out. Ugh. Talk about moving in the wrong-direction.