My home game has suffered due to my wife's busy schedule as well. it is harder and harder to get in the gaming I would like. Thus my sudden interest in Solo play. But for me, the biggest joy still comes from playing with others. What I need more than ever is faster play.
That is why I started playing OSR games again in the first place: I needed a rules-light system that was designed to play fast. More than that, I needed a rules-light system that was low on BS like performance reviews and player voting at the end of the session. Many story games like Fate and Dungeon World tend to add so much needless quasi-mechanical stuff to the game in sessions it slows them down. Fast and furious Old-School games like Knave, ICRPG, and The Black Hack, or going back to B/X D&D, for that matter, have sped things up a lot. But not enough for my current needs.
In Search of The 45-Minute TTRPG
I need a D&D-style game that can run a satisfying campaign with less than 2 hours per session and only 1-2 sessions a week right now. My ideal would be to be able to pick something up, play, and put it down in 45 minutes and feel completely satisfied, And I fear that I have gone as light as I can go comfortably. Game systems like Tiny Dungeon 2e, Cha'alt, and Troika! are at my lower limit of crunch range. And even they are at times just taking up too much time for what my players need.
I honestly cannot find games that run faster. And so I have realized that my problem is, well, me.
If I really want to create a 45-minute D&D, I need to change how I think about DMing.
I had a breakthrough on that front, as I was talking to the two players that could make it at the end of my game session. We wanted to try something that felt new, but was easy to pick up. Not too difficult in the world of OSR retroclones, of course: you can find a retroclone optimized to do almost anything while still speaking the lingua franca of TSR-era D&D rules or d20.Wasted Hack (I could have gone for Death is the New Pink... but I had a hunch about what kind of characters they wanted. And I was right, as I was swiftly presented with a pair of Infected mutants with mind control powers and absurd personalities: Big DeLott and Superstore DeLott. Mutants with psychic powers, but extremely tenuous grips on reality.
Some nights that would have been enough for me. I would ask for time to plan and sketch out something built on the 5-room Dungeon. Maybe roll something up randomly if I had the time, and do so carefully.
Headlong into the Game
Monday, though, I decided to just push it. When their characters were ready, I had them standing sentry at an old NASA facility that ghouls have lived in for generations, when machinery, dead for centuries comes to life. Ancient locked doors can suddenly be unlocked at their terminals, and machinery is suddenly coming to life.
My players immediately ran to the control tower, and began pillaging anything they could find. The Maintenance closet was a treasure trove (although they missed the hidden stack of X-rated magazines that was the most valuable treasure in the location.)
As they were exploring that, I decided on why I wanted the lights to have come on: the facility is trying to automatically receive an asteroid core sample from a probe launched hundreds of years ago... one containing gold, and that offers clues about the lost Space Stations above earth.
They PCs resolve to get "whatever it is" from the sky. And they seek the mysterious System Administrator that the ancient computers now all command them to contact. They will run into scavengers with robots and raiders trying to find and claim the same prize, and maybe some wild monsters.
Game as Personalized Service
The ideas were been flowing to me Monday: locations, inventories, strange quirks, possible adventure hooks. They were all just coming because I wss thinking about what I want to accomplish from the game vis-a-vis the Players.
I knew that Player D was happiest when he could joke around and play the fool. I tossed plenty of metaphorical lampshades in there for him to put on his head. I knew that Player M wanted to just spend time with good fre, and so I gave him room to play off of D., and a few goals his character could fall for. I know that I enjoy running games as an Act of service, and am. Happiest when players come away better for having been at my table. So I insisted on getting some play in, and not just a dreary session 0.
And in doing so I was locked on to what would make it "a good" game experience. It is an inspirational mode of thought: it gives you purpose and direction iyour creativity in a way trying to "Build an Adventure" does not.
Even writing this, I have decided that a hidden high-tech colony wants to hide the fact that there are still advanced human machines, and possibly humans, in space... and who will wipe out their home to keep their secret. And the radiation from the canister might cause new mutations to occur. it might be the source for a new super-mutagen.
The key here was that I let go of the need to facilitate results and I trusted to Chaos and Player Ingenuity. I stopped caring if the PCs found the princess in the proverbial castle or not, or even if they can. I didn't care if I had a big, workable event map or fronts: I gave them a strange event, and a mystery to solve. Give them that, and players will give you a lot of time to think. will do a ton of that work for you. You can buy time to expand your thoughts once the players are entertaining themselves.
And in the end if they miss the princess, it still is good fun in a different way.
Because it was made for them based on what, in the moment, I detected that they needed, and knowledge of their goals as players.
And I don't think that this needs to be confined to improvisational play. If one plans in this state of mind, if I were to draw a map of the wasteland while imagining what would give both of them the kinds of experience I know thay would be happier for having played with, I could populate it very swiftly.
We got characters done, played through a small adventure site, got a few hooks in hand, and let my players explore and improv until they knew their characters. Between sessions, all I really need to do is come up with a few encounters to block their path and an idea on how they can get the space pod back if they don't get it first. And maybe a few backup ideas in nothing more than point form about what else is out there for them to find if they don't pick up a hook.
This may be one of the keys to faster gaming for me.