#16: Letting the Side Down
This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue.
I’m fascinated by what drives referees to take on the challenge of running an adventure. Rarely rewarding financially and dreadfully time consuming, why bother? Judging by my own drives it’s probably a mixture of things: desperation to play Traveller so-if-no-one-else-will-ref-I-will, players being appreciative of the effort, love of performance, wanting to tell a good story, eagerness to help out a convention organizer who has slots to fill, wanting to showcase Traveller to newbies, wanting to entertain a group of players, having an interesting idea and wondering where it will go, and probably as many other reasons as there are referees.
But it’s that penultimate one that this year’s TravCon (“After-Action Report: TravCon 2015”) really brought home to me. I’ve been perhaps fortunate in that my first two years refereeing seemed to be so well received I was encouraged to do more. Last year I tried harder and ran two games in three slots but for the first time found myself apologizing for what had happened to a character – although the player took it in good heart. This year, amongst the 22 players involved in the 9 hours of role playing I was taking a hand in refereeing, I looked up at one point to find two players seriously unengaged and at another point found a player was struggling due to a corner he was backed into.
I wasn’t upset with them for not loving the adventure, I was cross with myself for having failed them. There are so many games at TravCon in so few slots that hard choices have to be made and I always count it a huge privilege anyone chooses to play my adventures.
Trying to unpick the ‘whys’ afterwards, I discovered that one had found the mixture of dynasties rolling on across the ages and slipping backwards in terms of tech level had deprived him of too much psychological investment in his dynasty, another had found the lack of it being a standard format game too much of a change (perhaps my warnings had been insufficient), and the third suffered from two referees looking after a grand melee of 11 players at once meaning that individual character autonomy slipped through the cracks (I’d been warned about this and was trying hard to make sure I gave anyone who wanted it, time enough). In retrospect, I think all three players (and there may have been more I didn’t pick up on), had fair complaints.
While I know you can’t please all of the people all of the time, I certainly want to and the experience has been good in learning about boundaries, what works or not, and player engagement. It will also make me redouble my efforts to write and run the very best adventures I can even if they still fall short of perfection. Of course “deep down” “I really just want to be loved” as Ford Prefect and the Vogon captain in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy argue but more than that I hate letting the side down.