Time and Tala

I’ve had a chance to run a couple of Argothald expeditions. It’s been great.

I’d been concerned that my skills as a gamesmaster would be rusty after more than two decades. I needn’t have worried. While there are some issues with the rules system, they’re relatively minor. What’s important is that the players have fun.

Apart from the rules, the main difficulty is time. When I was in my 20s, I ran Argothald once every week or two, and the expeditions would often last eight hours or more. Now I’ll to run it no more than once a month, and we’ll be lucky if we can get as much as four hours of gameplay. We have lives and jobs and family; we can’t pull the all-night gaming sessions the way did in college.

(From a story point of view, it means I may have to push things a little harder. For example, instead of making the party describe what they’re doing and having random encounters along the road from Grenn to Merona, I might just say "OK, you’re there.")

Another insight of time and the game: Thanks to Dan Holzman-Tweed, I now have all my old Argothald campaign materials. I looked over the pile of notebooks. Frankly, I was surprised at amount of information I generated about the planet Tala when I ran Argothald from 1979-1987. I have:

– maps of the entire world, both geographical and geopolitical;

– detailed maps of the nation of Aeykia, along with descriptions of every town and city;

– a map of the town of Grenn, including each every temple and who runs it;

– maps of twelve floors in Ironmaw mountain, with detailed descriptions of the occupants of every room;

– descriptions of every continent, island, and nation, including their rulers (in some cases, I have histories and customs);

– a timeline of 2200 years of the history of the planet Tala;

– a detailed timeline of ten years worth of player activity in the campaign, including the social and political consequences of the their actions (this is in addition to a thick notebook of the players’ own expedition notes);

– a diagram of Tala’s stellar system, along with descriptions of every planet;

– outlines of the eschatology of the spirit worlds in parallel with Tala, with descriptions of all the demons, devils, angels, genies, and even a few gods.

The level of detail and the breadth of design is almost ridiculous. Twenty years ago, the players never saw more than a fraction of this; for example, they never got further than the third floor of Ironmaw. It’s likely my current group of players will see less.

When did I find the time to create this world? Not to toot my horn too loudly, but at the same time I created the social-economic system of an entire fictional planet, I also studied full-time at Columbia University (B.S. (cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa) and M.A. in physics) and working part-time programming at a life-insurance company.

I mentioned this to Dan recently. His response: "This is what we were doing instead of dating." Yeah, he’s right. Such is the price of creation.

What do I get out of it? Here’s an anecdote: I opened up the first Argothald adventure in twenty years by randomly selecting a player and telling him, "An orc runs up to you screaming and attacks. What do you do?"

It’s a classic tabletop role-playing question. The usual answer is, "I hit it with my sword" or maybe "I cast a spell at it."

The player responded, "I run away!"

My joy and delight at the unexpected is why I run Argothald.

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