open OPEN table

many books, one world. shipwright.

So RPGs are popular on my campus. In the heart of Wisconsin, near the places where Gygax and Arneson gave birth to the role-playing game, RPGs are well-known. I could name the number of Game Masters at my college, but I’d run out of fingers. For players? I don’t have enough digits. For people nearby who have heard of RPGs? I don’t have enough hairs.

To accommodate all of these potential players, I’ve been running open table RPGs, games where players can pop in and out from session to session. I’ve done it with Maze Rats, Blades in the Dark, Maze Rats + Hot Springs Island and currently with Electric Bastionland. Sessions last two hours and are meant to move fast. It’s no trouble if only you come, make a character, play one session and never pick up the game again. The game is designed for folks to do that, which makes it an ideal for newbies and hard-core players with busy schedules alike. I’ve had many of both.

But BUT remember all of those GMs? Some have started to run open table games of their own. They’ve come around on just how fantastic they are. And I can’t credit. Justin Alexander showed me that one. The point is, people are warming up to this idea. 

That’s when I had another idea. With all of these GMs, what if you had an open OPEN table?

One GM runs a game for four players set in a shared world. Another GM runs a game for six players on Tuesday in another part of the same shared world. A third GM does the same. A player could play in one, two, three, or zero of these games. It doesn’t matter. The world moves on.

The GMs would then update each other on major events using a wiki or shared document or what have you. There are many options for this.

Basically, I just rediscovered Living World games (like Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms) in my own little brain, but on a smaller, more personal scale. Ideally all of the GMs would at least know of each other.

What games lend themselves well to this bizarre style of play? Glad you asked. I have organized them by complexity, starting with the games that it’s easiest to do this and then moving to more difficult.

Blades in the Dark

This idea in my head started because of Blades. It’s so neat that the rulebook comes with a setting inside. There are named places, NPCs with quick personalities, factions all in there, just waiting to be used by any GM. So each GM just nabs their own copy of the rules which already does 90% of the groundwork of creating the world. Just tie the players together with some overarching gang. Imagine a shared gang sheet that every GM has access to. The gang becomes an actual organization. Roles are assigned, leaders rise, someone inevitably becomes treasurer.

Or maybe they aren’t part of a gang. Wouldn’t it be interesting to feature a handful of ruffians that select their group role before each score? It would turn more into missions than scores for a gang. You might lose party cohesion, but it’d be incredibly interesting. Maybe there could be some elements of “Honor Among Thieves” (TVTropes!) incorporated into the setting with people getting deals with each other for the things that each selfish person wants. My favorite example of that is all of the politics in John Wick 1, 2, and 3 (great mindless violence, excellently formulaic films).

Or maybe they aren’t part of the SAME gang. Now that could be cool. Warring gangs under new GMs each week. Loose alliances that allow PCs to switch from gang to gang, begrudgingly helping other gangs so they can get what they want. Makes me think of how often the X-Men and Magneto’s gang, the Brotherhood, team up. Lots of that.

So, a shared world that has a lots of named places and faces with a few blanks to fill in and a lot of space to yet create. Also, it takes place in the contained city of Doskvol, which adds an extra level of believability to PCs being both present and absent at different sessions.

Electric Bastionland

The zany world of Bastionland is expansive to infinity. “Everything is here” is a principle of the city of Bastion. Every idea from the heads of dozens of GMs has a place somewhere in Bastionland, which is crazy smart design. If a good RPG is one will have a place to house your ideas then Electric Bastionland is a mansion. You have city-space in Bastion, wilderness-space in Deep Country, and dungeon-space in the Underground. The world is your collective playground.

But what if there’s no continuity in places and faces from one GM to another? Doesn’t matter. The game can easily hand-wave such silly things as similarity between two different Game Masters’ vision of Bastionland. The game is flexible like that. Each GM can take a section of Bastion, Deep Country, or the Underground. They can connect to each other, or not. Instead of continuity in the world, there’s continuity in the PCs. Which you have in a shared debt between all players as with my proposed open table game for Electric Bastionland. 🙂

So, a shared world that has no named places or faces with many blanks to fill in and a lot of space and procedures to help a GM create their own section of Bastion, Deep Country, or the Underground. 

Also,  it takes place in a world that has very few rules that actually make human sense, which adds an extra level of believability to PCs being both present and absent at different sessions.

Any other game

Then there’s the hardest option: make it all yourself. Get together as a group of smart GMs and establish some ground rules for how the universe works. Then select a system. Or in reverse. Whatever.

Then populate the world. 

Again, lots of work here. But also infinite possibilities.

So, a shared world that has no named places or faces with many daunting blanks to fill in and infinite spaces to fill in. There also would need to be parameters that make it more believable that PCs could be both present and absent at different sessions. I vote for faulty teleporters, rifts in space-time, a mysterious disease that freezes people solid with no explanation, instantaneous intergalactic travel, wormhole magic/technology, OR A MULTIVERSE OF INFINITE WORLDS, PCS, AND NPCS. Ahem.

It’s just a pipe-dream, folks.

Also, I’ve been busy with student teaching. Which is also a cover for a big project I’ve been grinding through. Let’s just say that I bit the bullet and bought Affinity Publisher… 😉

4 thoughts on “open OPEN table

  1. Have you heard of Thieves’ World? This was collaborative fiction in which authors wrote short stories in the same setting.

    The Fantasy Trip (published 1977-1980) is based in a mega-planet called Cidri. The idea is that the setting is so huge that any setting can go somewhere on it. In theory, all players of this role-playing game are in a shared setting, by design.

    As you say: infinite possibilities.

  2. two immediate frameworks pop into my head for this:

    a) a plane-shifty table, where each GM has their own “plane” with different rules (rules of physics, rules of magic, whatever) but travelling between planes is common enough that players can do it between sessions. so my cyber-viking PC could spend a session in Alice’s gothic fantasy plane fighting a ghoul cult, steal their magic ghoul sword or some shit, and then use it two days later in Bob’s 60’s-flavored orcish hippie commune plane. or some shit.

    b) a more unified world, no gonzo plane-shifty nonsense, but each GM just has their own megadungeon they’re in charge of. if Alice is GMing we’re gonna explore her Crypts of Liminality, if Bob’s GMing we’re heading into his Temple of Profane Noise. any magic loot we find in one dungeon can obviously be used in the others, and the rules for what goes on outside the dungeons (i.e. what gear can be bought in town, how much it costs, what carousing options exist, what henchmen are there to hire) have to be worked out between the GMs collaboratively, but the framework of one town surrounded by several megadungeons you can mount expeditions into could suit itself very well to a proper OPEN open table.

    1. A) That works. I’d totally use Troika! to run that. It totally has the gonzo style.

      B) This is very interesting to me, because this may be a more approachable option than the Blades one mentioned. Building a dungeon is GMing Adventure Design 101. There are limited choices to make as far as paths go, but (nearly) every bit of planning adds something that will eventually be encountered. That’s excellent. Plus, you might only prepare the first level of the dungeon and after players explore it once or twice declare the a new level has opened up and so on. The levels keep getting deeper below ground. As a newbie GM friendly option, this totally has my vote. Probably use Into the Odd here…

      Great ideas here.

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