I’ve been playing or GMing for three decades and one thing you can count on: people are going to gab about stuff outside the game at the table.  I’ve seen some groups that are very serious about their play — the gong gets rung, some object gets set to show they’re in session; I’m surprised no one’s got a big “ON AIR” light hung on their wall (although, now that I think about it, that’s a pretty bloody cool idea…)  DNAPhil over at Gnome Stew has a short post on “Keeping the Focus” that might be handy for people that play like this:

“Jokes. Movie quotes. What happened in Fringe last week. Talk about the new supplement that is coming out. Dinner plans. Discussion about why the new WOW update is the reason to join/leave. These things swirl about the game table every session. When left unchecked they can break down the 4th wall of the game, cause players to miss key information, and grind a session to a halt. It is frustrating to the GM and to the players, even when both are guilty parties.”

It led me to think about the various campaigns I’ve played or run in, the atmosphere fostered in them, and the “problem” of table talk, so I will now opine.  ’cause it’s my blog.  I get to do that.

The play style mentioned above — this atmosphere of quasi-professional theater mixed with die rolling — frankly, doesn’t thrill me.  I find they take gaming far too seriously, whether it’s because this is their only “fun” outlet, or they see it as a chance to practice their “craft”, be it acting or storytelling.  Sure it can be fun, and for that sort of mindset, I’m sure it is…but not to me.

I blathered in another post early on in the history of this blog that my groups tend to be made up of people who do things together — in and out of game.  We see movies, we go to dinner, have parties, go shooting…we’re friends first, gaming buddies second.  Normally, the people that are in it to role play don’t last.  We’re simply not serious enough about the game, man!

We have table talk.  Every gaming group does, but it’s healthy.  Normally, we see each other once a week to game, and occasionally another day to two for other activities.  Like every group there’s that 30-45 minutes of chatting while stuffing our faces, before we get into the game.  For us, when the eating ends, play begins in earnest.  Sometimes there’s a bit of a stuttering start — something we were talking about intersects the set-up, or just is still bouncing around the mind, and it cuts into play.  That might bother some people, but for most of the groups I’ve been in, not so much.

The piece mentioned above brings up respect.  It’s one thing to go “…just like [insert whatever you were talking about]” when the GM starts the action; it’s another to keep talking one it’s obvious that the game is about to get started.  There’s a few things you can do, if this is bothering you. The don’ts first…don’t yell and scream or sulk or make a fuss.  You’ll look like a prat.  Rightly so.  I wouldn’t suggest taking your simulated dwarven battleax off the wall and burying it in the table, either.  It will look uber-cool until everyone freaks out.  Walking out of the room occasionally works, but you’ll still look like a petulant git.

The two things I’ve found that work — just sit patiently and wait for the chatter to die down.  Normally it works quickly if you just give everyone the “may I continue” look; if you’re a college kid, you’ve seen this look from time to time on your professor.  Another is start with the person closest to you and say quietly — “do we want to get going?” or something to that effect and have them pass it along.  It disrupts the talking and usually works well.

But, for me, the table talk is half the fun.   For me, gaming is a social occasion.  It does give me a chance to have a creative outlet outside of writing my dissertation, but it’s mostly a reason to get together with people I like, to do something I like.  It’s the same for them.  Yeah, there’s the occasional aside that goes on for a few minutes that has nothing to do with the Chinese mob helping the one player’s character find the mellified man in deepest Hubei in 1936.  So what?  If it’s important, interesting, or entertaining let it happen.  Hell, if it makes me laugh like I did last night, you might even get style points for it.  (I reached the coughing up a lung stage i was laughing so hard…)

Fun.  That’s what gaming, first and foremost, is about.  You want to do improvisational theater, join a theater group or LARP.  Knock yourself out. Some nights, it’s going to be obvious that no one is really there to game.  They’re there to hang out with their friends and talk about stuff. Those nights, close the screen and the books, shut down the computer, and enjoy.  Those moments are why you have to go to work in the morning; enjoy them.

I can see where some GMs feel that it’s disrespectful, or that no one appreciates the time they’ve put into the game setting and plot.  I’ve been gaming for 30 years and I like to play, but usually, I wind up running the game.  (There have been times I’d have said “saddled with” GMing, but I like it…so I shouldn’t bitch.)  Nobody really appreciates the amount of effort and time that go into planning a game, especially since I tend to run historical stuff that requires a certian level of research for verisimilitude.  My wife thought that I just knocked a few ideas together and didn’t understand why I would be annoyed when people would cancel out (that’s my bugaboo, but I don’t make a big deal out of it.)  Then she saw that I put a good 4-5 hours of time into a weekly game session, sometimes more.

A lot of GMs are pressed for time, but I don’t tend to be overly sympathetic to that.  I’ve run two games a week, different settings, for the last 5 years, and it could be as much as three or four a week for the five years before that.  I would be working part or full time, going to school full time, and I still cranked out a few adventures a week.  The worst was working full-time, school full-time, studying for comprehensive exams, AND still running two games.  But I did it, because I enjoy it, and it’s my main creative outlet, right now.  (I’ll probably be more likely to empathize once my daughter is born in April…)

So, yeah, players — the guy behind the screen put a bunch of time into the game.  Try to be respectful,but in the end, if you’re more interested in gabbing, gab away.  Sometimes you’ll still get some gaming done interstitially; sometimes you won’t.  Have fun.