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Campaigning in the off-season — taking it slow with a little bit of retail therapy

A: We both recently did non-combat sessions, or, to put it another way, in my game you guys spent four hours buying dresses.

C: That’s an accurate description. It was a good time. I liked it.

A: Well, that’s our discussion on shopping sessions done. Let’s wrap this up and open the wine.

C: I mean, I think it’s important to stress that we all had fun. It was a lighter session, but we still used the time as players; we did good bonding and character development, and we got to buy cool outfits. The same was true of my ‘chillout’ session.

A: Yeah, though there were a couple more instances of ‘I have this burning secret I need to tell someone’/‘I need to find out someone’s burning secret’ in your game. Mine was much more focused on shopping.

C: But still with a focus on character development. I think both of us realised recently that we need to give characters time to breathe and catch up on things. It’s great to send them on big escapades and adventures, but they also need time to sit around the campfire and talk and tick things off their to-do lists.

A: That’s true. I used to worry that players would be upset if there were session with no combat or another obvious ‘mission’ to complete. Like, would our barbarian be mad that she had no one to hit? But I think Maddy was happy looking for a hat for her pet lizard. People like getting to use different sides of their character.

C: As a player, it was a ton of fun. Did you have a nice time DMing? The shopping trip was prep for next session, which is a masquerade. As a DM, did you view this as ‘I need to get to my masked ball’, or did you enjoy the moment?

A: Well, it was probably the session I wrote the most notes for.

C: You wrote 4,000 words about masked balls. And you had a lot of shopping mechanics.

A: I had way too much stuff. There were three different dress shop and two different mask shops for you guys to visit. There were eight types of mask you could choose from. Different dresses and hairstyles paired best with certain types of mask. And there were multiple different ways to get to the masque, if you’d asked: you could have got a large carriage, a small carriage or a water taxi. It was better to pick one over the other based on how concerned you were about crushed outfits, what time you wanted to arrive, how much money you wanted to spend. You could even have hired transport for the way back too, if you’d wanted to.

C: I guess we’re just going to walk.

A: If you’d asked about it in-game, you’d know that you could order a ‘runner’, who’s a little kid who hangs around outside parties, who will then run to the taxi company and let them know that you want a carriage.

C: Okay—

A: It costs one silver to get a runner, just so you know.

C: So—

A: And I named the carriage company.

C: You are—

A: Aspen & Sons.

C: Very understandably—

A: If that had come up at all.

C: Okay, so you are very understandably eager to use the knowledge that you have. Do you feel upset that you didn’t get to use the majority of the prep that you did for this session?

A: Not upset exactly, but I think this was the first time I’ve really understood those fantasy writers who have really long tomes full of obsessive world-building, where they have four chapters to describe one feast. As a reader, I was always like, ‘Dude, it’s a party, someone’s going to get stabbed. Can we cut to the chase?’

C: Those chapters always make me feel hungry.

A: But now I’ve had that fantasy-feast moment of really wanting to tell people about all the cool stuff I’d included in the world. So part of me is a little mad that I didn’t get to exposition everything at you guys. Though I did get most of the important stuff out, like the fact that you could get dress-armour, which you all decided not to have. Which is a totally fine decision. I gave you the option, and if you think you don’t need it, that’s completely okay.

C: Listen, me and my AC of 10 and my bear furs and owl mask will do a-okay.

A: [Pause] Of course you will.

C: But I get what you mean about having lots of exposition to impart. I want to tell people about my world, and sometimes I feel mad when I don’t get to use all the details I’ve included. On the other hand, when I do use it, I’m glued to my screen the entire time, dictating scenery, and that’s no fun either. It’s annoying as a DM not to use everything, but as a player, I feel like you got the balance right between moving us forward in the plot, letting us do our own thing, and building up the world we’re in.

A: Ah, thank you. Also, however much I lament my lost exposition, the shopping session was good for letting players chat as friends. There was a more relaxed atmosphere because I wasn’t stressed about time. There was no rush to get to the party. We began the session by hanging out as people, which was nice.

C: Yeah, I think that I often give off signs of stress at the start of a session. I do last-minute reads of all my notes so I don’t feel able to make small talk. It’s nice to sometimes not have that barrier between DM and players.

A: Exactly. I’d say that this was the same amount of prep as an adventuring-session, but that the actual session was less stressful, and that was a nice change. Though these 4,000 words are going to be nothing compared to how much prep I’ll need to do next time. There are nine fancy families in the city and all of them will have several people in attendance at the ball, not to mention other background attendees, the band and serving staff. That’s a lot of dresses and masks to design on the off-chance that you decide to talk to secondary NPCs.

C: We’re going to have to take so many notes as to who’s in which mask. Will they even tell us?

A: You could just ignore everyone. Weyrholm cast the Insect Scouts spell to get intel on the palace—now you can follow your cockroach friend’s advice and sneak into the backrooms without having to interact with anyone at the ball.

C: I have to say that ‘follow your cockroach friend’s advice’ is not a sentence I ever thought I’d hear.

A: I guess maybe you aren’t friends yet.

C: I mean, we’re colleagues.

A: Do you think you keep him on retainer?

C: Maybe it’s the same one each time.

A: He just materialises every time you cast the spell. He’ll gradually get more hit points as he goes on more missions and gains experience.

C: Only time will tell. Also: masked ball build-up. I’m excited. I did a masquerade as my second session, but that was a long time ago and you guys were using hand-me-down clothes to sneak in, which ruins half the fun of going to a masked ball, both in D&D and, uh, in real life. Presumably.

A: I think Farrar still has her butterfly-costume from that. She gave it to Barty as a security blanket.

C: That’s adorable.

A: But unwearable. It’s full of tiny claw holes from where he’s held it. Maybe you should have another masque in your game and then she can get a new dress. In my game, the ball is to celebrate you guys rescuing a rich girl from the dangerous marsh where there are definitely no dragons at all ever. So in your game, when we find and rescue the dwarven princess Dulcinea—

C: Dalshela.

A: Sure, her. When we rescue her from the dragon, we should definitely get a fancy event thrown in our honour.

C: Indeed.

A: That’s how it works. Calder, why are you looking like that? She can’t be—you’ve killed off too many people already. You can’t—

C: We’ll see you next time, folks.

A: Calder!

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