High Adventure in Online Gaming: A 2020 Retrospective
by Harley Stroh
For tabletop gamers, 2020 was a grim foe. This was doubly true for Goodman Games, where public games – hosted by the wild-eyed reavers calling themselves the Road Crew– are an integral part of DCC’s success.
The cascading series of con cancellations heralded a darkening storm. The end to in-person gaming was a source of real grief, compounding the pressure of lost work and the constant specter of sickness.
But any community can suffer loss. In retrospect, it is far more telling to see how a community responds.
Faced with a cessation (at least for the moment) of in-person gaming as we know it, Goodman Games and the Band plunged headlong into the wilderness. Led by Big Bald Matt, our ragtag band of artists and writers undertook a digital bootcamp. (Two, actually, because nobody prepped for the first one. Sorry, Matt.)
Armed with a handful of ethernet cables, a twitch key, and the sort of enthusiasm that only comes from knowing that we didn’t know nothing, we threw a series of cons, each more ambitious than the last, culminating in the Bride of Cyclops Con, replete with a two-round team tournament, a multi-table DougKon, and the infamous Goodman Raffle.
A warbanner was raised, and Goodman Gamers the world over answered the call. You hosted games in every time zone and around the world. International gamers who might have never made it to a game in Indianapolis or Lake Geneva, quickly became familiar faces (all hail, Mihailo and crew!). Old friends graced out tables once more, PCs died, and the weird dice rolled.
Skeptics can be forgiven for doubting this was possible. The live DCC experience – the shouts of gamers bemoaning (or celebrating!) their Luck; the thunderous crash of the Doom Gong; judges looming over their tables, calling the results of desperate throws and feverish gambits – is not one that should easily translate to online games. And save for a visionary vanguard (notably including Doug Kovacs and his international collective of rowdies), many of us formerly eschewed online games. By all rights, the pandemic should have laid our community low.
Instead, the Band grew by leaps and bounds. Now on any night of the week, you can find an online game here and be transported to one of a thousand insane worlds. Many of us game today more frequently than we have in years. Every night can be game night.
It turned out that the defining characteristic of Goodman Gamers was not our volume at the game table. Or the mob at the booth. Or even the crash of the Doom Gong.
Instead, it was the quality of the person: the sort of player that is drawn to high adventure and the wonder of the unknown. It was the sort of judge who is willing to lay the jeweled thrones of their world before the PCs and let them tread the campaign beneath their sandaled feet. The buckets of weird dice, the hundreds of zines, Wayne’s doom ziggurat – these were “simply” creative outlets, mere signifiers of the game that drew us together. A community that transcended the tabletop.
For all the grief and despair, 2020 will be best remembered for ushering a host of new friends into the Band. And long after the odious phase “uncertain times” has been forgotten, the Goodman Gamers will remain.
So as the dark months settle over us, always remember the immortal words of the Cyclops: “Don’t be a Rakshasa.” Cast off the evil spirits this New Years’, raise a salute to our new comrades-in-arms, and gird yourself for adventure. 2021 is upon us and we have games to run.