Adventures in Open Table Roleplaying

HER MAJESTY, CHILD OF THE IMMORTAL SUN, has little interest in this distant land. She sees its people as mere barbarians, only valuable so long as they respect the empire’s authority and supply it with furs, amber, ivory, and metals. The empire maintains a single outpost here, in the town of Vallo’s Bridge.

You are criminals convicted of high treason. You were given a choice — accept Her Majesty’s justice at the end of a noose, or be exiled across the sea to do her bidding.

See, Her Greatness has given a small fortune of silver to the Scrylings, a debt she needs reclaimed. One problem: the Scrylings were decimated by the dragon Bandradaim. It is up to you, then, to recoup the Empress’ investment — to delve into forgotten tombs, monster lairs, and haunted forests to find as much treasure as humanly possible.

And of course, you plan on making a fortune of your own in the process.

Bas-relief of Heracles from Syria, 2nd Century CE
(Wikipedia) Bas-relief of Heracles from Syria, 2nd Century CE

That’s how I began, about three weeks ago, my very first open table” RPG campaign. As far as I’m aware, Justin Alexander of The Alexandrian coined the term, but the concept is old. The gist is that instead of running a grand narrative campaign with the same group of players, I run a more episodic adventure with a large pool of potential players, only some of whom show up for any given session. Players can drop in and drop out as they please, with no expectation that they have to show up week-after-week. Instead of running D&D 5th Edition, I’m running Knave, a game with a much lower barrier to entry (and also much easier to run on my end).

This way, I’m not wrangling schedules to try and find a time that fits for 4-6 busy adults. I don’t have to worry about disrupting narrative continuity by introducing new characters, and I can easily introduce new people to the hobby. Over the course of three weekends, I’ve already had two players at my table who’ve never played a roleplaying game before. I’m gaming more often now than I have since high school, and I’m having a ton of fun in the process.

The key to making this work is Vallo’s Bridge. All the exiles — all the player characters — live in that town, and they venture out from there to explore abandoned mines, wizard’s towers, ruined villages, ancient temples, and other places. At the end of each session, everybody returns to town to rest, recover, sell their loot, and level up. This means that any combination of characters can set off for adventure each week, which makes the open table work.

I’ve coupled this with a silver-for-XP system to reinforce the default goal of the campaign — steal treasure and give it to the crown — with a twist: only the silver turned into the authorities gets traded for experience points. This gives the players a choice between spending their money on XP and spending their money on anything else, which I think is interesting.

I have my own rules for hexcrawling, a calendar to track time, a rumor table I have new players roll on when they make their character, and a growing collection of adventure locations I’m plopping onto the map. It’s gonzo — one player’s character is named Georgebush McCrimble” and another is named Curmudgeon” — but that’s all part of the fun. This isn’t a grand epic adventure, it’s casual gaming over drinks and snacks.

It’s been a good few sessions! One group of players explored an abandoned mine where they dodged boulder traps, threw bar soap at goblins for lack of a ranged weapon, and did battle with a living crystal statue. Another group met an elf witch-poet in a prehistoric henge, learned of his goal to map ancient locations of Fairy myth, and recruited him to plunder an old wizard’s tower.

I might post some post-session reports as the campaign continues. If you’re struggling to line up players’ schedules for a normal D&D game, I highly recommend trying an open table.

August 19, 2022