First off, I admit the title is a terrible pun, but this is my website and I can call the articles whatever I want.
Secondly, I’ve done some re-arranging of the site navigation, and it’s hopefully a little easier/less cluttered now, if you have any thoughts or opinions on it, please let me know.
Anyway, onto the main point of today’s update.
Just under a year ago, I started DMing a 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons campaign in my local board-game café (Sugar and Dice) and, over that year, I’ve noticed a few differences between running and playing games at home, versus doing so in a public environment. Today’s update will focus on a few of those differences and how I cope with them. As ever, if you have any thoughts, or criticisms, feel free to leave them below.
Right off the bat, the most immediate difference is the noise level. Being in a café, albeit one where everyone is there for a similar reason and not just to have a discussion or an argument, talking loud enough to be heard over the activity from nearby tables or the sounds of playing pieces hitting the board can sometimes detract from the game. Certainly, for someone like me, someone who is unsure of their ability to accurately portray voices or the subtler nuances of description, having to concentrate on being loud enough to be heard takes away from my confidence to try different voices and more atmospheric scene setting.
In order to get around this, I tend to focus on what I’m good at (accents and speech patterns) to convey different character types and personalities. By doing that, I’m able to give a performance I am happy with and portray the disparate characters that make up my world, whilst also immersing my players as much as possible in the game.
The second problem caused by the noise level is player engagement and focus. With so much distraction around, I’ve noticed that my players appear to struggle with focus sometimes. I know that I do when they are discussing their next steps, which naturally leads to clarifications and wasted time. Part of how I deal with this is trying to speak louder and slower. My default manner of speech is quiet and fast, which is something that is less than ideal in the café environment, so I’ve made it clear that I’m happy to repeat things as needed, but something I’ve started trying to do is maintain eye-contact (not something that comes naturally to me) as well as switching my focus periodically to other characters, or to the group as a whole.
The other problem linked to this, certainly with D&D, is visualising combat. I’m typically someone who enjoys the theatre of the mind aspects of encounters, despite my aphantasia, because I’m more interested in telling stories of awesome action and flashy combat, instead of accurate positioning and ranges. The problem with this is that because the noise level can hinder player focus, when my descriptions aren’t good enough, or a player is distracted by something nearby, the flow of combat gets interrupted by clarifications or questions about the preceding turn. I’ve taken the obvious route to get around this by using a battle-map and miniatures (one of my players made Lego minifigs of the PCs, all of which are amazing) to help provide a visual aid during combat and I usually end up using my dice to explain positioning out of combat when my description is lacking, or if the players don’t understand what I mean.
On the other side of the equation, however, is the community of the café itself. Most of the time when I’m running my game, there is at least one other session running nearby that I can half-listen to for story or character ideas, or just to help improve my morale as a DM. But more than that, I know that if I have any questions about rules, there is usually at least one other DM nearby that I can ask about their interpretation of a situation or edge case scenario or get their opinion on a custom monster. And finally, of course, there is no real shortage of players if I need a guest spot for a single session, or want to mix things up for a short time.
So, while DMing in a café certainly has its drawbacks, by focussing on your strengths and adapting your usual approach to running encounters, you’ll find the community aspect of playing in a more public environment has hugely beneficial effects.
I may return to this subject in a future post, but for now, I hope I’ve been able to give you some insight into the unique problems surrounding playing rpgs in a café setting.