My first playtest for Im Reich der Nibelungen has seen seven sessions so far (and three casualties plus a TPK — more on that in a minute –, so I am happy).
Some of the game’s mechanics put time pressure on the players:
(a) At the end of every session, the (titular) magical mists envelop the characters, returning them home. There’s a risk involved and so far, one character has died in the mists and another is currently lost.
(b) After a character has been through the mists twelve times, it becomes so aggressive that the character has to retire from adventuring in the Realm of the Nibelungs. This obviously hasn’t happend yet, but with the game’s stated goal of becoming a renowned hero / attaining level 7, it is definitely on the players’ minds. This rule was a last-minute addition to the game, but one I was very happy with at the time. Now, I wonder if it’s maybe a bit too much.
In the second or third session, Carl, one of the players, declared “We can’t afford to roleplay! We must play fast.” This was, I think, both meant as a criticism and a recipe going forward. Some players followed his lead of not talking to random NPCs (or keeping things brief), not following tracks in the woods etc., others didn’t.
Carl led the party into the frontal assault on 30 skeletons which resulted in a total party kill (TPK) in the last session. He was that session’s caller (a position mandated by the game and in the fiction, too) and pressed on relentlessly.
(I’d like to note, though, that most of this post was written before last week’s TPK. It’s notable, but my feelings haven’t changed much. The frontal assault had some things going in its favor, so it wasn’t only motivated by moving fast.)
I was crestfallen at Carl’s original declamation because it seemed to imply that my game is not a ‘proper’ roleplaying game. I privately disagreed on multiple levels, but mostly kept silent (to leave tactics to the players but also to avoid conflict).
Reflecting on the game here and elsewhere, I’m actually very happy with its high level of action, i.e. the fact that we get a lot done in a session. I partially attribute this to other mechanics geared towards speed (such as the magical need to limit oneself to three pieces of equipment) as well as using (modified) Swords & Wizardry Continual Light, a retroclone of the rather simple Original D&D rules. Also, the characters are mostly low-level so there aren’t many spells and items in play (yet). Still, the pressure is on — and discussions are shorter, actions are bolder, book-keeping is snappier.
An illuminating scene transpired prior to the TPK:
The party reached the village they were supposed to save from the undead’s attacks. Carl wanted to cut the encounter with the villagers short (as the party already knew the location of the undead), but his teenage son Brandon, a guest player that night, talked to the peasants in more detail (possibly even using the first person, I don’t remember). The peasants had no special information (i.e. no clues to give) and I didn’t characterize them much (e.g. their reaction to a bunch of PCs showing up in their village etc.) but I felt that Brandon’s conversation with them led to interesting trains of thought regarding the undead’s capabilities and (non-existent) tactics — interesting particularly, but not limited, to Brandon, who hasn’t played very often.
Still, a trade-off is certainly evident. Conversations do take time and may yield little in tactical terms — but there’s all sorts of value to playing out some things (Brandon claiming agency, a bit of atmosphere, time to consider things, perhaps a deeper relationship to the villagers).
I have no experience with con games (typically limited to four hours from what I hear), but I imagine quite a few of them to go similarly, i.e. some players rushing through all sorts of things.