Tuesday afternoon in the school library about 35 students, grades 6-11, gathered to play silly games.
Along with Settlers of Catan, Castle Panic, Munchkin, Small World and other favorites, two tables hosted RPGs: my older daughter's perennial B/X offering (Keep on the Borderlands) and a 5e game at my table (Lost Mines of Phandelver).
Surprisingly, though she's been at this for years, she experienced a setback during the next couple of hours.
At her table she hosted two new players and two vets. Familiar with the attention spans of her audience, she chose (wisely) to keep character creation quick and tight (3d6 in order), and rather than 3d6 x 10 gold for starting money she offered the players a couple picks from a stack of index cards, each listing some interesting gear (e.g. "climbing spikes and a coil of rope" or "a shortbow and 12 arrows--one explosive" or "a spearman retainer").
Likewise, rather than have them roam the outer bailey of the keep until they decided to try and rob the place, she started the action right at the mouth of the cave-studded canyon. After mucking about in the Shunned Caves for a bit, her crew rolled into the minotaur cave and the typical craziness ensued.
Though she dangled the option of retreat, the badly tattered party went toe to toe with the bullman and, to her surprise, prevailed, finding their way out through the bugbear caves ... at which point her most vocal veteran player declared that he was bored with caves and wanted to game "in the woods or something where I can go wherever I want or go to town and mix up different stuff to make potions like we did that one time."
Repairing to the keep, the group soon declared that the location was also "boring" and left, looking for a big city where they could buy more specialized gear.
Now on the face of it, this may sound like the perfect segue to hex-crawling, wilderness adventures (which is, after all, the "X" part of B/X play), but she assures me that this is NOT what the player actually had in mind. Rather, having gamed with this gent for over two years, she believes that he's thinking about a highly structured, plot-driven adventure, similar to a short DCC scenario she adapted and ran for him and some friends once (which happened to be set in a frozen forest).
Here's the rub: she's spent the last couple weeks of summer break preparing Keep on the Borderlands, with plans to tie it into Curse of Xanathon and the Dwellers of the Forbidden City and, with a fresh load of advanced classes this year, doesn't necessarily have the time to scrap it all and plan something else.
What to do?
Continue offering the game she is prepared to run and let the "market" of the 30+ players in club come and go to find their own gaming "sweet spot" or should she try to tailor what she's prepared to her current mix of players?
There are certainly pros and cons to each approach.
At the moment, she is leaning toward a collaborative approach in which she talks to her players more about what they would like the game to be and tries to emphasize some elements (being awesome, making potions, getting quests, dumping quests without consequences) and minimize others (mapping, exploration for its own sake, dungeons).
She may even re-skin the Caves of Chaos as an archipelago, replacing tunnels with forest trails and rooms with clearings and settlements ... we'll see ...
There's a tension between the type of game she would like to run and the (shifting) interests of her players. For now, she's chosen to prioritize the relationships and helping please others above trying to emulate a certain aesthetic. I can respect that. I'm interested to see if her young players can as well.