Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Playing With Half A Group

Scheduling (and all the woes therein) has been a common theme here at RPG Diehard. Both Ben and I have lamented the challenges involved with simply gathering a group of players together, to say nothing of the actual art of playing the game.

For Autumn Frontiers, my new Points of Light/Savage Worlds campaign, I’m going to try my hardest to stick to a regular, reliable schedule. And the more I think about that, the more I think that that’s probably going to necessitate playing without all the players present, at least every now and then.

This is going to be a bit of a change for my group; over the years, we've been pretty easy-going and only too happy to continually postpone a session to make sure everyone's around the table. What that's resulted in, however, is a whole lot of polite emails and not very much gaming. Time for a change?

If handled properly, I think this sort of play can actually serve to enhance the immersive, survival-based fantasy game I’m hoping to run with this group. If we’re set to start at 7 p.m. and a player can’t make it until 8:30, that’s fine — the game will proceed, and I (the GM) will play their character. Or another player; it doesn't matter. The point is that the game is ongoing even when the player is absent — not in a punitive way, though, because that would be cruel. Then, when the player does show up, he’ll enter the game in media res — maybe in the middle of a mountaintop chase, or maybe in the middle of a tense lockpicking moment.

Part of me wants to put my foot down and say “Alright, we’re playing every Thursday; no compromises.” But that’s not fair to adult players who have lives and spouses and jobs; moreover, I’m just as likely to cancel a regular game at some point too. I’m curious how you might handle a group that’s chronically difficult to schedule. Do you regularly play with half a group?


Anonymous said...

Very often yes. I work full time, so does my fiance. So do a lot of our gamers. It sucks, but it is what it is.

Sham aka Dave said...

This is the main reason that our gaming group has not seen much 'around the table time' the past decade. I might institute a monthly or bimonthly 'set in stone' gaming day. I think such a schedule certainly makes it easier for everyone to remember and plan around. The email group thing just isn't working well, as too many members simply don't respond in regard to availability.

As a last resort I'd consider recruiting new players, but this is not my preference.


Porthios said...

Sometimes, when others GM we would go with their rules, my rule was if someone was missing their character suddenly was not in the game, hey its fantasy you can play with the rules of reality as you choose, and a generic NPC that filled the same role suddenly came into play.

jamused said...

If there's only one or two people missing, we play their characters for them. If it's more than that, we have backup campaigns (the Haunted Realm setting is our new one) or we play a one-shot.

Alex Schroeder said...

If there are at least three players, we play and other people's characters are just *poof* gone, get no XP, take their magic items along, will not help, etc. It's like an editing mistake when making a movie. Sometimes they're there, and in the next scene they're missing. No harm done.

PatrickWR said...

Interesting comments, folks. I think the easiest and most logical way to handle it is to leave the absent players "back at camp" or "in the tavern"....though that gets tactically unwise if more than two players are missing.

I wonder how much less effective the group would be if two or more characters were absent (as opposed to NPCs controlled by the GM)?

Anar_Kyst said...

I'm playing in two monthly games, and running a third. There are a few players that are common to all three groups. We play with set dates.

In all three games, if you're not there, your character is off "gathering wood" or some other mundane task. Granted, we have pretty large play groups (usually at least six players show for each game), so we're not often short-handed.

Porthios said...

Well the group I was GMing was kind of small so a missing character would be a big deal, hence the NPCs. Now these NPCs were only controlled by me in social situations, during combat they were controlled by the players and this lead to some interesting combat sequences, including the suicide of NPCs holding the line so that the PCs could get their loot. (Weird as it may sound their equipment and loot would go up in a puff of smoke when this happened)

Current Version said...

Some players are just plain ol' unreliable, and they shouldn't be the bolts holding the gaming group together. If they're the only people whom you can find, keep looking.

I used to run a campaign many moons ago, where we regularly had people not showing up, due to work, girlfriends, or just punkassness. I always kept a few npc's with relevant story links to the pc's just for those occasions. For the most part, these npc's did nothing in social situations but backed up the pc's if push came to shove. I also played light and loose with the plot and combat, so that it could be expanded for when we had 6 players and shrunk down for when we only had 2 or 3. Having a full party can make for some epic encounters, and not having a huge party is great for creating some personal story lines.

The point, I think, is just to keep the campaign going. Once players see what they missed out on, they'll be more serious about showing up when they're supposed to.

"Dude, you mean you found a new suit of power armor, defeated a dragon, AND became the new leader of a ninja clan?!"

PatrickWR said...

Too right, Sam. For the record, Current is one of the players in my group, and I'm happy to report we got off to a great start in our campaign (with full attendance to boot!) earlier this week.