I have not struggled to keep a role playing campaign going for over ten years. I have always had at least one going, and sometimes two or even three. Many of my campaigns go for several years, and the reason they end is because I wrap them up or make the choice to move to new projects.
When I’ve asked other Game Masters what they feel is the biggest obstacle to running their own campaigns, it comes down to scheduling, poor attendance and lack of time. The exact same things that keep most projects from moving forward.
When I examine why I don’t have this issue, I see behaviors that can be implemented by any Game Master to get better results.
The Easy Part
Putting the following behaviors into practice will help. Use them and you’ll be more successful at getting campaigns rolling. But if you want to take it to a new level, check out The Hard Part below.
Schedule the same time, every time. Decide how often you will meet, be it every week, two weeks, monthly or whatever, and make sure you always play at that time. Play even if everyone can’t show up. Play even most of the players can’t show up. One of the main reasons players don’t show up is because of a lack of trust, and cancelling games is a fast track to losing that trust. Make a schedule. Keep to the schedule come hell and high water.
Start on time. End on time. Again, this is about trust. Decide what time the game will start and start playing then, even if all the players have not arrived. Even if everyone is still “getting settled”. Starting the game when you say you will builds a sense of urgency to get there and get ready. Similarly, respect their time by ending your game when you say you will, even if you’re mid-combat or about to do the big reveal.
Send at least two reminders. I suggest one about 5 days before the game, and the second either one or two days before. Also, use at least two platforms, like email and Facebook. Or texting and email. We’re all bad at one platform or another. Cover your bases!
Insist on an action. Make sure that your players have something they have to do before the game. I like to make the action that they have to bring snacks or beverages. This ties a task to the event in their minds. It creates a greater sense of obligation to the group, and makes it more likely that people will show up.
Be a generous host. Most Game Masters run games from their homes. If this is you, be sure to tidy up first, set up the table before hand. And do what you can to make your guests comfortable. Start the coffee maker, spritz some febreeze, light some candles. Yes it is an unfair burden, but once your players experience good hosting, they will be more apt to be good guests and show up time after time.
The Hard Part
If you want to master game organization, it takes more work — More work on yourself, and building skills that will feel uncomfortable at first.
Step 0: Acceptance. This may be the most valuable thing you can do for your emotional well being. Try, if you can, to accept a few valuable but hard facts.
- It isn’t fair. As the Game Master, you are de facto leader, and being a leader means you have to put in more work. Gratitude is not always forthcoming. Fortunately, we’re not running campaigns to be stars or bathe in adulation.
- You will need to leave some players behind. If you want your campaign to work out, you will need to make a choice that will work for as many as you can, but it’s unlikely to work for everyone. This is especially difficult if you are only drawing from your close friends for players. Be direct and be kind, and maybe help them find another group whose schedule works better for them.
- It won’t always work out. Sometimes that game you want to run, and the group you are able to draw just won’t be able to make it happen. Recently, I had a Vampire, the Masquerade game that I had hoped to get kicked up with a fun group I met, but schedules did not line up and I didn’t have enough people in my network with an interest. I shelved the project, happy to have met new people and glad to have the material ready for when schedules do finally align.
Network, network, network. The best tool for getting a successful campaign going is to have a large number of players to draw upon. Depending on where you live and your situation, this may be more or less difficult, but there should be some combination of the following you can use to build the number of players you know.
- Talk to friends and family. Even if they are not into role playing games, they may know people into it and looking for a group. I remember when my landlord saw a gaming map up on my wall, which led to a conversation where he connected me with his adult son, who was struggling to find a nearby group.
- Go to events at your local game store. Make the time to participate in events even if you think it may not be your thing. Use the time to connect with people, learn their names, and add them on social media. Don’t be afraid to say out loud that you’re looking for people into starting a campaign. You’ll likely stumble on people at the events for the exact same reason you are!
- Avoid chauvinism! Maybe you’re into rules dense, highly tactical simulations, and the person next to you likes rules-lite improve storytelling games. Be curious about why they like what they do, and find places where you have common ground. Even if their style does not match your own, I guarantee you they know people who do. I still remember telling a fellow Game Master how much I enjoy Shadowrun, and having him immediately retort “Shadowrun is the most overrated system of all time”. It was hard not to take the remark personally, and it always plays in my head when I consider inviting him as a player. He still hasn’t received an invite…
- Play in other games. I know the goal is to have a campaign and steady group of your own, and playing in other groups is a great way to find people to make that happen. Role players organize naturally in cells, and there is a constant flow of people between those cells. People’s needs and restrictions are always changing, so meeting people in other groups may win new players quickly.
Show Energy! Enthusiasm and positivity are infectious. When you are gaming, make a special effort to smile. Go out of your way to praise people when they game well. Be the person that drives things forward. Always give kindness and encouragement. Be liberal with the fist bumps and high-fives. Despite what D&D suggests, charasim is more skill than attribute and it can be learned. If you are a happy and positive person, you will be much more likely to attract players (and more likely to attract players that like you, are overjoyed to commit to a campaign).
If you can put the work in, you can quickly get to a place where your challenge is less finding players and getting them to show up to your games, and more how to find time to play with all of the players you have. It’s a much better problem to have, as you move from just a Game Master to a master of gamers. Help other GMs get their campaigns off the ground, connecting people with similar play styles, and teaching others how to be leaders.