Unless this is your first article, you probably know that my main occupation is running RPG games for people.
I put together a lot of games and a linked-up community of players. Every time around the autumn, things start to get a bit…shaky. People start university courses or look at their Christmas schedule.
As I sit here, in October, I am sitting in the afterglow of a summer full of blockbuster moments in campaigns, at least one epic ‘Empire Strikes Back’ style campaign ending, and there are few players who are leaving for other things or shuffling which nights they play on.
So I’m looking at a lot of moments of transition in my gaming. Between August and January is a big section of things changing and new eras for different games.
I thought I’d share how I have approached bringing new players in (or not) and how I’m planning to move some other stuff forward. Because I’ve learned a few things and would like to help you introduce new players to a group.
So here are some ideas that will help you learn how to deal when real-life events change your narrative, playgroup and focus.
Rolling With The Punches
I think we all know that often games come apart due to attrition. People’s lives drift in new directions, the centre cannot hold. Around the two-year mark and then every six months after, my seemingly stable games seem to undergo small shake-ups.
No more has this been more clear than in my Legend Of The Five Rings ‘The Final Peace’ campaign. A group who had been together for ages before the campaign and played lots of games invested themselves in a 20-month game. It all started out fine, then one player reached out to me and said she was feeling burned out, and of the several games she played with me, this was the one that she felt she could drop. We engineered a very good place for her character to get married and retire to the life of running a noble household, then played through the wedding. Two weeks later, with very little warning, another player going through life stuff cut his games down to one a week and dropped Legend Of Five Rings, amongst many others. I didn’t have much time to throw a big ending there, so I had his soul trapped in his dog companion without anyone knowing, and an evil being took his place. Down to three players. That’s not the best. With three, if one has to cancel an evening, it’s difficult to still run.
And yet, I didn’t panic. I had faith that the players who remained were very invested and lent hard into their storylines as I thought about what to do. Asking the group if they were invested and wanted me to find another player, and they agreed. Contacting an old friend with a love of the game, I explained and asked if he wanted to join in. That brought the game back to four and with the new player playing a spellcaster, something the campaign had been lacking until now, opened a whole new element up for the last three arcs of the game.
I just want to unpick what happened here for a second. At no point did I consider folding the game. Instead, I thought about it, kept faith with the players I knew were enjoying it and engaged them in a positive way. I didn’t ask ‘Do you want to finish?’, I said ‘I’m really enjoying this and I think you are too, do you want me to look for another player?’.
I think it’s important to realise that as GM’s our engagement with a game is infectious. Then I consulted with the new player I had found and made sure they not only brought something to the game that fit the group but also that their character opened up new ideas and storylines. So that when they came in, it felt like a breath of fresh air. That new life had been brought into the game. Then players can see that a new player isn’t a sign of things ending or falling apart – but a new era, a new beginning.
As these troubles seemed to come to an end and the new player was settling in, we were then hit with another blow. This was more fatal. One of the three who had stuck with the game also was leaving – She didn’t want to but new university commitments were going to start in 2/3 months and she knew she wouldn’t have space for all her games and had to drop one.
I made a call and decided to end the game. Immediately as I announced it, I suggested to the group that I could end the campaign the way I had intended as long as they didn’t mind some subplots being streamlined and we’d maybe like to try a sequel or other game afterwards. They group got excited about an epic finish and new game. So having those options open when I came to the table was useful.
So things came to a head. The last four sessions with the capital city under siege, hostage situations, politics and warfare inside the walls of the imperial palace, city’s streets and warfare culminated in an amazing finale.
The original player who left first was even able to come back for a four-session cameo; having her back really made it feel like a big send-off. I put time into making sure not only those people who would be playing in the next game felt like it had been worth it but those that were leaving really had something to take away with them. This is important because you cultivate a feeling like your games are worth playing. The player who had to leave due to university has asked us wait to play a sequel because she is so interested in what happens in the world next. And the group have gone on to try a new game (Feng Shui 2) with some new players. It feels new and fresh. But trying to make the ending feel as good as possible, knowing when to pull that trigger was important.
I learned that knowing the story and trusting players to want to finish it gave me more rewarding play than I thought.
In summary, I’ve found that sometimes what it takes to keep a game going is the ability to keep turning up and playing with the people who are present.
We’re gonna talk more about this idea and what it takes to evolve your game when new people arrive and old people drop off and how far you can take that concept and still keep a game going and interesting to the players.
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