March 28, 2011

Three Ways To Game With Casual Players

Casual RPG playersFrom Mark of the Pixie

Johnn,

I agree with your epiphany that we should play more.

One way I am looking at to help facilitate this (as work, children, and other responsibilities reduce our time) is the logistics of how we play.

Most of my games are fortnightly three hour face-to-face table top sessions in the evenings with a regular team of players in campaigns that last several years.

I have also run a few monthly 20-70 player freeforms (or LARPs) similar in format to most Camarilla games, also over several years, but have stopped because of the work involved and the lack of player and co-GM support and interest.

There have been a few convention games, as well – single-sessions with pregenerated characters.

However, I am experimenting with other way of doing it.

The Player Pool

One of my most successful tricks is the player pool. I have a roster of 10-16 players, each with a full character. Each game night some will turn up and some others won’t. I have nights with just 2 players and nights with 15, but most hover around 5 to 7 players.

I have to be flexible with which plots I run (and often have 2 to 3 in reserve), but the game is episodic enough that I am able to resolve each plot in one night.

Each character must have something else they are doing that explains any absence (one character is an academic and is occasionally be away at a conference, another often spends time with her family). Having these reasons means it never feels forced when a character is away, and they add depth to the world and the characters.

Players Play NPC Guest Stars

I also have some players guest star as regular NPCs. If the player is free, I work their NPC into the plot. Once or twice a year, I have a mini-freeform where I get 5 to 7 guest stars in to help me do a wedding or similar for the PCs.

Run Interlinked Campaigns

An idea I am currently trying is running 3 interlinked tabletops monthly. Each has 5 to 7 players, and take place in the same world.

I will hold occasional BBQs or dinners where I invite everyone in-character to chat and socialise “at the tavern.”

They can swap adventures, pass on information, trade quests and info on NPCs, or warn each other about different threats. They can even break up teams and reform into new groups.

My hope is for a low commitment game with a lot of PC-to-PC social interaction possible, but still a neat tabletop format for quests and personal plots.

I would be interested to hear how others run their games.

Svafa

I’ve found the player pool method to work well. We had a group of about a dozen different players, but the consistency of who would attend on a given date was terrible. Thus, I created something of an explorer’s guild that all of the PCs called home. Each session I’d have a few missives and quests that the guild would be recruiting members to fulfill, and whoever showed up could participate. It made the game fairly episodic, but there were some overarching plots, usually focused on the guild as a whole rather than specific characters.

One of the interesting and somewhat successful things I attempted in that game was “random” PCs. I kept around five or six unclaimed characters. If there was a guest who could only come for one session (from out of town or whatever), or even if one of the regulars just wanted to try something different, they could choose from this group of extras (one popular method was die rolls, i.e. the “random”). The biggest success of this may very well have been the session our always-Rogue player ended up playing a Lawful Good Cleric. Or well, as consistently Lawful Good as someone in the habit of Chaotic Neutral can get.

I’d love to try running interlinking campaigns, but I’ve never had the consistency in large enough numbers to make it remotely possible. :(

Johnn Four

RPT reader Jeremy emailed me this interesting comment:

Mark of the Pixie had the tip about DMing casual players. Something I tried once and intend to do again, was I made up one character for each base class. I gave each an interesting backstory, equipment, etc.

Then I presented my players with a summary sheet. Each session, assuming we weren’t in the middle of an adventure, they could choose to play any member of the group.

If four were involved in an adventure, the other 6 or 7 were off doing their own thing. At the end of an adventure, I leveled up all the PC’s divided the loot fairly, gave the non played characters a comparable amount of gold and magic, and leveled them if necessary.

My players liked being able to switch. One player switched every time, one played the same character every time, and others did a little of both.

It broke up the monotony, they weren’t responsible for character sheets and could just show up with dice. I love playing around with characters, so I got a little extra enjoyment.

We only managed to continue this to about 3rd level because we started a new campaign at that point, but we used this format as a break, and it could have been picked up again.

It was completely episodic. As a way to break up a long running campaign, or to do something else it’s worth trying.

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