Back in the Saddle

Monday, March 28, 2016

One of the toughest aspects of being a PbP DM is the struggle to keep a game going over time. Players sometimes have a tendency to drop out of games or disappear, either permanently or for long periods of time. When they do, they can sometimes be summoned to active posting via either a mention in the gaming thread, or--my favorite--the personal touch. The personal touch entails me reaching out via private message or e-mail (for those of you for whom I have an e-mail address handy) with an invitation to resume play. I think one time I called someone, too. Yes, on the phone. I've had great success extending personal invitations to play. Really, it makes sense. We exist in an economy that expects solid customer service. My reaching out with a personal invitation to resume playing is nothing more than customer service. Hey, we've noticed you've been away. Can we tempt you to re-join the game?

The real kicker, however, isn't losing players. It's DMs who drop out. To be honest, despite there being statistically more players than DMs, DMs dropping out happens in proportion equal to the rate at which players drop out. In something like thirteen years of participating in PbP gaming, I've seen loads of games dry up because the DM disappeared. Or because posts in the IC became sporadic enough that players lost interest and stopped posting. I don't say this to be egotistical, but probably the single biggest factor in the success of a game is the ability of the DM to maintain focus and interest over the long haul. And I don't mean just player focus and interest; rather, I mean the DM's focus and interest. A successful game has, at its core, an individual dedicated to maintaining game flow over time. Someone both even-keeled enough to sustain a daily posting rate. Someone unafraid to experiment, be creative, try new things. Because, in all honesty, it's better to try something new and have it flop than not try anything new, ever, and have your game stagnate then die.

I have trouble sustaining interest over the long haul. I know my own DMing abilities and flaws well enough to realize I typically hit a wall at roughly the two-month and year mark of any PbP game I run. Over time, I've come to see that PbP gaming is like life. You still have to participate even on days when you're not really feeling it. You can't check out. Why? Because people are counting on you. It's ok to make mistakes, so long as you continue to post, continue to try new things, continue to experiment. A good group (and you lot are a VERY good group) tolerates errors because the game is more about camaraderie than it is about winning encounters. The things I know to build into a game I DM to help overcome stagnation include:

1) treating players like friends (because, really, your gaming group should consist of friends) so that I have an inducement to want to hang out more in the OOC and IC;
2) journaling (a new but damned successful ploy);
3) providing good-quality tools to make my job running the game easier (I purchased MS Office, Jared Blando's maps, and a second PHB...for example);
4) taking a pre-announced short break from time to time (I'll be at the beach June 4 - 9, then at a state political convention as a delegate on June 11); and
5) making sure my players are excited about gaming (the journal, good quality maps, daily posting, running a newly released adventure (or running a classic adventure), encouraging players have choices at character creation, and doling out phat loot from time to time are good examples).

Mainly, though, it's #1 that counts for the most in the best games I've run. People like the personal touch. Hell, I like the personal touch. I'll admit, I crave it. I feel special when someone reaches out, says, Hey, it's been a while. You doing ok? I miss seeing you around the site. In many ways, gaming is like life; everyone finds meaning in feeling appreciated, feeling loved. Maybe some day you'll run a PbP game? If so, I hope you'll remember that kindness is a noble goal.