Gaming Group Struggles

Retreater

Adventurer
My longest running gaming group has run into some difficulties as of late. We were facing sporadic attendance due to real life issues (work and family commitments, which I can't complain about.) We were already down to biweekly sessions, so it was hard to keep everyone on track. Since we couldn't bank on having the same players there week after week, the style of game necessarily changed. We decided as a group we couldn't run a class-based system (aka D&D) since not all the roles would be filled. I converted the campaign and their characters to a different system.

So now several of the existing players are leaving to find "D&D" groups. Obviously, I let the players find a group that is fun for them. I'm just at a loss of what to do. I can't run a regular D&D game for the 3 players willing to stay behind. And I can't keep the players who are leaving unless we play D&D. But we can't play D&D because half the people miss regularly.

What's a guy to do?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Three players plus a DM is fine for running a D&D game provided you-as-DM are willing to toss in a party NPC or two and-or if one or more players is willing to play two characters side-along. Three players, each running two characters, party of six - you're gold!

I've even seen (and run!) D&D games with just two players + DM and they worked out OK.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
It can definitely be done. You just have to remain cognizant of the group’s power voids and not aim at them...at least, not regularly.

Multiclassing and more generous gear drops- especially those filling a gap- or even NPCs can keep things going smoothly.
 

Imaculata

Adventurer
In my experience, smaller groups are easier to DM for. 3 or 4 people is perfect. That is assuming that those 3 are able to attend reliably. It wasn't entirely clear to me from the OP's description if the remaining 3 players are able to do so.

As for running a class based system, I have never required my players to include a healer class. If the party doesn't have a dedicated healer, they can rely on healing potions, or find a dedicated healer npc. I can also adapt the encounter difficulty to the fact that they might not have a dedicated healer. It's really not a big problem.
 

S'mon

Legend
5e works fine with 3 PCs. It's perfectly possible to create a PC who fills a couple of the standard roles adequately. You can also include an NPC with the group if you want, but this is rarely actually necessary.

My regular 5e Primeval Thule group comprises:

Rogue assassin with 1 Barbarian level.
Barbarian
Rogue/Fighter/Warlock (celestial)
& maybe a Fighter Eldritch Knight, or another Barbarian.

So little AoE, very little healing. Great on single target damage & good on skills. Works fine.

I've also GM'd for a party of 3 Barbarians!
 

Retreater

Adventurer
The main issue is that the 3ish players are not the same each time. There is little consistency for story and I don't have the ability to plan ahead for encounters, etc.
 

S'mon

Legend
The main issue is that the 3ish players are not the same each time. There is little consistency for story and I don't have the ability to plan ahead for encounters, etc.
Best to create status-quo encounters in a West Marches style environment (lots of mini dungeons in a wilderness) - and let the players know they may have to run away quite a lot!

With variable players you're not going to get "consistency for story" in a non-D&D RPG either, and most games don't even have encounter-building mechanics as such.

Edit: If I'm GMing for 3 5th level PCs I probably want the default encounter to be CR 4-5, or the equivalent in multiple critters, but I'd expect the party can likely handle CR 3 through CR 7 or 8 ok. I'm not going to sweat the details or alter encounters to fit the precise party makeup. If the party are all melee brutes going up against goblin worgrider archers, well likely sucks to be them.
 

muppetmuppet

Explorer
You might possibly want to play Gloomhaven.

In this not really much of a roleplaying game game you can swap the characters out depending on who turns up. Each player just needs one character. Bonus you get to play and not DM. This may not be what you want at all if you in fact want a roleplaying game though.

There must be a roleplaying game that would work with rotating players not knowing who will turn up but I'm not sure I can think of one. You are pretty much stuck to things that are one session long.
 

Retreater

Adventurer
Yeah. The awful thing is that at Session Zero, everyone said they wanted a political intrigue campaign with more roleplay than combat. Several of the players created lengthy backstories for their characters. One of the players who just dropped - his campaign arc was going to have a climax next session. I'm really frustrated because I put in a lot of time planning the whole campaign world.
The West Marches (or one shot) idea might work, but it goes against what they told me they wanted to play. [Which I guess reality kind of makes that story-driven style of game hard to pull off.]
I'm not sure about Gloomhaven. Maybe? It's tricky that whenever I've suggested a board game night instead, people just stay home and attend even worse than D&D nights.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
One solution for the revolving door of gamers is to have copies of each PC. When X can’t make it, you run X’s PC as an NPC.

I have also been in groups where players trust other players enough to run their PCs in their absence.
 

cmad1977

Adventurer
Honestly. 5e runs fine without the ‘Rolfe’ being filled.


Edit: That’s ‘Roles’. Keep Rolfe filled because he gets grumpy when he’s hungry. The roles though are a vestige of prior editions that don’t really make a codified appearance in 5e.

I’ve run groups without a ‘healer’ or ‘tank’ and they worked great.

Also: bear in mind that the game is (I believe) designed/‘balanced’ around a 4 person party.
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
Yeah. The awful thing is that at Session Zero, everyone said they wanted a political intrigue campaign with more roleplay than combat. Several of the players created lengthy backstories for their characters. One of the players who just dropped - his campaign arc was going to have a climax next session. I'm really frustrated because I put in a lot of time planning the whole campaign world.
The West Marches (or one shot) idea might work, but it goes against what they told me they wanted to play. [Which I guess reality kind of makes that story-driven style of game hard to pull off.]
I'm not sure about Gloomhaven. Maybe? It's tricky that whenever I've suggested a board game night instead, people just stay home and attend even worse than D&D nights.
I can suggest Blades in the Dark as an alternate game that may work if the other solutions offered don’t work for you.

Blades is intended for each session to consist of one “Score” or mission plus a round of downtime. So a rotating cast would be fine.

It’s also designed to require little prep. It’s very sandboxy in that sense. Learn the setting...which consists of one city and its different factions...and then just turn the PCs loose.

The game itself is different than D&D in a couple of was though. There’s a lot more narrative responsibility on the players. They have resources at their disposal that can really push things toward their desired outcome. It’ll help if you have creative players (and it sounds like you do).

The action is also intended to be driven by the players. After a few scores, the GM should step back and let the players start to decide what they want to do and what kind of score they want to pursue.

The setting itself is a kind of haunted Victorian type city that offers a variety of games. The PCs can be a gang of mercenaries or they can be spies or power brokers or purveyors of illicit goods or just about anything. They get to choose the type of crew they’ll be, which will help determine the kind of stories they want. You can do politics and intrigue or you can do gang war or labor disputes or whatever they may like.

It’ll be a bit of a shift in the way you play, but it sounds like a feasible option for your group, if they’re willing to try something new.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
We decided as a group we couldn't run a class-based system (aka D&D) since not all the roles would be filled. I converted the campaign and their characters to a different system.

So now several of the existing players are leaving to find "D&D" groups. Obviously, I let the players find a group that is fun for them. I'm just at a loss of what to do. I can't run a regular D&D game for the 3 players willing to stay behind. And I can't keep the players who are leaving unless we play D&D. But we can't play D&D because half the people miss regularly.

What's a guy to do?
"Different system?" Why are you keeping us in suspense?

Play some O.L.D. so you can continue the fantasy theme and the players can design a small, well rounded party, and when the literal retreaters hear about all the fun they're missing, they'll come back.
 

Retreater

Adventurer
We tried Savage Worlds. I'm guessing it didn't work for a few of the players. I haven't taken a look at O.L.D. yet - embarrassed I know so little about it.
 

pogre

Adventurer
Not sure if this works for you, but what I did was invite 8 people to play in my campaign. It's episodic, meaning every session is pretty much self-contained. Players can drop in and drop out as needed. The player pool expanded to 10 and I average 7 or 8 per session, which is a bit much, but still works for us.

Here was the key for me: The game is every week on Sunday at 2 PM no matter what. That consistency and a great group of players has made the game a resounding success and a lot of fun. One of the early sessions I only had three players make it, but as the campaign has continued LOW player numbers has not been a problem. ;)

Good luck - that's a very frustrating situation.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Yeah. The awful thing is that at Session Zero, everyone said they wanted a political intrigue campaign with more roleplay than combat. Several of the players created lengthy backstories for their characters. One of the players who just dropped - his campaign arc was going to have a climax next session. I'm really frustrated because I put in a lot of time planning the whole campaign world.
The West Marches (or one shot) idea might work, but it goes against what they told me they wanted to play.
I guess the question to ask is "What changed?" Did anyone's schedule change? Did other obligations outside the game become more complicated for people? Or did people answer your questions about what sort of game they wanted with their greatest ambitions, but not their capacity to put said ambitions into practice?

I'm not sure about Gloomhaven. Maybe? It's tricky that whenever I've suggested a board game night instead, people just stay home and attend even worse than D&D nights.
While that sort of thing works for some groups, some just want to play D&D. And that's OK, even if it is disappointing when you want to broaden your options.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
One solution for the revolving door of gamers is to have copies of each PC.
Better yet: the standing rule becomes that character sheets stay with the DM between sessions. (I'm always surprised to see others don't do this - it's been SOP around here since forever)
When X can’t make it, you run X’s PC as an NPC.

I have also been in groups where players trust other players enough to run their PCs in their absence.
We usually do the latter. For example, I'll be missing* our next session in full knowledge that someone will run my PC (and her hench) pretty much the same as I would have.

* - a rare occurrence; first in years.
 

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