Gaming Group Struggles

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
After years of putting up with people that made scheduling games difficult for varying reasons, I closed that group down and started a new one with people that were enthusiastic about playing and would actually show up. The difference was night and day.

In this day and age, there are so many opportunities to game, online and in-person, that you don’t have to tolerate noncommittal players. If these people are your friends, it bears repeating that good friends do not always make for a good gaming fit.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
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)
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.
It’s really group dependent, of course. And tech figures in greatly.

When one guy ran a 4Ed campaign, almost all of the characters were generated in his account, so printing a copy was easy. This meant the guy who frequently forgot his character at home was never disruptive.

OTOH, I started going electronic long before that. One of the first things I did when I got my Palm Tungsten PDA was start keeping my RPG characters- AND campaign design notes- on it.

Now that I’m using iPhones and iPads, they’re stored on the cloud. Not only can I print on demand, I can email my PCs to the GM or another player.
 

ccs

39th lv DM
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.
So why don't you run a game for the ones who want to play D&D & are leaving in order to do so?
As for those 3(ish) players who're unreliable? They get to play characters who's sheets stay with you.
When they can make it? Great, here's your/a character.
When they can't make it? Those characters are NPCs/run by the other players/maybe not used at all.

You write your adventures based on the regulars who will show up {they're the stars of the story, but you just don't advertise that to the others} & plan encounter difficulties for 1 more than that.
If more show up? Add an extra monster/increase HPs & AC etc. Or just shrug & accept that the evenings encounters will be a bit easier than expected.
This is exactly how my Thur 5e game runs (though the group has opted to not have anyones character played at all if they aren't there). I've got 3 regulars atm, 1 guy with a fluctuating work schedule, & 1 gal who now has a very busy school schedule.
Work guy adds a bit of firepower when he can make it.
School gal is mostly just there for RP & hanging out with her friend (one of the regulars). But even when she could make every session she has never been a factor mechanic wise..... Fun to play with, but no threat to the cosmic balance. :)

You set game night to a time that works well for you & the regulars.
You give a short recap of what went on last time at the start of each session.
If the regulars are still having trouble keeping track of what went on? Then you'll have to scale back the scope/detail of the campaign.

And don't be afraid to scrap/indefinitely pause the current campaign in favor of something that'll work better.
 

S'mon

Legend
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'd suggest single session 'mission' type scenarios with a political spin. Eg the way Dark Heresy is focused on investigating heresy within the Imperium. Go for episodic villain of the week type approach, the way they do (or did until recently) in TV dramas. And have a few long running threads anyone paying attention can pick up on. I'd say The X Files was a good model here. You can eg have shapeshifting monsters/aliens/demons infiltrating the human government/court, and the PCs charged with unearthing them - that way you get intrigue, drama, and a good excuse for a fight every session! Highlander TV show with its evil Immortal of the week is another good episodic approach - you can do lots of duelling, maybe 3 Musketeers style between rival factions.
 

innerdude

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.
Don't give up on Savage Worlds after a single play. In my experience, it took 2-3 sessions for it to fully "click" for my group.

But once it did, they enjoyed it tremendously. We've tried other systems besides Savage Worlds over the past 5 or 6 years, but it's remained our "go to" the whole time.
 

Retreater

Adventurer
Don't give up on Savage Worlds after a single play. In my experience, it took 2-3 sessions for it to fully "click" for my group.

But once it did, they enjoyed it tremendously. We've tried other systems besides Savage Worlds over the past 5 or 6 years, but it's remained our "go to" the whole time.
I'm running the occasional Savage Rifts game with another group. The other group that is disbanding wants 5e or nothing, it would seem. (I had a couple "rough sessions" with the disbanding group of trying to learn the system that may have played into it.)
 
. 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 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?
First of all, if it gets you running something better than D&D, it could be a blessing in disguise.

But, you can run D&D - some versions more readily or with more kludge than others - for even very small groups.

Classic D&D assumed the inveterate use (& abuse) of henchmen & hirelings, who could take up the meatshield, band-aid, and Trapfinding duties otherwise beneath their wizard masters.

3e and 5e, as long as the few PCs are tier-1 casters, have no strong need to cover every role via class, when spell selection (and, in 3e, item and even construct, creation) can serve the same purposes.

Even the ed that most formally defined roles worked surprisingly well with few PCs: The controller role was readily dispensable in a party of 3. A duo could get by on a fair combination of secondary roles - a Paladin (Defender/leader) and Rogue (Striker/controller), for instance could be surprisingly effective. Perhaps ironically, a lone controller worked pretty well vs the kinds of encounters (minions, underleveled foes, lone standards) that fit into such a limited encounter budget. And, to come full circle, Companion characters could fill in missing roles, like the henchmen of yore.
 
If your group isn't consistent, then you may have to rely on short one-off adventures.
^ This.
Try building the games in an episodic way so that each session is like a TV episode. They all link together and build toward a season finale, but each can also stand alone and doesn't require the same players or characters to be in every one of them.
 
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Doc_Klueless

Doors and Corners
And players who leave just because "It's not D&D" are likely too lazy or afraid to try something new. Those aren't players, they're casuals.
No. Just... no. This thinking strikes me as fairly full of elitism.

My free time is more valuable to me than money. If someone is going to run a game that is not one I enjoy or isn't using a system that I do enjoy, I've got to do a quick ROI. I've been playing since '81. I love to play RPGs. I frucking hate playing RPGs I don't enjoy, genres I don't enjoy or with people whose company I don't enjoy. I'd rather just not play. There are other hobbies around that are just as fun.

Plus D&D games (since that's the system we're talking about) are just too easy to find to suffer through other games.

This idea that I won't play some other game because I'm lazy or afraid is just bullshit. That makes me someone who knows what I enjoy.
 

Wiseblood

Adventurer
For me 3-4 players is ideal. BTW I have 6 players. Six players are enough of a hinderance to their own progress that you have to abandon plans just to keep the story moving. With three to four players it is so much easier to customize the experience for their tastes and their goals. For me it is like playing an entirely different and better game.
 

Retreater

Adventurer
No. Just... no. This thinking strikes me as fairly full of elitism.

My free time is more valuable to me than money. If someone is going to run a game that is not one I enjoy or isn't using a system that I do enjoy, I've got to do a quick ROI. I've been playing since '81. I love to play RPGs. I frucking hate playing RPGs I don't enjoy, genres I don't enjoy or with people whose company I don't enjoy. I'd rather just not play. There are other hobbies around that are just as fun.

Plus D&D games (since that's the system we're talking about) are just too easy to find to suffer through other games.

This idea that I won't play some other game because I'm lazy or afraid is just bullshit. That makes me someone who knows what I enjoy.
Hey, I totally get it. But on the same token, my free time is valuable too. If they don't want to play, they should let me know so I can fix it or stop wasting my time preparing games and having to cancel when they call off at the last minute.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
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.
This is not a problem about D&D. If you can run an RPG under these conditions, you can run D&D. Make it more episodic. Work with players to give their character responsibilities that takes them away, or make them part of a larger organization that picks groups and the same people aren't always available.
 

FrogReaver

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?
If your playing 5e then simply don't worry about filling all the roles. You don't need them to have a fun game.
 

Retreater

Adventurer
If your playing 5e then simply don't worry about filling all the roles. You don't need them to have a fun game.
It gets really hard to plan for a group that might consist of a cleric, wizard, rogue, fighter, and bard; then the next week, fighter, wizard, and rogue; then the next week cleric, wizard, and bard. Plus doing a story-driven game (which was requested and planned for) is next to impossible.
 

FrogReaver

Adventurer
It gets really hard to plan for a group that might consist of a cleric, wizard, rogue, fighter, and bard; then the next week, fighter, wizard, and rogue; then the next week cleric, wizard, and bard. Plus doing a story-driven game (which was requested and planned for) is next to impossible.
That's the beauty of it. You don't have to plan at that level. You present a story with an objective and allow players to navigate toward that objective. If the story is about you preventing an alliance between two factions then there's tons of ways to do that. If that objective fails then next session there will be a new objective etc.

All you actually need is buy in that every characters ultimate goal is aligned even if they may have certain personal quests that sometimes push them in different directions.

I think story-driven is a term that means something different to each person. But I presume you know your players and what they meant by it. So I guess I should ask what you mean by that phrase.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
It gets really hard to plan for a group that might consist of a cleric, wizard, rogue, fighter, and bard; then the next week, fighter, wizard, and rogue; then the next week cleric, wizard, and bard. Plus doing a story-driven game (which was requested and planned for) is next to impossible.
I am at a loss for why D&D in particular is hard to do a story-driven game with a rotating cast of three, but not other games. It seems if you can run anything, you can run D&D. Is it a good place to start from? No, not at all. Does D&D make it any worse? Also no.

From an adventure design, don't worry about their capabilities. Just follow general advice like give each clue three times and they will be able to work things out one way or the other. For encounter design just be prepared to scale up and down with number of characters, which is really easy to do in a number of systems, with D&D among them. If this week they don't have crowd control and there's a lot of foes, maybe they'll decide that combat is one they want to avoid or solve some other way. (This advice doesn't work if combat is the only solution, including to the point that avoidance and retreat are not on the table.)
 

FrogReaver

Adventurer
I am at a loss for why D&D in particular is hard to do a story-driven game with a rotating cast of three, but not other games. It seems if you can run anything, you can run D&D. Is it a good place to start from? No, not at all. Does D&D make it any worse? Also no.

From an adventure design, don't worry about their capabilities. Just follow general advice like give each clue three times and they will be able to work things out one way or the other. For encounter design just be prepared to scale up and down with number of characters, which is really easy to do in a number of systems, with D&D among them. If this week they don't have crowd control and there's a lot of foes, maybe they'll decide that combat is one they want to avoid or solve some other way. (This advice doesn't work if combat is the only solution, including to the point that avoidance and retreat are not on the table.)
Just to bounce off this. Combat should be one approach to a number of problems, but it shouldn't be the only approach.
 

Doc_Klueless

Doors and Corners
But on the same token, my free time is valuable too.
Damn straight!

My only objection was the characterization of players who only want to play D&D as lazy or afraid.
If they don't want to play, they should let me know so I can fix it or stop wasting my time preparing games and having to cancel when they call off at the last minute.
Absolutely! Last minute cancellations are the Devil's Work! I think that many players forget just how much time and effort the DM puts into the game.

As a player, I'm always cognizant of the effort the DM is putting into things. If I'm not enjoying the game, I tell the DM/GM why is a positive and constructive manner. Not in a whining, entitled way. Wish the group the best and move on. Hopefully freeing up a spot for someone who would enjoy the game.
 
Okay, dude, let it go. That post was not about you, so stop trying to take it personal. I don't even know who the hell you are and wouldn't waste my time calling you anything, implied or otherwise.

Don't want to play because you don't get on with some other players? Totally legit.
Don't want to play because you've tried the system and it's not your thing? Totally legit.
Don't like the setting or the premise or some other storytelling angle? Totally legit.
Don't want to play because it's not something you're used to and you don't want to take the time to try something outside of your comfort-zone?
Casual.

Elitist? Damn right it is. Let me tell you something you already know = A player runs one character. He reacts to situations and improvises his way through. And when he gets stumped or is just having a bad night, the other players can take up his slack.

But the GM runs the entire universe and everything and everyone in it, even down to how the laws of nature work. He has to run dozens, sometimes hundreds of NPC's that are above the level of movie-extra quality. And he's got to have a plan to deal with every squirrely thing that the players will come up with to overcome the days or weeks of planning he's sunk into a single game session. Improvisation only gets you so far, so a GM better have a dozen backups ready to go. GM's aren't allowed an off-night or to get stumped, and there is no one to pick up his slack. A GM is expected to be on time and on target from beginning to end. And he has to do all that in such a way that he can work with the players to help them tell a heroic story of derring-do.

Barley 1 in 20 players ever gets the skills to be a halfway decent GM. Fewer than 1 in 1000 ever master it. And that right there is what make us the fracking ⭐Elite⭐.

That is what the Players at my table expect from me, and they in return give me the respect that I have earned from them. And any Casual that doesn't like it can go play Hello Kitty Online for all I care, because he's got no business sitting in the company of real Players.
 

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