The Watchfires & Thrones group has developed a glandular condition and grown to an unnatural size. Last Sunday’s game saw me staring out at a sea of faces crowded around a single kitchen table. With the return of one player who had been away for two months on personal business and the addition of a new player, our formally tiny little band is now nine people (eight players plus me behind the screen). This tread seems to be continuing, too. Next Sunday, we’re going to have a guest player (a gamer who’s up visiting and will be playing the dwarf hireling) and possibly introduce another regular player to the group. It seem like just a few weeks ago it was me and one other player meeting up at the FLGS to try and drum up interest. We we’re looking for two more players to start with because, as I said back then, if we could get three, we could get more. My oracular powers are truly astounding.
But it’s an often-repeated fact that while size does not matter, being entertaining does (case in point: the 1998 version of Godzilla). This has been my number one concern since our group first began to show signs of growing robust. This campaign has been my first true refereeing gig since my brief turn behind the screen to playtest Stonehell—a session that revealed to me exactly how out of practice I had become during my time away from the hobby—and I’ve been anxious not to screw it up. Yet, from all indications, my players are seemingly having the time of their lives. The phrase “best campaign I’ve ever been in” has been used within my earshot on at least two occasions so I must be doing something right (either that or my players have suffered through a long string of completely abominable games before meeting me).
I’m continuing to fine tune the game as we go, allowing it to develop organically through play and by where the PCs’ interests take them. Some house rules continue to be modified (we had a change in critical hit protocol last session) and others wait in the wings to be unleashed (counterspelling is going in the first time the adventurers meet up with spell-throwing enemies). I’ve planted the very first seeds to get people thinking about the D&D endgame now and to start casting their eye towards the frontier.
The biggest issue I’m wrestling with is when and if to say, “No more.” There is part of me (a very big part) that says, “Keep ‘em coming. I can take on all challenges,” and see if Watchfires & Thrones ever reaches the mythic numbers of Eld that required a Caller to keep things running smooth. I can’t lie: having a huge group of people playing old school D&D would be amazingly cool, especially since there’s plans underway to greatly increase our FLGS’s available gaming space so that it could accommodate a large group playing a single RPG. However, I’m not so self-deluded that I fail to see that my own ego is largely behind this desire.
Another option would be to investigate the feasibility of splitting the group into two separate parties that meet at different times and/or days. I’m not certain everyone would agree to this because the camaraderie of the players is one of the reasons to attend each week. Having to divide the players would impact the social aspect of the game now that we’ve gotten comfortable with one another over the last eighteen sessions.
The last course is to firmly set our limit and to turn away any newcomers. That number should be one lower than the amount of players I feel I can't comfortably handle. Unfortunately, I won’t know that number until I reach it. Back in college, I ran a very short-lived World of Cockamamie Darkness game that had either ten or eleven players running all types of critters from WoD titles. I’ve organized LARP games with thirty-plus players, but that sort of controlled chaos doesn’t really compare to sitting everyone around a table and keeping things flowing. The number of players I can handle in a Labyrinth Lord game remains an unknown. However, the fact that I spent all of last Sunday’s game literally on my toes (refereeing standing up) suggests that we might be getting close to that magic number.
All this brings me to the Number One Lesson I have learned since February of this year. It’s a pretty harsh-sounding one and some people might misinterpret my tough love for simply being a dick, but here it goes:
With very few exceptions, if you’re not playing the game you want to play, it because you’ve made the choice not to.
That’s a solid truth, people. If you want to play a certain title, go out there and make it happen. Don’t stop trying until you find the absolute minimum number of people you need and then start playing. If that group falls apart, find another one. Just keep at it. You might have to make some compromises (play online rather than face-to-face, letting the complete stranger who hangs out at the game store sit in on a game, coming out of the gamer closet and asking some non-gamer acquaintances if they want to try, or meeting once a month rather than once a week), but you will be playing the game you want to. To give up before you reach your goal is a choice on your part and you only have yourself to blame for it.
Jim Raggi’s got some excellent advice on how to go about drumming up a group. I’ll admit that I thought he was being abrasive in his presentation when I read the piece a long time back, but, after being out there and playing the game I want to play, I’m now in complete agreement with him. You’re the reason for your predicament, pal. Take this as your wake-up call and do something about it.
I no longer expect to ever be not playing the game I want. Should I find myself in a position where I’m not playing the game I wish I was, I’ll take steps to rectify that situation, and should I fail to do so, I’ll know that that is because I either consciously or unconsciously made the decision to. In some cases, that decision might be the correct one (like in the case of having a newborn baby or having to meet financial necessities), but it is still a choice I made.