Tuesday, August 24, 2010

“Egads, there are a lot of you!”

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.


Blair said...

I ran a group of eight players recently. It was awesome (I felt like Gygax!), but involved a lot of intensive "kitten herding."

Badmike said...

Some great points, Michael. I've heard the refrain "But I can't find anyone to play Old School D&D with!" so many times, yet when I suggest online/Skype gaming (I have a Skype campaign that is now on it's 30th session, and we are having a ball), then it's "No, I only play face to face gaming." No, it looks you you aren't playing ANYTHING. Isn't SOME gaming better than NO gaming, even if it's in a medium you aren't familiar with?

You are lucky to have that many players willing to meet week to week for face to face gaming, but alternatives exist for someone who (like me) have a hard time getting that many friendly faces in one room each week. I've about decided people who complain about not playing aren't trying hard enough and just really need something to complain about.

Greyhawk Grognard said...

I used meetup.com to get my own current game going. The beautiful thing about it is that the system handles all the logistics of who's going to show up, manages the waiting list (I cap my game at 6 players plus myself, so there's usually a waiting list), and there's a built-in pool of players looking for a game.

If there's not already a gaming, RPG, or D&D meetup in your area, you'll need to spend the $15 a month for a paid meetup.com account to start up your own, but it's really not that onerous if you're serious about finding players.

Michael Curtis said...

If there's not already a gaming, RPG, or D&D meetup in your area, you'll need to spend the $15 a month for a paid meetup.com account to start up your own, but it's really not that onerous if you're serious about finding players.

This is exactly what I did. There was an established RPG Meet-up group for the Long Island area, but I found them to be unsupportive of any game not willing to drive an hour to meet in their "official" game store (which is in the next county over from me). So I paid the money and started my own damn Meet-up group dedicated to playing old school RPGs. That's been slowly drawing people out of the woodwork, but allows us to also coordinate game sessions and serves as a ongoing advertisment to the fact that we're out there playing these types of games.

Michael Curtis said...

You are lucky to have that many players willing to meet week to week for face to face gaming

I don't think I'm particularly lucky. I think our group just put in the necessary effort to find people to fill our table. Once you reach a certain point, initeria takes over and people are attracted to what's going on.

I can't remember where in the blogosphere I read it, but the best advice I've seen in years was to be the type of gamer you want to play with. That advice has served me well.

I've about decided people who complain about not playing aren't trying hard enough and just really need something to complain about.


New Fish In An Old School said...

Thank you for this post, Michael. As someone new to the OSR, I'm working at finding players who want to play the odler versions of D&D. You've given some nice food for thought.

ghostofmarx said...

OK I have a related dilemma. I have a game group but they do not want to play old school games (currently playing Pathfinder). I want to run old school games. DO I dump my current group to try to get players that want to play the game I want to run? Also I am the game master of this current group.

LordVreeg said...

The numbers game.
Different rulesets can accomodate different amounts of players. One of my live groups is at 8 players, and I am aware that I am at the limit for the math-heavier game.

Michael Curtis said...

@ghostofmarx: This isn't an advice column and I can't tell you what to do. But it seems to me that if you want to play one game and your players want to play another, you're going to have to decide what is more important to you -- playing the game you want to or having a safe, established gaming group. Maybe you can have both. It all depends on what you decide to do and how much effort your willing to put in to make it happen.

AndreasDavour said...

Herding cats, eh?

I once had a session coming, and while we were waiting for the group to assemble Jim, Dick and Harry (and their cats) called and asked what was up. I ended up with 9 players that day.

That many people had me not only stand up, but also having to move about in the room to see and hear everyone sprawled on chairs and couches around the room. I'm amazed it worked at all.

jbeltman said...

If you want to run two parties when you get a new person you could say to the new person that they can join the game but they have to be in the new group. Then tell your other group that you have started a new group on x night and if anyone wants to swap over they can (make it happen in game as well). I imagine that a couple at least will swap over. Even if they don't you can still just add any new players you get to the new group.

I was reading some gaming advice on a blog recently, but I cannot for the life of me remember which one, where they suggested that having two separate parties running around in a sandbox will make both parties really competitive because they won't want to lose any treasure etc to the other party. You get to the dungeon; oh it's empty! Looks like the other party got here before you.

Tenkar said...

I would have joined mike when he started his meetup group up, but the county he didnt want to travel to is BETWEEN his county and mine ;)

long island - a nice place to visit if you like sitting in traffic ;)

game on!