Monday, August 24, 2015

Cat Herding - DM thoughts

We’ve all been there.

Scenario #1

It’s the day before the gaming session, your friends have all been looking forward to this particular session, since every plot line seems to be heading to their respective ends. Your characters have all gone through some type of development, and on top of that you are very close to leveling up. This is it guys, this game is going to change everything. After this session, our lives will be completely different, for the sole fact that so much awesome stuff is going to happen in it, that your very way of playing RPGs is going to be completely redefined.

Oh.. what’s that? Billy can’t make it because he has a family party to attend to… Oh well, no problem, it’s a shame Billy won’t be there to witness the awesome, but oh well… you really can’t expect him to leave his family hanging right?

Oh wait… If Billy can’t come, that means his girlfriend Vanessa, can’t come either. And she’s the fighter, so… oh wel we still have a reasonably strong party without the mage and the fighter right?

Wrong, because now Franck is feeling kinda sick, and he’s the healer (oh irony, thou art a soulless bitch). Virginia actually feels more like going to the beach on Saturday, and Patrick hasn’t picked up the phone in FIVE (5) DAYS!  GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER PATRICK!

By now the party feels like they should wait until everyone is able to play. So you postpone the game until everyone is able to make it to the game. Then Patrick shows up at your front door, because he didn’t know the game had been postponed.

That’s because you didn’t pick up the phone Patrick. You didn’t pick up the phone…


Scenario #2

You’ve been preparing this game for MONTHS now. About a year ago you bought the core books for a new tabletop RPG that seemed interesting at the time, but you never had the chance to actually play it. So at one point you get your friends together and mention that you have a game that you’d like to play. You get them hyped explaining the way the system works, and how the character creation process is the coolest thing since Eskimo pies. You even go as far as creating a character for each one of your friends, just so you don’t have to waste a whole night in character creation. You set a date. The weeks go by… you’re ready for this…

5 days before the game

“Hey dude, sorry but I TOTALLY forgot I had this thing I have to go to. I know the game is like a week away, but you guys can play without me right?”

4 days before the game

“Hey, I’m not sure I can make it to the game on time, there’s this thing I have with this [girl/boy] and I might be a little late, is that ok?”

3 days before the game
“Yo, can we play on [xday] instead of [the day we agreed on 2 months ago]? There’s this thing I want to go to on that day…”

2 days before the game
“Hey guys, good news. I can make it to the game, but only for like… 2 hours, I need to leave after that because of things and reasons”

1 Day before the game
“Hey has anyone seen Patrick?”

There is a Patrick in every group... right Patrick?

So you postpone, pick a better date and hope against hope that everyone will show up this time.

This, my friends, is called “Trying to get a group of geeks together to play a game of ANYTHING”. Also known as “CAT HERDING”. Now, this is not a post about how to make your friends go to ALL of your games, and get rid of scheduling problems for the rest of your life.

No, my sweet summer children…

This is a post where I tell you how to deal with this situation and learn to cope with it. In all my years as a Dungeon Master and gamer, there has always been one thing that does not vary. And that is: We geeks have a hard time getting together to play a game. There’s always a thing that gets in the way, and let’s be honest, the older you get the less free time you have to play a game. So having a job, being married, having kids, and maybe another hobby in your life will inevitably take up some, if not all of your free time.

This is a thing that happens; this is life, and there’s nothing we can do to change that. What we CAN do is develop some flexibility, tolerance and understanding.

If you players can’t get to the game, you can try to re-schedule to a date that fits everyone in the party. After all it’s no fun to get to a second session of a campaign and then suddenly you realize that some really important stuff happened while you were gone and you weren’t there to witness it. Always try to get everyone to play in your sessions. Work around your schedule and have everyone agree to a date in your calendar in which you can all play.

What if it keeps happening?
If up to 3 of your party members keep having to re-schedule or simply don’t show up. It may be time to have a serious talk with them and let them know that their absence is felt at the table. You will probably have to remove them from your group in the kindest way possible, and open up their spots to other people who might be able to play on those days. It sucks because you probably wanted to play with them, but if they can’t, then there’s no way around it.

What if I have too many games?
Maybe you have more than one game that you’re running at the moment. Sit down and analyze how much time you actually have in a week. Take away the time you need to spend on your job, then your family life, then the time you need to spend on house chores, and finally add to that the preparation time for your games. If you can barely make time to run 3 or 4 games in that week, then it’s more than likely that your players also don’t have the time to play them all. Give it some thought, and learn when to drop a campaign. No DM likes it, but hey, sometimes it’s the smartest thing to do.

What about Patrick?
Kick Patrick out of the group. He’s a great friend, we all love him, but if you’re going to be MIA for weeks and then when you do show up you mess up the gaming schedule, just let him know that once you all finish the adventure, he may re-join when you play another game as long as he commits to showing up on time and be involved in the game. But right now he’s just messing with your schedule.

In conclusion, Cat herding is always going to be present in our lives, simply because we cannot spend all of our time gaming around a table. We’re human beings and as such we all have our basic needs and sadly, tabletop gaming cannot possibly fulfill each and every one of them. As gamers (and especially if you’re a Dungeon Master) we need to be able to understand that sometimes, game night is just not going to happen. But there’s always another day, another weekend, another chance to get together and play. And if your game is interesting and compelling, your players will go out of their way to make time to go to your games.

Thanks for reading!