IN THE SHADOW OF THE SPIRE
In which unknown friends are met for the second time, recompenses are paid for broken doors, and the mysteries of a box raise unopened questions…
After the incompatible schedules that resulted in the prelude sessions of the campaign, we finally managed to schedule our first session. Unfortunately, one of our players unexpectedly got held back for extra overtime on the night of the first session.
Since all of our schedules were quite limited, we decided to get started without the missing player. I handled this through the simple expedient of having Alysta wake up early and leave the Ghostly Minstrel. (Alysta is Elestra before she was Elestra. See the retcon for details.) This actually worked very well (since it added an extra layer of mystery to the “missing member” of their group).
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last time Alysta’s player would be held back or gain unexpected hours at work.
I’d like to say that I found some magical solution for this sort of thing, but I didn’t. The reality is that scheduling a stable group of five people for a regular or semi-regular activity is tough: The modern world is a busy, busy place.
An open game table, of course, is one way to deal with this sort of thing. (Like I’ve said in the past: If you love to play roleplaying games, you owe it to yourself to have an open table in your back pocket. You will be able to play a lot more.) But it’s not a magic cure-all: There are things you can do with an intense, closed campaign that are difficult or even impossible at an open table. I love the In the Shadow of the Spire campaign, for example, and it’s not something that could be duplicated at an open table.
ON THE MATTER OF ATTENDANCE
With that being said, my personal philosophy for a closed game is that we don’t play unless all the players are present. Players will tell you it’s “okay” if somebody else runs their character. And, at first glance, it will all make sense: Sure, our schedules aren’t 100% compatible. But they’re compatible enough that we can play more often as long as we’re willing to occasionally miss a player or two, right?
But, in my experience, a couple of things happen:
First, it creates a sense that it’s OK for players to cancel or skip out on sessions. After all, they’re not really letting anyone down, right? The game is still going to happen, right? This pretty much inevitably results in more frequent absences.
Second, player absences will inevitably degrade the very things that make a closed game specifically desirable — shared experience, intensity, focus, investment, etc.
So, for me, there are closed games where everybody needs to show up if we’re going to play. And there are open games where I don’t care who shows up. And there’s very little gray area inbetween.
ON THE MATTER OF SCHEDULING
One school of thought holds that the best way to build regular attendance is to schedule regular sessions: If gaming is always every other Tuesday, then people can build that into their schedules.
Realistically, this doesn’t work for me. Our schedules are all too variable and conflicts inevitably arise; and the system doesn’t lend itself to flexibility. What I prefer, as a GM, is to send out an e-mail asking for everybody’s conflicts for the coming month. Then I sit down, crunch out the conflicts, and find the 2 or 3 days that we’re all available.
Our goal is to average about 2 sessions per month. In order to achieve that in practice, however, I’ll “overbook” by scheduling 3 or 4 dates if they’re available. It’s likely 1 or 2 them will end up getting canceled when something comes up. (And if they aren’t, then we just get a little more gaming done that month. No reason to complain.)
LETTING PLAYERS GO
Part and parcel with this philosophy is that sometimes you have to let players go: If they just can’t make the scheduling commitment necessary for a closed table, then the rest of the group will be better off if you cut them loose.
Which is another reason for having that open table in your back pocket. There are lots of people I love gaming with for whom a long-term commitment to a regular, close campaign is impossible. I’m glad I don’t have to miss out on the opportunity to play with them.