“It’s like herding cats,” is the best description I’ve ever heard of being a GM. Your player characters have their own free will and spontaneous thoughts, trying to get them to go somewhere can be a challenge without forcing them to do so. But what happens when your actual players are difficult to herd to the table? You don’t game that week… or month… or six months. It can be frustrating, even discouraging a lot of the time. Personally, I’m going through a huge lull like this in my Saturday group and I was thinking about how I deal with this sort of thing, as I’m obviously not the only one with this problem.
I tend to get really disappointed when the game falls apart, everybody dropping like flies in our group chat to keep in touch. There’s something special about my Saturday group that scratches my gaming itch, though only in hindsight because I’m too self critical. When we get the night off, which is more often than not these days, reflecting on previous sessions helps me think about where I want to go with the current plot line. Off nights should be my writing time, where I map out where the PCs will likely go next or what have you. Usually, that doesn’t happen because I’m a schlub, but it’d be a good way to spend your sad time, I’d say. Personally, grasping at straws is what I find myself doing instead. Pestering the players that didn’t drop to come play another game, like FFG’s X-wing, 4 The Birds, a small vignette from my 13th Age game, Total Rickall, hell, something! There’s a reason for this too…
If your players get used to having frequent off days, you’ll get stuck in that trap for a long time. When my attempts to get people involved and keep with the Saturday gaming figure, it’s an indicator that we’re going to have a hard time meeting for a long time. Sometimes even a month and a half without the campaign being played. Sound familiar to anyone? My condolences, you are not alone! There’s a light to be had here, though. With my main game being 13th Age, this leaves me time to read the multitude of supplements that exist for the system. Find some different angles on your creativity when you suffer from the blight of gamelessness. A good example of this is right before we had this long push to run through a dungeon. I didn’t know what to do with the story, we had a long time off, and there was still much I hadn’t read in 13 True Ways. I dove into that book like David Boudia (an Olympic diver, if you miss that joke). Now, we’re marching the party towards Drakkenhall and I’m incredibly excited for what’ll befall them there… if we ever game again.
Sometimes having some time off will help you get excited about your campaign again. Frustration sets in, even with the best of us, when you play a campaign for too long. Even when it goes well, it doesn’t always go as you picture and can make you feel squashed because you liked your ideas. Such is the life of a GM. The extra free time gives you an opportunity to explore what other works have done with the setting, sparking your own creativity.
To do a 180 from that idea, I also read other systems. Lately, I’ve been reading John Wick’s 7th Sea (which has me unbelievably intrigued). Reading other systems can give you ideas on how to handle certain situations mechanically, even if the mechanics in the other game doesn’t fit yours 100%. It frees your mind from the cage that is your main system; it always pays to be well rounded.
If you find yourself too discouraged to read/write, do something that I feel like too few groups do: hang out with the remaining people. Even if they’re not down to game, maybe they’re down to grab dinner, a drink, or a movie. It’s easy to slip into the mindset of, “these are the people I game with.” Spending time outside of game with your group helps solidify the relationships within. It doesn’t scratch that itch, but at least it doesn’t leave you sulking at home. If you get along with your group outside of game, chances are you’ll get along better within it. Nurture that relationship, it’ll make you feel good. That’s not always true though, so don’t take it as gospel.
When all else fails, you could always open up some dialogue about schedule in your group chat/email/whatever. Maybe your gaming schedule is too frequent, or even too sparse. Finding that sweet spot is so incredibly important, it’s not even funny. The more you stick to the schedule, the less likely you’ll miss games.
So there you have it. A rambly, probably non-nonsensical article about how I keep myself from disbanding my group after many consecutive weeks of not playing (those thoughts are real).
Stay Metal \m/