I’ve written about the agony and frustration of organizing a gaming group before, offering advice on how to coordinate schedules and expressing my frustration when the rest of the group isn’t on the same page. Recently, I was talking with a friend about this subject again and we were commiserating on how hard it is to get a group’s schedule to line up and how frustrating it can be when it isn’t the same level of importance to everyone involved.
Over the years, I’ve seen how groups live and die based on scheduling and how much the group respects that scheduling. My first group that started in high school was a loose collection of people the GM would wrangle. It all revolved around him and because of the nature of what we were playing (usually super lethal 1e and 2e D&D) there were rarely campaign concerns that needed a consistent group of players. The folks I found in college were much more static about who was involved, but there was still only one GM and he often had difficulty maintaining a commitment to any one campaign. Eventually, we all stayed close friends, but the gaming faded away as adult lives got in the way. Today I have a local group that has been going strong for well over a decade, but that has taken a lot of determination from a couple of us that are too stubborn to fail. I also have a couple of online/remote groups, but scheduling is still tough and though our campaigns are wonderful, they’re sporadic.
Over the years, to maintain my own sanity, I’ve had to accept that not everyone is going to rank their commitment to a game group as high as I do. Gaming means a lot to me and it’s a hobby I have obsessed about for literally decades. I mean, I do write for a blog about this stuff after all. Not everyone who enjoys gaming is going to hold it to the same lofty pinnacle that I do. Many of these folks are still totally worth gaming with, but they’re not going to be the ones to initiate organizing and wrangling a group into playing. There are also of plenty of folks who love gaming just as much and will do it whenever they can, but simply do not have the right temperament or skills to be good at organizing. The struggle is real.
If you’re organizing your game group:
- Be patient but persistent. When you’re trying to herd cats, patience is a virtue. Even if you’re working with a small group of gamers, it can be trying to try and balance everyone’s schedule and make the timing work. Finding a time that everyone can make requires patience or it will drive you insane. You also need to be persistent that a decision is made. So many groups will debate things endlessly and never actually decide on anything. Or worse, some folks will think a time was set, but the rest didn’t get that same message. Your persistence also helps in making sure everyone stays on the same page. Even though my group has a nominal ‘every-other-Friday’ agreement, I still send out a reminder at the beginning of the week to make sure everyone remembers what, when, and where.
- Find the method that works for you. This should go without saying, but if you’re in charge of keeping the group organized, you have to find a method of organization that works for you. Honestly, if you’ve stepped into the role as a group’s organizer, you’re probably pretty organized to begin with, but everyone needs to start somewhere. My group uses a shared Google calendar, but relying on only that doesn’t work. At the end of every game session, I check in with folks about the next session. This helps remind folks to bring up things like vacations, cons, or special events, and it lets us potentially reschedule which night we play on if necessary. There’s also that ‘week-of’ reminder I send out.
- Don’t burn yourself out trying to accommodate everyone. This is important. As I said above, not everyone will or can rank gaming at the same level of importance as you or I do. This doesn’t mean they’re not fun to game with, but their priorities may be different for a wide variety of reasons. Be honest with yourself when you’re struggling to coordinate and one person is consistently the problem. Maybe it’s worth it because you love gaming with that person, but maybe they shouldn’t be part of a weekly group. If the problem is they often forget about the game or have to frequently cancel, it might be time to say goodbye. Find the people that are at least in the same ballpark with your priorities. I accept that not everyone in my group will be as dedicated as I am, but they’re all willing to try and maintain our schedule.
If you’re agreeing to join a game group:
- Respect the efforts of the organizer. I don’t say this just because I am an organizer, but you will absolutely frustrate and burn out your group’s organizer if you’re dismissive of how much work they do to keep things going. Or, if you constantly brush off gaming because something else came up, you’re disrespecting the time and effort of not only the organizer, but the rest of the group. If you’ve agreed to be part of a group and agreed to a time to game, you owe it to them to do your best.
- Give as much warning as possible if you need to cancel. Life happens and things do come up, so it should be common sense to let everyone know as soon as possible when you have to cancel gaming. Unfortunately, I’ve seen the last-minute cancel that shouldn’t have been last-minute way too often to not bring it up. It’s incredibly disrespectful to the group as a whole and to the GM of the group. Do you know how much it sucks to be the GM who planned an adventure with a focus on a particular character only to have that character’s player not show up for game?
- Be realistic about your availability. Folks really want to game, so they sometimes agree to games that almost immediately fall apart because no one could admit they really didn’t have the time for it. Recognize when you’re the one consistently making scheduling difficult and take a moment to think about whether or not this group is going to work. Sometimes difficult scheduling is okay because everyone is on board with it, but sometimes it’s just getting in the way of everyone else’s fun. I have one online group that has difficulty with scheduling, but we generally still make it work. Another fledgling group I was part of last year died essentially on the vine because we as a whole weren’t realistic about what our time commitment could be. Understand your own limitations and find the group that fits that.
I think this is a pretty universal struggle for all of us who try and game regularly. There’s a reason there’s a ton of memes out there about the impossibility of game scheduling. I’m curious about your struggles and what you and your groups have done to get past this issue. I’d love to hear your advice on the subject.
I just make the game optional for players that don’t think they can attend consistently. I work with them (at character creation time if possible) to figure out a reason their player can pop in and out. They’re like recurring guest characters on TV shows. The players appreciate the flexibility and not having the stress of letting down the group if they can’t make it, and we can have players that otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate at all.
In the first campaign I ran, I knew from the beginning that one player was going off to school before the end of the campaign, so I hit on the idea of having his character secretly be the Big Bad of the campaign in disguise. He’d send me little notes over Discord between sessions of what his organization was doing, we had a big send-off session where he got to reveal his true nature and plots to the rest of the party, and then he got to stay involved just hearing how sessions went and directing his forces. It fit right in to his busy school schedule.
I’m starting up a couple of play-by-post campaigns where it’s like that for *everybody*. Everyone plays the head of a faction. In each round of play they get the news of what happened last round then have a couple days to send their faction on a mission. Each player also creates an NPC advisor that will act intelligently if they miss a round. It should only take a few minutes a round and it doesn’t penalize you if life’s crazy and you miss a few days, so I’m getting lots of players that would like to do a normal campaign but can’t fit it in. There will be inter-faction communication on the Discord channel for players that want to spend more time on the game, with the NPC advisors stepping in to speak for busy players.