For the last year, the local organized environment featured just 4th Edition D&D. One Pathfinder Society GM ran a table, but had the same players show up consistently and wound up closing his table and running it as a campaign. A few home groups met publicly for a week or two to recruit an extra player, Call of Cthulhu recruited and filled two tables for months, but everything else sputtered and died. Until recently.

What Worked Before

Previously, there were three successful recruitment efforts. The strange thing is that it’s hard to pinpoint what the common ground was–they were very different campaigns, settings and styles. Here’s a bit more about each.

D&D Encounters
D&D Encounters is a specifically designed campaign modeled on their Friday Night Magic program in many ways. It’s nationwide, always runs on Wednesday, is tied to retail locations, and is coordinated from their website. So no matter where you go, there’s a familiar way to meet local gamers and get the anticipated experience.

Part of its success is the drop in, low continuity nature of the game. Much like old RPGA modules, and UNlike most home games, different people show up each week, often with different characters from their stable. There are a couple significant differences from the old RPGA plots:

  1. Increased Continuity: There are 10-20 adventures serially linked, so the previous session leads into the next.
  2. Time: Encounters adventures are intended to run 1-2 hours, rather than 3-5.
  3. Level: Encounters runs in a narrow band, usually from levels one to three, then restarts, instead of running up and up. While the restarts are annoying to veterans, it encourages new players.

Call of Cthulhu
Sheila ran games at local RPG Meetups, and wowed people with her detailed descriptions and game mastering skills. So when she offered to run a regular Cthulhu game, she had many interested people. In fact, she had so many that after running for a few weeks, her wait list was long enough that she started a second table on alternate weeks!

A big part of the success is difficult to replicate–Sheila’s just a good GM–but consistent scheduling set expectations and made player retention easy. It was so successful that after her tables ran to the end of the campaign (and the world’s end), most of them signed on for another campaign.

Old Pathfinder
The old Pathfinder table was popular, but turnout was inconsistent, with only one GM who showed up regularly. After a couple months of having the same six players show up (with an odd number of extra people), the GM closed the table to increase continuity. He’d been frustrated by the “clean slate” assumption of most Pathfinder Society modules, and the default assumption that this week’s betrayal didn’t have repercussions the following week.

The New Champion

Over the last few months, a lot of people were disappointed that there were no available Pathfinder Society games. A few people offered to run GM Pathfinder games, but no regular groups developed–just a lot of frustrated half built groups, stranded players, and GMs who wondered why all the the players who said they were so eager never showed up.

So what changed?

  1. Over the last several months many other groups have tried out Pathfinder on their own, creating an eager player pool.
  2. Our local mini-con had a lot of slots devoted to Pathfinder games. They filled up, revealing that there were more than 20 people eager to play Pathfinder regularly.
  3. One local GM, Will, committed to running Pathfinder Society games every Sunday. He recruited other GMs he’d met at Encounters and personal friends. It launched with two GMs running tables; since it launched he recruited additional GMs so that individuals don’t burn out running week after week.

The local group has been meeting for the last month, steadily adding new players. They’re now filling three tables regularly, and are getting enough GMs to seat everyone.

My Advice

If your local store doesn’t have a thriving community, that can change quickly. It just takes one dedicated person. (Ideally, though, you’ll have a bench of other GMs ready in case it takes off–running every week can be grueling.)

Consistent scheduling makes success easier to attain. Weekly is much better than alternating weeks–if there’s a game every Sunday, you’ll head down. If it’s every other Sunday, wondering if this is the “on week” may frustrate players, depressing turnout.

An awesome GM who demonstrates their skill can build a steady group for any system. If that’s not you, then look into organized play for the big systems. The national portability, consistent rules, and clear expectations might draw in people you’ve never met!