I had my main gaming group for over 20 years. That’s quite a feat in terms of people being around, sticking together, etc. In some ways it was quite a treat, I always had a group to game with. In some ways it was a challenge, working to keep the group together, deciding on what games we wanted to play, etc. Today, my gaming life is a bit more fluid. I know more gamers than ever before, and I have access to dozens of new and exciting games. The question becomes, do I keep the group I have and play some of the games, or do I build groups to play different games?
Hello! This is my first article since the Stew changed hands. For those of you who have been around for a while, it’s nice to be back, and for you new followers, hello. I am looking forward to many more articles to come.
Kinds of Groups
In essence, there are two types of gaming groups that form. Each has their purpose as well as their pros and cons. The two forms are:
Static Gaming Group
The static gaming group is a group that forms to play games. They play one game and when that is finished, they pick a new one and play that one. Over the years, members may join and drop out, but the core of the group remains, year after year. Groups like this can play one-shots, small arcs, and long campaigns.
The static gaming group centers around a fixed group of people playing games. The focus is less on the games and more on the group. Often this group has ties outside of the game. They are often friends and co-workers. They may also engage in other activities as the group, in part or in whole, outside of gaming.
- Availability. There is always a group around for gaming.
- Consistency. This group often has a set time for gaming and a regular schedule.
- Familiarity. This group has played together for a while, they know each other, what is safe, what is off-limits, etc.
- Social Connection. This group is often friends, and thus getting together is a time to enjoy each other’s company, share stories, etc. There can be social problems, outside the game, if someone leaves the group or the group removes a person.
- Game Limitations. Depending on the group, there may be games that the group does not want to play. They may only enjoy one system or one setting, or dislike a certain setting.
- Stagnation. It’s possible that after a long period of time there is nothing new about the group, what it does in play, etc. You are playing in your comfort zone.
- Insular. Sometimes these groups become resistant to playing with others or make it difficult to add new members. This can make adding new members a challenge.
The game-orientated group is a group that is formed to play a single game. Once the game has concluded the group disbands and finds other games to play, and not necessarily with each other. This group works well for one-shotsÂ orÂ convention games, but can sustain a longer campaign.
The game-orientated group centers around the game being played. This group may not know each other past the confines of the game, and may only interact when playing or for game-related activities.
- Focus. This group is here to play the gameÂ and play it they will.
- Interest. The game is the focus of this activity so everyone here is committed to playing this specific game.
- Temporary. You are not married to this group. You can leave anytime without it being a social incident. There is freedom in that.
- Assembly. Sometimes finding all the right players for a specific game can be difficult. Though thanks to on-line play, it’s not as challenging as it use to be.
- Gaps. You may find yourself between games when one group ends and the next one can begin.
- Strangers. At first, you may not know some or all of the people you are playing with, and you will have to learn their styles, safety limits, etc. It is possible you may not like them.
Making The Choice
When thinking about the type of game group you want, think of the experience you desire. Are you someone who is looking for a social experience that includes gaming? Or are you looking to play a specific game? The answers to those questionsÂ will help you narrow into the kind of group you want.
For most of my life I have had a static gaming group, and never considered making another group for a specific game.Â However, as I am looking at the range of new games coming out–especially the Powered by the Apocalypse games–I am starting to see that there are games I want to play that members of my static group may not be interested in, and yet I still want to try them out.
Right now, I am waiting for my copy of Undying to arrive. This is a game of dark vampiric politics. My static group is not a great fit for that game. They are a bit more lighthearted, and I want this to be a much darker game. So I am considering finding a group of gamers to just play this game with me. Some of them will come from my static group and others will be friends I use to play Vampire: The Masquerade with.
I am excited with the idea of building a specific group for a specific game. I like the idea of a group 100% into the game we are playing, not making compromises about setting and system, and getting down to business.
Keep ’em Or Recruit ’em
There are reasons for both static and game-orientated groups. It really comes down to what your purpose is for gaming: community or games. That is not to say that you can’t become friends with your game-oriented group or that your static group can’t be 100% behind a game, but rather it’s more about your feelings of what you want out of your hobby.
So do you have a static group, a game-oriented group, or both? What game have you always wanted to play with your static group that has never made it to the table? What types of games do you play with your game-oriented group? Have you ever had one group flip into the other?
Before I moved a few years back, I had a static group for about 8 years or so. We played all sorts of games. After distance changed that, I tend to invite people who would like particular games and run them as mini campaigns with definite ends. Gaming at conventions really changed my perspective of gaming groups.
Mine are very static, I think. That seems to be the default mode for my friends and I, and it seems to be the model for my teenage son and his friends. The group comes first, the game can be short or long.
For my first 15 years of gaming, I had static groups. Usually I’d play in two different groups, each with different tastes. One group could enjoy 2e D&D heroics, while the other was more a White Wolf gathering. Around 2006, I met people that I enjoyed gaming with so much, that I joined their long established static group, while continuing to play with my own long running static group (which was developing more issues and holes).
Today, I’m fully in the “both” camp. Mondays are for my friends–we enjoy food and Night Witches, or Kingdom, or D&D… whatever people are interested in running. On Fridays, the indie gaming group runs short series (4-10 session games) with a subset of players who are interested in each game. Right now, I’m looking forward to Dogs in the Vineyard; four of us are starting next Friday. We’re already discussing what to run when Dogs winds up… and who will join each game.
I think Phil is right on target with this article.
I would bet that most tabletop groups are of the Static Variety with all of those inherent strengths and weaknesses.
With the rise in online gaming via Fantasy Grounds, Roll20, or the like I think we are seeing a rise in the Game-Oriented type of group. A game is advertised and people buy-in to the idea of playing that particular game. And when the game is over they can move on to the next.
I think you’re very right; before I met you and the Hanford guys, I figured that the internet was the only place I’d get to play my indie darlings. I’m happy to be proven wrong–but as the tech gets better, it’s nice to see “Dogs in the Vineyard, who’s interested?” get people passionate about Dogs to the table.
I’m very lucky in that I have a static group that is pretty much game for anything. There are a couple of limitations – I’m not a fan of Cthulhu games, a couple of my players dislike playing teen characters, so no teen supers games for me to run – but for the most part, if someone brings a game to the table they want to run, we’re all in.
A long time ago, I heard an adage that stated, “don’t game with someone you wouldn’t invite over for dinner” and that always struck me. If I build a game group, I want them to be people whose company I enjoy and could probably do other social things with. So, for the most part, when I’ve wanted variety or a change of pace, I’ve relied on conventions. I think, though, if I didn’t work evenings, I’d probably try building a group to run that teen super heroes game I want to run. 🙂
Static group for many years but with understanding that I was open to others DMing which rarely happened. Due to me not wanting to burnout or stagnate, the understanding is there would be 1-2 sessions to try new things out. If it caught on we might play something new for a couple of months before returning to long running campaign. Last year was moving from new system to new system about every 1-3 months which kept me engaged and inspired some really awesome games. Also to keep number below threshold in case someone wants to join in. For me I limit group to 6 or 7 but usually am running 3-5 so gives me ability to expand group.