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Keeping The Home Fires Burning

When I was a younger gamer back in my 20’s – all decked out in flannel and sporting a glorious mullet – I had the fortune and the free time to run my campaign on a weekly basis, and sometimes run more than one campaign in a week. In those days, I never had to worry about keeping up the excitement and interest level of my game, for myself or for my players. We were playing all the time. Flash forward nearly 15 years and dump the flannel for polo’s, the mullet for something less embarrassing, and add on a career, wife, and two kids, and my ability to run a game has been slowed down to once every three weeks.

With so much time off between games, keeping player interest and excitement between sessions has become more of a challenge. Players forget important details of the campaign, and dramatic cliffhangers go stale in the off weeks. While the at-the-table play is still excellent, there is a certain energy that is lacking when we are not at the table. So I have begun to look at ways to energize my players, and my game, between sessions.

Metagame…That Thing We Talked About Before

Last year, I wrote about ways to play your game between sessions: something called Metagaming [1]. To sum the article up, Metagaming is creating game moments outside of the game, in order to keep the game going between sessions. The best example for this is an email thread which covers a dialog between one of the PC’s and an NPC.

There is great opportunity in using Metagaming to add to your campaign, but it requires an investment of time outside the game. At my height of using Metagaming for my campaigns, I was writing nearly 50 emails a day. I was fortunate at that time to have a job where I could do my work and keep a volley of email going without getting fired. The results were fantastic, and created some incredibly rich material for our game, complementing everything that was happening at the table.

Today, I don’t have the kind of job that allows me to put up 50 Metagaming emails during the day, and several of my players are in the same situation. Evenings are possible, but with a number of us married, and some with kids, getting a sustained Metagame volley is difficult.

Getting Social

Since my current schedule is not conducive to Metagaming, there needs to be a way to continue some light discussion such that the GM and players could keep up a banter about the game, which in turn would keep up interest levels.

Banter could easily be generated with some small email, where the GM or Players could start a discussion and others could reply. While email would be fine, I thought that there might be another medium that would favor light banter; Social Media.

Something With A Bit Of Privacy

While I am not a closet gamer, I do not want to broadcast my campaign across Facebook. My Facebook account is made of a mix of Friends, Family, and Co-Workers, new and old. What I would need is a private social network. I considered a message board, but that would require my players to visit a separate site . I finally settled on Google+ [2], which all my players are on, for a number of reasons:

There are a few drawbacks to using Google+. The largest reason would be that unlike email, I won’t have an archive of mail to backup, or even reference, if rumors are true that you can only access your last 250 posts. For me this is acceptable, since my goal is to raise the level of casual banter about my campaign, and not engage in deep discussions or any Metagaming.

What Does Success Look Like?

My goal is to keep the campaign relevant during the time we are not playing. I can use the G+ Stream to post updates on things I am working on (notes, an interesting NPC, etc), questions to the players, and links to support material. Immediate success would then be comments from my players to my posts, as well as a +1 here and there. Long term success would be a raised interest in the game during the off weeks, though that will be much harder to measure.

Your Own Home Fires

If you are a GM who is not running weekly, what are you doing to keep the fires for your game stoked between sessions? Are you doing a little Metagaming, talking about it on email, or have you gone “social”?

11 Comments (Open | Close)

11 Comments To "Keeping The Home Fires Burning"

#1 Comment By MAK On September 9, 2011 @ 4:17 am

Our group has sadly gone pretty silent on the metagaming front – the reasons are the usual: more demanding jobs, (small) kids, etc. We have set up a host of online tools for metagaming several years back when the group members were living more apart than now (abroad even). The basic setup is a (Google groups) mailing list, (PBWorks) wiki, and GoogleTalk chat. For a 2005 tech offering, that has held up fairly well for our needs, the drying up of banter has been for other reasons.

#2 Comment By IronWolf On September 9, 2011 @ 5:33 am

We run weekly, but our group has been using our own personal message forums to keep in touch during the week. Often players that have more time will work on sub-plots on the message boards in private forums and such instead of consuming group game time. We also frequently discuss upcoming plans of action and decisions on the boards as well.

We also handle a lot of the mechanical between sessions on the boards as well. For example, I’ve been running Kingmaker and we handle the vast majority of kingdom building on the message forums, not on game night.

The forum solution has worked very well for us over the years.

#3 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On September 9, 2011 @ 5:54 am

Being a ‘mature’ (read ‘old’) gamer with a corresponding gaming group, what keeps our fires going is the thought of spending a few hours in adult company. I have no expectations or illusions that anyone is thinking about what their characters are up to between sessions.

Currently, I’m lucky enough to have a small weekly group, but I do have experience running monthly games with larger groups. In this case I try to make each session self-contained, so that there are no cliffhangers or unsolved mysteries between sessions.

#4 Comment By Bercilac On September 9, 2011 @ 7:50 am

Considering that “metagaming” already has an existing (and usually negative) meaning in English, perhaps “extragaming” (extra being the Latin for “outside”) would be more appropriate? It sounds exciting in English too.

Etymology rocks my socks.

#5 Comment By Roxysteve On September 9, 2011 @ 8:04 am

In my monthly Delta Green game I sometimes fire off a few “demands for information” from various uplines to a selection of players a couple of days before the game session then sit back. They have great fun with it.

The last time I did this, at a time when all the characters were under very close scrutiny for what amounted to a domestic terrorist event on their watch, produced 18 hours of in-character back-and-forth to which I was only peripherally aware. By all accounts they had a ball. Diceless Remote Roleplaying. Can’t beat it.

#6 Comment By EpicWords On September 9, 2011 @ 10:01 am

I don’t normally go around spamming blogs with shameless self promotion, but with this post, I can’t resist. I created Epic Words (www.epicwords.com) to solve exactly this problem for my own gaming group. Maintaining story continuity and interest when you only play once or twice a month is incredibly difficult without some kind of shared resource. And while traditional social networks can work, it’s not an ideal solution. Those tools were designed to solve a different problem: Maintaining social connections. I wanted to build a website that will solve the problem specifically for gamers. In essence it’s a social network for you and your players as well as a social network for the characters. You can blog and post in character.

#7 Comment By BryanB On September 9, 2011 @ 10:10 am

When I’m running a series of games, I am lucky to get two games into a month. And I don’t even have kids! I miss the weekly game. Even if it would be only three or four hours, a weekly game is nice for continuity and memory. Speaking of memory, I find myself taking more notes the other side of forty…. memory is not as good as it used to be. Probably a combination of age and too much damn minutia clogging those synapses. 🙂

So we get two six hour sessions in during the typical month. There is a gap between sessions that sometimes goes three or four weeks if real life intervenes. I decided to try and enhance the experience at the table by reducing or eliminating my least favorite activity at the gaming table – The Planning Stage.

I like to keep as lively a pace as I can when running a game. One thing that can bog a game down is planning. That’s when the group sits around coming up with a strategy or approach to the challenge. So we took the planning of a party’s approach to e-mail discussion between sessions. The group discusses what they think is going on, how the group should deal with it, and what they think the next step will be once the current expected challenge is overcome.

Taking “planning speak” to e-mail has done a great deal towards maintaining a greater actual play focus during our precious gaming time. It has eliminated much of the dead air and has also had the side benefit of helping me focus my session prep on player driven approaches and how it may impact the developing campaign.

#8 Comment By Lee Hanna On September 9, 2011 @ 10:31 am

Yahoogroups + email have been our platform for between-game banter or updating. Of the long-term campaigns that I’ve been in, only one has really had much in the way of metgaming, and that was mostly 2 players.

#9 Comment By BishopOfBattle On September 9, 2011 @ 11:35 am

I’ve been tackling this exact issue with my group! We play Shadowrun, which, fortunately, lends itself to self contained, episodic style game play (though I definitely try to keep in an overarching premise and recurring characters / events). I try to keep gaming to an average of once every two weeks, which isn’t bad, but life has a way of creeping in and messing things up or disorganizing my schedule.

Previously, we’ve used Email almost exclusively both for scheduling and for the occasional in character items. When we moved onto our second campaign a few months ago, I started using Facebook even more. Like you, I didn’t want to be broadcasting all our communications so I ended up setting up a Private Facebook Group to house everything. It lets me post messages for them to read, for the group to discuss things as they see fit and for other fancy things like link sharing or polls.

I’ve personally been using polls to give the players an opportunity to make choices and impact the upcoming session’s mission between games in an attempt to generate more interest between games (ie: you get an offer for a paying gig doing security on a shipment OR one of your buddies needs some assistance, though it’ll be pro-bono, what do you want to do?)

So far, results are inconclusive. My group hasn’t always been the best about communicating between games. I’ve continued using email as a backup figuring it allows players to use whatever they think is personally easiest to communicate with me and the group. Some players I hear from fairly often, others I almost never here from until game day (and often its the players with the full time jobs, busy home lives and families that respond to me most regularly while those with the most open schedule and free time who never get back to me, go figure).

Its something I keep struggling with, but feel like its necessary for our group which wants overarching continuity and the chance to explore personal issues, who don’t have time to meet weekly, and aren’t the best about being engaged and keeping the excitement going from session to session.

#10 Comment By graylion On September 10, 2011 @ 9:39 am

Wow, what a great article! Our current group of gamers (game masters and players) use [3] for a variety of current games and future games on the drawing board.

I have had the pleasure (many years) to use Yahoo groups, Google Groups, Grouply, Facebook, Email, ENWorld, etc for keeping gamers and games connected. Once I found EpicWords I just stopped looking.

The options are a plenty and we try to challenge the Admins with new options on a weekly basis. Some of our ideas are good some are half-thought out, but they are always responsive.

A few features that we really use:
Character Journals (Private & Public)
Forums, oh the forums
WIKIs (Wiki, References, NPCs, Quests)
XP (one of the most amazing features)
File uploads (pics, pdfs, character sheets)
Calendar Events for scheduling games and RSVP.
Activity updates
Email notifications
Die rollers

Now I love the fact that this site can be used across hundreds of gaming systems/rules, for both remote (pbp) games and local store/home games.

We use EpicWords to recap games sessions, layout the setting, places, NPCs. However we also use EpicWords between sessions to cover some of the one on one or individual characters tasks that do not involve the group. I have found myself looking at a player and saying great send me a post on PM on EpicWords for crafting that Shield, use the die roller and we will resolve online. I award bonus XP for backstory posted, character pics, and online participation in addition to standard game play. Quite frankly one of the things I use EpicWords for is to archive my campaigns and gaming ideas, it end up being my goto place for saving everything I do for gaming.

The following is a short list of various campaigns that I have started or participated in on EpicWords:

Mystara 4E

Pathfinder – Across the Ages

Pathfinder – Gather of the Gods

Revelations: First Seal (WOD Mortals)

Rifts (WOD Mortals)

Star Wars (WOD Mortals)

Twilight of Arcadia (Vampire 1E – Over 50 Players!)

I encourage anyone who has the need for this type of connection built specifically for gaming by gamers to check it out.

Game on!

#11 Comment By nolandda On September 23, 2011 @ 3:14 pm

So the trivial solution hasn’t been mentioned yet. My group also has a lot of dead air between sessions. A few days before the next session I send out an “As we last left our heroes …” email detailing recent events and asking if there is anything they want to accomplish in the next session.

It may not keep everyone engaged for weeks at a time, but for less work it avoids the problem of players completely forgetting important plot points.