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Scheduling Your Gaming Sessions

Like many of the organizational aspects of gaming, as the GM you’ll usually be the one taking the lead when it comes to scheduling your group’s sessions.

There are five basic approaches to this task — let’s take a look at each them.

What Schedule?
This is pretty much how I gamed in high school — whenever we had free time, we played. The specific campaign varied quite a bit, often on short notice, but somehow it almost always worked out just fine.

The more scheduled your life is, the less likely this approach is to work for you. I’ve found that that roughly correlates to age and family commitments — I’m married, 30 and have a full-time job: there’s just no way this would work for me anymore.

Last Minute
“It’s Friday — are we gaming tomorrow?” This is about the bare minimum you can do in terms of scheduling, and there’s not really much to recommend this approach — especially from a GMing standpoint. Friday night isn’t when I want to find out that I’m running a game on Saturday, unless I’ve already got something in the hopper.

One Session Out
Always looking one gaming session into the future is a pretty good approach, and one that’s served me well over the years. If you rotate games or GMs, it gives the next person in the hotseat a bit of advance notice, and everyone can plan around the date you pick.

That’s really the key to scheduling for me: Plan around your gaming sessions, rather than planning your sessions around other commitments. Real life intervenes all too often, but it’s a good goal to keep in mind.

Game Night
Having a regular game night seems to be the most common approach to scheduling sessions, and it’s my personal favorite. For my current group, game night is Saturday — and even if something falls through at the last minute, we nearly always get together and hang out. I like that level of stability.

The only real downside to regular game nights is that when you miss a couple in a row, it feels more off than if your initial schedule was more flexible — which is where the next approach comes in.

Several Sessions in Advance
The most organized approach to scheduling is to grab a calendar, sit down with your group, and plan your next several sessions all at once. Based solely on anecdotal evidence, I’d say that this one is most common with established, long-running groups — the folks who’ve been gaming together for many years, and have a well-worn groove when it comes to making time to play.

I’ve never scheduled more than a session or two out, and even then I’ve had trouble with this approach — it’s tricky to keep up with when things come up at the last minute.

Which approach does your group use? Did I miss any big ones?

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#1 Comment By Stephen Ward On April 23, 2007 @ 6:58 am

Scheduling had always been a major issue in my brother’s game. One player was out every other week and the rest showed up sporadically. Unfortunately, it caused the dissolution of the campaign. Given how tolerant my brother is, it’s actually quite amazing that scheduling conflicts could drive him to cancel his game altogether. The fact is, though, that failing to schedule properly (or to have players who are willing and able to attend) can ruin a game completely.

That being said, I’ve always had good results with the One Session Out method. We’d have a quick chat at the end of each game about when everyone would be available for the next game and it worked out great. We’d occasionally get mid-week hiccups in our plans, but since we all communicated, it never turned into an issue. Thus, I would stress communication (phone tree, maybe?) as an integral part of scheduling.

#2 Comment By RedBullBear On April 23, 2007 @ 7:09 am

Most of the people I know game every other weekend or a specific Saturday every month. The game that I run is every 3rd Sat unless it has to be rescheduled. That works out great for us 30somethings.

#3 Comment By VV_GM On April 23, 2007 @ 7:28 am

I try to schedule games to be every other Saturday. Usually I send an email to my group during the last week of the month with next month’s schedule. It works out pretty well, but I wish we could get on a weekly schedule.

#4 Comment By Scot Newbury On April 23, 2007 @ 8:01 am

Scheduling has become an interesting item with my current group as we’ve been in a state of flux with locations, timing and players all changing. At the moment we’ve taken to the one session at a time method. We usually discuss the next session (sometimes two) at the end of a session with an email follow-up a few days prior to the next session.

In the past, when I was running a long term campaign with a regular location and time, I would publish in my campaign newsletter the schedule for up to three months in advance.

#5 Comment By drow On April 23, 2007 @ 8:26 am

my group started out gaming every saturday, since moved to every sunday. it works well for us, the only time we have to cancel is when a) the game host is unavailable, or b) the GM is.

#6 Comment By John Arcadian On April 23, 2007 @ 10:11 am

Usually my group has the scheduled gaming night. It has been friday’s, but that doesn’t work out well. We are looking at sunday afternoons to fit more people. The one session out approach isn’t something I’d though of in a big way, but I’m going to start looking at that. Even just as a verification at the end of the session. “We’re all still good with next sunday right?” I can see it working well with a gaming night, just to reaffirm and make sure people keep it at the top of their heads.

#7 Comment By DNAphil On April 23, 2007 @ 11:13 am

My group is all in their 30’s and 40’s most of us professionals, married, and several with kids. We have three campaigns going on, each on a tri-weekly rotation, and not everyone in the group plays in every game.

We have a Game Night, on Sunday’s in the evening at 6pm and play between 10:30 and 11:00pm.

But because of family events, business trips and the like, one of the members of the Group,each month contacts the group and confirms that all the upcoming Sunday’s are good. If not, that game group usually has a fall back date and makes adjustments. When the schedule is final (takes about a week), we upload it to a shared Google Calendar, so that all members have access to the final calendar.

#8 Comment By brcarl On April 23, 2007 @ 11:52 am

My group is made up of guys like me: 30-somethings with wives and kids (mostly).

We use a web forum and try to arrange sessions month-by-month, shooting for every other Saturday night. The GM usually won’t post the proposed calendar until a week or so before the new month, but for many of us our schedules aren’t nailed down until the week before, so it works out okay.

As for giving priority to gaming sessions versus other activities, that’s easy to say if your SO and/or children are both understanding and/or gamers. As it is my wife compares the hobby to cow-chip throwing, and my children are too young to participate yet (at least at late-night sessions). Some of the guys have gamer wives, but even they struggle with other commitments (social parties, sports practices, church events, etc.)

#9 Comment By hellibrarian On April 23, 2007 @ 12:44 pm

we have a regular Tuesday night game session. if someone is missing, like otherss have said, everyone else still usually shows and plays something (boardgames, videogames, hist the movies). the night we game has changed over the years since a couple of us work evenings and another bids for shifts every six months but it’s almost always been a weeknight. we keep in contact with a Yahoo! group and whenever someone has a schedule conflict we are all aware of it well in advance.

i’ve gotta say that Tuesdays have been great. falling close to the middle of the week, game night can really get me through the week. really looking foward to tomorrow since i’m continuing our Star Wars d20 campaign after a nice long 10 month break. 10 months of playing a male companion in a Firefly/Serenity campaign.

#10 Comment By Peter On April 24, 2007 @ 12:14 am

at the moment I’m busy in three campaigns. two as player and one as dm. The game I’m dm’ing uses the one session out approach. although it seems to be moving towards a every thursday night schedule. and this is the game that I can fit in best in my weekschedule. the other games are mostley on short notice, kinda like: “hey we are playing tommmorow, wanna come. by the way do you bring something to eat”

We also tried regular gamingnights. but that is not my thing. cause when someone can’t make it, you have to put the roleplaying on hold. And I don’t like it when I’m all siked for roleplaying, and for some reason we are gonna play other games.

#11 Comment By Frost On April 24, 2007 @ 7:59 am

The group I’ve been gaming with for the better part of 4 years has had a regular weekly game night. It’s a larger group (GM + 6 players), so if one or even two players don’t show, the game still goes on.

My group consists of people from their mid 20s to mid 40s. We all have fairly regular work schedules and currently play on Monday’s, from 6PM until about 11:30PM. If someone’s going to be absent, we usually know about it ahead of time.

A regularly scheduled game day works best for me because it has become a regular event in my week, so I don’t have to make arrangements to find time to play.

#12 Comment By carnivore On April 25, 2007 @ 6:43 pm

Scheduled: My game is every third Sunday per month. When I ran two campaigns – 1st and third Sunday.

#13 Comment By Martin On April 26, 2007 @ 8:52 am

It’s neat to see all of the different options GMs use to set up their schedules. I’ve never really taken advantage of tools like Google calendar or forums to arrange a gaming schedule, but it sure sounds more efficient than email. 😉