Check for Traps
The Challenge of Campaigning

Alexander Macris | 14 Sep 2010 21:00
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If the answer is yes, read on. If the answer is no, then you are better off running casual one-off sessions then attempting a major campaign. That's your choice. But it's not an existential state of the world!

How Many Players?

How many players should you invite to your weekly campaign? Sadly, gamemasters are unevenly distributed, and as a result some gamemasters struggle to find even one or two players while others run the "only game in town" and have to actively limit their players to a manageable number. Acknowledging that reality, there is still a definite sweet spot for how many players you should aim for: three to seven, with five being ideal.

Why is five players the ideal number? With five players, you have enough to cover all the common roles or classes in any game, without so many players that there's duplication. You can give each player sufficient in-game attention without slowing the game down. If one or even two players can't make a particular session, you can still run with a group of three or more. And in terms of seating, most dinner tables have six seats, meaning there's one for you and five for them.

If you are one of the lucky gamemasters who has access to a wide pool of players, you can certainly run with seven (I do), though it will slow the game down a bit. If you have more than seven, though, it's better to split them up into two groups, or get another gamemaster to help you out.

Tabletop Campaigns are Team Sports, Not Social Events

If you're planning to start a successful campaign, you need to explain to your friends that you are not hosting a series of social events. You are starting an intramural sports team, and asking them if they'd like to be on the team.

It's true that role-playing games are like social events in that much of the fun is socializing with your friends. But the problem with treating an RPG as a social event is that the etiquette of social events does not lend itself to RPGs at all. Consider the notion of "fashionably late" at a social event - where you demonstrate your social status by not bothering to show up until the event is already underway. Or consider the notion of "stopping by" a social event, where you put two-three events on the schedule and visit each one for only a portion of the time. Or even consider "blowing off" a social event, where you simply don't attend because something better came up. You can throw a party that way, but you sure can't run an RPG when the players are fashionably late, stopping by, or blowing it off.

That's why I recommend you position the campaign as akin to a sports team. People can often have trouble understanding why they need to show up on time and stay through until the end at a social event, but everyone understands that the quarterback needs to show up at the football game and finish the game.

Moreover, many if not most people have been on an intramural sports team at one point in their life, and so it's a simple analogy for them to understand and puts into perspective the time commitment. A player who balks at committing to your campaign as an intramural sport is almost certainly a player who will miss a lot of sessions. And that's important, because missing sessions is one of the worst thing a player can do to a campaign.


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