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Old Dec 31st, 2020, 04:14 PM
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The Elephant in the Room

WARNING: I may be about to express some slightly controversial views.

So I'd like to talk about the elephant in the room - why do so many games fail? It isn't just a phenomenon on this site. The majority of games, whether in-person or play-by-post, tend to fail.

To me, the answer feels simple and obvious, but for some reason we seem to be a bit loathe to talk about it - TTRPGs are not a casual hobby. A fun, successful game requires a commitment in time and effort. Not just from the DM, but also from the players. When the DM and player make that commitment, games succeed. When they don't make that commitment, games fail.

So what's the huge problem? Well, frankly, I think that Obviously, any stat I present would be made up. But I would be surprised if the percentage was as high as 90%.a VERY large percentage of people interested in the hobby are unable (or unwilling) to put in enough time and effort to make a game successful. They want to play. The idea of a TTRPG intrigues them. They have some TTRPG books on their bookshelf. They've played a couple of sessions of a game - that inexplicably fell apart, but their appetite was whetted. They've watched some episodes of Critical Role, and seen that a campaign can go on for years. They want that. But they haven't asked critical questions. Do I have the time? And am I willing to put in the effort, not just in the game sessions themselves, but also between sessions?

Now, the obvious (and expected) counter-argument to all this is that TTRPGs are just games and the players just want to have fun. That is undoubtedly true. But I've been playing TTRPGs for thirty years, and what I've found is that half-assed games are rarely (possibly never) that much fun.

And then the people in those games get disillusioned, and start looking elsewhere for a better game. But TTRPGs are not made fun by some mysterious, alchemical process. They're fun when players are able to develop the drama or comedy of a scene. They're fun when players roleplay their characters in interesting ways. They're fun when players help each other achieve interesting character arcs for their players. They're fun when the DM and players collectively craft an interesting story. Very little of this happens spontaneously. For the most part, the fun to be had in TTRPGs is created, purposefully, by the DM and the players, as a joint effort.

The other obvious counter-argument is that a lot of people have very busy lives. That's understandable. But what I'd suggest is that, as interested as they are in TTRPGs, it just isn't a realistic hobby for busy people. Perhaps if their circumstances change, they can revisit the hobby then. But until that time, its probably a better (and more fun) use of their occasional moments of free time to play catch with their kids, or read a chapter of a book, or take their partner on a date.

So whilst I'm thrilled that D&D and TTRPGs in general have had a bit of a renaissance in recent years... I'm less thrilled by how many games fall apart. It's disheartening when that happens, and it sucks out a little bit of the passion for the hobby every time it happens.

Last edited by Menzo; Dec 31st, 2020 at 04:17 PM.
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Old Dec 31st, 2020, 08:48 PM
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I don't see a thing controversial about your views...

People leave THIS hobby for the same reasons they leave ALL hobbies (or activities)...

Time
Money


The time issue isn't the length, it's the value of the time (it ties in to the concept you expressed, about having fun). If it's not fun, why waste time doing it?

If I could find a hobby that took 2 minutes to do, and left me with fun and excitement, and wonder and something to think about for six years, that would be the best hobby in the world (or, the most addictive, and I would forever chase the dragon, perhaps). But no hobby is that good.

All of them balance the investment (in time/value/money) to the return (fun/memories/shared experience). I will invest X hours a week, for a hobby that gives me Y hours of pleasure. If the value of X increases, and/or the value of Y decreases, I will begin to rethink the hobby. I don't do tabletop gaming anymore, because the value of X is way too high (I live far away from urban centers, I can't find gamers, those gamers are not dedicated/on time/routine/regular enough, etc.). But I switched to PBP, and I have had 12+ years of new enjoyment of the hobby... because my value of X is less than driving 1 hour one way to a game, for a couple hours of gaming, and an hour drive home, and my value of Y is very high.

One thing critical to THIS hobby, and you hit the nail right on the head, is that it is cooperative. I can't simply invest X time and get Y pleasure. I need others to invest X, and get some Y too. It's a social hobby. And while that tends to increase the Y (for most people), it makes it messy, as well, because now I have to rely on others.

Yup, games come and go. Because not everyone values X and Y the same as I do. They aren't having fun, or enough fun for the time, or other things take priority and make X smaller, and smaller, until there's not enough invested in X to get a return of Y.

And depending upon the definition of Busy, there are no hobbies for busy people. Because hobbies take free time, by definition. And the less free time you have, the less likely it is you will have a lot of hobbies. And if you do have time, just a tiny bit, you might have learned to NOT try to invest it in a social hobby, where you need to get others aligned to your time schedules too.
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Old Jan 1st, 2021, 01:58 PM
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I think the issue seems simple, but the answer is multifaceted. I'm going to try to touch on a few, but massively fail at approaching ALL the reasons games fail. I am specifically gearing this toward PbP RPGs.

First, one of the major concepts that should be inserted into each of the below posts is: Starting a new game is fun, relatively easy, everyone is excited, and it does not resemble the actual gameplay of a PbP game in meaningful ways. This is why way more games begin than successfully conclude.

*Not the Same Magic. I would imagine that 99%+ of us started our RPG hobby at a table with some paper, pencils (mechanical or otherwise), dice, and people we enjoyed speaking with in person. Then, for whatever reason, you reach out to play with strangers on a PbP board, such as this one. Is it the same experience? No! The level and form of expectation here will play a major role in how a person adapts to the reality of the PbP experience.

*Time is Relative. Even at a table, it can be difficult for the GM to get everyone to sit down and pay attention. But, at a table, there is a discrete amount of time dedicated to the task. We all scheduled it for today, and when the time is over, we all return to our lives. PbP doesn't work like that. You have to read the GM's post, plus everything the other players have posted, before you can even really decide what to start writing. That is a significant chunk of time that might not be directly scheduled. It's easy to fail to make time for it. It can be fun, but it IS a responsibility you have to keep up with.

*It IS a Responsibility. It's something you're supposed to do. People are counting on you to contribute and do a good job of it. It can be a lot of fun, but it resembles work in a lot of ways. When time crunches in, and you have to let some things slip for higher-importance matters, this has a unique mix of being justifiably low-priority and exceptionally easy to ignore.

*Catching up is dreadful. In a tabletop setting, you miss a session or two, the folks tell you a brief overview of what you missed, except that ONE persons that tells you everything cool their character did, including mouth-made sound effects. In PbP, you take a leave of absence, and then you're supposed to read everything you missed when you come back. That can be a lot. The longer your absence, the more you're supposed to read, the easier it is just to stay away.

*Other people suck at writing. A character application is one thing, but daily or weekly posts are another thing entirely. Sometimes you realize that one or more people in your group write in a way that you HATE. This can increase the feeling of participating as an obligation. It's like going to a really good meeting, but STEVE is going to be there. Ugh, STEVE! This can also be true of the tabletop situation, but you're more likely to be composed of a group of friends there.

*And We're Supposed to Play This for HOW MANY YEARS? Sometimes the idea of the campaign is way more fun than the reality of playing it. This can also be said of many RPG books: a neat idea, but an absolutely dreadful thing to read through. This could be poor execution on the GM's part, off-tune participation on the players' part, or any number of other things. It's quite possible that no one is having fun... so why are we even playing it anymore?

*I Also Want to Write a Novel! There are a lot of people that want to be novelists, but they have not written a novel. I might be so bold as to say that most people that have harbored a desire to write a novel have not written a novel. Though I would imagine the number of people who've STARTED a novel is much greater. While PbP gaming isn't the same thing, or same level-of-effort, as writing a novel, it is a similar kind of thing. All of the things that might result in a hopeful novelist not being a novelist could also lead to a hopeful PbP gamer not being a successful long-term PbP gamer.

*Depression, Anxiety, and Shame. I'll just leave this link right here. Note: not long after that thread was started... I abandoned another game I had been GMing.

There's plenty of other reasons, but I got sad and ran out of steam. I will say that this is part of why I started the Open Roleplaying game linked in my signature.
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Last edited by orcbane; Jan 1st, 2021 at 01:59 PM.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2021, 03:19 PM
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I think a big thing about it is also the time investment - Games can go on in PbP format for years and reach the same place as IRL/VTT in a third of the time; If you join a game on PbP, you're in it for a long haul. A lot longer than most people realize and I think the problem with that is a lot of the time people might not want to spend as much time playing a game or writing with the people they're in with.

It's not so much a case of "Oh I don't like X/Y/Z Person" but more development of disinterest or lack of natural synergy between the writers or maybe characters have developed in such a way that they aren't invested anymore.
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Old Jan 5th, 2021, 02:11 PM
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I love that this idea is brought up, and that there a lot of related ideas fleshed out in different lights. Def agreeing with everyone above. This conversation (whether with others or in my own head) has so far lead me in two rough directions: commitment and compatibility. @orcbane - that idea of a game losing its novelty or "sexiness" after beginning is so real. I think this can also relate to a larger notion of managing commitment/expectations/invested-ness, but it's such a real thing unto itself, within gaming as much as outside of gaming, that it really clicked when you articulated it directly.

Managing/reflecting on/forecasting one's own time/commitments/expectations tends to be the crux of where my brain goes on this subject too. If I'm struggling with my commitment to a game, thinking in terms of "input X energy points into a game and get back Y fulfillment points" also helps me be honest with myself, similar to some of @Admin Dirk's ideas above. Specifically, thinking in these terms sometimes helps me figure out if I feel like a game is worthwhile to me, or if I'm perpetually waiting for a change/wanting the game to change into something that it's not becoming/isn't my place to change.

The other part of this I find myself drawn to is the idea of compatibility. We're all basically trying to date each other creatively, and like any relationship, we each have our own desires and skills and values, and on top of that, our own self-conceptions of these things. I don't think there's a "right" degree of commitment any more than there's a "right" way to play, and I don't think players' time/skills/expectations need to be identical - just compatible enough. This can be a really overt compatibility of desires: "let's all play a Star Wars TTRPG" or "let's all play heroes and not villains, so no evil alignments" or "no PvP rolls/yes PvP rolls" or what have you. But on top of this overt compatibility (maybe sort of a given), I think what makes a good game great, and what makes any group of players more likely to last longer together, is the shared willingness/capacity to do the work to stay together through bumps.

Like any relationship, dating or creatively dating or otherwise, running into "bumps" and conflict are inevitable. These gaming bumps might be as small-seeming as players realizing (or not realizing) they have different boundaries when it comes to inter-PC conflict, or players having differences in ideal post length/content (consistently too little can make another player feel like they're not getting their money's worth and consistently too much can feel overbearing or spotlight-stealing). A lot of times these little bumps can end up being really productive, and lead to stronger player relationships, PC character development, funny in-game moments, etc. as they're worked through, whether through posting trial and error or overt discussion. Any given individuals' lack of time management or expectation management or anything-else management can definitely lead to bumps. Lack of compatibility between players' time management, expectation management, gameplay styles, etc. can definitely lead to bumps (if not necesarilly so by definition), though a game with clear expectations (whether through explicit game rules, good OOC player "togetherness", GM mediation, GM mandate at the front end, or group agreement at the front end) can help prevent some of these.

But most of the gaming bumps I've encountered that ultimately lead to gaming rifts come from a lack of compatibility in the shared social skills involved in interpersonal conflict prevention/resolution/management. This might come from a disambiguated sense of (shared) ownership between the GM and/or the players, or probably more likely, an aversion to conflict altogether. And I think it's particularly tricky because gaming has this soft expectation of being "just for fun," which I think for some (ahem, me) lends itself to a sort of self-imposed gaslighting of "if you're not enjoying it, it must be exclusively your own personal fault." And when combined with potentially different levels of commitment in the first place (here: commitment to the emotional and social work of resolving conflict - even when it may not be much work for some at some times, it can be a great deal of work for others at other times), in addition to conflict management often being thought of as only for boiling-over conflicts, I feel like it leads to a lot of players feeling helpless or unequipped to safely and constructively address small conflicts and small differences while they're still small, and then just wait for them to become big conflicts, whether still silent or explicit, and then either leaving in a huff, or trickling off after not having had any fun over a period of time (see also: apathy or resentment).

I love RPGX's game/player application process, if only because they can always be opportunities to self-reflect on play styles and what makes someone feel fulfilled while gaming. But like any gaming, the most reliable method of recruitment is past experience and personal reference/word of mouth. Even though a lot of what makes a game good is jointly built over time, I do also find myself wishing there was a way to get to some better reads on player compatibility at the front end, in all its subjectiveness and messiness, without any 100-question personality test. (Which tbh I would still take and enjoy personally.)

tl;dr - 1) sometimes player attrition or game dissolution can be appropriate and natural; 2) no singular right way to "commit" any more than a singular right way to play the game/different strokes different folks; 3) honest forecasts of one's own resources and expectations are hard; 4) conflict management in gaming is almost more uncomfortable than conflict management outside of gaming
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Old Jan 7th, 2021, 11:03 AM
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I believe that next to the amount of time it takes to do in a PbP what in a tabletop situation you can do on 1 night, there's also the problem of trying to join too many games. I've seen people make characters for just about every game out there and then they get accepted in more than they really have time for and next they have to quick some (or even all). It's often done I believe in the idea that they will not be allowed in all, but then they are and it's difficult.

And while RL events can and do throw a wrench (as last year has proven over and over), I've for instance seen people join games right before they started a new job and then having to quit because the job was taking too much time. If you see big changes coming up, maybe hold a bit until you know how those changes will affect you and your time.

I've seen very nice games pass by where I was asked to join, but I didn't because I felt I was reaching my maximum of games I would be able to handle and I didn't want to over extend.
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Old Jan 8th, 2021, 05:06 PM
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So if I am running a game, or looking for one, and I want to maximize the chance that the game will be a (let's say...) creative success, what should I be sure to? This thread has some really excellent analysis of why the majority of games fail, and most of the reasons seem to reduce down to mismatched expectations. Mismatched expectations between what a player expects from the game, and what the game actually plays like. Mismatched expectations between what the player or GM is going to be able to contribute and what the reality ends up being. Mismatched expectations between what is tonally/stylistically/socially acceptable to me as a player vs the others in my group. How best to align those expectations, especially the interpersonal ones?

Should organizers spend more time up front socializing with the group in a non-committal setting? Would it help if my profile had more specific data about the choices I want to make as a player? What I find funny? How often I typically post? Other facts about my proficiencies and interests?

I suspect these are really old questions, being asked be a really new member of this community, but I can't resist an interesting topic.
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Old Jan 8th, 2021, 05:46 PM
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I would say clear, explicit communication of those expectations would be the best first step.

It also seems like ad threads with longer open-to-close deadlines (1 month or more) provide more opportunity to gauge the level of interest and involvement of applicants. One could even make in-character participation in the ad thread part of the application process, though this could favor early applicants over those that applied toward the end of the extended application window.

You can also look at the track-record of the applicants. What other games are they involved in now, or have been involved in in the past. Selecting based on this metric can devalue the applications of new members (like yourself) and old members looking to reform their ways (like myself).

I know a lot of GMs on this site initially recruit more players than they envision the campaign being composed of. A GM might accept 6 players to the campaign they've design for 4 players to create a buffer should 1 or 2 players drop out.

I'd also recommend trying new things. The mould doesn't always work, so don't be afraid to try something innovative!
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Old Jan 8th, 2021, 07:16 PM
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Clear, explicit communication is very important and also very hard, because players (especially inexperienced players) often have a very hard time describing what they want out of a game, if they even understand it themselves. For instance, I will often call out "character development" as one of the top things I look for in a game, but a bunch of PCs mutually navel-gazing gets old fast. What I'm really looking for is a certain alchemy of character, plot, and interpersonal relationships that's difficult to parse.

When it comes down to it, the only thing that's worked for me in terms of finding games with longevity is to keep trying different games with strangers and keep my eyes open for players who seem to vibe off the same things I do and have a similar level of commitment to keeping things moving, then latching onto those players. It's not unlike a job hunt, though, in that it gets very demoralizing very fast when one opportunity after another doesn't pan out.
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Old Jan 8th, 2021, 10:56 PM
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@HexChunChan Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to your question(s).

I think the things you can do to make an individual game more likely to succeed are pretty limited, except to lead by example. But there is, perhaps, a few things that can be done over the long term -- primarily, teaching new or inexperienced players good traits and habits, and reforming experienced players.

The good traits and habits I'm referring to are:
1. Self awareness. Being honest about questions such as, "Do I have the time to commit to this?" and "In previous games that have failed, has my behaviour been a contributing factor?" and "What aspects of TTRPGs do I enjoy, and what aspects don't I enjoy?"
2. Honest communication. Talking to the DM and other players out of character about the game. What are you enjoying? What aren't you enjoying? Most DMs are usually more frustrated by a lack of communication, than they are about criticism of their game. Remember, DMs aren't psychic. They don't know what you're thinking, and they don't know what's going on in your life.
3. Being aware of the issue of mismatching expectations. For me, it goes even deeper than the examples you gave. Some players don't even agree what a TTRPG even is! Is it a game, in the same sense that board games and card games are, with the storytelling aspects merely the gimmick or structure of the game? Is it collaborative storytelling, in which game mechanics should take a back seat until they're needed (if at all)? Are players only responsible for the actions of their own character, from moment to moment? Or do players have a responsibility to help other players and the DM jointly craft character relationships, character arcs, and a coherent overall story?
4. Putting in the effort. Like most hobbies, TTRPGs are only fruitful if the participants put in time and effort.
5. Recognising that TTRPGs are a social hobby, not a solitary one. Players need social skills, or at least the willingness to develop their social skills, including... ahem... conflict resolution. In regards to the latter, alas most people opt for conflict avoidance. In my experience, it rarely works.
5a. Accepting that each player has some responsibility for the enjoyment other players and the DM get out of a game.

Last edited by Menzo; Jan 8th, 2021 at 10:58 PM.
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Old Jan 9th, 2021, 04:17 PM
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I mean come on folks, it's just collaboratively improvised literature crossed with arbitrarily complex mathematical simulations being conducted by a self assembling semi-anonymous collective spanning the globe. Why is this so hard?

There is a lot to ponder here, and I appreciate the insight.

Maybe maximizing success out the outset is the wrong goal, or rather we should accept that there are no silver bullets. Maybe the goal should simply be to try many things and fail faster (or succeed)?
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Old Jan 9th, 2021, 07:37 PM
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I think re: conflict resolution, it can be as simple as the GM periodically checking in with the team on how everyone is doing, and if the group enjoys/is okay with having OOC chatter, ensuring that conversation space is upkept. And not all checkins need be “please report on your gameplay satisfaction” - it can also just be periodic chatter. Openness to chatter could help someone articulate a bump if they’re experiencing it, and give an opportunity to explore it in discussion whether openly or privately. It might not definitively stop dropouts, but it could help keep small bumps from becoming larger bumps. I don’t think everyone need be a fully trained hostage negotiator, or have a ref whistle ready to blow at all times, or make X OOC posts per period of time as a sort of attendance record, but if the norm is set that no OOC chatter ever happens, then it might be an extra step to bring people to the table if talking about anything could be beneficial.

I think this is really more applicable when gaming with new people, and especially if the game includes folks with tabletop experience but newer to the pbp format. That can be a bit of an adjustment in a number of ways. Not everyone may have OOC chatter as a sort of “gaming need” so that’s definitely an individual/group preference, especially in pbp and especially if they’ve gamed together before and already know one another’s communication styles, but keeping a space open to have OOC conversations about the game itself has seemed helpful in my limited pbp experience so far. Even if most of the time there’s no serious, substantial discussion about game fundamentals (and honestly I don’t think that should/would be the standard of conversation) - just to have that “conversation space” readied ahead of time could be helpful when/if it is needed. This is definitely easier to do in person around a table - little chatter on breaks, between actions, and while setting up and breaking down - little comments about what people liked most about that session, what they might be groaning about, when someone is noticeably more quiet than their personal norm, if not overtly checking in on folks. For pbp, it seems like another unique challenge since OOC chatter and throwaway comments are arguably another entire post to intentionally read and write, which if someone is rationing or limited in their “time devoted to pbp games” could potentially be effort put towards another game’s in-game post.

Basically, and in an ideal world, I think having a mindfulness for conflict can often be as simple as keeping OOC chatter “space” open and accessible and maintained, and a willingness of at least the gm if not anyone to check in on others/the group, if the group enjoys OOC chatter as a norm even intermittently, and potentially moreso if folks are newly gaming together. This is one potential way to counteract dropouts that stem from solvable conflict or from deterioration of game investment.

Also might be worth pointing out that conflict isn’t limited to interpersonal issues, and can be between a player and their personal life, as well as between a player and the game/format itself.
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Old Jan 10th, 2021, 03:13 AM
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I've given this thread a lot of thought and decided to reply. Some may take issue with what I'm going to say, especially in the next paragraph. I welcome criticism of these ideas. My background: I have played in close to 20 games at RPGX. Not counting my completed newbie game, I have completed two (one PF and one CoC). I am still playing in three games, the other 15 or so died. I am also running a Starfinder game, my first GM effort. The game's been going for nearly 15 months, we're at the end of the first of six modules of an adventure path, and five of the original six players are still in the game. There are GM's with far more experience than me, but I'm not speaking from a position of complete inexperience.

Nine to ten times out of ten, in my experience, a game dies because the GM fails. Sometimes they bite off more than they can chew and bow out or disappear, sometimes life undercuts them, but most of the time they simply fail to keep the game engaging and players drift away. Then they get discouraged and close the game. GM's get a lot of respect, praise, and reverence on this site and rightly so: they are the main event here, they create the product that people come for. THEY are the ones that the players are looking to for a good time. This is not unique to this site or PbP. This has been the way of things since Gary Gygax grabbed Ernie and Elise one night and told them he had a game he wanted them to try. If you are the GM, then you are the captain of the ship--it is on you. It is your job to make the players want to come back and read your next post. It is your job to make them want to take the time to post again. No player, however good a writer, was ever the main factor in keeping a PbP game alive.

I have identified a number of points of failure for GMs and seen ways they can be avoided. The following is by no means comprehensive:

Stuck in the mud. Story stagnation is a sure game killer. Sometimes it can be obvious and sometimes it's hard to see. Basically, if you have posted more than three times (outside of combat) without taking a clear next step in the plot, you are starting to drown. If three weeks of real time have gone by with the story going nowhere, players are starting to check the Games Seeking Players Forum. Think of a PbP game as the scientifically inaccurate popular misconception of a shark. Move forward or die. How?
  • Avoid the interminable "intro sequence." A lot of times at the beginning of an adventure, the GM will take a long time to "set the stage" and let players introduce their characters and riff off each other. This is all well and good for exactly as long as the least patient couple of players are into it. Read the room and be ready to get the story started before you see the first sign of players ready to get on with things.
  • Enforce your pace. Tell the players up front what their deadlines are and enforce them. If players have not posted and it's time for you to post, then their character just follows along for that cycle. If it's combat, choose their actions and roll for them. TELL them you will do this--often players will be okay with it once in a while and try to keep up better. Then, if you can move faster, try to move faster. If your deadline is a week and 5 of 6 players post in two days, PM the other player and ask if they can post so you can move on. Be polite and self-effacing. Be cordial. But be firm. I have never seen a player complain that a game was moving too fast.
  • Be ready to drop things. Sometimes you might have something planned for a game, but you realize that the players are making progress and your encounter or detour will slow it. Drop whatever it is or save it for later. If the players are on a roll, let them roll.
  • If you're running a published campaign, DEFINITELY drop things. Simply put: if you're running a published adventure designed for the tabletop and you're not cutting things out of it left and right for PbP, your game is almost certain to fail. Combat slows PbP games down a lot--using every combat in a published adventure (well, most published adventures) is just going to be too much combat. In addition, even non-combat encounters need to be pared down and NPCs eliminated or combined into one (like Game of Thrones on TV would combine characters from the books into one character). It's just a matter of how slow PbP plays out compared to tabletop.
  • Cut to the next scene. Do not hesitate to cut to the next scene and do not feel you need to roleplay everything. If jumping forward a week gets you to the next plot point without losing anything important, jump forward a week. If a conversation with an NPC is dragging on and you know it will lead nowhere, end the conversation. If the players want to experiment with a random item that they think is important, jump ahead to them realizing it isn't. Don't fall into the trap of expecting the players to dictate the pace to you. If they're spinning their wheels in the mud, jump ahead to them out of the mud.

Drowning in a sea of time and posts. Some adventures, especially the gaudy 6-module adventure paths Guilty! many GMs try to run, are so long and have plots so epic that, given the slow pace of PbP gaming, it's extremely easy for players to get lost and forget things. Losing focus like this is a game killer. I have a few ideas on this.
  • The story so far... Click on the Dead Suns link in my signature and click on "Opening Crawl." This is a story thread in which I maintain a running narrative of what's going on in the game. I have condensed months and months of posting into a few pages or so of narrative that highlights all the important plot points and MacGuffins in a concise and easy to review package. This is for the players, this is for me, and this is for anyone else who wants to just check out the game. One player who missed several months for personal issues was able to get caught up in minutes. Any player who feels they're losing touch with what happened earlier in the game need only click on this thread and read for five minutes. The "Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy" thread is an NPC listing in order of appearance and is there for the same reason.
  • Micro-goals. Even if players are moving through an adventure and advancing plot, it is easy for them to begin to feel like they are not accomplishing anything, which has a corrosive effect on a player's interest. Introduce small, short term goals and objectives for the players. Things where it is clear and rewarding (possibly materially rewarding for their characters) when achieved. They should know they're pursuing these goals, and they should achieve them (or fail to do so) relatively quickly. The ultimate payoff of the campaign could be years away, but players should get a payoff of some kind every 4 weeks or so of real time.
  • Eyes on the prize. Speaking of the campaign's ultimate goal, once it is in sight, keep it in sight. Refer to it frequently. Relate sub-goals to it whenever possible. Use NPCs and the larger setting to underscore its importance, and ALWAY make the players feel like they're moving toward it.
  • Another idea: Keep it short. People like to think big, but simple reason tells us that the shorter a game is, the more likely it will be to succeed. There's simply less time for it to fail. It's more manageable. I have not done this with my game, but the two successful games I played in were one-shots, not adventure paths or campaigns. Food for thought.

Just getting tired of the game. A game can last years and even a good and engaging game can get old. As GM you want to do things to keep it fresh and new.
  • Genre-jumping. Some games kind of lock you into a genre, but the more broad adventure games like D&D or PF allow you to run a wide variety of different kinds of adventures: action, horror, mystery, war-themed, crime/underworld, intrigue, exploration, etc. The longer your adventure is, the more you should consider shifting genres once in a while. Many of the longer published adventure paths and campaigns are written with this in mind.
  • Change the scenery. As with genre, setting is another thing you can change to keep things fresh. Nothing beats new scenery, new cultures, and new challenges for keeping players engaged.
  • New faces. Introducing new and colorful NPCs is another way to keep things from getting old hat. Further, make sure the established NPCs don't stagnate--they should change and grow, same as the player characters.
  • Again, keep it short. The shorter your adventure is, the less likely anyone is to get tired of it. I've started a number of novels that I didn't finish; I've never started a short story I didn't finish.

You've lost a player... This is going to happen in every game, it's inevitable. And losing even one player can endanger a game in a lot of ways. It throws off party balance, unceremoniously removes a character from the narrative, demoralizes the GM, sows doubt among the players. My recommendations:
  • NPC mode. If a player leaves, especially if they leave without telling you, it can hurt the rhythm of the game. Don't let it. The instant you start drafting your first game post following a disappearance, that player's character is an NPC. They follow along with the party and you can even put words into their mouth, perhaps in ways that advance the story. In combat, let the other players control the NPC. To hell with the player, their character stays with the group and acts like part of the group until dead or you reach a point where you can have their character leave in a logical way. In my Dead Suns campaign, we actually liked one player's character so much, we kept her around until the player actually came back (though it was a near thing...).
  • Have a plan to bring in someone new. There is nothing wrong with bringing in replacement players, especially if you've taken steps to facilitate that ("The Story So Far..."). But have some kind of logical, story-relevant plan to bring that new player in. If the party is raiding a prison, the new player could be a prisoner. If the party has hired a ship, maybe one of its sailors has been thinking about a career change. The replacement character should be as authentic to the story as the original ones.
  • Choose replacements carefully. However you select a replacement player, keep in mind you'll need someone who is flexible and willing to fit in to a situation they had no hand in creating. Make sure they know exactly what they're getting into. Ask them to read through some of your game before agreeing to join. Try to get an experienced and reliable player if you can. It hurts a game to spend the effort to bring in a replacement and then have that replacement drop out three weeks later.
  • Think about how low you're willing to go. Sometimes you'll lose multiple players and cannot replace them all. Decide how few players you're willing to continue with and be careful to modify the adventure as needed to scale to the new number (and their classes/abilities).
  • It isn't over until you say it's over. Only the departure of a GM can kill a game. As long as you can find replacement players, your game has not died, even if the entire original crew is gone. You keep it going for as long as it makes you happy to do so.
  • Losing some players can be a good thing. Sometimes players can be driven off by other players, and when this happens, it's rarely going to be the player you want to keep who sticks around. Whether the problem player is a jerk who is nasty and uncooperative, or the guy who ALWAYS posts the day after deadline after everyone else posts promptly, or writes incredibly long boring posts with lots of unintriguing internal monologue that all the other players dread having to read, losing this player is not a bad thing. And I hate to say it, but neither is asking this player to leave. In fact, kicking out a problem player will often be the only way to save a game from dying.

Do players want to click the next game post, or do players feel they have to click the next game post? Sometimes a GM throws a post together without a lot of thought. Sometimes he writes one that is so focused on conveying information that he forgets to make it fun to read. Reading a game post should never, ever feel like a chore. Some thoughts on making it not seem like one.
  • Write concisely. There sometimes seems to be an ethos on this site that long posts are good and short posts are not--go read through all the POTMs if you doubt me. I find this to be a grave misunderstanding of the art of writing. I'll take a player or GM who can put 4-5 sentences worth of good writing into 4-5 sentences over a guy who can cram the same 4-5 sentences worth of good writing into four paragraphs any day of the week. Inconcise writing is bad writing and bad writing in large doses will ultimately go half-read if read at all. Concise does not necessarily mean short--it means efficient and engaging. Things that kill conciseness are beating around the bush, redundancy, and irrelevancy. I'm not saying don't be descriptive or colorful--definitely be those things--just don't be boring and don't be one word longer than you need to be. Your goal for every post shouldn't be a word count, it should be that the player reads it a second time. Nobody reads long, boring posts twice.
  • Write a post you'd want to read. There should be something about every post you write that is cool. Maybe it's a vivid description, or a really badass or emotional or humorous line of dialogue, or a metaphor that sounds like it was written by a denizen of the world you created. Each post you write should build tension, convey danger, make a player laugh or smile, or showcase the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of your universe. If you've written a post that doesn't, then re-write it.
  • If you take nothing else from this entire post remember this one: Reward your players for paying attention. Basically what I mean here is drop clues, hints, puzzle pieces, and references. Do it non-chalantly. Don't be too obvious. Such clues should never be game-breaking if the players miss them. Give the players abundant information in a diffuse way so that they can piece things together. The clue they catch on to may help win the entire campaign, or reach a short term goal, or succeed in a single encounter. Hell, it might even just be a funny callback that will make them smile. The bottom line is that if they fish out that bit of information and process it correctly, it will be rewarding for them. Guess what happens when you reward players for paying attention? They pay attention.
  • Let the players explore your world and make them feel like they're actually exploring it. A lot of GMs provide campaign background material and tell players to read it. The background material is often presented in a text-book format. I take a different approach. First of all, the background material is there, but I tell the players that reading it is optional. The biggest disincentive to wanting to do something is being told you have to. Second point here: instead of writing my background so that it's a player reading about the world, I write it so that it's a character interacting with the world. Click on Dead Suns again and go to the Absalom Station Infosphere. This is an internet-like thread with general info and loads of "current events" stories that the players can read if they want to, or not (my feedback suggests most of the players have read it through). The current events stories are mostly flavor text... but there are a few important nuggets in there as well (see "reward the players for paying attention"). Not only is this more fun for them to read, it was far more fun to write. You can also check out the computers and devices thread--instead of telling players what's on a computer, I use spoilerbuttons and such to let them explore the files themselves and weed out what's important. Now in a non-technological world, you can replace infospheres and computers with tavern tales and folk stories pretty easily. Your focus should be making your background material fun and immersive. Also, expositing your world this way lets you focus your game posts on the story at hand.

So what about players? Is the onus entirely on the GM to make a game succeed? Certainly not. Here are some things I try to do as a player...
  • Maintain a helpful mindset. The GM is trying to show you a good time--honor that by trying to help in every way you can.
  • Be organized. Have all your relevant information easily at hand in every post in a spoilerbutton so the GM (and you) can reference important stats quickly and easily.
  • Post punctually. Get your post up as soon after the GM post as you can.
  • Post well. Remember what I said above about writing concisely and writing the kind of post you'd like to read? That applies to players too. If you post well, that rewards the GM and it helps the GM by keeping the other players engaged. If you've written a post that you find unremarkable, re-write it.
  • Be up front with conflict. If something the GM or another player writes or does bothers you, do not let it fester. Bring it to the GM's attention immediately. Be polite, mature, open minded, and firm.
  • Show the GM you're paying attention. Sprinkle your posts with color that shows you've been paying attention and engaging in the GM's world. This again rewards the GM's work, and it builds enthusiasm for the game in the group. If you see someone enjoying a game you are in, you tend to enjoy it more yourself.
  • Be flexible. If the GM needs to put your character into NPC mode because you failed to post in a timely fashion, roll with it. Recognize the importance of keeping things moving and don't expect the world to revolve around your character.
  • Commit. Know what you're getting into and commit to it. Games don't get advertised so that you can win a How some people seem to see the application process.mini creative writing contest and then bop off after the next colorful butterfly a few weeks later.
  • If you can't stay, own it. Sometimes, you just can't stay in a game. Either the GM isn't getting it right, or there are too many players whose posts you don't want to read, or the game has lagged for so long you've lost interest. Whatever your reason for dropping may be, you post in the OOC thread thanking the GM for his time, explaining that you need to drop out, and wishing everybody else a great game. Don't vanish. Don't leave anyone sitting around for a week waiting for a post that isn't coming.

Anyway - those are my thoughts. I think the GM makes or breaks a game. Good players can make things a lot easier for the GM, but ultimately it's on the GM's shoulders. I hope this advice is helpful. Call me in another 15 months and see if my game is still alive...

Last edited by ruffdove; Jan 10th, 2021 at 03:47 AM.
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  #14  
Old Jan 10th, 2021, 12:32 PM
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Ruffdove, that was a really impressive breakdown. Thanks for taking the time to share all that insight -- it really helps.
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Old Jan 11th, 2021, 08:27 PM
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Originally Posted by lostcheerio View Post
Ruffdove, that was a really impressive breakdown. Thanks for taking the time to share all that insight -- it really helps.
Ditto on this. A solid contribution to an intensely valuable thread.
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