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© 1998-2001 Dru Pagliassotti
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Player Attrition

The high point of my gaming career was probably in college, when I ran an RPG during the week, played Friday nights, ran Saturday mornings, played Saturday nights, and played Sunday mornings. Ah, the good old days, when we had a college club that welcomed fresh new faces every year and nothing to worry about except getting a passing grade in order to remain in this gamer nirvana.
Life's not that simple now that all those friends from college are thirtysomething, with careers, significant others, children ... some have moved far away, some only a few hours away, but all have busy schedules that make it harder and harder to get together for a full day of gaming. And when you have to drive two hours to get to a game, it doesn't make sense to play for less than six hours, right?
So, what can be done? Clearly we can't prohibit our friends from dating, marrying, having children, getting involved in other social groups, developing their careers, moving, working overtime, and so forth. But we still want to game!

Make a Game Date. One answer is to contact all of your friends who still want to game, even though they have a hard time finding time for it, and set up a regular date. After all, these friends probably already have some regular dates in their lives ... hockey practice every Thursday night, poker every third Wednesday, church every Sunday. If these things can be calendared and treated as priorities, why not gaming? Okay, you probably won't be able to schedule five games a week. But how about one game a month? If everyone in your gaming group knows that the first Saturday of every month is "RPG Day" -- starting at 1 p.m. at so-and-so's house -- then scheduling around it suddenly becomes much easier.
A set date can help the gamer deal with non-gaming significant others or children, too. When a regular game day is scheduled, the gamer's sig-O can plan golf games, shopping excursions, visiting, or other hobbies that the gamer may not enjoy on that day. In addition, babysitters can be hired on a regular basis ("I'll need you every Saturday, noon to 10 p.m....") or older kids given the day to visit their friends. In split families, the non-gaming parent might take the child on that day each month.

Keep the Game Flexible. In a group where some people might not be able to make the game, it's best to run campaigns that don't require everyone to be there. Keep your plots fairly open, so that it's easy to accommodate different players, and avoid making any one character central to the campaign. If a player doesn't show up or comes late, you could give the character to the GM or to another player to handle or "poof" the character, pretending the character isn't around until the player rejoins the game.
Keep your game open enough to welcome temporary players, too. It might be useful to have a few NPCs around that a guest could pick up and play ... for example, a player's significant other who wants to see what RPGs are all about, or a visiting friend, a child, or even a parent (my mother, for example, enjoys playing D&D with my friends and I when she visits, although she doesn't game otherwise!).

Work with Others' Needs. If some players can't stay late to a game, then move your gametime up, starting in the morning rather than the afternoon, and put a cup of coffee on for everybody. If some players need to leave the game briefly to run an errand for an hour or so, go ahead and let them, continuing to play while they're gone. If some players have a child, invite them to bring the child with them, especially if you have an adjacent room where the child can be put with some toys, movies, or books. If there are several children in your gaming group, you might even want to hire a babysitter to stay in the other room with them while you game. If players can't afford to order food every time you game, make the games potluck. The point is that most problems can be worked around, if everybody is willing to be patient and make compromises.

Expand Your Group. Another answer is to find other groups to game with. If that tried-and-true gaming group of yours can't get together more than once every four months, then go find someone else you can play with in the interim. It's a great way to meet new friends and try some new RPGs. Many hobby and game stores open space for players over the weekend; if they don't have an RPG group already, ask if you can start one.
Don't limit yourself to gamers your own age, either. If you're in your 30s or 40s, become an RPG mentor to younger kids by teaching gaming to a local school, scout, or youth group. You might need to tailor your style to a younger set—ultraviolent, anti-religious, sexy-filled, and/or depressing games might be frowned on by the kids' parents and teachers—but becoming an RPG teacher is a great way to encourage a new generation of gamers, to stay in touch with your own inner youth, and to become a role model as well as a role player.

originally written January 5, 2001

 

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