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Craft: Public Play (DC 20)

For the last year, the local organized environment featured just 4th Edition D&D. One Pathfinder Society GM ran a table, but had the same players show up consistently and wound up closing his table and running it as a campaign. A few home groups met publicly for a week or two to recruit an extra player, Call of Cthulhu recruited and filled two tables for months, but everything else sputtered and died. Until recently.

What Worked Before

Previously, there were three successful recruitment efforts. The strange thing is that it’s hard to pinpoint what the common ground was–they were very different campaigns, settings and styles. Here’s a bit more about each.

D&D Encounters
D&D Encounters [1] is a specifically designed campaign modeled on their Friday Night Magic program in many ways. It’s nationwide, always runs on Wednesday, is tied to retail locations, and is coordinated from their website. So no matter where you go, there’s a familiar way to meet local gamers and get the anticipated experience.

Part of its success is the drop in, low continuity nature of the game. Much like old RPGA modules, and UNlike most home games, different people show up each week, often with different characters from their stable. There are a couple significant differences from the old RPGA plots:

  1. Increased Continuity: There are 10-20 adventures serially linked, so the previous session leads into the next.
  2. Time: Encounters adventures are intended to run 1-2 hours, rather than 3-5.
  3. Level: Encounters runs in a narrow band, usually from levels one to three, then restarts, instead of running up and up. While the restarts are annoying to veterans, it encourages new players.

Call of Cthulhu
Sheila ran games at local RPG Meetups, and wowed people with her detailed descriptions and game mastering skills. So when she offered to run a regular Cthulhu game, she had many interested people. In fact, she had so many that after running for a few weeks, her wait list was long enough that she started a second table on alternate weeks!

A big part of the success is difficult to replicate–Sheila’s just a good GM–but consistent scheduling set expectations and made player retention easy. It was so successful that after her tables ran to the end of the campaign (and the world’s end), most of them signed on for another campaign.

Old Pathfinder
The old Pathfinder table was popular, but turnout was inconsistent, with only one GM who showed up regularly. After a couple months of having the same six players show up (with an odd number of extra people), the GM closed the table to increase continuity. He’d been frustrated by the “clean slate” assumption of most Pathfinder Society modules, and the default assumption that this week’s betrayal didn’t have repercussions the following week.

The New Champion

Over the last few months, a lot of people were disappointed that there were no available Pathfinder Society games. A few people offered to run GM Pathfinder games, but no regular groups developed–just a lot of frustrated half built groups, stranded players, and GMs who wondered why all the the players who said they were so eager never showed up.

So what changed?

  1. Over the last several months many other groups have tried out Pathfinder on their own, creating an eager player pool.
  2. Our local mini-con had a lot of slots devoted to Pathfinder games. They filled up, revealing that there were more than 20 people eager to play Pathfinder regularly.
  3. One local GM, Will, committed to running Pathfinder Society games every Sunday. He recruited other GMs he’d met at Encounters and personal friends. It launched with two GMs running tables; since it launched he recruited additional GMs so that individuals don’t burn out running week after week.

The local group has been meeting for the last month, steadily adding new players. They’re now filling three tables regularly, and are getting enough GMs to seat everyone.

My Advice

If your local store doesn’t have a thriving community, that can change quickly. It just takes one dedicated person. (Ideally, though, you’ll have a bench of other GMs ready in case it takes off–running every week can be grueling.)

Consistent scheduling makes success easier to attain. Weekly is much better than alternating weeks–if there’s a game every Sunday, you’ll head down. If it’s every other Sunday, wondering if this is the “on week” may frustrate players, depressing turnout.

An awesome GM who demonstrates their skill can build a steady group for any system. If that’s not you, then look into organized play for the big systems. The national portability, consistent rules, and clear expectations might draw in people you’ve never met!

7 Comments (Open | Close)

7 Comments To "Craft: Public Play (DC 20)"

#1 Comment By Roxysteve On August 4, 2011 @ 8:41 am

The issue of game frequency is a good one, but the bi-weekly frustration you cite can be offset by using something like meetups to advertise games. This is how it’s done at my LFGS and it has been an overwhelming success, mostly.

Yes there have been games I’ve scheduled that a group of people were keen to play, only to have no sign-ups. This is the internet world – people talk lots, do much less.

But thanks to this system I run a monthly Delta Green game that is now over-subscribed by very keen and very engaged players, and I started running Space 1889:Red Sands in June and that has drawn a full room too, on the same monthly schedule.

There are lessons to be learned, for sure. I now have zero tolerance for non-RSVPers because of a fiasco involving a certain game, an empty room, used vacation time and a bunch of losers who I’d enabled for weeks by tolerating “He/she never RSVPs” nonsense.

So now, if players turn up and find their seat taken, them’s the breaks. I know there will be enough players to continue a story by simply signing on and counting the RSVPers, which saves me effort in prepping for a game that won’t happen or prepping a continuing story when I have all new players who need a one-shot.

I’m loving the LFGS as a venue, too. I can find new players without the specter of discovering a raving loon in in my kitchen.

It’s also a great way for a younger GM/gamer to learn that just because personalities clash doesn’t mean you can’t live in the same world, it just means you shouldn’t game together. This alone is, in my opinion, a lesson worth it’s weight in gold-pressed latinum.

Great article. Thanks.

#2 Comment By theeo123 On August 4, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

My biggest problem is that I have just moved to a new city, and there seems to be no FLGS. I checked a couple store-finders (wizards has a nice up to date one) closest one is nearly an hour away.

I’ve had a hard time finding local gamers at all as there seems to be little in the way of a place to congregate, and meet other like-minded individuals.

#3 Comment By BryanB On August 4, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

[2] – Hi theeo123 – Have you looked on Meetup.com to see if there is a Role Players Meetup Group within 30-40 minutes of your home? There seem to be a lot of gamers organizing via Meetup.com. There is also nearbygamers, where you can search for players close to you and/or post your profile in order to contact other people that game in your area.

#4 Comment By BryanB On August 4, 2011 @ 12:49 pm

Nice article Scott. I think you got that DC wrong though. 🙂

#5 Comment By theeo123 On August 4, 2011 @ 12:58 pm

Tried meetup, Didn’t try nearebygamers though I’ll check it out.
I’m in Fremont, Ohio, most everyone seems to head towards Toledo, but it is an hour drive.

#6 Comment By Volcarthe On August 4, 2011 @ 10:54 pm

I might start offering something at the local library (they already have game days) just because the nearest game store is a hole in the wall that smells of feet and mouthbreathers.

#7 Comment By Scott Martin On August 5, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

[3] – Congratulations on your successful recruiting. It sounds like you’re having a success similar to Sheila at our store–it doesn’t matter how popular the system is, if the GM’s known for running great games.

[4] – The library ran great games for more than 2 years straight about 4 years back. Some of those meeting rooms are great–quiet, with a conference table that seats 6 or 8 comfortably, often with a white board nearby. If you’re lucky enough to have a good library group, take advantage of it!