I have not had a good run of games lately. Seems like just a few articles ago I was talking about my new Agents of Oblivion  campaign, on the heels of a failed Corporation  game. Over the past year, I have not been able to get a game to run for any length of time. So when it looked like Agents of Oblivion was not going to make it, I sat down with my players to find out what was going on, and we learned that there is a lot more to a successful campaign than rules and dice.
It Was Like Physics Class
The sign that AoO was in trouble appeared when I was GMing a session a few weeks ago. We were deep in the middle of an investigation; asking questions, following up leads, and putting pieces of the puzzle together. I looked up at the table and stared at four blank faces. They looked like they were all in physics class (no offense to any physicists out there). Were we really having fun?
I asked everyone at the table if they were having fun, and they said they were – but I did not believe it. So I waited a few days and asked by email. Turned out I was right, they were not having fun.
Figuring Out What Is Fun
The next time we got together we sat and discussed what was going on. Everyone was very candid, and through discussion we started to come up with a few observations. The first was that as a group, we are under much more stress than we were years ago. Among the group there were a number of issues hanging over us: work issues, finances, children, relationships, etc. Bottom line was that this group is under considerable stress.
Coming to that realization, we agreed that our game needed to be a stress reliever and an escape. Playing a a game of deep investigation and horror was not going to be fun for a group with as much on their minds as my group did. Rather, we needed to look for games that are more upbeat, with a higher tempo, and that at the end of the session people felt that they had accomplished something.
A New Definition of Fun
With the understanding of what kind of game would be more fun – upbeat, positive, high tempo – our discussion focused on what kind of rules would help support that tone. We decided that we wanted a lighter rule set vs something heavier. Light rules would be easier to keep up with and with a lot of the guys, having to work extra or long hours, something lighter would be better. We all agreed that we would keep playing Savage Worlds to keep that fast, fun, furious feel.
Having selected Savage Worlds , we would need a setting, and that turned into the longest part of the discussion. We went around and around for some time, focusing on sci-fi games, and out of the blue, one of us suggested a super heroes game. We decided on using Savage Worlds Super Powers Companion, and coming up with a home brew setting. A Supers game would easily meet our criteria of upbeat, positive, and high tempo.
The tone and rules of Savage Worlds fully support the criteria we had set. It would be easy to keep the supers game focused on action and not on investigation. The idea of playing super heroes doing heroic things should be a nice diversion for a group that is not having the easiest of times.
So I have begun to work on a campaign setting, and a story arc, and my players are putting characters together.
The Learning Part
While that was a nice tale about my group, how does this help you all? There were some important lessons we learned though our discussion that are applicable to any gaming group, especially those that are in the process of selecting a new game.
Know Thy Group
It is important to know your group and what is going on right now in their lives. While we would like to believe that we can all keep the baggage of the world at bay when we get to the table, that is not always true. What is the overall tone of your group? Is everyone happy, do people have a lot on their minds, have they been effected by life-changing events recently? Make sure that the tone of the game you are planning on running is a good fit for your group.
What are the types of activities that your players want to do when they come to the table? Do they want to track rations and torches in a low-fantasy hexcrawl, or do they want to command capital ships in galactic combat? While some settings sound interesting, they favor certain types of actions that may not be a good fit for your players. While the lure of the Cthulhu Mythos  may sound inviting, the heavy emphasis on investigation for Call of Cthulhu  may not be fun for your players.
How much free time does your group have? Some groups are being squeezed for time by work and family, and have less time to work on RPGs between games. Playing games that require lots of between game planning or metagaming might not be a good fit. Games that have complex rules and often require maintenance between games might not be a good fit either. In those cases, look for lighter rule sets.
This applies more to those groups that have been together for a number of years: what has been true for your group in the past is not going to be true now. We often hold onto past images and precepts of our groups, especially those heady days of gaming all night and having little responsibilities. In the past, my group would have eaten up a dark investigation game, but now that same game is too heavy. As the lives of the players change, we need to be aware of how the group dynamic changes and re-evaluate what that means in terms of what is fun. Some changes will be temporary, and others will be more lasting.
Pair Your Games To Your Group
Different games offer different things in terms of mechanics and metagame activities. Don’t feel the need to be married to one system. If Pathfinder  feels heavy, then go for something lighter like Savage Worlds or Hollowpoint .
Better Gaming Through Introspection
By understanding your group and what is going on in your lives, you can better understand what games are going to be more fun for your group. In the end gaming is suppose to be fun. We gamers spend a lot of time thinking about the games we play, and the games we play should not feel like our work. It is inevitable that change will creep into every game group. When it does appear, we need to be cognizant of the effect it has on our group, and adapt to it, through a change in playstyle, setting, or rules.
What are some of the changes your group has faced in the recent past, and how have you adapted to those changes? Have you ever had a game that was fun to play in the past, that you found was not fun to play years later?