Respecting your RPG group’s time
When I was in high school the main thing I spent my free time on was playing D&D. We would have these huge six-hour sessions every Saturday or two, and if we ran over time we’d sometimes stay over at each others’ houses. It was great! It was also completely unsustainable, which is why when I left high school I stopped playing RPGs pretty much entirely. All that game time, and all the prep that goes into it, turned out to be way too much for anyone not living with their parents. I tried playing in someone else’s 5e game a little while ago and character creation took literally two hours. How was I able to do that every week?
I’m only easing back into tabletop games now, after not running anything for years, and I’m doing a lot to try and make it less of a time- and energy-sink for me and my players. I think it’s possible to run a fun, regular game while bearing in mind that your players are probably busy people. With that in mind, here are some principles I’m trying to follow for my new Mothership game:
- Make the most of game time. Time at the table is valuable and limited. Try not to spend game time doing things other than playing the game.
- Don’t let the rules get in the way. Games like D&D and Blades in the Dark can be a lot of fun, but they have a tonne of fiddly rules and edge-cases and stuff you have to flip through a huge book to find. That’s time you could spend actually playing. Better to play a game where the rules are straightforward and easy to learn. For me that’s Mothership.
- Pay attention. Know when you’re up. Don’t slow everyone down by asking for a recap.
- Keep the pace up. Gently nudge the other players back to the game if you get off-topic. Make your characters do things instead of spending all session planning them out.
- Keep commitment outside of game time flexible. Nobody wants to do homework for their hobby. Most of the time you spend thinking about the game should ideally be during each session.
- Keep game prep low. For the GM, this probably means running a module you trust is easy to use at the table. For players, it might mean using premade character sheets or loadouts.
- Blue-book, but only if you want to. ‘Blue-book’ playing means sorting out little things with the GM between sessions, probably by text message — maybe your character is sending secret messages to an NPC, or maybe you just want to do a little shopping without slowing a session down. This can be good, and it’s not generally a huge time committment (because the GM can answer your text whenever they’re free).
- Open your table. Players should try and come to every session because it makes the game a lot better when there’s a full party, but that’s obviously not always possible. The most common reason RPG campaigns end, in my experience, is because we need a full group and it’s impossible to find a day that works.
- Play with whoever’s free. As long as the GM is free, they should try to run a regular game at the agreed-on time with whoever is able to come that day, even if that’s literally a solo session with one other player. The upside of this approach is that you can include players who might not otherwise want to commit to a regular and indefinite game. (This is called an ’open table’; there’s a lot of stuff about it online.)
- Don’t end sessions on cliffhangers. Obviously, this doesn’t work if you have a really tightly serialised game, where each session follows on immediately from the last. A megadungeon is ideal for this, obviously.
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