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Long term GM with a new player problem: how to build a group

Elms

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I've been running RPGs for yeeeeeears now -- conventions, one-shots, long-term home campaigns, online games, playing at the FLGS -- but in a lot of ways the problem is a n00b problem. We just can't seem to get a regular game going.

(Right out of the gate, I know one of the first problems is that I'm not really interested in D&D/Pathfinder, which limits the potential audience.)

Anyway, we moved across country a couple years ago, and made local gaming friends through a biweekly game of Call of Cthulhu. Which is really great, but I miss running my own regular game. I've corralled some of them into various things along the way. Right now we've been doing a monthly game, but it looks like this month there won't be a session at all. The session got cancelled due to circumstances out of anyone's control, and with the holiday coming up, it looks like that's that.

Part of the thing is that these guys, having been here longer, are each in other gaming groups as well (on top of work and family). In some way I think that makes for an enthusiasm gap: it's my #1 game, but to them, it's game #3.

Meetup sank like a rock every time I tried posting to various local RPG groups. We tried to get some non-gaming friends to give it a shot a few times, but that hasn't especially clicked. Online is kind of the worst of all worlds and I'm not super eager to try that again. There are a fair number of pretty good FLGSs in the local region, but in our particular patch of earth there's a big hole where there aren't any within 30 minutes.

There's a lot of other stuff going on (see above: uncontrolled circumstances), but when all my preparation for this month's game just vanished into thin air, that felt sad too on top of everything else. I feel bummed out and like I should just throw in the towel. Like, play in the biweekly game and other than that just find a different hobby.

I know a lot of gamers have trouble getting stable groups, so what are your thoughts? What have you done to pull out of a scheduling slump?
 

AndrewTBP

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I run games on Roll20 with a 2 player quorum. Once we have me and 2 players we start.
 

Elms

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The quorum rule is a good start for sure. Given the dynamic of the game, I think another thing I can do with that is make sure I have one or two generic backup plan scenarios on the back burner -- something a little more railroad (on the railroad/sandbox spectrum) so there's less frustration for 3 to do the thinking of 6.

The other thing I've thought about trying is to find a good place in the area to play in public. Like a pickup game talked about here:

https://dmbullets.blogspot.com/2016/09/running-fantasy-walk-in-centre.html
 

baakyocalder

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Online gaming, first with Maptool and then with Roll20 has kept me gaming regularly when my schedule has permitted since 2010. Since I play HackMaster, it's ensured I have a group though we do play other games (D&D 5e right now and soon to be Call of Cthulu and then maybe I'll get to GM Aces & Eights: Reloaded).

For face-to-face, I think it's pretty much grow your own player base if you have players who aren't going to try your game that isn't D&D or Pathfinder. I'm still working on finding those players.

Elms, it sounds like your problem is that the good players you know have too much on their plates and other preferences. Are there other people you know who might like your favorite game? How do you teach the game as a GM?

Finally, welcome to RPG.net!
 

g33k

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Hello, and welcome!

First -- I feel your pain. My circumstances aren't the same as yours, but there is a similar discouraging-lack-of-gaming, and occasional games-that-vanish events.

Finally... I do have some extra thoughts for you (possibly useful and/or encouraging thoughts!), but I am very short of time at the moment; so this sentence serves as an FYI & a placeholder for me to later edit-in those notions... Be back ASAP!
 

Ilya

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Welcome!

Like baakyocalder baakyocalder said, you should try to grow your player base, so you can build a table with the players more that are likely to be invested in the setting and system you have in mind for a given campaign. When you're too restricted in player choices, you can end up with a table with less-than-enthusiastic players, and it's not uncommon for that sort of apathy spread to the enthusiastic ones, taking the steam out of a game.

It's unfortunate that you had bad online experiences. For all its downsides, online gaming has a lot of upsides too, particularly when it comes to schedules and a diverse player base. I was in a similar boat when my gaming group broke apart, with people moving away—to other countries even—and just generally growing up and getting jobs with conflicting schedules. Unfortunately we couldn't make it work, even online (discord meetings), due timezone issues and everything. Play by post/email, on other hand, has been working fine for me, because it's uniquely suited to work around scheduling conflicts.

Since you're the GM, you have a lot of leeway to set participation frequency and other details, to avoid the common online gaming pitfalls. If it's still not entirely out of the table, you could try to follow/join a couple of online games to see what works and don't, and the sort of issues people usually stumble upon when running one.
 

vitus979

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Like baakyocalder baakyocalder said, you should try to grow your player base, so you can build a table with the players more that are likely to be invested in the setting and system you have in mind for a given campaign. When you're too restricted in player choices, you can end up with a table with less-than-enthusiastic players, and it's not uncommon for that sort of apathy spread to the enthusiastic ones, taking the steam out of a game.
Agreed. Also, if you're pulling in non-gamers your first campaign should absolutely be D&D unless you have an EXTREMELY persuasive pitch for another game. Even non-gamers understand both generic fantasy and know what D&D is specifically. If it's not going to be D&D my suggestion would be a simple and popular IP that people understand like Star Wars (whichever edition you prefer).

Additionally, horror is its own niche within RPGs that IMO can have a very dedicated player base, but it's not a particularly large one from my experience.

Finally, while it's not my kind of thing, a friend has been wildly successful going to Organized Play (OP) events at local shops and finding people. He did Pathfinder Society, but apparently in most places D&D Adventure League is more popular. He's since branched off with that group into other games on off-nights. You don't have to play OP forever, just long enough to meet and see if people are interested in trying other things as well as OP. Also, possibly look for other OP opportunities in your area if you really dislike D&D style RPGing. I know Shadowrun has a quasi-OP thing going on.
 

g33k

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Finally... I do have some extra thoughts for you (possibly useful and/or encouraging thoughts!), but I am very short of time at the moment; so this sentence serves as an FYI & a placeholder for me to later edit-in those notions... Be back ASAP!
Huh.
Apparently not "ASAP" enough to be able to edit my post. Sorry! Or maybe I'm just not seeing the option in the new UI... Hence quoting myself.

Anyhow.

My first notion (and main notion, as others have covered most of the rest) --
Leverage your Call of Cthulhu group's system knowledge. Often, a big part of the resistance to trying new games comes from not wanting to deal with new game-mechanics. CoC, however, is one of the "BRP" (Basic Roleplaying) extended family of games, and there are a LOT of games using minor variations of the same core mechanic! So they are ALL skills-based / classless / roll-under-skill-on-d100 / STR/DEX/CON/etc.
  • The most obvious "other BRP game" to try would be Chaosium's new edition of RuneQuest, set in the epic fantasy world of Glorantha. RQ was actually the very first game in the family, with the first two editions published before "BRP" itself or any other variant. The newest edition is very true to those old rules, and you can easily up-convert the VAST quantity of "Classic" material to the new edition (plus, Chaosium is actively putting out new content for the new edition).
  • Other Chaosium BRP titles include Nephilim, SuperWorld, Magic World, Mythic Iceland, and Basic Roleplaying itself (the last volume being more a collection of most of the variations and subsystems from ALL the family, gathered under one cover; not so much a ready-to-run game as a toolkit so you can brew your own variant to exactly your tastes.
But Wait, There's More! In addition to Chaosium, there are several publishers with multiple BRP games on offer.
  • Simplest to consider would likely be Cakebread&Walton. They focus mostly on a particular historical timeperiod, roughly 1500-1800, with their core Renaissance game (a BRP version). They have various titles using their in-house flavor of BRP, including steampunk-y / clockwork-y / cthulhoid, or "Pirates & Dragons," or Colonial America, &c.
  • Then there's d101 Games, whose OpenQuest rules are probably the lightest-weight version of BRP in widespread use. d101 includes such offerings as The Company (modern-military Special Forces), River of Heaven (far-future sci-fi), and several books of fantasy-setting.
  • Next up is The Design Mechanism, and their Mythras game-engine. Mythras is the lightly-revised title replacing their prior RuneQuest 6 (they held the RQ license from Chaosium for a while). Mythras is probably the "crunchiest" of the BRP family, which some people love with a never-go-back fervor and others find they hit-and-bounce-off (but to most, it's another game, neither Best Evar nor A Crunch Too Far). But TDM does excellent work, and has a VERY robust stable of Mythras-driven RPG's, including an ever-expanding Mythic Earth lineup, the licensed Luther Arkwright line (based on the British graphic-novel series), Classic Fantasy (a clever re-envisioning of old AD&D 1e/2e tropes within the BRP/Mythras framework), the post-apocalyptic/modern-urban-fantasy After the Vampire Wars, and (of course!) their own fantasy-world of Thennla; plus their own sub-licensee Frostbyte, who sells "M-Space" (a sci-fi book) and Odd Soot (an alt-history / alt-science book), both based upon Mythras.
  • Last but not least is Alephtar Games' Revolution D100, one of the most-varied variants in the BRP family; also, I think, the youngest major variant. They have several supplements in the works, from the steampunk fantasy Red Moon Rising (based on the webcomic of the same name) to the sci-fi Guide to the Galactic Frontier, to Rise of the Yokai Koku, set in Sengoku Japan. Already out is Merrie England: Robyn Hode.
There are a few other one-off outliers and other obscura, but I won't enumerate all that because there just isn't as much support for them.

Most of the BRP games collect at basicroleplaying.org, with many of the publishers offering their own forums as well.

Other folks have come along to cover my other notions, vis-a-vis Organized Play programs &c. I'll only add that I do know there's an Organized Play program for Call of Cthulhu, and Chaosium is looking closely as producing one for their new Runequest, too.
 

Derrick Kapchinsky

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Validated User
Agreed. Also, if you're pulling in non-gamers your first campaign should absolutely be D&D unless you have an EXTREMELY persuasive pitch for another game. Even non-gamers understand both generic fantasy and know what D&D is specifically. If it's not going to be D&D my suggestion would be a simple and popular IP that people understand like Star Wars (whichever edition you prefer).

Additionally, horror is its own niche within RPGs that IMO can have a very dedicated player base, but it's not a particularly large one from my experience.

Finally, while it's not my kind of thing, a friend has been wildly successful going to Organized Play (OP) events at local shops and finding people. He did Pathfinder Society, but apparently in most places D&D Adventure League is more popular. He's since branched off with that group into other games on off-nights. You don't have to play OP forever, just long enough to meet and see if people are interested in trying other things as well as OP. Also, possibly look for other OP opportunities in your area if you really dislike D&D style RPGing. I know Shadowrun has a quasi-OP thing going on.
I disagree with every word of this. Running things you don’t like is the fastest way in my experience to have miserable games and I’ve seen it turn people off gaming for good.

I feel you’re not excited about the game you’re running, how are you ever going to make other people excited about it? And this is doubly true if you have brand new gamers. Your excitement and enthusiasm for the game, as well as that of the other players is going to be the biggest contributor for their excitement and enthusiasm. So you should definitely run whatever it is that you think you run best and that you’re most excited to run.

And if those new people decide that they just really want to do D&D, then there are plenty of other games for them to join.
 

vitus979

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So you should definitely run whatever it is that you think you run best and that you’re most excited to run.
If you can pull in a party of non-gamers for an in-person niche campaign, then I applaud you for being able to do so. I either don't have your ability, luck, or location to be able to run whatever campaign I want whenever I want to. I will not run something I actively DISLIKE, but I find that I'm often stuck running a campaign that would be my third or fourth choice for system/setting in order to keep the table together.

That said, the last table of non-RPGers I pulled together was for Earthdawn because my pitch *was* pretty good.
 
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