I have been a proud consumer of anything gaming related for a long time. I am old enough to remember having to order cool gaming stuff out of the back of a new splat book I bought or be part of a great chain of people that would lend, borrow, and re-lend magazines, books, and other materials that dribbed and drabbed into our small town. I am also young enough that when the interwebz became a thing I delved in and drank deeply of whatever stuff was becoming available to me through the various new mediums.
But I think that one thing has remained the same throughout all of this time; and that is a misunderstanding of what it takes to have a successful gaming group come together regularly to enjoy our hobby.
You see, I think that most people believe that if you just have the perfect combination of rules, story, and fun then everything else will take care of itself. If this was the case then all of the posts I see on message boards, forums, and various social media platforms wouldn't happen.
So below are the 5 things you can do to have a successful gaming group.
1. Have an organizer. This, in my experience, is typically the GM, as whatever makes a person want to take on that pretty thankless task is usually also a person who is willing to put in the extra time required. But it doesn't necessarily have to be. You see, someone has to text, message, call, or whatever to take care of scheduling, time, make sure people can make it out, and try and arrange for times and places that are most likely to work for most of the people most of the time. This is way too important to not be done. Someone has to gather intelligence as in "Sandi can't get a babysitter on Tuesdays, so we need to solve that problem for her or move the night we gather." And though everyone should chip in to handle whatever needs to be handled, from hosting, to food, to booze, or whatever, the buck has to stop somewhere. Listen; I don't think most people are trying to be dicks but if no one talks to them about this stuff or puts in the work to organize your events, expect less success.
2. Solicit and give feedback constantly. First and foremost: GMs, begin or end each session with a few questions asking what people liked about what happened and what people thought about it, take a few minutes to describe what you were aiming to get, and if people didn't like it, then seriously look at what they didn't like, why it is and how it can be changed. It could be things as simple as your aiming for a certain emotional response from your players and the moment falling flat. That moment is done - no do-overs - but if you can understand better what happened, from those actually involved, then the likelihood of everyone's experience getting better over time goes up, and further people are much more likely to be forgiving when they see that you are always trying to improve your craft. Of course, this doesn't let you players off the hook. You need to be doing the same thing. I have a buddy who recently joined a game online and started doing a voice for his lizard man druid and he was worried that his characterizations were turning people off so he asked people about it at the break. He got really good feedback and found out that their momentary silences were because they were playing their characters in response to his, not due to their not liking it.
The second piece is something I invented and have now been doing for over a decade. I call it "Question Period." A the end of a session, if we have twenty minutes or so, I begin asking questions of the players, and they describe how their character feels about things. Usually, I start with the person on my left and ask him what his character thinks about the character to his left, and then the next one, and then the next one, and so on. When they get to where I am sitting, I usually have another question for them or ask them about an important villain or NPC. Then I move to the next player and repeat the process. I have found that a lot of character development can occur during this time, even from those that are not typically people who spend a lot of time "role-playing." I think we tend to underestimate what is going on in the imaginations of those that don't "get into character" that much at the table.
3. Confront bad behaviour. I know. I know that many of us can't stand to have any kind of confrontation and would rather just climb under the table than point out that the player across from you is incredibly sexist or that there is no way that a single human can roll that many Natural 20s in a row, or why that only happens when no one is looking. But it is important. Don't make the GM do it all, either. Step up, even if it can be handled quietly, in between session where you can say "Hey stud, I know that you think you know the rules better than anyone here, but that guy across from you knows them at least as well as you and no one gets annoyed by him because he doesn't argue or constantly interrupt and whine. They actually rely on him for advice. That's who you want to be, be like him."
4. Play with people you would want to hang out with anyways. Have you ever been in a group with someone you hated? It sucks the life out of the game, and at some stage the love of your hobby will be outweighed by your annoyance at that dickbag. Life is too short. It used to be far more difficult when you were stuck in small towns and the entire gaming community was like ten people wide. That's just not the reality today. People are playing games in huge numbers, and online platforms like roll20.net have a free and easy online way to find groups that are looking for players and GMs. Go find a group that's awesome. There are so many of them. Are they going to be perfect? No. Are they going to have off nights? Yes. Are they going to occasionally have someone that has a bad day and comes and takes it out on the game? Yes. But overall good groups exist.
I have slowly and painstakingly put my current group together over the last 12 years and this was my mantra the whole time. If I can't sit down and watch a movie with you or have coffee with you without not knowing what to talk about or wanting to stab you in the eye with my pencil, I don't have you in the game. And every member, every single member, has a veto on new players. I usually have newbies come and watch a session or two so they can see our style, see how we play, and they can make an informed decision about whether they want to be a part of it and we can interact with them around the gaming table. Then we make a decision as a group, without them there, as to whether we want them with us permanently. If any member says they aren't comfortable or anything like that we don't do it. Period.
5. Commit. Whenever someone joins a group I am in, we make a commitment to each other. The group makes a commitment to continue to play a high level of the hobby that we all love and by doing so provide an environment for everyone engaging in this hobby to flourish. The players each individually commit to show up on time, stay engaged while there, and be there every session. I am currently involved in three separate campaigns: an ongoing campaign that meets every other week on Sunday afternoons that I GM, using D&D 3.5 rules and 2nd Editions AD&D adventure modules and set in Ravenloft. If people want in that campaign; they commit to being there. The second is on alternating weekends where we just wrapped up a Shadowrun campaign and are now embarking on a new Mutants and Masterminds campaign. The commitment for Ravenloft is to show up every second week and see it to the end. The commitment for the new Mutants and Masterminds campaign will be for the duration of a single module. I also am DMing a 5th Edition online campaign wherein we chose to play weekly on Friday nights and discuss if we wanted to end it at the four month mark. But during the agreed upon time, we commit.
Hopefully this all helps. Happy gaming and take your games to the next level!
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.