Timetables have killed every attempt at a regular long-form RPG campaign since university, with one very notable exception; the Vampire group which accepted a compromise. A few face-to-face sessions a year plus a lot of chat about what the characters were doing in between times. It’s not the classic but it works – it gives the two couples involved an excuse to come and see each other (we’re all lazy tarts and who’d want to go to Wolverhampton anyway?) and because everyone involved is some sort of actor/writer/hardcore roleplayer/artist thing we generally synch up and assume roles with reasonable ease.
I had a revelation, not so long ago. I was struggling to re-establish a dormant roleplaying guild in WoW-land, i.e. to make people actually log into their undead alts and do some undead roleplaying. Events (that’s ‘sessions’ or maybe ‘modules’ to tabletoppers) were dying on their arses, players were shying like thoroughbred horses from the material provided, and even rounding up four of the blighters took a week’s work and enough messages that one player defriended me for spamming. A couple of the more active players took me to task over this and I learned two things about campaign management.
The first thing: if you build it, they will come, but whether or not they stay depends on whether you’ve built the right thing. When I thought of ‘undead RP’, I thought about… you know, the usual tabletop stuff. Adventures, excitement, exotic enemies, convoluted mystery plots, where the player characters happened to be undead. When many of the other players in that guild thought of ‘undead RP’ they meant… life as undead. Smaller, domestic stuff, pottering around being undead at each other, living the day to day lives of people who don’t have to eat, sleep or even breathe unless they want to speak. This is what a lot of WoW roleplayers seem to enjoy (I still think it’s because a majority of them are college or university students, myself) and it’s something I find utterly baffling. I don’t want to RP having a day job and going down the pub (well, maybe if I’m too ill to actually go down the pub) – I want the other stuff. The point is – people stopped turning up because they weren’t getting what they wanted and they weren’t getting what they wanted because I wasn’t interested in providing it.
This segues nicely into the second lesson, which I was taught with absolute bluntness by a member of the server’s highest-quality RP guild. Just because you had the idea doesn’t mean you have to do all the work. It’s really hard for tabletop GMs to grasp that. We’ve been told since we started that we are responsible for everyone else’s fun, that we have to arrange and schedule everything and prepare the entire environment, that we are the last resort in cases of dispute or misunderstanding…
What Calister tried to explain to me, at great length, is that a GM – Master of Games or Master of Guild, it doesn’t matter – is a facilitator. They bring people together for fun and they present a concept around which that fun will be formed and it’s up to players to bring something to the table.
If the GM is always rounding everyone up, host the events, players will get used to not doing things for themselves. They will lapse into the top-down, single-point-of-failure model of roleplaying and IF the GM burns out or gets bored or simply runs out of ideas they will sit, inert as tubers, silent as the grave until someone tries to suggest a change. Then they’ll resist, because there’s a dim prospect that they might have to do something for their bloody selves for once.
WoW RP is a very different experience to my old familiar favourite the tabletop game, but I wonder if it doesn’t have something to teach me about those. In the past I’ve always felt responsible for everyone else’s good time, like I’m the one who has to sort the schedules, find the venue, book the table, bring the snacks AND RUN THE ENTIRE DAMN GAME. I used to enjoy that sort of thing back when it was easy and I was even more of a control freak than I am now, but in these the times that try men’s souls I am weak and sickly and just want to play a damn RPG now and then.
In the Dark Ages Vampire game I have been asked several times to provide a venue for between-sessions storytelling – a space for characters to interact via correspondence, documents to be produced of their affairs, downtime to be charted and key relationships to be established so that we don’t have to waste time on in-between days when we DO get to play face to face. I have tried twice and failed twice and, in the spirit of my new ‘Why Do I Have To Do Everything?’ principle, the player who is most enthusiastic about these things has been invited to set it up himself.
He hasn’t, of course, but it’s early days yet. At least it’s not my problem now.