6 Ways to Keep Players Playing for Years…
One of the biggest challenges any gamemaster has to face is keeping a game going for years. The fact is, the story gets richer and the role-playing gets better the longer a game has the same players.
I have had the privilege of having a game running for over 25+ years now. It started in the Marvel Super Heroes gaming system and adapted into Marvel Heroic. Now I am launching a new group using Star Trek Adventures published by Modiphius. I hope to keep our starships journeys on way more than a five-year mission.
As such, I have been giving a lot of thought about what made my Marvel gaming group so successful and how I can emulate it again. Here are my tips if you want to make a game that stands the test of time.
- Smash That Table
The fact is, we grow up. People move. Work schedules differ. Some people don’t have a car. If you are stuck with playing around a table, eventually you will lose players. Time to graduate from the table if you want to have a decades-long game. I switched to an online play-by-email (PbEM) and have even adapted it further since then, which I write about later in this article.
- Choose Your Heroes (Players) Wisely
I am very careful when choosing which players. I am equally careful when I write my stories. The worst situation is when a GM invests a lot of time on allowing a newbie to make a character, builds a plot line around them, and then the player moves, gets married, or decides RPG is “not for them”. Any person I allow to play I vet as a “hardcore” gamer. Until such time, I will not allow a newbie to be the crux of a campaign. I will allow them to play a minor character or a guest-starring role. Proving grounds, you know what I mean?
- Predict Life Changes
Even the most stalwart of players has circumstances that make playing online difficult. Loss of employment. New jobs. Marriage. Kids. Death of a family member. Financial or health woes. Some of these you can predict and write your stories accordingly. Others, you cannot predict. If there is a sudden, unexpected change with a main player character, usually another skilled player can take up their mantle until the GM can find a creative way to put the character on hiatus.
- Know How to Write in Guest-Stars
So, you have a newbie who swears that they are die-hard RPGers. They have a favorite character they want to play; maybe a non-player character (NPC) who is a regular in your game or their favorite superhero. I suggest making them an O’Brien (as in from Star Trek TNG then later a main character in DS9). Write them into one scene at first to test them out. Make it so that if they don’t stick with it, it comes off as a cool guest-starring role. If they do stick around, you can make sure they play a less frontline role just in case they peter out. Then, give them another try as a headliner. Do this a few times to see if they are a true diehard.
- Write Up the Story (or at least good synopsis)
If you really want to keep players around for a good long time, write up your stories. I have literally decades of my groups Marvel Comic stories written up. In the early days, I just did a synopsis that I could cut/paste to my players to remind them of key plot points. Now, I totally geek out. I design custom comic covers for my Marvel game and include full story write-ups. Same thing with my newest venture, Star Trek Adventures. I post the full stories online for the players to enjoy. New players can easily reference past campaigns, which inherently bonds them to the stories.
- Use Technology
Do spotty RPG sessions prevent truly rich character development? Do you and your friends have to actually make a living (hence, no more weekend-long RPG binge sessions)? If that is the case, I highly suggest switching to an online format. I write about it in detail in another article about how I utilize technology to facilitate the two campaigns I run and the one I play in. Check it out.
The satisfaction I feel after two and a half decades of gaming is like nothing else. I would love to hear about your stories of long-standing, ongoing campaigns. Here’s to great RPG!
About Michael Dismuke
I am a freelance writer for Star Trek Adventures RPG and creator of Gamemasters Comics [https://www.drivethrucomics.com/product/374576/Gamemasters-Graphic-Novel]. I currently am a writer for Continuing Missions, and if the universe goes right, the Fantastic Four movie reboot. (Last part's a joke, though, I wish it wasn't.)
Hi Michael, Great article.
Just on productivity … I thought I’d nerd things up a little more at my own table by starting a Trello board for cataloguing session info and world building.
In my day job I’m a CRM manager in the arts and part of my big (thankless) tasks is to project manage big productivity shifts in IT and business practice. For project management I’ve been using Trello boards. Trello is an online free tool where you can attach mini projects and details to categories. Each of these things can have due dates, checklists, attached files etc. You can also assign people to those mini-projects.
It occurred to me that would be a great thing for my game to keep track of details and assign tasks to players. I’ve got categories assigned to PCs, NPCs, Plots threads, Places and I’ve tagged each of them with the PC that it relates to.
The Trello phone app is easy to use in case you have time on the bus. You can use it at the game table or on a roll20 session easy enough as well.
Anyway just thought id share
Very cool. I am going to have to check this out. I am always exploring innovative ways to make it easier for my players to play.
Another thing I love to do is keep a pintrest board of NPCs/Places. I keep one for getting ideas and then repin to another secret board that I’ll use for each game session. That way I can open today’s game board and show a picture of the person they meet at the game table or cut past the image it into my online game.
By the way, what game system are you playing?
At the moment I’m using it for a FATE game. We tossed around ideas and came up with Victorian London. Great thing is that I’d never met any of these guys before they approached me to run a game for them on G+. The online tools were great for collaborating before wee met in person the first time at the game store.
The board is also a good jumping on point for new players.
I’ve used a similar thing for a couple MHRP games. Works great
playing rpg in real life with a real table since 1992 and i disagree to all your point.
We are playing all saturday, when player move new player come, when newbee quit the table i lost a story line so what? i have 6 to 8 others players with their proper story. To keep your player engaged be a good person and a good gm, that’s all.
Awesome! More power to ya’. I guess I need to expand my circle of local friends. 🙂