Behind the Screen: Addressing some familiar ailments…

2007 December 20
by Dante

In the comment blast that occurred last Wednesday, catdragon mentioned a few specific problems that are plaguing his campaigns. I made a mental note as I read his comment to come back and touch on those problems because they are very familiar to me as well.

Regarding unreliable players
Luckily, in my current group we don’t have any players that I would classify as unreliable, however I’ve been around long enough to see it a few times. This is a relatively common topic around the D&D blogosphere, however I will echo a few of my favorite tips on the matter.

  1. Have a schedule, and communicate it clearly.

    We have a Google Calendar AND a forum for our group to ensure that everyone knows when the next session will be. Some of our frequent players have some complexity in their schedules so it became very easy for us to collaborate in this way.

  2. Have a contingency plan in your social contract.

    If someone can’t make it, or drop out at the last minute have a plan of attack. Do you play without them? Who runs their character? What experience do they earn while being “ghost played”? Answering these questions up front with the group is always a good way to go. This doesn’t mitigate the damage that is done by unreliable players, but it does help to have a plan of attack when the situation arises.

  3. You can always fix it with structure.

    If you have a core set of recurring players and a few outliers that can’t seem to come consistently, you can always go for a campaign model that allows for the less frequent players to play NPCs, or plot related characters on an as-needed basis. Or you can plan for them to take place in a tangent campaign on the side that only incrementally intersects with the main party on nights that they can be there.

    This can be done through electronic media, such as email or online if the infrequent players don’t have much time in their schedules. With a bit of planning can lead to some pretty interesting interaction with the main group and can let everyone join in on the fun!

Some notes on subtlety

Catdragon mentioned having some problems with subtlety, and I’d like to reiterate something I have covered a few times here before: your players don’t know all the things that you do. Sometimes when you’re doing this right, you will hit them over the head with a clue or two and that will get them sniffing around in the right areas and then you can back off a little and let them find their own clues.

Barring that approach working, I wouldn’t hesitate to start questioning the players a little, both in game and out of game… ask some leading questions if they’re not picking up on a clue, or after they get exposed to the clue via brute force ask them how or why they didn’t make the connection. It might be that some additional description, or a differently presented clue might do the trick and sometimes you must just have that honest discussion to find out what could be done differently to have them find your breadcrumb trail.

One Response leave one →
  1. Yax permalink
    December 21, 2007

    Great tips. I think asking questions out-of-game is the most underrated tool of all.

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