What binds groups together to play a game?
When I first started running my Mystamyr game on Monday nights, about a year ago now, it was a meeting of disparate friends and acquaintances. It began with an open call within the Roleplay Rescue Discord – and also via the GM’s Journal on Patreon – for interested players to come forward. Initially, there were many more players than I could handle but, one by one, some of those left the group. After a couple of months, the core group we presently have emerged.
Two players were long-term friends. One player was the game designer for the rules we chose to use. The others were friends of other players or new acquaintances discovered via the RPR community. Essentially, what bound us in the first few sessions was a shared desire to play Mythras Classic Fantasy. I think me being GM and offering to run in my world of Mystamyr was a secondary draw. Thus, in the beginning, what bound us was the idea of the game using a particular rules system in a particular world.
We recently lost one of the most vocal and passionate proponents of the game system due to a mismatch with my GMing style and the wider preferences of the group. That was deeply saddening for me… but it has weirdly helped me feel more connected to the rest of the group. When my confidence wobbled and I was sorely tempted to end the game, it was the interest and enthusiasm for the game from the player group that pulled me back to the table. More recently, what bound us together was the shared desire to keep playing with these particular people.
When I reflect on my other games, such as the Northern Isles or the couple of sessions I have played face-to-face in the Wilderlands, the truth is that I am drawn more to the particular people in those groups than I am to the game. I could stand to change the game – the rules or the world – if it meant I would continue to be able to play with these people. If I could add some of the other great players I know to an existing group, I would.
For all my preferences, I know that I game because it’s a strong social hobby. The real enjoyment comes from the interactions between these particular players over time, session after session. The game is the vehicle for the joy I experience when the group is buzzing with the pleasure that arises from rolling dice and overcoming the obstacles arising through play.
But consider this: you would not find that group of players you enjoy without someone pitching to run the particular game – those rules, that world, this methodology – first. When you start out, you either invite existing friends who might not enjoy RPGs, or you pitch out to strangers.
When I was playing more one-shot and short-play games, I enjoyed the sessions… but not as much as I enjoy the longer games that have begun to emerge in my life this past year or so. In fact, when I think about the games I want to play nowadays, I tend to be thinking much more about who I enjoy playing with than I do about the specifics of rules, worlds, and even methodology.
In truth, the way I tend to think about pitching games now is first to think about who. I then tend to seek the methodology that I would enjoy experimenting with the most – for example, the Northern Isles was about “playing for the sake of playing”, while the Wilderlands was about offering a knock about Open Table hexcrawl/dungeon game. Then I think about a world. Lastly, I consider which specific set of rules might suit the game best.
In other words, as you find your community you can switch around your approach to play. Instead of pitching rules systems and worlds, you can pitch to specific people you enjoy sharing time with and then work with them to come up with a game everyone will enjoy. It becomes less hit-and-miss. You can begin to run games that are more in line with your preferences.
I believe I will always be open to new faces at the table but, quite often, I realise how blessed I am, through having shared my hobby via the podcast and this blog, to have connected to many excellent people with whom I deeply enjoy spending time. It’s a very different situation from when I started out Roleplay Rescue, back in November 2018, as a call to return to the table.
All that said, I would encourage you to think about the tipping point between trying to build a group you enjoy and when you notice that you have made deeper bonds with new friends forged at the gaming table. You can shift your thinking and seek to create games which meet the needs and desires of the group rather than simply pitching a game to garner attention as a GM. In other words, it might be worth paying attention to the point where your stable of players is wide enough to allow for more steady play and some deeper, more creative ideas.
I am grateful to all of the players – present and past – who have helped me forge what I enjoy right now. Groups are always shifting, ever-changing, just as the people within them are living, ever-changing human beings. That is the glory and tragedy of roleplaying games. But when you find a good group, whew – it sure feels glorious!