(Too many GMs, not enough players!)

NB: This is an extra post outside the normal schedule. My usual post will take place in a day or two.

One of the duties I have reluctantly taken on for my fellow gamers is the organisation of the timetable. When I started playing with the eclectic collection of individuals I know as my fellow players, each GM amongst our group ran a game every week, week after week, and there were enough players to go around unless one became so popular that it sucked people out from other campaigns – usually a strictly temporary situation – and there was no need for a schedule. The average campaign ran for between six months and a year.

I was persuaded to launch a teen-group spinoff campaign from my primary superheros campaign, but that wasn’t an issue; We played one in the afternoon and one in the evenings, since the venue we used at that time permitted gaming from noon until about 10PM. Then two more spinoff campaigns began, largely because of demand, and there simply weren’t enough seats in the primary superhero campaign, which had been going for an unprecedented 5 years at the time. Other GMs began complaining that they never knew who was going to be available at any given time. Thus, the timetable was born; a simple affair of fortnightly rotation, giving every campaign equal time.

Over the 20+ years since then, the timetable has grown, as more and more GMs and would-be GMs insisted on being given a game session. It is now a calander covering the whole year, showing what we’re expecting to play, and when, and now operates on a monthly cycle, with every week planned for. If a session can’t take place, it’s normally up to the GM and players to make their own arrangements in terms of what to do, and often a player without a game simply won’t turn up – it used to be the practice to be there every week, and if you didn’t have a game to go to, there were enough other people in a similar situation that something could be organised.

The graphic at the top of the page shows what a typical month looks like these days (I’m presenting it to show off my pretty graphics as much as anything. These have been reduced in size, the full-sized versions (1985×222 glorious pixels!) are available at the timetable website).

Perhaps I should start with a rundown on the various campaigns.

“The Adventurer’s Club” is a Pulp Genre game run using Champions 5th Edition. I co-referee with another guy named Blair. Adventures are globe-trotting affairs and have included everything from Ghost Ships, to an attempted coup in Haiti, to infiltrating Nazi Germany in persuit of forbidden knowledge captured by the Nazis, to political games by the KKK, to a heist caper in the Vatican’s Secret Library, to a secret society in England equivalent to the Spanish Inquisition, to Vampire Knights protecting mankind against Things We Were Not Meant To Know from a hidden location under a Nazi high-tech weaponry research establishment that was building supersoldiers and prototyping earthquake rays and transatlantic supersonic zeppelin missiles!

“Ars Margica: Triamore” is a new game that’s about to start, refereed by Graham M. It’s taking a couple of players from Pulp.

“Cyberpunk” is run after our current gaming venue shuts down for the night (at 6PM) by Bill K.

“Fumanor: One Faith” is one of a pair of Sequel campaigns to one of my D&D 3.5 Campaign, which was known as “Fumanor” after the Kingdom that was the central setting. One Faith is the story of a Drow recruit to the Inquisition against a church that is under assault from Cthulhuan “Chaos Powers” but has become arrogant, inflexible, corrupt, and greedy, and deals with the political, religious, and social ramifications of the many plot threads left hanging, or dealt with, by the party in the previous campaign. Note that I’ve scheduled a couple of extra sessions on Sundays when I’m not doing anything. The “One Faith” campaign is all over the place for the last 4 months of the year.

“Fumanor: The Seeds Of Empire” largely deals with events external to the Central Kingdom (which has now been divided into three), but which still influance events within the Kingdoms. Like an invading Empire of Undead, or the conquest (in the original campaign) of the Elves by a resurgant Lolth, who was believed to have been destroyed in the original campaign’s backstory. This campaign takes the Fumanor time-slot for part of the year (actually, in the real timetable, this is another ‘One Faith’ session; The “Seeds” campaign dominates Saturday Week 2s for the first 8 months of the year.)

“7th Sea,” quite obviously, is a swashbuckling campaign run by Ian M. He would have preferred to be a player, but no-one else was both available and willing to invest the time in refereeing the campaign. I’ve offered to take it over when the current Fumanor campaigns are completed (I never intended to run two spinoff campaigns simultaniously anyway).

“Shards Of Divinity” is another of my D&D 3.5 Campaigns which started last year. A Novice Wizard witnessed the creation of everything in a world where magic is dying, and now seeks to take advantage of the situation while attempting to understand what he witnessed. This is a world where self-interest rules, and everyone is evil.

‘Phil’s Game’ is whatever game is being run by Phil MacGregor, one of the authors of Space Opera, and our Club President for more than twenty years while we needed one. Currently he’s running Fading Suns (I think that’s right) but is reportedly thinking about switching to something new soon. I didn’t know exactly what he was doing, so I created the generic Tag for him.

“Champions: Zenith Three” is the current incarnation of my superhero campaign, which has been running (with a few extended breaks) since 1982. In 27-odd years, I don’t think there’s a variety of threat that the heroes HAVN’T faced. The PCs are superheros in training in an off-dimension field office of the main organisation, and are due to move to a different dimension soon – going from a 1960s world in which Joseph McCarthy became president and Organised Crime virtually took over the country to a futuristic world of the 2050s in which the British Empire not only never broke up, it has come to rule half the world – with other half seemingly conquered by Magic-wielding Space Aliens called the Mao. But there’s just been a disaster at Base Prime and most of the senior team has been wiped out, so the PCs are going to have to spend half their time dealing with Emergencies on a larger front.

Not shown is “Warcry”, a space-opera/polical/superhero campaign that spun off the Zenith-Three game because the title character was too powerful for the main team at the time, simply because the player did a better job in character creation. Technically, the PC in question is now a wanted criminal, but that’s because of politics – with Morgaine Le Faye having conquered half of England, The Fourth Reich reigning supreme in Germany, and the Fifth Reich in South America, and this character not respecting the diplomatic immunity that was extended when they joined the UN. The Warcry campaign dominates Sundays for the first 8 months of the year.

‘Mike W’s Game’ is another case of campaigns in flux. For much of the last two years, Mike W has been running a campaign using an original setting, called “The Long Night”, but a few months ago he started doing something different – which is now winding down. He’s now talking about maybe rejigging the “Long Night” campaign, but wasn’t sure what he would be running next at the time the schedule was being prepared.

“Ars Magica: The Novgorod Tribunal” is the second of two new Ars Magical Campaigns being started up by a relatively new GM (who has been a player amongst us for 20-odd years) named Michael P, but better known as “Wolfie” because we had too many people named ‘Mike’ – a nickname that he dislikes but has become used to. (One year, four of the five committee people were named Mike – we decided to make the fifth an “Honorary Mike” in celebration. We though it was amusing, but apparantly his players gave him hell all year. Sorry.)

It’s these last two campaigns that are the actual subject of this blog entry (I knew we’d get there eventually), because they illustrate the occasional need for a skill set that most gamers never think to develop – that of Politician. Mike P had advised me that his campaign was going to take place every second Week 4, plus any Week 5s that cropped up (there are 2-5 occasions in any given year in which a calandar month has five saturdays). The usual thing for week 5 is “by arrangement” (and because I do the timetable, I get to make my arrangements before anyone else). But that was fine, I knew that the calandar was cramped already. Mike P had been a player in Mike W’s “Long Night” campaign in its previous incarnation, but since Mike W had wound it up and started something else that was also winding up, Mike P decided to claim the timeslot.

Unfortunately, he didn’t inform Mike W of his plans, or the prospective players; he just assumed that they would be available. As a result, Mike W was able to lay claim to everyone that Mike P wanted as a player in his campaign. So far as I am concerned, I only arrange the timetable according to the information I’m given, it’s up to each individual GM to organise his own campaign. The most that I can promise is to minimise any conflicts that occur (which makes it incredibly hard to change, but that’s another story).

Mike P’s problem is that the only other potential slot open to him, Week 1, has been claimed by Graham for HIS Ars Magica campaign, in which he had signed up to play. They were even talking about a shared world. He’s also a player in both the 7th Sea campaign and in Phil’s campaign, as are almost all the other players that he wanted. Week 4 was the only regular slot open for him, it’s that simple.

As a result, it looks as though The Novgorod Tribunal is dead before it began, unless something can be salvaged. Now, it’s not my place to referee these intra-GM brawls when they occur; but here’s what I would have done, if I had been Mike P.

I’d have started by being very dissappointed that Mike W was not going to be available for the Novgorod Tribunal campaign as I had been ‘really counting on him’. I would then have asked whether or not there was a compromise possible? Between Week 4s and Week 5s in 2009, there are 15 days, and there would have been 16 if Boxing Day (Dec 26) was not a Saturday. So 8 sessions each is fair, especially since Mike P had forgotten that he had specified Week 5s, and was only expecting 6 sessions a year. A compromise of that nature would have cost Mike W three of his game sessions (from eleven to eight) – but Mike P could have sweetened the deal and just taken the 6 sessions he was expecting anyway, throwing another 2 to Mike W. For the price of missing just one session, plus the Boxing Day session that he would have lost anyway – Both GMs get what they want, and everyone is happy.

Compromises are never ideal, and rarely give us everything we want – but the political art of being able to negotiate a fair compromise is an essential part of any DMs arsenal. And that’s the lesson to take from this story of too many campaigns and not enough players.

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