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> Player absenteeism, When it starts becoming a group problem
Talia Invierno
post Mar 29 2004, 11:03 PM
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So this is now the second week in a row that two of us have turned up ready to run a session tightly twined around each of the PCs, and found ourselves the only ones there. At least this time every person but one told us that they were not going to be able to be able to make it.

Don't get me wrong. The players really like the games (we have more than one running, on alternate weeks) and are really into it. They talk about the plotlines and what their characters did to their other friends all the time. (You all know the pattern ;) ) This particular group exists at all because one player was so enthusiastic about his own experiences (more about this player later) that he managed to gather together others to play in his Star Wars d20 campaign (and they became active parts of an originally two-on-one Shadowrun, and somewhere in there exist two or three other games).

The excuses are always what - in isolation - I would consider legit. Heck, it's not even usually the "I have a life" excuse - which (very much in isolation) I'd also consider legit. We managed to work out a time when everyone could actually make it around their work and sometimes school and sometimes family commitments. The one person who has the absolute worst schedule of us all (full-time work, full-time school) has been the most reliable in showing up prepared. The two of us with the second- and third-worst schedules are the two who show up every week. (I'll admit to the occasional off-the-cuff session, although always within planned environments and planned major and semi-major NPCs. Bus time can be very useful :grinbig: )

This is far from being a new thing - starting even to become a regular thing that there will be complete absenteeism or being more than two hours late. I've tried initiating bonus XP / karma rules. I've even gotten most of the players to let whoever is the GM for that session know when it's going to happen, or to apologise/explain after the fact, when it was something immediate. (Interestingly enough, this seems to have been an unfamiliar concept to most of them.)

It's just that this kind of thing seems to be happening more often, to nearly everyone.

At the extreme and probably the core of this particular dilemma, the player mentioned above (who, outside the game, is definitely the social core of the group), has for some months now been finding some sort of excuse almost each and every week. Serious family problems. Assignments due tomorrow. Change in work shifts. Change in work. Exhaustion due to changes. After he postponed the next session of his Star Wars game for the nth time (one into which he had explicitly invited me, but which I delayed in taking up until I knew that I could commit the time), for the past two months I have taken that campaign into my hands - with his explicit agreement - to temporarily take over his d20 Star Wars game to keep it alive until he could sort out his new shift sleep pattern: a single, seven-session arc designed to be self-contained and easily returnable to him. It's a game I want to be playing in! (Incidentally, it's among the most difficult game things I have ever done: to keep a NPC active as a potential and probable PC without in any way preempting any of the existing and active PCs.)

However, he has started keeping a blog (and sent all of us the link!): for the times when he was not there, the blog notes nothing but another variant of "I'm so bored!" and the time when I decided to actually bring this to everyone's attention, he considers himself "reamed out". Needless to say, his excuses are becoming questionable to me.

He is not typical of the other players: but since he is their social core and this group's initiator, well ...

That's one extreme, but I've seen many different versions of the same basic issue. In this case, it's a combination of the game generally becoming a lower priority among other life things, along with a complete absence of any sense of group obligation by a core player. In other cases, it is changes from school to work environment, or marriage, or possible promotion or relocation: any number of factors which act to change one player's individual priorities, and which have the potential to reverberate on the group as a whole.

Some players realise when their work/school/social life starts to take on a higher priority than the game, and tell the group that they will have to leave it. Quite frequently the group as a whole, being of the same general demographic, runs into these issues at the same time, and chooses to disband, or, alternately, meet very irregularly. But sometimes: a few players simply don't realise that their absenteeism is having any effect on the group as a whole (never mind the GM's prep work!) - or, worse, don't care.

What degree of attendance should GMs expect from players? And of course the converse: what degree of reliability should players expect from GMs?

At what point should the members of the group just shrug and accept that the group really no longer exists? Who informs the group - and how?
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L.D
post Mar 29 2004, 11:26 PM
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QUOTE (Talia Invierno)
What degree of attendance should GMs expect from players?  And of course the converse: what degree of reliability should players expect from GMs?


A lot. Very much. As a GM, I've never had the problem of people not showing up in many sessions in a row, but I would not tolerate it for long. Even with excuses. I'd talk to the player ask him what he wants to do and explain that he can't just go around cancelling.

At the same time I expect a lot from a GM (whether I'm the GM or not). Case in point was last november-december when I had a campaign running. After being forced to cancel two gaming sessions in a row because of too much to do in school, I explained to "my" group that there was no chance that I could continue to GM (and do it well) until at least after christmas. To tell the truth I haven't started up that campaign yet, but fortunately we have other GM:s and we do other things than play RPG:s together.


QUOTE
At what point should the members of the group just shrug and accept that the group really no longer exists?  Who informs the group - and how?


That depends on how many you feel that you have to be to play. My minimum is two people (GM and player) although it's better if you're at least three. I say that the "group" no longer exists when everyone in the group stops playing. And it should be a group thing with the information. The group should sit down and talk it through. If there is only one GM, then it might be the GM:s call (specially if the GM put the group together), but otherwise most people in the group will see where it's going so it's not gonna be a big surprise.

Seriously, how many are you left (maybe you wrote it, but I'm a bit tired so...)? because if you're at least 3-4 people then you still have a group and can play together. It might take a while to get used to that number, but it's quite doable. What I "grew up with" when it comes to RPG:s is three people playing and all of us taking turns at being the GM.

If I where in your shoes, then I'd try to build a group around the three people that usually show up. Talk thing through with the other two. If you find that three people isn't enough to play, then check if they have friends that want to play or something like that. Don't let this shit stop you from playing.

Edit: I certainly wouldn't stand for people not showing up without at least a days warning. It's not something that you do, unless there's a big emergency.

This post has been edited by L.D: Mar 29 2004, 11:28 PM
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The_Dood
post Mar 29 2004, 11:54 PM
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I once had a player tell me he couldn't make it half way through an adventure, whilst he was playing. "Can we stop for pizza now, I got somewhere to be." Turns out he had a girl to see, whom he told that he had nothing better to do.

So any warning is enough warning in my games, and all the other players tend to give me at least a days notice. But back on topic, a few years ago we used to play on saturdays and it was always a compromise to get everyone to the table. it was never fun anyway because people were stressing about getting changed to go out rather than enjoying themselves. So, as a group we all decided that sundays would be the day we played on. Maybe changing the time you play (if you have a set time) might help?
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Nikoli
post Mar 30 2004, 02:13 AM
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I dunno, seeing a person potentially for sex constitutes a legitimate reason, but at least have the courtesy of letting your other gamers know that your seeing someone and also be polite enough to schedule the time for your friends too. A relationship is no good if you have to ditch your friends to make them happy. Like it or lump it, friends are often part of teh relationship equation
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Zazen
post Mar 30 2004, 05:29 AM
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Getting laid has always been our groups Only Acceptable Excuse.

There is, however, a difference between getting laid and being whipped. My best friend went through a sad period like this; his girlfriend would call during the game and ream him out for being there at all. He'd sulk, take it, and not show up the following week.

Pitiable, to say the least.
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CirclMastr
post Mar 30 2004, 05:43 AM
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I have a magical power in this regard.

Well, I have two magical powers, but the other one isn't for consumption on this board.

My (first) magical power is that every time I try to run a game online, or even participate in a game in person, that game fails due to player absenteeism. For whatever reason, people just don't show. Rare is the time that half the group shows, even if I'm running a game for two people. Once I drove an hour to a game session to be the only one who showed up (aside from the GM, but he lived there so he doesn't count). Even when I try to run games with just ONE player - which is a real challenge I might add - I am often unable to get that one player to commit any time to it. It's incredibly aggravating.
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CardboardArmor
post Mar 30 2004, 05:52 AM
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If you don't mind a bit of book-keeping, do this.

Just start up a point system (we're all SR players, we should know how to do this).

For every absent/tardy, you acquire (x) points. When you reach (y) points, then you get kicked to the curb.

Reasonable excuses aside, this should keep the playerbase (and even the GM!) on the clock.

As for that whole 'missing a game to get laid' thing, someone actually did that to one of mine. He showed up late and explained his reason for tardiness as being that he was engaged in a little 'under-cover operations'.

Sex and then Shadowrun...Man...
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Diesel
post Mar 30 2004, 05:53 AM
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*kill* Online games I participate in just seem to die. Online games I GM in just seem to die. I'm always left, standing in the wreckage, going "guys? guys...?"

I just grin and bear it.

And to Shadow, host of the one game that made it: sorry for dropping, that was lame of me.

That's where my bad karmas comin' from, I think :D
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Voran
post Mar 30 2004, 06:04 AM
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I imagine it also has something to do with age. Through early teens to college years, it was easier to commit to games (though near the end of college it became more difficult). Then when you hit that period of life when society pretty much expects you to start doing something more than playing games, fun times...paying bills, going to work, trying to find an adult relationship, etc etc.

From what I've seen once things settle down, and your life becomes more stable, maybe in your 30s, you can start finding more stability in hobbies you choose to pick up. Unless you have kids :P
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broho_pcp
post Mar 30 2004, 06:09 AM
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I think the problem with online games is when they get to large. Then you have two or three players pretty much take over the game. The other usually post because they think, "if I don't have much to add, why post." If you don't post often, the game grinds to a halt, people quit, and the game dies. I think one way to deal with this is to emphsize OOC posts to keep players and GM's in the game, whether they say anything or not IC. That's my .02 :nuyen:
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The White Dwarf
post Mar 30 2004, 03:56 PM
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Well, before passing judgement, few questions:

How many players do you have in total?

How often are you running per week, with (3 i think?) games occuring?

How many players are skipping each session?

Is it always the same people, or change due to life?

Is this one guy thats always not there someone the game cant exist without?

Ive got a few things I want to say that may help, but Id really like definitive answers to those questions before I type it, as if Im reading them wrong itll make the whole post useless.
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Talia Invierno
post Mar 30 2004, 04:09 PM
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I'm really looking for two things.

First, maybe most important, are your experiences, by way of learning and also by way of knowing what the standards - especially standards of acceptable rates of absenteeism, acceptable excuses, and acceptable frequency - are generally expected to be; also at what point to act on them or to accept that the group no longer exists, and how to break that information to players in denial.

Second, more immediately relevant to me but less important overall, is what others would suggest in this particular case. There are some specific issues which undermine solutions suggested thus far:
  • I can't build a new group around the three reliable players (myself included), because they also happen to be the three players who know they are most likely to have to drop the game entirely on relatively short notice due to life factors. (In at least one case, this might well be an international move.)
  • We are already meeting on the only time that didn't interfere with anyone's fixed commitments. So changing the time again won't help.
  • None of the players have adult relationships that get in the way. I am, however, suspecting that "hangover" is becoming a common invisible excuse.
  • The player who for months now has been finding (increasingly questionable) excuses even to warn of absence also happens to be the player who decided to put this group together in the first place and to GM that group (but not follow through) ... and who also happens to be the out-of-game social core of (and thus something of an example to) all of the group except me and one other among the reliable players.
  • He also happens to be right in the middle of the group for age ... just younger than the three reliable players, just older than the two who are quite a bit less so. All players but three are at the work-school boundary, and the three who aren't are at work boundaries.
  • Any solution that drops him from the game will destroy the group: the less reliable players will follow his example, the more reliable players know the limits of their current ability to commit due to their life circumstances (see first point). The previous mix of players was working ... until this spate of lateness and absenteeism.

What solution is possible, given what exists in the here and now?

Adding for The White Dwarf:

Players in total: 6

Per week: currently 2, normally 1 (alternating). I suggested an extra meeting specifically for the SW game during my substitute GMing to really establish the SW group as a team during that 7/8 session arc. Absenteeism is lowest during those extra meetings - and they're the ones one player has no choice but to always be late to. (Although that class ending early for the last several weeks has meant he has lucked out thus far - not a situation we are counting on.) But the arc is coming to an end, maybe one, two more extra meetings, and then we are back to 1 per week.

Players skipping each session? 2-4, again lowest during the SW game.

Is it always the same people, or change due to life? Yes to both: what is given for excuses usually centres around shift/sleep pattern changes and such, but while reasonable in isolation, those excuses are wearing a bit thin.

Is this one guy thats always not there someone the game cant exist without? See list above.

Any insight you can give on this situation will help :)
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Yasha
post Mar 30 2004, 05:52 PM
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We (we switch off between GM's) give them each two and only two excused absences before something fatal happens. Even if they let us know something always happens like marriage, HMHVV, etc. Just to help them explain where there character was during that time.
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L.D
post Mar 30 2004, 06:18 PM
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Hmmm... that makes it a big trickier.

Lets start off with my own experiences.

To tell the truth I hijacked "my" group from the guy who put it together. That is, he put it together, I GM:ed for a while and realized that I couldn't GM him any more. I told him so, he walked off and wanted to take the other players (except Kitsune) with him, but they stayed.

We've tried to play once a week for the last couple of years and we play on average three out of every four weeks, but that varies depending on different circumstances.

Acceptable excuses... I can't think of one that I wouldn't accept, but it's probably out there. The important thing is to give at least one days warning so as to notify the rest of the group that the game is off (or on despite the person missing). Giving notice the same day you only do if it's an emergency. Other than that nothing is acceptable. Last session I had a cold, and another player was sick as well (his stomach) but still we played.

Acceptable rates and frequency... hmm... I don't really know. But I'd guess I'd draw the line at four times in a row and frequency I'd say once per month. But that would depend on the reasons why. Compare having a hangover to the guy who has a chronical stomach condition. *shrugs* Acceptable levels depends on the reasons why and what I'm really interested in is if the player doesn't feel like playing. If a player doesn't want to play, then I want to know so that I can play for it and have him/her not appear on our sessions until said player wants to play again. Otherwise s/he will have a negative effect on the game and the rest of the players.

When it comes to what you should do I find that trickier. The first thing I think you should do is talk to the player who put the group together. Ask him why he's been gone so much lately, if he's grown tired of playing or GM:ing and see if you can't get him to come back regularly and sort out why he's not showing.

Actually, that and my previous suggestion are the only ones I can think of at the moment. Though it might have something to do with the fact that I slept about five hours last night (while still having a cold). I'll think about it some more and see if I can think of anything else. :)
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Jpwoo
post Mar 30 2004, 10:07 PM
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Perhaps try shortening your story arcs. Try to keep your evenings play self contained so that you can play with who ever happens to show up. Both Shadowrun and Star Wars lend themselves to this kind of play. A series of single night flings is less fullfilling than a long story arc, but sometimes you have to resort to it. Prop the group up with these until it either settles into a routine or blows up.

Either way remember that we play to have fun. This isn't work.
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Mr. Man
post Mar 30 2004, 10:08 PM
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Wow, these scenarios are all so complex...

In my current group if someone doesn't make it the GM runs their character. Sometimes this works out just fine for the character (lots of sitting in the car and maybe they even get to do something cool) other times not so much (just imagine it).

Either way, the character gets no karma. Its coincidence, but frequently the night someone is absent is the night that we actually perform the run (rather than just planning and recon). When this happens it is a powerful incentive for the player to not miss again as they didn't get to see their part of the plan come together.

This mainly works because none of the players in my group are more socially important than the others, so no matter who doesn't show up the game still has good forward momentum (in fact usually we move faster because fewer people are taking up the GM's time).
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Herald of Verjig...
post Mar 30 2004, 10:21 PM
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QUOTE (Zazen)
Getting laid has always been our groups Only Acceptable Excuse.

That's only oa valid excuse for skipping Shadowrun if part of the group doesn't want it happening during Shadowrun.
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The White Dwarf
post Mar 31 2004, 03:18 AM
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OOokkaayy, theres a lot of insight you provided about the situation and Im not sure Ive fully absorbed it all so if somethings a bit amiss here, my bad.

That said, it sounds to me like the out of game social interation between the group is affecting the in game effects of, um, gaming. Some of the players arent interested in gaming per se, they play more because they want to hang out with this central player. Unfortuatly for you, that segment of the group is what has been, and needs to continue to be, the core of the group. This is because the other members are the ones who are contending more with RL, while the central player and his friends have the flexibility to come but may contend with other things they consider a priority.

So to summarize: the central player and his friends game more to hang out, while the other players game to game. But, the central player has less RL conflicts and so can make the game, thus forming a reliable core group. The catch is that gaming isnt a top priority, so he is frequently missing game for whatever reason. This is threatening to level the group.

Is that accurate? If not please clarify what was wrong and Ill post again. If it was read on.

In that situation I would say that much absenteeism at all isnt really tolerable. Its not that the people involved cant be there, they could if they wanted to. It might take some extra effort moving things around or reworking some other things, but they could make most of the sessions (everyone misses 1 occasionally for whatever reason). The problem here is that they dont have that level of commitment, they dont see the game as a priority worth that effort. Thus its something that if they make, hey great, if not, whatever. Basically, while other people are commited to the investment of time every week it takes to run this, they arent. And its making the time invested by the people that are there less important because theres no repercussions for not being there, in short devaluing what you do run. I dont personally think its tolerable for someone to treat someone else with that kinda disrespect, not even telling them if they will be there or not, with no regards to how it affects the other peoples plans or desire to run a game, as if you have nothing better to do than sit around in case they shows up.

Theres 3 ways you could really move that I see.

1) Have a talk with the person in question and simply tell find out what sort of priority the game is to them. Let them know that they are important, and without them the game wont be as cool, but that if they dont want to be there its not worth running it without people that are really interested. Dont tell them the game hinges on them, that gives them a sense of power, and that could be why theyre showing up whenever, to exercise power over the rest. Dont issue an ultimatum "you need to game or not" because if theyre already on the edge theyll just choose not and youre out the game entierly. Just make them feel wanted, but let them follow what they really want to do not what they think others want to do. It might fix the attendance, but it might also break it.

2) Issue the ultimatum. Simply tell them its not practical or rewarding to plan games and plan the sessions and invest the time only to have it not work out. That the game will go if there isnt a way to improve the attendance. In this case be prepared to make compromises, such as maybe shifting to every other week; perhaps to give those core people a night every other week to hang out without gaming. The point here is that if the game is only happening 1 in 2-3 sessions with acceptable attendance, shift to a schedule that supports the good session. Less games with better attendance may be a desierable alternative.

3) Change the game. If only 2-3 folks are showing up each time, just tell the others to not bother. Dont even ask them. If the whine and moan just say "well, your only here once a month anyhow, whats the difference" and tell them theyre welcome back when they can make more of the sessions. The game as is may collapse without them, but all groups start somewhere and its not totally unreasonable to try and start a group with the 2-3 remaining. Maybe the schedules are less flexible and you may only meet once every 2 weeks, or maybe youll just have to wait for those days when everyone can make it, but at least you dont plan for something and get screwed. If you do this be sure that you can run an acceptable game with whos left, someone will have to GM and the style may change with less people. Also, be sure they want to game, because if its only once a month the consensus may be not to bother its not worth it and the game dies entierly.

Really, it all boils down to two things: what you want to do and are comfortable with, and what way you think the people involed will jump when push comes to shove. The goal is to try and approach the subject with the relevent parties in a way that will make them jump the way you want them too. Hope you have a high RL negotiation skill, and if youve any BP in the bank might want to buy that Aptitude as well... GL with it.
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The White Dwarf
post Mar 31 2004, 03:32 AM
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Ok I totally reread everything and my above post wandered a bit in focus to your original questions. SO like brief followup:

In general, if players arent making at least 3/4 sessions Id raise questions. Heck our group gets a bit outta shape if people miss more than 1 in 10. But were an old school crew whos remaining 5 core folks have been the core for years. The add on riff raff comes and goes but those 5 remain.

You cant really cut anyone (specifically that individual) without losing the game, so you need to up attendance. Best way to do that is in this case might be to change the time to the SW game time because it seems to work better. Or maybe cut down the number of games so people only need 1 day a week set aside not 2 or more.

Plus, this individual needs to be brought back in. Somehow. Flat out ask him whats up. Say "hey, youve obviously had some scheduling issues, and the lot of us need to know when u can be back, explain" for reasons in the above post. Hope to get an honest answer and work with it.

Alternatively, it could be theyre more interested in SW, and that SR is growing old or repetative, thus the lack of motivation to attend. People might be more upbeat about coming if its what they want to do, or just the latest new flashy object to entertain. Perhaps find out what people really want to play? This only works if youre worried about keeping the gaming group, not the SR game specifically; but you an always hope to cycle games again in the future if the group holds out.

Hope that helps some more too.
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Talia Invierno
post Mar 31 2004, 04:10 AM
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You have it virtually exactly, White Dwarf.

I'll add only that it might be as much my GMing style as which particular game which is (slightly) increasing attendance: at the moment as a GM I just happen to be most currently active in that game. (I have something of a reputation as a GM. I used to run an old game in a gaming store, very much with the owner's permission. Potential customers watching us - and listening to us, at least twice I was heard all the way to the street - caused him to sell many copies of game books.)

The terrifying thought I suddenly had is that I might accidentally be showing up any lack of preparation by others ... which can't be helping.

I will give your posts a great deal of thought. You have placed at least as much into their writing, and it is appreciated.
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Nikoli
post Mar 31 2004, 04:37 AM
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lol, Herald. Though, given the taste of most of the folks I play with (and the players themselves) I'm not really that interested in a free show involving them.
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Mr. Woodchuck
post Mar 31 2004, 04:43 AM
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and if that doesn't work we have a burlap sack, a reckless disregard for the law, and a dire need of $5. we deliver anytime, anywhere dice are extra.
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Nikoli
post Mar 31 2004, 04:43 AM
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Heh
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Dax
post Mar 31 2004, 05:33 AM
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Moving Target
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The way I run it, is by a "three strikes" policy. As long as you give me a heads up before the session on why you can't make it, I don't have a problem with it. But if you get three absences without giving me a heads up, I kick em out.

Which reminds me. I currently have an open slot in my on line SR game beacuse someone just broke that rule, if anyone is interested.
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Talia Invierno
post Mar 31 2004, 03:03 PM
Post #25


Shooting Target
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Before this, for years, my gaming group was one that used to call each other at midnight on non-gaming nights to try to work out plans and individual character initiative and try to figure out what the NPC / evil GM was up to. We have a chapbook of group in-character poetry! Three strikes wouldn't have to have been called in for that group: they missed nothing if they could possibly help it.

Before that, again for years, the group was a more casual one, but dedicated to the game and to the group as a whole. Absenteeism (almost always due to working late) happened, but so did explanatory telephone calls.

And then, after about a year and change of (my) non-gaming: the new group, which I waited to join until I could properly commit ... and shortly afterward the situation I described.

Among other things, I am wondering which is the more typical experience.

Assume all the questions you have suggested asking have already been raised, White Dwarf, and answered, and answered again. Talking has been done. The answers all seem genuine enough, and an astral scan might suggest they were probably even meant at the time. Yet they are not acted on.

Where to go from there?
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