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!