At My Table: Lax Attendance

Scheduling is probably the biggest issue facing tabletop groups. It wasn’t an issue when we were teenagers and had all the time in the world, but now there’s responsibilities, papers to write and children to care for, all of which put constraints on our time. I had games lapse for months at a time as we tried to find a point where all of our schedules lined up. Lax attendance is the best way I’ve found to ensure that the game goes on, regardless of how many people are there. 

I started a two new games at the beginning of last year, and when I did, I took more than a little inspiration from a series of articles by Alexander Macris over at the Escapist. It was my first time trying to run a sandbox that I’d designed, and something else I wanted to experiment with was the idea of not requiring 100% attendance at the game. Everyone playing was a student, and between classes, essays, midterms, and other responsibilities, having everyone there for a weekly game just wasn’t going to be a reality. But rather than cancelling game every time someone couldn’t make it, I took a page from this article, gathered up seven players instead of my usual four, and said that as long as we had three or four people plus myself, we would go.

In theory, what would happen was that if someone couldn’t make it, they would entrust another player with running their character in combat, and the rest of the time their character remained a silent observer, or otherwise unavailable. The character received xp for combat and terrain encounters, but not social ones, which put them a bit behind, but not so behind they couldn’t catch up. Upon the player’s return, we would work together to find a reason why their character was preoccupied, and play would resume as normal. We were already in the habit of doing a recap at the beginning of each session (and over the summer one of the players took to making video recaps, which you can see here on his Youtube channel). The expectation was that a player would maintain about 60-75% attendance,

I’m happy to say that in practice, it worked pretty much exactly how it was supposed to. We played a lot more D&D than we would have otherwise, and it took pressure off of people when they had to prioritize their time. The only person who could really cancel a game was me, and we played weekly from the New Year up until September (when schedules and graduate school hit the game pretty hard. Lax attendance can handle a few players being absent, but not six people with conflicting schedules).

Three are a few considerations though, things I’ve noticed while using this.

  • Seven Players Stomp Things: Seven is usually larger than the recommended party-size for most games. In D&D for example, I had to get used to seven people stomping all over standards encounters much of the time. Random encounters in Temir are balanced against a 4 person party, so it was easy mode for a bit. This is an easily addressed concern, but something to be aware of.
  • If You Don’t Give, Don’t Take Away: If absent players can’t benefit from social encounters, do your best not to punish them for them either. Sometimes a character will have set up something that only they can take care of, and I find it’s better to either handwave it or delay it than to have their character suffer the consequences of being absent. It was a mistake I made, and something to be careful of.
  • Encourage Partnership: One way to avoid the above is to encourage players to encourage their characters to go places and do things together. Players know that their character might need to step in for something important if another player can’t be there, so it’s better to have interesting reasons to do so.

On the whole, I think it’s worked pretty well, and I intend to continue doing things this way in the future. I’d love to do another post on this addressing some of the concerns which have been expressed to me about it, both from epople outside the game and players. What do you think? And how do you ensure that the game goes on?

3 comments

  • Great post. This has been a problem in my G+ Hangouts games. Attendance actually killed an AD&D 1E game. However, in the Gamma World 2E game I play in we’ve overcome this challenge by having each player roll secondary characters. If we don’t have the player numbers we need then the players that are present actively play both characters. When everyone is present our secondary players are either off on a side quest (which ususlly is roleplayed at a later date) or take a silent role in the night’s action. It’s not perfect but it does allow us to keep playing which is the primary goal.

  • That’s really interesting, and reminds me of a game model I always wanted to try out but never quite managed to, a sort of mix between Ars Magicka’s troupe style play and D&D. Do you find that shifting between primary and secondary characters affects the continuity of the game greatly, in terms of characters’ interactions with NPCs and setting events?

  • IMO, the characters in GW 2E are rather shallow to begin with. There’s not a whole lot to creating a character. In fact it takes about 5 minutes (or less) to roll one. Besides crafting a good backstory, there’s not much there to really make me feel invested in the character at the start. Because of this, i think we all are alright with fudging continuity a bit for the sake of keeping the game alive. This one is all about the social fun. We don’t take it too seriously.

    That group dynamic is a lot different than my D&D and Pathfinder games. Such a tactic would not go over well with those. Roleplaying and immersion are much too important and Integral parts of our enjoyment of the games.

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