The first of our four steps is planning and setting up the game itself. It’s very easy to overlook this step, especially if you already have a well established gaming group, either in real life or online. If you have already found something that works for you all, then you can simply just review this step and move on, but for those who are establishing an entirely new game, as I am, then read on.
There are many decisions that need to be made when you try to establish the game, and each of these discussions can be talked about at length in articles of their own, as the logistics of the actual games themselves can be just as complicated as any campaign planning, if not more so.
The key thing to remember is that if there is no game, there can be no campaign. It doesn’t really matter what work you do as a GM on creating an epic campaign, adventure, or encounter, if you don’t a game to play it in.
First, the Players
The first thing to consider when setting up a game are the players who make up the rest of the group you will be hopefully playing with. this will determine a lot of the possibilities regarding the game itself, and place limitations on future decisions regarding how the game works.
There are many different types of gaming groups, and the discussion of how to recruit players to your game has been covered many times by many people. The majority of groups will feature people who know each other and come together in order to play the game. As such, the game is the central focus of why everyone gets together. This may not always be the case, especially if your players come from your other social groups.
Then There Were Three
For me, I already have two players in mind, whom I know fairly well. Two players and a GM, for a total of three people, is a bit on the small side for most roleplaying games, as they tend to recommend a party of between four to six player characters, in addition to a single GM, and it takes a lot of skill and effort to adequately play multiple characters, especially using more complicated rules systems. As such, I will keep my game open for new players, but if I keep the early games simple and roleplaying light, having each player playing two PCs gives us the minimum party level needed for a reasonable game.
Getting Everyone Together
Your players will often determine how, when, and where they can all meet up, and one of the trickiest aspects of organising a game can be sorting out a time when everyone can get together.
Playing a game is a big commitment, and it can often take a lot of effort for people to make space in their often busy lives for a gaming session of any reasonable length. Planning the session might be the fourth, and final step of this series, but even now it’s worth considering what sort of time frame you are looking for with each game session.
It’s important to understand and accept that not all the time in any gaming session is going to be used for the actual gaming itself. You will need to allow for a period of time at the start and end of each session for the players to set up and to clear up.
Setting the Standard
A standard session length, which is often used in conventions, is a four hour time slot, that includes half an hour at the beginning and end of each session for the players to get ready and pack up respectively. This standard means that a quarter of the time you allocate for the session will often be taken up by non-gaming activities.
This is a good guideline to use in most cases, it is worth remembering that four hours is equivalent to an entire morning, afternoon, or evening. You may find that this might be too much of a commitment for everyone, and as such might want to consider shorter sessions, such as two-hour session with only a quarter of an hour to get ready and pack up.
You will also need to consider the fact that many games will require a commitment of more than one session, and many campaigns can run for months, years, or even decades. Changes in real-life circumstances for the players is often the biggest cause of the death of any gaming group, and whilst these cannot be avoided, it is worth considering the minimum commitment required for everyone involved.
For me, the game is likely to take place in the evening, during the week, as this is often when my players and I have the most free time. Commuting back from work can be an issue, and long gaming sessions would be undesirable as chances are that we will all be required to be ready for work the following day.
With this in mind, we will be looking at a session length of about two hours, with a quarter of an hour to set up and clear up at each end. This would equate to roughly one hour and a half of game time per session. Because of the nature of our sessions, there’s a good chance that we will get together earlier, for socialising and refreshments as needed, depending upon issues like commuting.
How Do We Game?
You might have noticed that I asked how we will get together to game. This is important because there’s many different ways to get together and play a game in the 21st century.
Early in the hobby, options were severely limited, and it was almost taken for granted that setting up a game would require sorting out a physical place for everyone to meet up – be it at one of the players’ homes or in a community space.
However, we have seen many changes over the previous decades, especially regarding computing technology, communications media, and the evolution of the internet. Now, it’s just as common for many players to get together to game online, often using a communications package like Discord or Skype, and/or virtual tabletops like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds.
This means that it isn’t always neccessary to get everyone together at the same physical space in order to play a game, as long as you can get them together online at the same time. This has led to more opportunities for gaming, and many groups can often stay gaming together even as they move about the globe.
Online and Feeling Fine
For me, the majority of my games these days are online. One of my players, a good friend of mine who is known online as Ouroboros (or Ouro to me), I have know for over fifteen years now, despite the fact that he lives in the Netherlands. As myself, and my other player, my missus, live in the UK, we need to consider that there is a one hour time difference between us, which is another reason why long sessions late into the evening are undesirable.
Luckily, we have a common set up for our games – we tend to use Discord to talk in a group chat for our games, and use Roll20 as a virtual tabletop to play our games. Whilst we might lose the visual and tactile aspects of gaming, such as body language in roleplaying, or the feel of actually rolling dice, we still retain enough of the experience to make it worthwhile.
Plus, because of the limitations we have with our games, we often focus on simple roleplaying light games anyway, so we don’t lose out on too much, and often focus on what we can achieve with the platform that we are using.
The decision to play a game online using a virtual tabletop like Roll20 is important, because it will shape much of the planning for the game itself in future stages, as a virtual tabletop can often require slightly more preparation and planning, as you often need to find the appropriate assets to use in your games.
Anyway, this week has a been a long one, and we have only just sorted out the basics of our game, including how many players we will have and how we will all get together to actually play the game. There’s still plenty more decisions to go, as we move on to the second step – Planning the Campaign – next week.