Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mixed Company

We've been facing a challenge in our Pathfinder RPG game that I haven't yet decided how best to address. The issue is that we have three groups of players (but only three possible group combinations, not seven), and no consistency around when the groups can play. The groups are as follows:
  • My three kids;
  • Their two friends from next door;
  • My wife and our "friend family" (a couple and their daughter).
The valid group combinations are:
  • My three kids alone (call this Group A);
  • My kids plus their friends (call this Group B);
  • My family plus our friend family (Group C).
The default configuration is Group B because the neighbors are more frequently available than our friend family. That, and my kids - without consulting me - promised their friends they wouldn't play without them. I'm not exactly thrilled about this, but then again, the neighbor's boy is the only player of the five of them who actually understands what's going on in the adventure. He remembers the details, whereas my girls get the big picture but seldom recall the details. Last session, for example, they couldn't remember a word of what the talking skull revealed to them. This kind of thing is important for keeping the momentum at the start of the next session; I don't want to have to repeat everything that was said and done previously. The kids should be able to maintain an awareness of context. So as it regards to the boy, it's nice to have someone so involved in the game. I just wish it was my own child.

We're getting there, I think. It's just slow going. But I digress.

You'll notice that I didn't call out all nine players as a fourth grouping. This is because I don't feel comfortable with the idea of inviting the kids next door over to play when our friend family plays. The get-togethers with our friend family are special. They're about our personal fellowship with them, not about the game. Bringing in the kids from next door creates a dynamic, especially between my own kids, that I think would be disruptive to that fellowship.

So the big questions are:
  1. How to manage / explain the absence of characters played by the absent group(s).
  2. What to do with the characters while they're away.
Last weekend Group B played, whereas the session before that was Group C. The first question that came up was how we accounted for the two characters' absence during the C session, followed by how to have them meet up again. The kids want continuity in the
"story," so it's not as easy as just starting up play as though they were never gone. We ended up losing almost half an hour catching everyone up by relating a little side story of how the "missing" characters wound up back with the group (a task that should take 5 minutes max), then a series of uncoordinated snack and beverage breaks spontaneously broke out. Now we potentially have another Group C session coming up in a few weeks, and based on where the adventure is heading, the transition from group to group will happen underground in the middle of a dungeon.

Do I keep the party together and role play the missing characters as NPCs? I've thought about handling it this way. On the up side, it keeps everyone together and the characters all level up at the same rate. On the downside, it's a pain in the you-know-what for me to manage, and I fear for what happens when someone's character dies when they weren't even playing him.

The way I used to do it back in college was something like this:

Party: "Where is Gark?"
Me: "Hmm, you don't see Gark. Maybe he wandered off."
Party: "Ok, he'll probably catch up to us later."

...and the game moved on. When Gark's player joined us next time, it was as simple as, "Oh, there you are, Gark! What happened?" "I dunno, guess I got lost."

I tried this approach with my kids, and they almost got it. They knew better than to go looking for their friends, but they had trouble moving on with the adventure. "If we leave town to explore, how will they find us?" they asked. My answer: it's not important. They just "caught up," and leave it at that so that the game can move on. You would think this would be an easy thing to explain and grasp, but I've known grown-up players who couldn't handle it. I once had a classmate who missed a session call me up at home in tears, wondering if her character was lost, injured, or worse, and when I assured her that her character was fine and would be found whenever she played again, she needed reassurance that she would still have all her stuff. Yeah, I stopped playing with that crowd.

Not sure where I thought this post was going, but I'm done writing.

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