Guru’s Game Group Guidelines (a.k.a. GGGG or G4)
The dynamics of a game group can be a tricky thing. While some folks may be so lucky as to have a group comprised of friends they have known since kindergarten most of us aren’t that fortunate. We have to cobble together a cadre of people made up of friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances that we met at conventions, game stores and online sites. This makes for a diverse melting pot of personalities that may not always fit together. But with a little bit of foresight, a lot of tweaking - and maybe even some bribing - you may be able to assemble the ideal game group, one that will endure through hardships for years to come. Let’s take a look at some of the major elements of this social alchemy:
Age, numbers, gender, couples, family, co-workers, styles and Gamemasters
Age – Deciding on an age range is a good first step. Do you want to be all-inclusive (from 6-106) or do you want a group “for adults only”? Are you more comfortable around people your own age or do you prefer to hang with older, wiser folks? The choice is yours and you can always modify your decisions later. I have found that most groups tend to be all-inclusive, whereas I lean towards a “21 and over” policy. This will usually keep the maturity level a bit higher (though not always) and you can run a roleplaying campaign that has more depth and features adult themes.
In regards to rpg’s, I find that the younglings have more enthusiasm and more time for the game…if you can handle the high energy and perhaps a lack of focus. The elder gamers may be more calm, understanding and have an appreciation for a well-written and well-run campaign story. Just beware their real-world responsibilities (job, family) that may take them away from the games frequently.
The first person I played games with was my 5 year old brother. He was just a kid but grew into a pretty good gamer before dropping the hobby somewhere in his teen years. I also had the privilege of running a campaign for a group that included a guy in his 70’s. He’d been into the hobby since its inception but with that beard of his I really think he was just an archmage in disguise!
Numbers – How big of a group do you want? Having only a single player isn’t much fun but having 15 players can be a nightmare. I find that most groups hover around 4-5 people as this gives the perfect balance between player dynamics and logistical considerations. What are those considerations? It is REALLY hard to organize 15 separate schedules, even if you don’t need every player to be there every day. Also, do you have room for 15 players? This would likely require 2 very large tables and a very big room. Can you deal with 15 different personalities? Most people can’t make everyone happy. Additionally, in exceptionally large groups, not everyone will get an equal and fair share of time, even if you are able to find a game that can support that many players. For me, even having a group of 8 was too much, despite the fact that half the group knew each other. It still descended into chaos!
Gender – Nothing will bring a fresh perspective to gaming like including women in the group. While male bonding and testosterone-filled competitiveness is all well and good it can be a little two-dimensional. In my experience, female gamers add a dynamic that can’t be replicated in any other way. They are not always the shrinking violet pacifists that one would think! As it happens, it can also be quite convenient for those in a relationship since this opens up a whole new way to bond with each other and doesn’t take away from “couple time”. More and more women are getting into the hobby nowadays so don’t be afraid to let them play. Just make sure everyone is respectful to the fairer sex.
Couples – As mentioned above, gaming is a great activity for couples. In some instances you may not have a choice but this can be a good thing, getting two gamers for the price of one, especially if you are having trouble finding enough players. The corollary to this is that when they have a family function to attend you will likely be losing two players for that day. Also, should bickering arise and half of the couple fall out of favor it may be difficult to remove one half or the other without removing both. On the plus side (in a two-couple group) it is much easier to deal with 2 schedules than four individual ones. Most of my recent group members have been couples and it worked out wonderfully. It also gets more common with age.
Family – Seeing as how all families are different this can be a good thing or a bad thing. If everyone is close and has similar interests then I say go for it. If not, familial familiarity can lead to bickering and difficult living situations. I started gaming with my brother and it was great. A friend of mine learned gaming from his grandma! And lots of veteran gamers are teaching gaming to their kids now. Having dependable family in your group can be very rewarding, not to mention convenient. Just watch out for favoritism!
Co-workers – Some people want nothing to do with their job once they clock out. But some people are lucky enough to have wonderful co-workers who they hang out with after hours. And why not? If you have bonded with some cool folks at your job then by all means invite them to the game! If they are dependable at work they will likely also be dependable in your game group. Just beware of fraternizing with management or someone who is tight with the owners as bruised feelings acquired in gaming can lead to problems in the workplace. Assuming everyone is mature about it, though, it can be a great way to bond even further with your fellow workers and give you guys something to talk about while waiting for the shift to end.
Style – There is a veritable cornucopia of games out there and, as such, there is a plethora of different gaming styles to accompany each of those games. Some players like strategy games, some like party games, some like war games, some like humorous games. Some people enjoy shorter games while some actually go for the epic 6-8 hour games! Some may want to play games twice a week while others may prefer playing only once a month. Some may only want to play card games just as some may want to do nothing but roleplaying. Hopefully they will be willing to try any type of game but there are some who may only want to stick to fantasy games. I once met a guy who absolutely refused to learn or play anything other than Settlers of Catan! Yet another fellow left our roleplaying group simply because we wanted to play a board game one day. In short, there are a variety of playing styles and it is important to discover these beforehand so that you can assemble a game group with a common mentality.
Gamemasters – If your game group intends to focus primarily on roleplaying games then there is one other thing to consider: who is going to be the gamemaster? Is it going to be you? Is there another GM in the group? If there is, chances are that he is going to want to run a game sooner or later. If that is the case, is he going to run a game in a style that is compatible with the group mentality? And are they going to be reliable? Some groups will actually rotate their GM’s on a monthly or even weekly basis! I tend to be the GM in my group (about 95% of the time) as I enjoy it much more than being a player. But sometimes, after a particularly grueling campaign, even the guru needs a break. When this happens we typically either switch to board and card games (temporarily) or I hand over the reins to another GM in the group. There were a few instances where I had to teach someone in the group to be a GM! Of course we could always find another GM and bring him into the group but I prefer the established stability of any group I have built and am wary of rocking the boat once we have settled into a nice routine.
So as you can see there are many factors to consider when assembling and maintaining a healthy game group. Of course, depending on where you live, you may not always have a lot of options and may be forced to cobble together a diverse group of players comprised of whomever you can find but the important thing is that you get together, stay together and play some games!
The Game Guru Hath Spoken.
HALLOWED BE THY GAME!