Dealing with Attrition

Life report/play report:

I’m continuing to run Rise of Tiamat for Wednesday night Encounters at my local shop. I’ve made the interesting decision of picking up war gaming while a child is on the way. I’m now playing Infinity Tuesday nights at the same shop. It’s fun. We’ve planned an escalation that should end about the time baby is due, and then all of our gaming will be hosted by us. My friend and gamepatriot over at http://blog.danddencounters.com/ has proposed pioneering the world of Fantasy Grounds and attempting to place so many support calls that we have a say in its future. So far the overwhelming response has been “why don’t we just use Roll20?” If either of those happen, I’ll write something about it. I may also blog about the Infinity escalation campaign – is that interesting to any of you, Gentle Readers?

On to dealing with attrition…

Attrition is an ever present problem for roleplaying games. I have only ever seen three campaigns to the end, everything else went to attrition in some form or another. We seem to have reached the attrition point for Wednesday night Encounters.

There are a couple things happening there. First, we’re running two different games. One is Rise of Tiamat, the continuation of last season’s story found in Hoard of the Dragon Queen. The other is Princes of the Apocalypse. I think we anticipated more interest in Rise of Tiamat than actually happened, but we’ve had enough players that we generally have two large tables of the low tier game and two small tables of the high tier game, which I think is generally a good thing. Lately, however, we’ve either been forced down to one table of RoT or have had barely enough to justify two. I’m having a harder time getting a good idea of how participation in PotA is because I’m not at those tables and because that has the potential to be three tables given all DMs in attendance.

Since it’s what I’m dealing with, I want to talk about merging tables. Adventurers League requires tables of at least 3 players, so as soon as we hit six we can run two. There have been a couple times that I couldn’t be there, but most of the time CM and I are both there. Our whole shop generally doesn’t do a great job of checking in before the game to say if they are/not coming so we’re often stuck at start time waiting to see if anyone else shows up. Sometimes people need to move and it’s annoying but that’s not the interesting part. What’s interesting is how do you bring people in to a storyline they haven’t been in? This applies at home as well, because you may have a new friend join in the middle of a campaign, or you may be forced to recruit new friends in the middle of the campaign due to our subject of attrition.

So have they always been there, standing stoically in the background? Did the party just meet them? You can usually figure this out at home. Sometimes it happens at an awkward time, but you can modify what you had planned to fit them in. But the format for Encounters is so strange, it has to be awkward when it happens. The last time CM and I had to merge tables, I just pushed my players back in time some. It wasn’t a big deal because they managed not to repeat any combats, and they only repeated one NPC encounter. We were able to run two tables again, and mine left the dungeon we had been in. Now what happens if we’re at less than six next week? My players are in an entirely different part of Faerun now, on pursuit of a totally different goal. It’s quite a bit of pushing back time to ask them to kill the same dragon again at this point. We could push one table forward and then back again, either way some players know the future, but that seems less fair somehow. One thing that’s peculiar to RoT but could be a boon, is there are a few floating encounters that are supposed to be fit in between chapters. It may be easiest to ask both tables to suspend their knowledge of time and run one of those if this comes up again next week.

With the Encounters format, there’s not a lot that can be done about making the aftermath of attrition smoother. It’s just a flaw with the format. So the next question is – how do we stop the problem from happening?

There are a few likely reasons for attrition:

1) Burn-out (Interest, or energy)

2) Life happening

3) Being waylaid and devoured on their way to the game

Since there’s nothing we can do about 2 or 3, we’ll focus on 1, which is really two things.

Why do players get burned out? Why do DMs get burned out? Whether they’re tired or no longer having fun, there’s a balance between what they’re getting out of showing up every week and what it costs them to show up every week, that affects it. Essentially, they aren’t having enough fun. The DMs job should always be to make sure everyone is having fun. And you have to include yourself, or else you’re going to get burned out. Right now I think we may be looking at player burn-out. In other words, I have no one to blame but myself. I could blame the module, but this one is actually better than the last one. I’ve heard the newer one I haven’t seen is again better, so that’s all good. Also, I know my players pretty well, I think we’re running in to life happening more than anything, but I’m going to assume I need to take action to keep the players coming. In reflecting on this I think my flaw is probably pacing. I have a tendency to wait for late players to show up, and I maybe am generally not moving fast enough. I keep things going, we haven’t stalled out anywhere, but I wouldn’t mind getting through more on a given night, and I think neither would my players. Another thing I can do is provide more rewards. I’m very limited in what I can do with the module, but I would like to reward players more frequently. I think I’ll have to give out Inspiration more readily. I should bring up having printed Inspiration cards again too. I’d really like to give them items, but I’m stuck in the position of we’re not supposed to give out items that aren’t specified in the module, but this particular one consistently includes “and some magic items of your choice” in the treasure hoard. There seems to just be inadequate support from AL for Rise of Tiamat, but I may need to reinvestigate this issue.

What do you think, Gentle Reader? How do you keep your players engaged, considering the constraints of a pre-written module being used in organized play?