Let’s assume you have taken the first steps we discussed in the previous CaSE posts. You’ve got players interested in your game. You know how many to expect on a given game night. This gives you have a sense of what the play style may be. And you’ve talked to potential players and collected ideas about what interests them in a game and its storyline.
Before we look at the details of the game nights and the structure of the story itself, I think you as the DM need to have a conversation with yourself about these players. And if these players are your friends, this introspection may not be easy. At least it will be private, but from it you may reach conclusions that will be difficult to act on.
Working from the premise that your game is to be well-organized and enjoyable for everyone, when you consider what each of your players are like as people, do you see any potential problems ?
Who you have at your game table will be an underlying factor in your entire campaign, whether it’s an original story or a purchased or downloaded module you are running. If you have approached a few select friends, everyone is on good terms with each other and on the same page about wanting to play and have a good time and participate, then you’ve accomplished something truly significant. Count your lucky stars.
What if your situation is not so idyllic ?
The first issue to look for is a bad mix of personalities. Look at each player who might be in your game, examine their personality, and compare to the others of the group. How do they relate to each other outside of the game? Do the players like the other players ? Is there “a history” or unspoken animosity between people ? Will they feel comfortable around others that perhaps they don’t know ? Do you have a player that is obnoxious, domineering, shy, arrogant, a chatterbox, a windsock, a control freak, or absentminded – and in a way that will hurt your group dynamic ?
Gender. If it’s a mixed-gender game, will this create distraction ? Among long-time friends the gender question is moot. However, if your game brings together girls and guys who may not know each other, it bears considering if the “flirt factor” comes into play. Don’t read this as an outdated, sexist idea. You want a functional, enjoyable game. It’s not going to be that way if some players are hitting on or even harassing other players, or if some players aren’t comfortable around the opposite sex in social settings.
Age. Is there a range of player age that could create a “generation gap” that hinders interpersonal communications ? Sometimes those players in the minority (younger or older) feel like the outsider and hesitate to make their voice heard.
Another issue, this one very technical, considers the players’ experience with “paper RPG’s” and your chosen game system in particular. Is there a wide range of familiarities with those factors ? Too many newbies and your game will get bogged down in explanations, book referencing, mistakes. Their presence may annoy veteran players (and you), who feel the game flow is slowed by the inexperienced players at the table.
Think about these players as the people they are; consider what effect their personality or traits will have on the group dynamic. This impact will be significant for the long-term viability of your game. And if a player (good friend or new recruit) has the potential to bring a ruinous effect to the circle of players, really seriously reconsider their inclusion.
HOWEVER…!!! Don’t exclude the younger sibling because they’re younger and don’t know the RPG as well as others; and certainly don’t shut out the guy who wants to join your all-girl-player adventure because you fear a gender issue. Don’t assume that the shy or bawdy or obsessive-compulsive friend cannot contribute or fit in. People can surprise you and bring a lot of positive attributes that overcome whatever unintentional prejudice you may have formed.
But if you know that a player is a person who doesn’t work well with others, won’t take your game seriously, or will cause discord, be preemptive. Again this comes down to knowing your players. Odds are you will know, and know pretty well, everyone who wants in on your game. You’ll know if person X cannot stand person Y; if person Z is tends to zone out on a mobile device and contribute nothing useful; if person A is eager to try your game but has no background in it; if player B easily gets frustrated or angry and causes a scene.
Hard as it may be, if you have justifiable doubts about someone, you may have to decline that player a seat in your game in the most tactful and respectful manner possible. Same too in the case where your chosen game module, or your intentions for game balance, necessitate a set number of players in the game.
When I have seen an RPG campaign break down and end prematurely (and a LOT have gone that way), over 95% of the time it happened because the players became sick of other players and/or the prevailing group dynamic, and walked away.