Game Master Tip #5 – Getting them in the door!

Some severe health concerns and the arrival of my niece have delayed the Player Series yet again.  Please accept as tribute Game Master Tip #5 – Getting them in the door!

Any Game Master who’s ever experienced it – from a LARP to a MMO Raiding Group and every brand of tabletop in between – nothing kills a game faster than bickering and arguing between players.  But if you want to see a game die a slow, painful death?  Apathy is the way to do it. When the players (or even worse, the game master!) disengages from the game itself the sessions start a slow downward spiral until, if you’re lucky, it dies.  If you’re not lucky? Well, then it really takes a turn for the worse. What can a good Game Master do to keep his players engaged and his story engaging?  I was given a tip by a fellow Game Master several years back that I have always followed.  He said (and I’m paraphrasing): “First, you’ve got to get them in the door every week.”

So you’ve written a dramatic, encompassing and spectacular storyline.  Good for you – now comes the hard part.  Keeping players focused on your game is no different than drawing in crowds for a show – it’s all about the hype.  Here’s what I do to keep my players engaged:

1.) Send invites to every game –

We play every Thursday – alternating between my game and Drip Dry’s.  But even though it’s scheduled, I send an invitation to every game session – personally inviting every player.  This lets your players know you’re excited to have them, confirms the details – and clarifies any alterations to the “usual” plan – and gets them excited for the weekly get-together.

This doesn’t have to be fancy – I just use Google+ Events – but it should have good information about the game session.  I wouldn’t go to the trouble of paper invitations sent through the mail – but an email invite clarifying the important parts of the gathering go a long way to showing the players that you’re serious about the game, and that can translate to them taking it more seriously.  Whether it’s a LARP or a game of Parcheesi you should have an invitation!  The invitation shouldn’t be any different than any other social gathering; Where’s it going to be?  Do they need to bring anything?  Which game are you playing this week?  What time should they arrive?  When I run online games, I include a link to the Roll20.net sessoin as well.

I can’t stress enough how great Google+ Events are for this – but I know of a LARP chapter owner who used Evite to great success as well.

2.) Teasers –

Before every game session, I send out a email containing an in-character teaser for the game.  Think of it like the trailer for the new video game or the next hit movie – it theatrically details what the players did last session and outlines their objective again for the next.  Here’s what I sent out for tomorrow night’s game:

The arrival of a new Arbiter of the Crown further complicated the Telgam Affair.  As Arbiter Ruthridge delivered news of several of the town’s residents, a riot was building around the Silver Hall.  Thanks to the swift action of Kaderin in the hall, and the leadership skills of Raxas outside, the riot was redirected in a safe direction and disaster narrowly averted on holy ground.  Now, the Long Shots are headed into the Catacombs beneath Telgam – to clear out the mines for “Fat Cat” Diazo, and hopefully earn the tidy profit he’s offering in exchange.  

Will clearing out the mines put an end to the mysterious killings?  Why are the creatures there in the first place?  And what role do the citizens of Telgam have to play in this murder mystery?  Find out this week!

If that has a sort of “Murder Mystery” flair, it was meant to – their current adventure is basically meant to be a Murder Mystery event in a town called Telgam.  By recapping the important actions of the previous game session and hinting at the next session’s secrets.  I have found by giving clues to what’s important – the roles of the citizens and the origin of the creatures – it helps to steer the party down the avenues to actually solve the puzzle and keep them somewhat on track, without putting them on rails.

3.) Incentivize!

I like to give my players an incentive to actually read the emails.  Some of them get a bit long – recapping detailed investigations or long battles can be pretty harrowing.  So giving them a carrot at the end of that long stick gets them participating more in the game, so they’ll feel more engaged.

Each week, I ask character-building questions and reward them for answering. Riddles, questions about their history, questions about their feelings of current events – even moral dilemmas and corny jokes.  In my case, I reward them with experience points for answering correctly – but the LARP Chapter Owner that gave me this tip rewards players with in-game gold and counts their answer as a Between Game Action that is rewarded with experience points!

Getting your players excited about the gaming session BEFORE the gaming session will help get them in the door every week – and keep them engaged when they’re at the table. Questions?  Concerns?  Have your own ideas of how to keep players engaged?  Want to see these pictures of The Fez wearing an actual Fez that I just photoshopped took?  Comments, people!

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