Structure of gaming groups

I’m starting this thread because I’ve gained the impression that my approach to running games and recruiting players is a somewhat unusual one, and because there are new people here who might be interested.

With that said, here are some things about my RPG campaigns that may be unusual:

  • For much of my career as a GM, from 1992 through 2016, I had a large number of players, more than I could handle in a single session; I think the peak was around 18.

  • For much of that time, around 50% of my players were women. I don’t know that this made a difference to style of play, but I can say that my campaigns were mostly characterization- and role-playing intensive.

  • My custom was to run two or three campaigns in parallel, each meeting once a month. Having a regularly scheduled day helped ensure that players would make themselves available, and having less frequent sessions meant that it was easier for them to do so without conflicts.

  • I didn’t have any fixed group of players who always gamed together (though I had three or four players who tended to favor action-focused campaigns and often ended up in the same one). Rather, each cycle of campaigns had new groups of players. Participation in a campaign depended on my inviting someone to play in that specific campaign; I called this a “dinner party” model as opposed to a “club” model.

  • When I was ready to start a new cycle, I would hand around what I called a “prospectus,” with a list of several campaigns (from half a dozen up to fifty), and invite possible players to rate campaigns. I would pick campaigns that a lot of people rated favorable, and invite people into each campaign who had rated it favorably. This meant that I was never prevented from running a campaign by a single player rejecting it, and I rarely had players grudgingly playing in campaigns they didn’t like because otherwise they wouldn’t get to play. (It helped that other people also ran campaigns that included many of the same players.) At worst, a player might end up in a campaign that they rated at “2” (roughly, average willingness to play); most players ended up in campaigns they rated higher.

  • I ran campaigns in a lot of different systems, as I commented on another thread. I expect I had some players who rejected some systems, but by and large, as one of my early players said, “Bill’s players would roleplay the phone book if he offered to GM it!” So I tried a lot of systems, including some that one experience convinced me never to run again . . .

Since we moved out of San Diego, I haven’t had a large established player population, so that approach no longer works. But I was happy with its results for many years. And I think it might be different enough to be of some interest.


Did you ever run more than one group in the same universe, in a West Marches style?

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Nope, never tried that. In fact I only once ran two campaigns in the same universe, and they were sequential, not simultaneous. I just like making universes a bit too much; I hate to give it up for a campaign.