Managing a Gaming Group

By Game Master Mike

So you want to be a game master, huh? All you have to do is spend hours preparing and set up and run the game, right?  Not so fast there skippy! You also must be prepared to manage the expectations of a group of gamers. And these expectations are as varied as there are numbers of players.

According to Wikipedia  “Herding cats is an idiom denoting a futile attempt to control or organize a class of entities which are uncontrollable or chaotic.”  This is a very good description of what it can be like to manage a group of tabletop gamers.  We all have our ideas about what makes for an enjoyable gaming session. Gaming is a hobby and as such is to be played for fun.  But when you are the person in charge you have to balance having fun with keeping the game in motion and the story progressing.

How is this accomplished? It is kind of ironic that I am writing this as I fail more often than I succeed in trying to balance fun with keeping the game moving. The good news is, even if you fail, it can still be a great, fun experience.  Just keep in mind, you aren’t going to be able to please everyone.

The problem usually comes when you have people in the group with wildly varying ideas about what the gaming experience should be like. You may have some people who just want to have fun and keep it light. For these people, it is social gathering with some gaming thrown in there somewhere.  Mixed in with these fun lovers are going to be people who are more serious about playing the game and driving the story forward. This is where the herding cats metaphor comes in. The group may be looking for different things from the game and the game master has to try to find a balance that suits as many of the players as possible.

Sometimes you may feel like a middle school teacher trying to keep the kids in line. This is something with which I struggle. We are here to have fun, so it doesn’t feel right to act like the teacher with the yard stick swatting hands and scolding people. However, if you aren’t careful things can get a little out of control and the game will suffer. Balance in the word of the day. But, balance will not be the same for every group or for every gamer.

So I guess this is point where I am supposed to give you specific points on how to handle these situations. But the specifics depend on your group and you as a game master. You need to balance the desire for fun with pushing the game forward. Reel the group in, but do it in a way that is fun and brings the focus back to the game. It may require some finesse to do this without upsetting people. Ultimately the game should be something you enjoy as well. Don’t spend so much effort making sure everyone else enjoys the game that you don’t enjoy it.

Here are some recommendations:

  1. If you aren’t good with being the heavy, seek out an ally who will help keep things on track.
  2. Keep the group small enough to manage comfortably.
  3. Keep yourself on track.
  4. Have a clearly defined plan for the gaming session.
  5. Allow for some tangents. These can be a lot of fun.
  6. If there is a particularly troublesome player, take him or her aside after the session and speak to them diplomatically about your concerns.
  7. There may come a time that you have to remove a person from the group. Any time this has happened in my game, we have all known it was time for someone to go. There are probably going to be hurt feelings from this, but sometimes it is unavoidable.
  8. Be flexible and able to make adjustments as you go.
  9. Don’t sweat the small stuff. If it seems like everyone is having fun, just roll with it. Things will usually work themselves out.
  10. Ask other game masters how they handle these situations

So how do you handle herding the cats in your game? Share your thoughts and ideas.