|Zach Klopfleisch Venture-Lieutenant, North Dakota—Fargo|
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Fargo isn't really small, there's a significant gaming culture here, but we topped out at around 3 tables worth of potential players and are now down to about 3-4 tables a month. We are small enough that there's a core of "everybody knows everybody, at least from reputation" people that make up half to two thirds of the potential playerbase. Here's some stuff I've learned from starting from scratch as an outsider:
- Note on terminology: I say "will destroy your lodge" a lot here, what I mean is "will cause your lodge to stagnate, not necessarily stop being able to run games (though that's a possibility.) But lose players and keep it from growing, which in turn keeps players from progressing their characters, which loses players, etc.
- There are a common set of problems that everybody has to deal with, but the causes and therefore solutions to those problems are unique to your situation. For me, this is the biggest issue I have with people from large areas saying "here's what you need to do..." A problem player is a problem player, sure. But dealing with a problem player requires a completely different perspective when they're one of the three players who you can count on to show up, and if he and his buddy leave there's a good chance that half your games won't even kick off. More on that specific example later. The key point is that what you have is all you have, it's more like a home game in that there's no fall back: If venue/player/gm doesn't pan out, then you don't have PFS. There's more flexibility than a home game because you don't need as much table continuity, but the added PFS rules balance that benefit out by creating their own problems.
- One bad GM can destroy your lodge. People will stop coming if they don't like a GM. They don't even have to be bad bad, they can just be bad at prepping or bad at managing time or easily distracted. People will stop coming because playing with that GM isn't fun enough to warrant their time, even if they really love Pathfinder. If you have 15 tables a week, people avoiding someone who GMs once a month isn't an issue, if you have four tables a month, it can be catastrophic. And if you're like me, you won't find out until wayyyy after the fact.
- One or a few bad players can destroy your lodge. Just like a bad GM, the players aren't necessarily jerks, they might even be the nicest people in the world, but they're annoying to play with. They might not be prepared, they might not understand the system, they might be bad at math, they might just be painfully slow on the uptake. But people will stop coming because these players make the game unfun, or at least less fun than the alternative.
- Cliques will destroy your lodge. I've seen two types of cliques: Intra PFS cliques are players who prefer to play together, so they don't show up if their friends aren't coming. And they tend to level together, so it can make scheduling tougher. Also, you can get cliques of "bad" players that are perfectly fine but other players don't like playing with, so people will actively avoid them. Even without trying, they can push people not in their clique out of PFS simply because their style becomes the dominant style and that doesn't mesh well with other players. The other type, Inter gaming cliques, hurts when you've already got cliques in your gaming community and PFS ends up becoming part of one, which excludes the others. This can be subtle, especially if you're an outsider trying to start something up.
- Your group may be better suited as a jumping off point for home games. But home games can also destroy your lodge. Partly this is an extension of the above: If a group of friends start playing PFS scenarios as home games, they can make scheduling downright hell. It's great to get people playing regularly, but it can also leave a few players stranded because they can't get into home games. The best players to build a community around, because people like them, are the first players to get a home game going: Because people like them.
- Coordinator burn destroys your lodge.[/i] Scheduling and dealing with people takes time and effort and isn't necessarily a rewarding activity. But people willing to step up and do that work are even rarer than people willing to GM, so it's also a lot harder to rotate. Also, in a small area, whomever starts the group gets to be known as the contact for the group, so you'll still be stuck with a lot of the communication even if you do manage to hand over the reigns.
- Scheduling sucks after a while. It's a math problem: You have a limited set of scenarios, and you can only run scenarios that nobody at the table has played before. Large groups solve this problem by bringing new players in to play at low levels, graduating intermediate players to high levels, and older players filter in on the new content. That's not an option when you have one or two tables a month.
- [/i]Boons are at best rare, but more likely these mythical things that other people have which let them do things your players want to do.[/i] When people ask about playable races, I don't even mention boons anymore because pretty much nobody goes anywhere they can get them. Somebody will inevitably pipe up about boons, though, and that leads to a 5 minute explanation of something that's, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant.
If you take anything away from my rant, please be this: Small lodges have problems that look similar to some of the problems big lodges have. But listen carefully before you make a suggestion based on your experience, because the cause and likely solution to that problem is probably going to have to be unique to that specific situation. I can't think of anything the overall organization can do to address a lot of the problems I've seen, except to make scheduling easier and get boons and GM rewards out to the hinterlands. Unfortunately, I don't have any solutions to those issues.