Running a game with a rotating PC roster?


Lately I've been trying to setup a regular game with a group of my friends, but I've run into a couple problems.

Problem 1 is that there are about 10 people wanting to play, which isn't so much a problem in itself except that I don't generally like sessions with more than 6 PCs. Things just kind of bog down in combat when you've got an initiative list that's 20+ long, and it becomes harder to find time for everyone to do the things they want to do. I just don't want to leave anyone out if I can avoid it while still, hopefully, keeping the party at 6 PCs or less most of the time.

Problem 2 is that of those 10 people interested, only one has a schedule that seems to mesh with mine to the point that we could set up a regular game day/time. Everyone else is on a schedule that changes weekly or is on a different shift than I'm on. It makes setting up a day/time a real pain.

I thought the way I'd solve these problems would be to try and turn them into advantages. So I'm going to try having the game on different days of the week each time we play, see who shows up, and then have things continue from there. I just haven't figured out what to do when it comes to the roster potentially changing each time we play. I mean, how are you supposed to handle the party possibly having all but one person from the previous session missing, when the previous session ended in the middle of some kind of dungeon crawl or diplomatic encounter?

So, anyone out there have any advice for how to run a game with no real "regulars" at the table?

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Read the Alexandrian:Opening your Game Table and run Slumbering Tsar or Rappan Athuk megadungeon campaigns.

You could run it as a sort of mini-PFS group.

Have all of the characters be part of a Pathfinder Lodge with whoever shows up that day the ones who are assigned to the mission of the night (or if it is a home game, they can be the ones who are on the receiving end of the mission of the night from Pathfinder Society rivals like the Aspis).

Reinforce the "report" bit of "explore, report, cooperate" and reward the players who help you with a campaign journal so that the missing players can easily be caught up on activities which occured at games they were unable to attend.


Grand Lodge

I have a similar issue with people subbing in and out. The best solution I have found is to run episodic stories. Each session is its own, self contained story, with hints to a larger story.

To this end, I would suggest borrowing heavily from / running PFS modules/scenarios. they are great for non-static parties.

We solve these problems by doing our best to make every night its own scenario and try to resolve it by the end - or at the very least get all the characters back to a camp where they can swap out.

Our current adventure which started with the Master of the Fallen Fortess mod consisted of four PC's with wildly varying schedules. We would finish a few rooms in the fortress each session and then get the characters back to camp.

By the time our next play night rolled around, we would start with whomever was available. If someone joined late, their character had been out on patrol or travelled back to town for supplies or any other reason that made sense.

As long as your sessions don't end with the characters about to kick the door down to face the BIG BAD, you can usually come up with an in-game role-playing reason to have them come and go at will - they are wizards ya know? ;)

I have had groups like that before. Either a PFS type setup where all the characters belong to an organization or an immersion-light game where minotaurs with burlap sacks pick up and drop off characters at random and nobody ever mentions it can work well. In either case you usually end up with a smaller core group soon enough.

Well, I do already own Rappan Athuk so I could go that way if I need to. However, at least one of my potential players is completely new to RPGs and I'd prefer to not have their first experience be such an unforgiving slaughterhouse. Especially considering it's supposed to start with a PC at level 6, which for most people I know is right around the time they've gotten a decent handle on a class's quirks if it's their first time playing. So it would be a crushing case of just tossing them overboard and yelling "swim!"

The PFS scenarios idea would probably work better, at least at the start. I'll have to look and see what they're like, since I know they're meant to be played out in a single session. But my sessions are probably going to be on the shorter end of normal, usually only 3-4 hours.

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Run Kingmaker or your own hexcrawl type game. Go read the [url=]West Marches] article about sandboxy hexcrawls.

Make yourself a map. It doesn't have to be big; start out with a single hex and the six around that, then expand out, say, 2 rings worth of hexes from there. Using the rules in Ultimate Campaign or Kingmaker each of these are 12 miles corner to corner, roughly 95 square miles.

Just over the weekend I grabbed UC, the Gamemaster Guide, the CRB, Bestiary 1 and Raging Swan's Wilderness Dressing book. I made some random rolls and came up with a central hex that's settled but forested. Surrounding this are 3 mountains, 3 forests. Essentially through random rolls I came up with an alpine region.

For a little bit of variety I gave the hexes sub-terrains. I have forested hills, forested mountains, mountains with an abundance of rivers, streams and lakes capped in snow, and finally a hex of forested marshes and wooded heath and moors (plains).

I came up with a few sites. These I've keyed to specific hexes. There's a bugbear cleric with some undead and tamed fire beetles; a wizard's ruined tomb with 3 darkmantles and decorated in ossuary; the wooded swamps hide pools of leeches (hazard) that can sap con and inflict disease. One of the wooded mountain hexes has a dwarven "hamlet" sized settlement hidden in the overhangs of a pass. By random rolls however this place is NG in alignment and led by an overlord. I decided to make it a trading post and way stop for travelers who are on an approved list of honored guests.

If I were to turn this into a campaign then I'd make up a few more rings of hexes. I'd hand this map to the PCs, point out the couple of obvious "landmark" type sites and provide them with starting information and plot hooks. Then I'd let them wander running each session as an exploration of a hex or known site, at the end of which the PCs would return to whatever they're using as a base of operations. If players swap out I'd merely explain it as those PCs leaving the party to resolve personal quests while the new PCs join the party having heard of their glory.

Ex: 4 PCs, a wizard, rogue, fighter and cleric set out from the town and head out into the moors to find the Tomb of Balak Thuul. They encounter some goblins in an ambush, cross a flooding river and then arrive at the tomb. Somehow they get past the locked gate and barely survive the CR 4 encounter with three Darkmantles. In the treasure they find a couple scrolls and lots of coins along with a secret door leading to an area with a magical trap and a homunculus. Defeating these and nearly spent they find the wizard's hidden library containing his spellbook and enough tomes on magical theory that, if studied for an hour they grant +2 to Spellcraft. Finally they find a rope that radiates magic and has 1 charge each of rope trick and animate rope (CL3).

The session ends there. The rogue drops out for the next game but I pick up a ranger and barbarian. The PCs ended the last session returning to town, so the rogue gets called off by the guild on a special burglary mission while the ranger and barbarian arrive with lore about some clan of dwarves hidden in the nearby pass. For the right price these dwarves will allow you passage in their heim and will trade with you for their rare goods. The party decides to follow the new pair and goes up into the mountains. They brave some dire boars and flee from a patrolling chimera only to be nearly killed tumbling down a ravine. Here they find a spider-infested cave with mites using the creatures as mounts. The PCs defeat the nest and find a map of the pass as well as coins and gear. The map indicates an "enemy hall" on a spot in the mountains dominated by rocky ledges and overhangs. Using the map the PCs scour the area, are confronted by a dwarven patrol, and once they reveal they have slain the spider-riders they are given passage into the heim where the second session ends.

Now if the PCs swap again you can say one of a few things. You can say the new characters were in the dwarf heim as well. You can also say that the PCs were officially awarded passage to the heim when needed but they went back to the town for whatever reason where they met the new PCs. Finally you could bring in the new PCs as destitute wanderers in the pass begging for protection. Whatever the case you have built in PC swap ability and the game can be focused on what they want, not some pre-planned storyline.

(a) Just push characters into the background when they aren't there (probably the best option - best to just give up any sort of 'realism' given your situation)
(b.1) Single night adventures, strung together in some cohesive story if you like
(b.2) PFS, though you will need the same people back if you don't finish in one night
(c) split into two groups

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps Subscriber

We're doing a PFS sort of background with Emerald Spire. Whomever isn't there that day is clearly doing stuff in Fort Inevitable (the town) and elected not to come on the dungeon dive that day.

I think that the Pathfinder Lodge Scenario works great with players that drop in and out.


Shadow Lodge

We had a GM once who split a large player group into two groups because he had 11 people wanting to play. Then he ran the two groups in the same campaign world during different sessions. I have no idea how much work it was for him, but he did it for two years without complaint. On two different occasions the two groups ran into each other and had a larger joint encounter day. It was pretty sweet; but it was done with the simpler D10 rules of Whitewolf's World of Darkness. I've no idea how much harder it would be to make sure that the two parties wouldn't trip over each other in a Pathfinder game, but if the game was set up as a few people have suggested, as a Pathfinder Lodge, it might work.

The number of players interested in playing isn't really the biggest problem. Or at least it's a problem that I like to have and know how to tackle on its own. I had originally intended to run two groups through Kingmaker, but the issue of finding a day and time that worked for everyone in each group stopped that from happening.

So now I've pretty much decided on running older, shorter modules and PFS scenarios, and then later moving on to running Rappan Athuk once everyone gets a character that's level 6 or above. That way players dropping in and out shouldn't matter nearly as much. Rappan Athuk, once they get there, should prove interesting because I'll let them run any character they have that's over level 6 regardless of what the levels are of everyone else. For everything else I'm going to have them play a character that's within 2 levels of the lowest level PC there that night in order to keep power level discrepancy at a minimum.

But I do have another question - I'm looking at some of the PFS scenarios and I see they sometimes have a large level range listed. How is it that a module can be designed for levels 1-7 without being too tough for a group of just level 1's, or too easy for a group of level 7's? Do they have notes on how to scale the adventure based on APL?

The latest edition of Rappan Athuk includes an alternate entrance to the dungeon that is suited for Level 1 characters and builds up from there.

PFS scenarios with wide level ranges usually have tiers built within them, and provide two different sets of stat blocks. The PFS GM runs whichever tier is better suited to their group.

I know that RA has the "immortal poo" entrance that's supposed to be the easy one, but even that seems to ramp up in difficulty fairly quickly. I seem to recall it going from EL 4 to EL 10 almost instantly at times. I know that's a recurring theme in RA, the drastic EL jumping between areas, but at that low of a level it's much more apparent and the PCs have far fewer ways to avoid or escape them.

The thing about PFS scenarios having different stat blocks depending on party level is nice.

We use something we like to call a panoramic story for this. It's not just a solution but an amazing experience.

The GM designs the game around two to four static forces that are all questing against each other and decides which force is in-session depending on which players are available.

For example, we have a game that centers around aberrant underdark forces warring for control of a vast tunnel system with a ratkin species (that breeds like mad). Then we have a dwarven kingdom rallying forces and mercenaries to deal with a strange rise of activity in the underdark. Finally, we have a coastal region of fledgling towns being plagued by pirates because their standing mercenary defensive force has been hired away by dwarves.

It's all connected and a bit sand-boxy, but basically peoples schedules have sort of gelled around playing 1-2 characters in 1-2 of the scenarios - and each scenario - an evil campaign, a human/dwarf deep delver campaign, a pirate lords campaign, and a coastal base-of-operations campaign, rotating based on who shows up.

I have to say, it is incredibly fun to be in groups that create ramifications and story points for other characters. The guys who play in the wednesday group (as evil) have made it their mission to make the saturday group's life terribly uncomfortable.

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