Monday, August 22, 2011

This Year's Club Structure

As many of you know I run the school based RPG club at the school where I teach. Organizing such a club is a chaotic endeavor at best. But I have learned that just like any good game session and gaming group, more structure allows for better than gaming than an infinitely flexible one. Too much flexibility and gaming goes by the wayside and all that gets done is visiting and chatting, or arguing and in-fighting. To tell you truth as a GM I'd rather deal with the latter. But as a gamer looking for friends the first isn't too bad. As a public school club adviser, however, friendships are a bit restricted. First of all these kiddos are a third of my age, and there are some formal guidelines for how staff and students fraternize anyway.

So structure is critical. I have taken the open, democratic let's vote about it approach a few times, and it always flops. Last year was a perfect example of why lack of structure kills. We started the year with 30+ gamers and ended with about 8 regulars. I won't go into everything we did wrong, but suffice it to say I'll be enforcing a greater degree of structure this year.

We'll be taking sign ups the last half of this week and next week. Sign ups will include grade 8 through 12 and we always pick up a few 6th and 7th graders too. On the sign-up sheet, a kewl little brochure we hand out all over town, students have to indicate their previous gaming experience by game and whether they were a GM or player. They also indicate if they would like to be, and can truly commit to being, a GM. I also put a place where they can list friends they will have in the club and if they would prefer to game with them. If they desire to be a GM I also ask them if they have players already picked out or they need players assigned to their game. I don't list default games or even a list of games we have materials for in the club. That will be more forced than voluntary.

I then take all the brochures turned in and correlate the information. Student GMs have to have at least one year of verifiable GM experience. And by that I usually mean they have GMed in the club before and I have witnessed their success. If GMs fit this bill and have players for their game I will assign them a day to GM and put players in their group (max of 4 for student GM, with few exceptions). We usually only have one or maybe two volunteer GMs. I then sort players who are friends into groups with me as GM. After friends are lumped together I then set up the rest of the players into groups based on what I consider strengths and weaknesses at the time. These groups are usually 8 or smaller. I usually anticipate 24 sign-ups or regulars. This gives us 4 groups 3 of which are about 6 strong and have me as GM. The remainders are in student run groups. This also gives the inevitable drop ins some space to enter an ongoing game. If the groups get too big we create another group and reshuffle everyone to have about six players in each group again.

It is my experience that student run games are short lived, and GMs burn out easily. Rotating those GMs can work if you have a student everyone is willing to support as GM and that has decent experience GMing. I have always hoped that the club would work as a vehicle to train GMs and to improve their skills. But this has rarely worked in practice except with good friends and lots of patience. Kids come to the club to play and have a good experience. There is nothing that will run them off quicker than lame or unfair GMs. I have also tried to monitor such situations and intervene when necessary. But this too has proved a pipe dream near impossible to achieve.

So, GMs that really want to GM, and that have a proven track record of running at least one decent adventure that others seemed to enjoy can have a go at running a club game. This may seem harsh, but I owe it to the club members that they can expect to come and game a decent game when they show up at club. Not show up ready to game only to discover their GM cancelled, or their GM is woefully unprepared, or have to suffer through yet another crappy session. If club players were all very experienced it might be different. I could put experienced players willing to help and be patient with a less experienced GM, but that's not a luxury we have.

Game, version and edition is another sticking point for some. And was a major problem last year. Honestly I can't say I helped this much as I allowed people to move around, switch games and tried to facilitate everyone's whims as much as possible. This resulted out of the club experience of two years ago, when several vocal members continually complained that they didn't like this or that version or game. I put up with this for a year, but refused to change. We had a much more successful year that year tho', as opposed to last year when I allowed just about any change requested. People became so fed up with the changes we lost two thirds of the club. So this year we are offering two options. If you want to play in Mr. Jones' groups you will play the version I choose. If you would like to run your own game/edition/version, you can start your own session and I will accommodate it. But I will not assign players to such a game. The GM will need to find players who want to play in that game. Otherwise players stay where they are.

I am also planning on gaming on our first club meeting. I will let GMs know ahead of time that they need to come prepared to start gaming that day. And of course I will be ready for the first groups session. Most sessions run 2 hours after school, one group per day. I have a large table that can seat about 13 in the center of my room so most sessions are held there. If I could find a way to set up downloads I would post my club brochure, bylaws, constitution etc. for your perusal and use if you choose to run such a club. Anyway, here goes another year of fast and furious gaming at Vernal Junior High!
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