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#41: Ebb and Flow

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue.

To misquote Oscar Wilde, to lose one player is unfortunate; to lose two players looks downright careless.11—I don’t know how well it travels, so just in case: “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” –The Importance of Being Earnest

I’m new to actually running a campaign rather than individual games at TravCon for example. Well, I say new. The only campaign I’ve ever been part of – either playing or running – is my attempt to referee The Traveller Adventure. We’ve now been going for three and half a years. Twenty-one sessions. Just getting towards the Trade War chapter although we have had some diversions.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that over that kind of time, players have come and gone. In as much as I thought about it at all I imagined you’d have a group and it would remain relatively static over time with perhaps a change or two. Maybe that is some referees’ experience. It’s certainly not mine. We had a player have an evening shift change at work after the first session so she then couldn’t make the Thursday we played. We did look at changing which evening of the week we played but that was even more problematical. Another player had to drop out because he got a job in Vietnam – which I guess is fair enough.

When two players dropped out recently at the same time, I began to question whether it was something about my refereeing, of course. It’s impossible not to. I still feel a ‘newbie’; I still think I fail to engage the players as much as I could or give them really good decisions/actions/dilemmas to get involved with; I still think I’m rubbish at doing good NPCs. Ok, I’ll admit I’ve managed a couple of good ones on all too rare occasions. It’s the usual: imposter syndrome, fear, ego – all rearing their ugly heads. Best put aside – especially immediately after a session when it’s all too easy to focus on what went badly rather than what went well. Fortunately I get a lift home from one of the players who has half an hour to point out some of the latter.

And of course, we have actually had people join us as well. A work colleague who mistook our Traveller evening for the book group evening (which runs in alternate months) and then stayed as he enjoyed it; the lecturer I’d invited almost by accident enthused so much to another lecturer that he ended up coming along and loving it. Another lecturer keeps threatening to join us but lives on the Isle of Wight so transport home afterwards is a problem; maybe one day.

I don’t find it easy – particularly at present when we’re at a ‘low ebb’ of just four players and possibly three. I find that more demanding as there’s less player/player interaction. I find it a bit demoralizing when I hear other referees have ‘wait lists’ (in my dreams). But I have come to accept that it will only be a couple of us, most likely, that see the whole thing through and that that’s the nature of a campaign.