By now if you have GMed a few games over the Judge system, you have
most likely seen several players unexpectedly and unexplainedly disappear.
This, of course, can often mean a long delay in the game while a replacement
player is found. Sudden and unexplained abandonments have sadly become
common on the Judges, and many solutions to this problem have been proposed.
Recently, in an article, I explained the Rannestad
Convention and what the Rannestad Convention GMs do to try to prevent
abandonments. In this article I would like to further elaborate on what GMs can do to prevent abandonments before they start. I have GMed about twenty games on the Judges, and my average number of abandonments in my games has been less than the average number of abandonments for Judge games in general (not counting the Vermont Group games I GM, which, obviously, have no abandonments). So let me share some of my techniques for keeping players in games.
First and foremost, a GM must realize that the number of abandonments
will probably depend, to some extent at least, on the type of players in
the game. It is well proven that a game with newbies or seven players
with lower than zero dedication will have more abandonments than a game
filled with players from the Vermont Group. Nonetheless, it would be impractical
and detrimental to set up every game so only high dedication players are
allowed to play. Just as a start, this would not permit any
newbies to join the hobby and thus stifle its growth. But a GM must realize that some games will require more work to keep abandonments to a minimum. On that same line, newbie GMs should try to GM games for more experienced and dedicated players, so they can get the mechanics of GMing down before worrying about abandonments and how to prevent them.
I am going to divide the remainder of this article into two sections, the first of which will be devoted to minimizing abandonment in newbie games. The second section will deal with minimizing abandonment in games with experienced players. A GM, in my experience, ought to approach these two situations slightly differently. For newbies, a GM's primary challenges are ensuring that they know the syntax and deadlines so they submit orders on time, keeping their interest in the game fulfilled, and dealing with the occasional player who does not take to the game and must be replaced. In GMing a game for experienced players, particularly those who may not have the best record in regards to abandonments, one must primarily ensure that players are not tempted to abandon if their fortune in the game should turn bad.
Once you have ensured that your newbies players understand what a game
of Judge Diplomacy entails, you must ensure that the understand the workings
of the Judge, and in particular that they know how to submit moves on time.
Most newbies will not have printed out or read the syntax file, so you
should broadcast a brief rundown on it soon after the game starts, as well
as a message detailing how to send press. You should also get the
newbies into the habit of checking the replies from the Judge to ensure
that their orders are in correctly. You will also probably want to
give the newbies a brief description of how deadlines are calculated.
If you don't want to type up an explanation on your own, copy the one in
my long version of the Newbies
Guide to the Judge. You should provide links to the newbie guides
as well, but I find that
broadcasting such information in the game is the only good way to ensure that your players read it. If you do this things and get the newbies to understand the Judge, then none should abandon because they don't know how to input moves, check them in the confirmation messages, or know when the deadline is.
Finally, encourage the players to play responsibly. Most newbies will, in my experience, respond well to a simple statement saying that signing on is a commitment to play the game through to the end, and abandoning is looked upon very dimly. And finally, be prepared to have some abandonments from players, for despite all you can do, it is almost unavoidable. Be prepared to find replacement players.
In short, both newbies and more experienced players need to know that the GM is an active part of the game, and wants to keep it running smoothly. I have found that if I project this attitude as a GM, players tend on average to be more timely with getting their moves in and less likely to go abandoned. Furthermore, players who do need to drop out for some reason are more likely to let me know about it in advance. Therefore, I guess in a way the title of this article is misleading. No GM can ever guarantee a game totally without abandonment. But by following the suggestions laid out here, I have found it much more likely to happen, even in newbie games.
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