Abandonment Free GM'ing

Or, What a GM Can Do To Minimize Abandonments

By Tim Miller

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.

GMing Newbies

Newbies games tend to have one of the highest rates of abandonment of all. There are three main reasons for this; the first of which is the players' lack of knowledge about the Judge syntax, the second is the players' lack of knowledge about the time commitment required, and the third of which is the fact that some players might not take to the game and quit. A good newbie GM must realize his players' lack of experience, and take time to explain these things to them. It helps to explain to the players at the beginning of the game that a typical full press game with 72 hour move deadlines can take eight to eighteen months to play to completion. Furthermore inform them that reading, composing, and sending press can take a fair bit of time. Encourage players who feel that they may not be able to meet this time commitment to step aside before the game starts. Similarly, explain to the players that deception and trickery are all part of the game, and that the game is not for the emotionally faint of heart. Most likely some or all of the players will know this already, but it never hurts to explain it again.

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.

GMing Oldbies

As I mentioned previously, minimizing abandonments in games with experienced Judge players is a slightly different task. If this players have high dedication ratings and good mark's in Doug Massey's Diplomacy Resignation Record, than the GM will probably not have to do much if anything. If the players have poor records, however, then the GM will have to be more attentive. I have found that it works best to let the players know beforehand that abandoning without a good reason will simply not be tolerated. I suggest that GMs maintain a personal blacklist for players who abandon without good reason. But this is not to say that the GM ought to be draconian when it comes to players, and in fact I find the exact opposite to be true. It helps to send players who are about to go abandoned a reminder notice. Right after they go abandoned, it often helps to send them a message asking them what happened. Remind them of their obligation which they agreed to when signing onto the game. Sometimes this will get them back into the game, and make them more conscious of making deadlines. This also works sometimes at getting players to submit orders in a more timely fashion.

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.

Tim Miller

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