I'm currently nine sessions into a West Marches style game with a pool of 20 players. The sessions are going well, and the players enjoying themselves, but I have a concern:
One of the central precepts of the West Marches style is that players organise sessions themselves, including deciding the goal. The idea is that players discuss previous sessions in intervening periods, write session logs, and update a shared map. This is supposed to incentivise other players to organise sessions, as they feel that they are in danger of missing out on the action. For example, if a group discovers a dungeon in one session, players should then, upon hearing about this, compete with one another to be the next group to enter it. As Ben Robbins puts it:
An intentional side effect of both game summaries and the shared map was that they whetted people’s appetite to play. When people heard about other players finding the Abbots’ study in a hidden room of the ruined monastery, or saw on the map that someone else had explored beyond Centaur Grove, it made them want to get out there and play too. Soon they were scheduling their own game sessions. Like other aspects of West Marches it was a careful allowance of competitiveness and even jealously to encourage more gaming.
I run an Obsidian Portal website to organise the campaign. After each session I make a post in the adventure log session recording which characters attended the session, which survived, and which died, followed by a two sentence summary. For example:
A party of five hardy adventurers journeyed into the hills north of Balloch, searching for a lair of evil green-skinned creatures. Only one returned, wounded and exhausted.
My players do discuss the events of a session immediately after it, but no one writes session logs (although players have been known to write short comments on my adventure log posts), or discusses sessions further.
As a result, players tend to forget about the game between sessions. One player is particularly enthusiastic and has organised the vast majority of the sessions so far. Similarly, there is a core of players who turn up most of the time. I feel that, by lacking the collective or competitive spirit intended to be part of the West Marches, we may be missing out on the part that makes the game more than 'the arbitrary dungeon delve of the week with some dead reckoning navigation needed to get there' (as Reddit4Play put it).
That said, the current situation is still working pretty well, and we're all enjoying ourselves; I just feel that the campaign is missing something. I understand that my players are busy, and that I can hardly expect them to invest much time in the game when they're not playing. And so the question really becomes:
How can I encourage my players to be more engaged with the campaign between sessions, without taking up too much of their time?