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I'm currently helping out as one of the DMs of a larger gaming group that will periodically see two or three players plus a DM go on a mission, usually handled in play-by-post format.

Right now, I have a group of three that's been having pacing problems from the start despite multiple strategies to address them:

  • When we first started, all three players had differing activity levels, and the most active player was complaining about not being able to play because they were spending all their time waiting.
  • I adopted a faster activity level myself in response, and the least active player started complaining about not being able to play because everything was happening while they were busy with real life.
  • We called a post-mortem to discuss how to handle the pacing issues. One of the players suggested moving from play-by-post to a more traditional scheduled meeting, and another player actually shot this down complaining about not being able to play because making it an obligation took too much of the fun out of it.

Unless there's an organizational strategy I've missed besides play-by-post or scheduled meeting, I don't think I'm going to be able to run a game for these players, and while I expect the answer is going to be "find better player(s)", that's a last resort, partly because nobody likes asking players to leave the table and partly because I don't know if I'll be able to 'leave' this subgroup without leaving the whole group.

How do I run for this group?

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    \$\begingroup\$ "making it an obligation took too much of the fun out of it." Are they suggesting that participating in the game itself is not fun? Because that's what it sounds like. \$\endgroup\$
    – TylerH
    Oct 1 '20 at 20:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TylerH We asked, and the best I can say is that that probably isn't the case. They said they were fine with being able to participate in the game on their own time, but under time pressure it becomes something they feel they have to do instead of something they want to do. They also questioned the point of scheduling when people are going to have to cancel. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 1 '20 at 21:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ The game can still be fun, but for some people, obligation is very very unfun. My wife will volunteer for things all day long, but as soon as it becomes an obligation, then she drops the thing entirely. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 2 '20 at 2:48
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Zachiel here, player in a living world (where problems of this sort keep showing up, I swear).

You say in a comment that the faster player's complaint is not that he's hot having anything else to do while the others are slowing down the game, but that they want to play their current character more.

We also know that it's forbidden to follow two missions at once, and that group rules dictate that party composition is out of your hands.

I see only one solution to this: be open with your players and tell them that the current group composition makes it impossible to provide a fun game for all of them. Ask them to party up with players with a similar schedule next time. If it is not possible or satisfying to abort this mission immediately and reallocate the players, keep your mission short.

Hopefully they will also see that your hands are tied. Depending on your players, telling them to take a look at the answers here might be a good idea.

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You either:

  1. Give them options and then tell them they have to unanimously choose one in order to play (e.g. vote for as many of these as you'll do: as long as it takes for the slowest player, one round per hour/day/whatever, synchronous session), and it's their problem to decide not yours, or

  2. Run on the cadence you want and tell them they can like it or lump it, since they can't come to a consensus and you're the GM.

There's no magic solution that makes different people with different needs happy. They all have options. Fast person can get another hobby besides this one to burn his time; slow person can miss some turns; anti-session person can get over their "sense of obligation" - but in the end it's their problem not yours. It seems like there's a default in this group of how this kind of thing is scheduled and works, and you've had one player try to change it and others don't want to go along so the burden is probably on him.

It's OK if everyone can't participate because there's no one solution that will work for everyone. See the Five Geek Social Fallacies if this seems mean.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 All of us have time as a constraint; RPGs are a hobby. RL experience (mine) shows this as one of the few actionable answers to this kind of question. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 1 '20 at 2:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is basically the only answer, but I think it's worth mentioning that while fast person and (to an extent) anti-session person can solve their own problems, least-active person can't, at least not nearly as easily. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 1 '20 at 17:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe. How much someone prioritizes one thing vs another in their life is totally in their control. Sure, if one person has a full time job and the others want hourly posts that can be a problem, but usually I find it's people prioritizing random hobby things with each other; if you're watching TV or internetting or going to play Frisbee golf instead of the game then that's your choice. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 1 '20 at 18:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ I know many gamers don't play real sports but this is just like any non-pro sports team. There's "pick-up" games that are catch as catch can, rec leagues where everyone has to agree on a schedule and if you can't make the schedule you're out... \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 1 '20 at 18:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes That's what I was doing in step 2. Still got serious complaints. Anyhow, I've adopted this strategy for now, since they can't decide on a speed I'm just advancing things when I see fit. Ironically the original fast player is now the one we're waiting on the most. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 5 '20 at 0:41
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Consider a second campaign for the faster players.

Play-by-post moves at the speed of its slowest player. That's just the way it is, and if players have incompatible pacing preferences, they're really not going to be happy playing together... unless you are willing to run (and the fast players are willing to play in) more than one campaign. Run one campaign with all the players and offer a second fast-paced campaign for anyone who wants in and is willing to commit to the faster pace. This would be outside the organized structure you have created--different characters, different story, maybe even a different game world or an entirely different game system. It would let the faster players get their fill while waiting on the slower players in the campaign.

This is more work for you... though the play-by-post format really does take a lot of the pressure off the GM. Fast paced players will appreciate the increased gaming action and slower players will enjoy having the pressure off. This is definitely doable--playing and running multple games is typical for players and GMs on a lot of the play-by-post sites you could use. I am currently running one game and playing in four on the site I play on. You could even take the opportunity to try other game systems you've been wanting to try.

Be sure to manage expectations up front.

Be firm about posting rate in this second game. Let everyone joining know that if they miss a deadline, you will NPC them for the round/turn/etc and push the game forward. You're starting this whole second campaign to accommodate faster players--they need to keep up, or at least not complain about being dragged along occasionally.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As much as I love this strategy, group rules dictate both that party composition is out of my hands (it's entirely up to the players), and that a given character can't simultaneously play in two missions. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 1 '20 at 1:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Right - this would be a separate campaign with different characters and possibly even a whole different game world or game system. It would be for fun, outside the structure you have set up. Something to keep the faster players happy while they wait for the slower players to post. (Edited to make that more clear). \$\endgroup\$
    – ruffdove
    Oct 1 '20 at 1:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Everyone has finite amounts of time. Calling on the GM/DM to double their time investment is IMO bad advice since it leads (often) to GM/DM burnout. That I know from personal experience on both sides of the table. This is a poor answer answer to the question as posed. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 1 '20 at 2:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Part of the faster player's complaint is still that this character in this setting is tied up. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 1 '20 at 3:00

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