A fact of life with Organized Play is that when you host an open table… it is an OPEN table. That means you should pretty much be okay with any mix of players signing up for the event. It also means, if you GM you are going to have to be prepared for variable tables of skill, age, and engagement. We don’t recommend “giving up” on an experientially mixed group-try to be inclusive whenever possible-it just might take a little extra effort. While these mixes can be challenging to balance often lead to play experiences you can’t get any other way.
GMing for Mixed Groups
When running at a the LGS, Event or Convention there a lot of ways a table can be split.Variations in groups can manifest along a lot of lines. The term “mixed group” can mean a lot of things but mostly for this article we mean a group that is made up of players that are experientially in a different place with gaming. A few mixes to be mindful of:
- Varied Skill Levels – Experienced players in Pathfinder Society are generally helpful when newer players sit down at an LGS game. Sometime at conventions they will actively seek more experienced tables. Try to respect the balance present while still maintaining an approachable stance. New roleplayers might struggle with Diplomacy and other skill related parts of the game.
- Varied Ages – Particularly young players might not always have the easiest time with some content presented in the scenarios offered. Another great reason for a GM to read the adventure thoroughly is to give disclosure to any possible mature or disturbing content.
- Varied Engagement – Some players are (unfortunately) there more to hangout with another friend or family member more than they are for the game. These players can become distracted, disruptive, or worse decide to leave mid-game.
Other mixes are possible from political stances to social organizations, but in general, if play is roleplaying focused and character driven, most of these real-world divisions disintegrate in the face of a world in which they don’t belong. If someone continues to bring up disruptive or discriminatory differences in a play group, they are choosing to become a non-player and you are within your rights to ask them to step away from your table.
Tips for Managing the Mix
When dealing with the above it can feel a little overwhelming to even experienced GMs. Keep in mind a few strategies to help out:
- Introductions – Often the players do a round of character introductions at the beginning of a session. If your take is mixed, asking the players to include a short “real life” bio regarding their play experience might be helpful. As groups meet more frequently, these will become progressively less required.
- Skilled Players Can Help – Highly skilled players are probably experienced enough to multi-task. Consider delegating jobs like initiative tracking or the movement of monsters and other miniatures to these players. If they are willing, consider buddy-ing up an experienced player with a non-experienced player. If you have a level disparity this makes even more sense. Perhaps in game, the assignment is actual. A senior guild member assigned to train a younger, in this case you have a solution that both enhances verisimilitude. engages the experienced player AND speeds up play for the new one.
- Age Variation – First and foremost, don’t make assumptions. The youngest player at the table might be the most experienced while the oldest might be brand new. Keep this in mind mostly for exposing young children to scary scenarios or being overly descriptive in combat.
- Engagement Issues – The first rule of keeping player attention is paying attention to the player. NPCs should notice and interact with distracted players and assert the reality of the game to them. Do not overuse this technique as that other players may feel ignored or the distracted player may feel “attacked” but a general sense that the game is aware of them will often draw the distracted player back in.
- Show Respect & Model Behaviors – GMs set tones. Nowhere is this more true than how you treat players. If you treat the inexperienced player with respect and acknowledgment or the distracted player your full attention, they are likely to reciprocate.
- Humor is Glue – Players are getting together to have fun, and funny things are pretty darn fun. Take advantages of opportunities to play up NPCs or situations with humorous natures. Players who laugh tend to loosen up and are more prone to enter a “melting pot” state. Sometimes those moments of ad-lib’d humor will be among the most remembered the players have.
Mixed tables can be among the most interesting and rewarding gaming experiences around despite their potential challenges. Show respect, delegate to the skilled and engage all players as equally as possible and you should be on your way to adventure in no time!
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