The GM’s Art: Scheduling

This lesson in the Downes’ School of the GM’s Art is about scheduling. With the exceptions of a well-designed game system, a talented GM, and Red Bull, time management is the single most important factor in the success of a roleplaying campaign. If you don’t run the calendar, the calendar will run you. So when do you schedule a game?

It can be your enemy, or it can be your slave.

It can be your enemy, or it can be your slave.

On Sunday afternoon at 1 PM. That is your sweet spot. Few other timeslots can compete.

Weekdays are treacherous. You think that 7 PM on a weekday is a good time, but most people work on weekdays. They might get delayed getting out of work. Then they’re driving to the game during rush-hour, more delays. Then they want to stop for food. Then they get to the game worn-out from work, and not well prepared to put in five hours at the table.

And can you get five hours? Because by 11 PM on a weekday, people are losing consciousness in their seats. And they’re thinking about what they have to do tomorrow. And they’re away from their families for 30 hours – off to work on the morning of game day, then the game in the evening, then home to smash their faces into their pillows just in time to go to work the next day. Their spouses are going to complain.

Weekday timeslots are a slippery raft on a fast-moving river, and some people are going to fall off.

Fridays and Saturdays are enticing, but there’s a cobra in that box. Players will say, “Sure! I have Friday nights free! And Saturday to sleep late!” Yes – as far as their work schedule is concerned. But you are competing with every other social event on the calendar on Friday and Saturday. Every wedding, birthday, drinking binge, anniversary, holiday blow-out and date night happens on Friday and Saturday. And players will vanish like Nagaina bit them in their femoral artery.

This is why Sunday afternoon is where you want to be. It is not crowded with other commitments, it has space on either side of it. Start at 1 PM. If your players wish to commune with God or wrestle their hangovers on Sunday morning, they can still be at your place by 1. End around 6:30. Then everybody’s home for dinner.

Once you’ve set your timeslot, stick to it zealously. Nothing undermines confidence in the campaign like irresolution when it comes to the schedule.

And I conclude with a warning. You will set your time slot. Four players will agree to it. And a fifth will say, “Yeah, that doesn’t work for me?” In this dangerous moment, you will be tempted to change to a new time slot. Don’t. In the wise words of an irradiated Mr. Spock, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, or the few. If you shift the game to accommodate one player, you’ll lose one or more others. If one player can’t make it, then they can’t make it. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

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Brian Downes
Author: Brian Downes View all posts by

Brian Downes is a writer who lives in Orlando, Florida. His novel, The Berlin Fraternity, about a man who hunts vampires for the Third Reich, is available on the Kindle and through Amazon.com. He enjoys pen and paper roleplaying games and geek culture. He clearly remembers waiting for The Empire Strikes Back to hit theaters, and vindicate his opinion that of course Vader was not Luke’s father. You can’t trust Vader’s word!

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