Anyhow, writing credit for this post goes to Sean Phelan, and he's here to talk about a bad game cancellation. So, without further ado, Sean?
I just had the second-ever & first-in-many-months "bad cancellation" for my Dark Heresy game that's been going bi-weekly since April 1st (no foolin'). What is a "bad cancellation", you ask? There's certainly no hard & fast definition, but this player had a planned absence from the game for two consecutive sessions (solid reason), then attended last session...and just laconically canceled via email 48 hours before our next session this Sunday.
The fellow GMs out there might be thinking to themselves, if that's your definition of a "bad cancellation" and it's just your 2nd in almost eight months - consider yourself lucky! The fellow players out there (I'm a player in other current campaigns) might be thinking, "Man, is that all it takes to be a 'bad cancellation'? What's the big deal? This guy is hardcore."
First of all, there is a definable divide between GMs & players that is a bona fide phenomenon. Simply stated, with few exceptions, players think of their own situations and GMs think of the group. It's not intended as denigrating, it just tends to be how it is. Pete had something come up in his non-gaming life and he obviously has been forced to focus on that. He doesn't want to cancel. However, my point here is that he's very unlikely to be thinking of the group. Even more to the point is this: if he thought he was causing a cancellation of the game session & therefore affecting everyone in the group (with 48 hours notice), would he still do so? Maybe...maybe not.
To wit, fellow player Frank had told me a month ago that this coming Sunday was questionable for him. I'd replied that Pete would be back from his planned absence & the other two players were good for that Sunday. So, hopefully Frank could join us, but we should be okay either way & I appreciated him letting me know. Then Frank & I conversed again last session (almost two weeks ago) and I reiterated that the other three players were good-to-go & just keep me apprised. Fortunately, Frank ended up being able to make this Sunday, or else I probably would have cancelled the session having only two players remaining. (I want to have more players but there's a good reason to wait to add someone.) Pete didn't know any of this and didn't ask prior to dropping 48 hours in advance. Not trying to be "tough" - just candid. It's the player mindset vs. the GM mindset.
So - yes, I consider myself lucky that this is just the second "bad cancellation" in almost eight months of a 2x/month campaign. No, there's no reason to panic after one 'bad cancellation'. However, as the GMs out there will attest - yes, it's a concern. Finally, yes - I'm going to ask Pete if everything's okay...and if he doesn't reply that someone died...I'll mention that, if at all possible, I'm asking all players to target two weeks of notice for absences.
I would truly love to know what everyone else's experiences are in this area - especially GMs - but also players. You run a game and you assume what probably happens "out there" in other games but you don't really know. Have you had problems with player absences in your campaigns? How have you handled it? Do you have stated absence "policies" for your game? What in-game ramifications exist out there for absences (the obvious default being not getting XP for that session)? Players how do you view this subject? How much notice do you require from yourself, if any, to consider cancelling on a session? Would you ever ask your GM how it will affect the session prior to cancelling?