Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bad Cancellations

This was supposed to have gone up yesterday, but I derped the placement and so now you get it today instead of yesterday.

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?


  1. To be honest, I've had people cancel on me half an hour before the session started. Even when playing online like we do, that's quite rude.

    It actually happened yesterday, an hour before we were going to play. To be honest, it was the group I don't GM myself and it was the GM herself who decided to move the game to next week, as everyone was sick/tired/preoccupied due to scheduling conflicts, so despite the short notice, I'd still say that was a good cancellation and not a bad one. The GM first spoke to everyone seperately and then decided not to continue with the session for the evening, and everyone was happy.

    On the other hand, I've had a session set up centered around a specific PC (or at least, the PC would play a key role in the session) and then told a couple of hours in advance that he wouldn't be able to make it. Suffice to say I was rather angry, and instead of cancelling the session, I asked him to do it. It certainly made him more aware of what he was doing to the rest of the group.

    It's not that difficult to give notice a bit earlier, and when it's known on time (several days in advance), we can reschedule without any problems most of the time, or plan a session with one less player. A 4th player joined my group recently so if a player drops out I'd be willing to play with 3, but my players like it less so it's up to them to warn the group in advance if they can't join. :)

    1. Pixiedragon I had a very similar experience AND response to your "specific PC" story.

      When I started my current campaign I planned the kickoff around one particular PC. That player was particularly gregarious & enthusiastic, so seemed like a good choice. So I tied all the other PCs to his and told the lead-in through that PC's eyes. I published that shared backstory through that PC's eyes about a week before the first session. Then 24 hours before that session, that lead player emailed me to drop out of the campaign! (He'd decided he didn't have time.) Wowza, could NOT believe it. I called him, explained the whole thing & candidly told him, "I can't fix this." I told him I was relying on him to show the next day - he showed for the next three sessions as a result before bowing out.

      I think one thing our experiences suggest is that it's a good idea as a GM to set expectations (some campaigns go so far as having a so-called "social contract", as A.L. has discussed on this blog). I'm asking players now to give me two weeks notice - which means, since we play bi-weekly, tell me by the last session whether you can play the next session. Obviously they may not meet that 2-week target...but better to give them an expectation, they just might surprise you.

      Thanks for sharing, sir.

  2. I have had similar issue recently. I can fully appreciate your problems. I don't think its all players, but I do think a large segment of players can be self centered and don't really take other people time into consideration.

  3. As people get older being able to carve out, and hold onto, the time needed for a regular game session gets harder. Life keeps getting in the way and unless everyone places the same value on the game it can be hard to do.

    With my own group, there is enough of us that generally 48 hours if plenty of time to work around or make alternate plans, but those who were able to play still feel bummed about missing session. The more notice the better, but things also come up. People get sick, family members go to the hospital, work makes someone stay late, it happens. However, emergencies should be the rarity not the norm, that is why they are emergencies.

    Reading the article here, my biggest concern would be for the person who missed game. They missed 2 sessions because of a schedule thing, and that is fine, but now they've missed a third. A lot can happen in 3 sessions. More to the point, with a game happening every other week that means the player will have been gone for 2 months (assuming they make next session.) That session prepare for them to be doing a lot of mental catchup and getting back into the game. If something significant happened that they miss, it can also lead to them drifting away. Hopefully not, but it can happen.

    Best of luck for you in your future sessions.

    1. Thanks A.L., all very true. Your comments bring me even deeper into this fairly universal subject - and I can't help but keep sharing.

      I tried for months to start this campaign last year with existing good friends that were interested. However, I finally determined that if I wanted this campaign to happen then, within the confines of RPG, the game had to come first. To be clear, those guys are still obviously my good friends - we actively play sports and drink together. However, I had to reach out to folks I didn't know, tell them what I planned on doing, when I was going to do it - and see who was interested. Fortuitously, I got a big response - of perfect strangers - but a big response. Then the turnover to find a good fit - 7.5 months later there's only one player left that started in April. But for the last few months it's been the same solid roster.

      The 'Pete' in question took off two sessions to get married outside the country - of course, that's on that short list of top excuses. His recent 48-hour cancellation is the first "bad cancellation" by anyone since April.

      We keep a good Adventure Log & I just finished a very comprehensive one for this last session - which, of course, I'll be on Pete to read. It's a concern...I'm optimistic!