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Farewell, West Marches?

Instead of the West Marches setup, we’ve found better success with a separate party and group for each possible combination of players (so that everyone has an “A-team” character, a “B-team” character etc). They can be in the same game world but different places. We decided that if the timelines get too out of skew, we can sync up by having the group that’s furthest behind fast forward (and use downtime rules etc). But so far we haven’t had to do that.

Now, this setup certainly has some drawbacks, especially if there is a large variety of combinations that can show up.

There is value in having “your character” week in week out until that character dies and it’s time to roll up a new one.

The West Marches setup has bigger drawbacks. What ended up happening with that was that someone would show up, join in the middle of some sort of exploration, place, arc, story, quest, etc whatever you wanna call it. It’s an exploration-based game, sure, but

So players would show up in the middle of that, and try to have fun with that, and be part of starting something, and then the next time they’d show up that’ll all have been yanked away from under their feet like a cheap rug.

Those who did show up week in week out were having fun, but, it was so punishing to try to be a “drop in, drop out” style player.

We are now exactly 100 sessions into our #boatmode campaign (which wasn’t our first campaign) and the “A-team / B-team” system started in session #44. It has just worked so much better.

It’s not the be-all, end-all of systems and there are some unresolved problems, especially if our group grows. (I’ve been happy to have a small group since we started playing over video. It’s easier for me to handle larger groups in real life—I know every DM is different around that, that’s just me.)

With three players, there are four different possible configurations. With five there are twenty-six. (And I ran a 10 player campaign once.)

So it’s less that I’m saying that I have the answer; it’s more that I don’t wanna go back to the West Marches setup after seeing the benefits of the “configurations / separate teams” setup and I’m curious to hear from you all about other possible solutions to groups that play often but sometimes have absent players.