In our advice column, your questions are answered by the infamous necromancer Lazaro the Wicked, drawing upon his knowledge of the dark arts, the thin line separating the dead and the living, and the special sense of perspective gained from plunging into the void and returning with great power at a great cost.
Like many, our gaming group struggles to meet consistently. Despite us all being grown adults, just getting all seven players to answer the question ‘Can you play this week?’ is an epic quest. We have a regular time and date to game, but many of the players just don’t respond, or ignore the text and start a side conversation, or pop up an hour before the (often canceled due to nonresponse) game saying ‘I’m here and ready to play!’
How can we teach grownups to give timely responses and otherwise act like adults? Should we just sacrifice our group to the gods and summon another??”
Dear Five Pints,
Your question reminds me of the time I was asked to join the Friends of the Undying Night, a newly formed secret society of influential persons united in sinister aims. The founder, Hargess Garganaut, I had known from afar through mutual friends in the dark-arts scene, and his reputation for cruelty and ruthlessness preceded him wherever he went. I was, of course, flattered, and promptly remitted my RSVP.
Harge was positively giddy with excitement at the fist meeting. As he took the dais in the candle-lit crypt in which we met, he was given over to a frightening enthusiasm, making grandiose proclamations about the political chaos we would cause, the forbidden knowledge we would obtain, and all the fun we would have as Friends of the Undying Night. He even had signet rings made for each of us, emblazoned with an insignia he designed for the order, and he suggested that we all dress to match in purple cloaks at each meeting.
This all sounded wonderful, but unfortunately Harge’s enthusiasm was not met in equal measure by all members of the congregation, and over the course of the next several meetings, attendance dwindled. Just like your situation with your gaming group, no matter how clear Harge was about the dates and times for meetings, the invitations and reminders carried by his network of spies were increasingly met by excuses and silence.
The evil among us live complicated lives, and the very psychological proclivities which drew us together also correlated with the incidence of brooding moods and intermittent mental unwellness. But Harge did not recognize this, and took it as a personal betrayal when we could not be present.
At one particular gathering, Harge spent over an hour elaborating upon a highly detailed plan for lightly poisoning the water supply of a prestigious monastery. It was a good plan, but as he looked around the room to ask for volunteers, he became despondent, realizing how few of the Friends had come. Fortunately, I was there that night, because otherwise I might not have been alive today to give you my counsel.
You see, no member who was marked absent for that meeting lived to see another Winter. Harge viciously murdered them all, one by one. And that was the end of the Friends of the Undying Night.
The lesson I take from this episode is that it’s important to be clear about meeting times and other logistical information, to send reminders a day or two before meeting, and to model good group behavior as the leader by responding promptly to messages, showing up consistently, and giving notice well in advance when you cannot attend, but that in the end, you can’t force a group of people to behave in an ideal way.
Many of the Friends of the Undying Night had been Harge’s friends, before he murdered them. Some people may seem excited and committed to a regular meeting, but they may not have a realistic sense of their own schedule, or may become unable to frequently attend due to circumstances outside of their control, be it related to health, work, family, or shifts in mood.
The unsatisfying answer is that the longevity of your group may depend upon patience with your friends and revising your expectations for the group. No amount of reminder messages is likely to change the behavior of your members if there’s a consistent pattern of scattered attendance. It might be the case that you start a second group online, or that this particular group will meet less often, or require a more flexible pattern (i.e. “Every Wednesday at 6 pm is Game Night at my house/my Zoom meeting. If we have five or more out of seven players, we’ll continue our D&D campaign while the absent characters are mysteriously unconscious in camp. If fewer people show up, we’ll play a board game or a one-shot, or we’ll watch anime together. If no one shows up, I will work on my campaign setting or read a sourcebook on my couch. It will still be Game Night.”).
“I’ve had trouble keeping my plants alive. To give you an idea of my struggle, I killed mint. How can I bring my plants back from the brink of death?”
Personally, I prefer dead plants. I find that, though the idea of a growing vine or a blooming flower sounds nice, the subterranean vaults I often inhabit are hostile to most common houseplants due to lack of light and abundance of noxious vapors. Instead, I purchase dried flowers and other artificial flora from a woman in the village down the hill, and have developed an appreciation for the molds and mosses that thrive in my environs.
However, if you insist upon the cultivation of domestic vegetation, I would suggest that the most important steps are to research appropriate plants for your space, and to be consistent with water, light, and fertilization. Many houseplants, for example, can be as easily harmed by overwatering as underwatering, so if you struggle with keeping them alive, it may be best to research the appropriate watering cadence and to mark it on your calendar so you don’t forget and water too seldom or often.
For a plant near death, after checking it carefully for bugs or disease, you can very often revive it by ensuring it has appropriate water, light, and nutrient-rich soil, but it will take time and consistency. I also recommend playing recordings of Gregorian chant or reciting your favorite stories about revenge aloud to your plant to re-invigorate its spirit.