Scheduling conflicts are the bane of games. Even if everybody is excited about the game, it can be sometimes hard to find a day that works for everyone.
But there are solutions!
Schedule well ahead. Make sure there is are always 1-4 dates fixed for the game. First thing every session, schedule a new one. Simple in theory, but it can be hard for some people to commit to a game a month or two ahead. Still, if it works it’s great.
Play with a short table. If you have five players, but are willing to play when just three of them can make it, the odds improve drastically. Assuming you’re not playing a sequence of one-shots, you will need to consider how to preserve continuity in the face of variable cast — but it can be done. In some games it’s surprisingly easy to explain away why NN isn’t available right now. In some you have to think about it a bit. Meta-rules help a lot: a common agreement to just ignore the any minor inconsistencies caused by variable cast, and a westmarchian rule about always ending the session in a stable* situation gets you pretty far. Sure, you’ll miss out on cliffhangers, but it’s a small price to pay.
[* Stable situation being eg. “You’ve arrived back in town and split up for some R&R”, or “Next week passes without excitement.” — adjust to fit the context of the game.]
Get a big cast. If you’re willing to play with a short table, you can make scheduling even easier by adding more people to the mix. If you have over 10 potential players, the odds that at least a few of them can make it on any given day are pretty good. Aside from continuity issues, you need to decide what to do when there are more comers than seats. I’ve used two methods:
- Say how many seats there are, and give them out on first-come-first-serve basis. It’s simple and it works, but if someone who’d really like to play but has a tricky schedule keeps getting bumped out of the queue … you might want to make special arrangements. It’s not rocket science.
- Keep track of how long it has been since they last played, and how many games they’ve been in. Give preference to those who’ve played less — or played the most but with the longest interval in between, or whatever you think best. This is much more like rocket science, and like rocket science takes some work. :)