Time, Turning Up On? GM Diaries #10

Posted in GM Diaries by Bill Parslow on Tue 12 September 2017

I’m sure that every GM gets tired and fed-up of people who come late. People who cannot follow the simplest of instructions, who cannot tell the time. One of the saddest texts I ever had, on a busy Saturday afternoon, four weeks before Christmas, arrived only ten minutes before the sender and his group were due to start, May be 5 mins late, we just have to park. I gave a hollow laugh, which of course I was unable to send as a reply.

Parking -sometimes possible, at a price

For of course, parking in our city was going to take much much longer (my city is renown for its lack of parking, the expense of the parking that does exist and the zealousness of its traffic wardens). Sure enough, 45 minutes later they arrived, and, kindness personified, I was able to slot them into an empty slot an hour later.

But to drive to strange city and expect to park in the centre in five minutes shows a certain lack of imagination and planning does it not? Qualities that might in fact show a certain uselessness in the “parkee”*? Hmmm? I’m only bitter when the prospective “parkee” seems amazed that this has happened and that we really should be able to accommodate them.

Early Birds!

Then I saw this post in one of the Escape Room Facebook groups that expressed puzzlement that customers turned up 15 minutes before their game was due to begin. I wish! I wish! To have customers turn up early is not a problem for me - it’s a welcome bonus as they can wait in the bar - I don’t have to entertain them.

It’s those who turn up on the dot, amidst a heaving mass of others, who are always going to start late because they haven't obeyed the simple instructions I have sent them. And it is simple: just come to the back of the pub five minutes before the start and wait for the man in the bowler hat.

On the dot of...

I suppose three quarters of people are waiting where I’ve asked them to be, but what is it with the rest? What is it with the ones who sit out in the concrete box that passes for a garden in our venue( so they can smoke) and expect me to intuit who they are? What is it with the “ we’re only a few minutes” late crowd who insist on queuing up at the bar to buy drinks that they won’t really be able to drink until the game is finished?

Then I began thinking it all through. The GM who complained about the early arrivals took it for granted that the first fifteen minutes would be spent on admin, sorting out the players, hanging up coats, being briefed, and THEN the game would start. That does make sense.

Start Times? What are they?

What we do - give people a start time - is open to all sorts of interpretation, from those who expect the game to start on the spot there and then, to those who make the assumption that this is just the meeting time. As it is when I have done the introductions, got everyone into the room and launched them of with “So you’ve got just over 50mins”, some people do still say “But I thought we paid for an hour?” Luckily I can use my role to go right over the top in my justification, and express how I feel!

But the thing is that often we haven’t really made it clear enough. People still amble up and say “Oh we’re just waiting for our friend”. At the end of the day it is the bitter truth that no matter what you say to people, no matter what instructions you give, they only heed and take in what they feel like taking in. No one reads their introductory emails in more than a cursory way, and no one reads the small print as I’ve said before.

This is what we do!

Things are better since I started texting players about an hour before they arrive, with humorous notes and threats. Here’s a generic example:
“My dear seeker!, The time is nearly at hand! My companion, Gerald, he of the bowler hat and waistcoat, will at the back of the pub to meet you soon. Please wait there, in a well - behaved and attentive manner looking eager and intelligent at least 5 mins in advance of your time. (These are qualities that you need for the event, so best practice them a little now don't you think?) You will be joined by others - just as well as there is safety (limited) in numbers. Any problem phone or text on this number. Latecomers however are not tolerated and will be left to the WOLVES. Please do not use carrier pigeons here the seagulls eat them. I remain your most superior and attentive friend, The Lady of the Lamp”

The humor is important - if I sent bare informational texts they just wouldn’t bother to read them, but a little bit of comedy is enough to pique their interest, and even, sometimes, make them turn up on time and in the right place. If you want people to take instructions in you have to dress it up a little, make it interesting, make it stick in their heads. After that, whether they then listen and pay attention to the game clues is up to them, at least they’re not driving round in circles looking for a parking space, or bowling in the door ten minutes late.

*A “parkee” is off course an intending parker.

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Bill Parslow

Author photo for Bill Parslow

Bill Parslow is an escape room GM, writer and storyteller. Being a game master/game show host ticked a number of his boxes and he still rather enjoys it.

Bill is Tom's dad (the Founder of Buzzshot) and it was his experience working in a local Escape Room that led to Tom developing the Buzzshot software.