Bradford Walker posted something that hit the spot exactly, and explained why I absolutely loved Keep on the Borderlands, and it’s more modern ACKs incarnation, Sinister Stone of Sakkara.
If you listen to the surviving old-timers, you will learn that they didn’t run their tabletop RPG campaigns the way that is assumed as normal now: organizing a specific group, which plays and acts like a team, that meets at specific places and times to performance as a team for a specific duration (in hours). It might as well be organizing a team for a bowling league with strict attendance rules.
I know, from decades of experience, that this scheme leaves the least committed with the most leverage over the group. If they don’t show up, for whatever reason, it’s not uncommon to abandon play altogether because some combination of player and GM decisions made the no-show guy a mission-critical element. As with a car without an ignition key, getting going otherwise tends to be beyond many to pull off, and can often lead to other troubles.
Look, I’m not going to bash the epic quest – and for that matter, the group I played with in HS had just that going, yet managed to have characters drop in and out of the game, get killed, etc. It’s just that it’s harder unless the GM is very careful about finding stopping points, to maintain continuity, and have characters pop into and out of the game.
Incidentally, this is also why I suspect our Traveller campaigns would peter out.
The way Jeffro’s current Gamma World campaign is being run is the same way I run Sakkara, and the same way I’d run Dwimmermount – and meets the golden rule of any sitcom, that the central “area” has to be a place that allows anything to happen, and doesn’t rely on every character being there every episode, or at least the focus.
So, if playing Sakkara, one of the party wasn’t there for a session, he must have gotten too hung over, was lost in the brothel, had trekked back to town (now that the roads were safer) for supplies (or to find a sculptor… long story), or to look into the family jam business (another long story). The rest of the party gathered their retainers and went in for another delve.
This structure, treating the town as “home base” where whoever was available dove in, and treating the party as the point of continuity (especially with ACKs inheritance rules), made it not only possible but trivial to deal with someone not making it some particular weekend. Missing out on the haul and XP got them back real quick after they heard about the latest adventures.
I’m going to grudgingly give Pathfinder society play some credit here. While I think the system itself is overburdened with mech piloting, options, and splat books, and the “adventures” are stories on rails that got regularly broken by the people I played with, the rules changes for PFS play made it possible for people to just “drop in” with their character pretty much anywhere any time.
That said, I will never run another Pathfinder game.