3, 2, 1, contact
Make sure before everyone leaves that you have a contact list in place. Set up a phone chain, trade email addresses, and even consider sharing your travel times so that you know when to seek each other out. This is especially important if you're meeting at a larger convention or conference, since people will probably break away at times to do their own thing. You'll be using this list more than you think, so out of everything to plan, this is top of the list.
Selecting a target
Planning an unofficial guild meet-up is just like leading a raid in the sense that your target selection is half the battle. Ideally, you'll want to choose a spot that's convenient for as many as possible, and if it's affordable, that's even better. The earlier you choose a spot, the better, since people might have to fly or take time off in order to attend. And make sure to keep things casual and informal, at least initially. Guilds are unique in the sense that they contain the most diverse makeup of members, many of whom would never have been friends in real life if it hadn't been for gaming. So the high-powered lawyer might be comfortable having a meet up at a fancy martini bar, but the stay-at-home mother of two who hasn't put on high heels in almost a decade might feel a little uneasy. Make sure that your first day of events is as accessible as possible, and if you're going to have a fancy dinner or dress-up event, add it after the ice is broken.
Kid-tested, mother approved
Make clear what the plans will be for the guild meet-up if it's something you're organizing on your own. A pub crawl in New Orleans isn't ideal if half the guild arrives with young children in tow. As a guild leader, you know your members better than anyone, so try to match the events with the atmosphere of the guild. Also, don't neglect the outliers. Taking the approach that majority wins isn't the best case here because you will probably have one or two members who want to attend but might not quite fit in socially with the rest of the guild. If you have a guild full of extreme sports addicts and two quiet bookworms, try to find something that will suit both groups.
You can call me Sally or Fioniastia
It seems like a minor issue, but it actually is one of the trickier issues to solve: Do you call each other by your real names or your character names? There's no right or wrong to this, but often, it's much easier initially to call each other by toon names, since that's going to pop into your head first when you hear someone's voice or chat with him. It may seem strange, but it's really no different than using nicknames, and it helps break the ice. Once everyone's comfortable with each other, people can choose whether to start untangling real names from in game ones or just stick to avatar names.
Business or pleasure
When you're gaming with your guildmates night in and night out, there's a tendency to want to avoid the subject when you finally meet in person. After all, you can do that any time you're home, and a guild meet is a special event. But game talk is usually the springboard that opens things up to conversations about out of game interests, so don't worry if that's the topic of choice. When I met up with some guildmates a few years ago, before the age of voice chat, we actually took the opportunity to hatch a plan to farm crowns from the Plane of Air in EverQuest
. It was much easier to coordinate things in person (and much more fun over a plate of delicious food). Just don't break out an overhead projector and the Vork-like laminated guild packets.
Don't do anything you'll regret in the morning
This goes without saying! Be kind to your guild leader, and don't do something that's embarrassing or overly reckless because it will follow you all the way home and right into the game. The last thing that should come from a guild meet and greet is guild drama, so behave!
The post game
Chances are, you've had a terrific gathering and those who attended will log in with high spirits and fresh legs. But be mindful of how much you talk about the guild meet up because those who didn't attend might feel left out. You can actually end up having a splintering of the guild between those who went and those who did not, and while it's usually temporary, it can lead to resentment when an inside joke or a funny memory is shared in guild chat. Balance is key here, so try to find a middle ground between sharing stories and not rubbing it in.
Overall, remember to enjoy the unique opportunity to meet people that you've gotten to know so well, and with whom you've shared some amazing in-game experiences. Give everyone the flexibility to do what he wants, but keep things organized enough so that people feel included and part of the bigger guild events. It's really no different from what you do in game as a guild leader, only this time you're doing everything face to face. With a little planning and a good camera, you'll have the makings for a very memorable gathering.
Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.