What Was I Thinking #2

So here we are, at an impasse. Okay, it’s not really apt, but I’ve always wanted to say it. Anyway, I’ve discovered what can truly kill a game…sometimes just an evening of gaming and sometimes a whole campaign, letting personal issues come out at the gaming table, or letting issues at the table become personal is a bane to the best of storylines, gaming groups, and friends.

I know it feels strict, but there is a rule my friend, the RG, imposes upon his table when he runs games that I have come to find actually makes a game run so much faster. We are not allowed to have cell-phones on at the table. Okay, he doesn’t actually use the phrase “not allowed,” but it is considered rude to have one out while the game is going on. Without a cell phone, people are more focused on the game, so they can get more involved on the role-playing level, and be quicker on the uptake when it comes to mechanics. The movement and shooting phases of Battletech, for instance, are slow enough without someone going: “huh? What? Oh… sorry. Well… hmmm… who has moved where? You want to shoot me where in the what now?”

A good example of this would be the campaign I was playing in before I became this gaming group’s game master. The hacker of our group, a pretty important player for a Shadowrun team during the legwork phase of a run (finding information about a job and figuring out how to do it correctly with all the information to be had before actually putting one’s lives on the line is an important step), left the table in absolute hysterics, escorted away by her boyfriend, our team’s driver. This occurred because while we were all discussing what to do for the run, she was checking her bank balance on her phone. Overdrawing one’s bank balance, while upsetting, is something that cannot be fixed at eight thirty in the evening, but we still had to halt the entire session, causing the run to waste another night of gaming, because she did not devote her attentions to the table in the first place.

During another game, a girl got into it with her ex-boyfriend via text, and totally missed a huge plot point. She ended up getting all of us almost killed, and we failed a mission that should have been a cake-walk.

I, myself, have been terrible with my cell-phone at the table. I thought my GM was going to kill me when “I would do anything for love” went off at the table during a somber scene in Carceri twice in a row. Apparently meatloaf was not a party favorite.

Another thing I’m pretty bad with is my laptop. I like taking notes with it, but sometimes I’ll be tempted to check things online, and complete check out of the game for a good five to fifteen minutes. This can be detrimental to your participation in a campaign. Ordering food online is just as distracting, although people will not hate you so much if you share…. (Dominoes and Cravin’ Cookies… yeah.)

The issue of having personal problems with other people in your gaming group is even worse. Outside distractions are frustrating, but inner-tension can ruin a game for good. I have thought of two separate occasions (four, I have now thought of four) in my short time gaming (nineteen months, ladies and gentlemen!) that a campaign has either been altered or totally scrapped because of drama from the outside being brought into the actual game.

  1. My good friend Paul actually had to split his DnD 3.5 game in half last year because the players could not agree on how the game should go. He had an “evil campaign” and a “good campaign” running for months, which worked out fine, but was certainly more work for him. Part of the problem did have to do with the players just wanting to play differently, part of it was one player wanting to punch another player in the face. As a result, their characters were really awful to each other, setting one another up for worse and worse falls and putting the whole party in danger of TPKs more than once.
  2. Our Amber group spent a whole session just arguing over a plan because the girls spent the entire evening being destructive and catty to one another.
  3. My friend Jennifer’s Eberron game failed because two of the players had dated and it ended badly; half the time one of them would not even show up.  This would not have been as much of a problem had we not already had a bailer-flake of a fighter, but it certainly did not help the situation.

Number four is the most tragic one, in my opinion. It has not happened yet, but, in all likelihood, it will happen in the next week or so. My shadowrun game, my first campaign, my baby… I was so excited about it, and personal conflict inside and outside of game has all but destroyed it. I want to elbow-drop forty percent of my players, and I know that they are not happy with me in the slightest. I’m going to try to run the next session, just to see if we can all put our differences aside for the sake of a good campaign (I think it is good at least… It’s not a shitty campaign anyway, which I’m quickly discovering is a larger danger than I thought it was when I first started gaming). I’m also going to put scheduled time into my life for preparing for game that will take precedence over almost everything else (Discussion of preparation and how much of it is necessary will be next week’s blog I think… it promises to be fun!…?) so I don’t let personal life lower the quality of the actual story.  As it stands, however, should I just “Old Yeller” the poor thing and try with new players? Maybe it would be better to acknowledge it is too far gone to save and not subject everyone to horror…  I’m really not sure yet.

I love a good game. I like when everyone is emotionally involved and in sync with their fellow players. I like when people are genuinely excited, and actually care what happens, so much so that they can put aside differences of opinion for the sake of spinning a good tale.

My questions for the readers are:

–          Does wanting to keep a good game going cause more problems for people if they have issues? Avoidance of problems, glossing over truths and pretending things are okay, etc.

–          What is too much when it comes to cutting off outside influences?

–          Would it be a good idea for a game master to try to hash issues between players out for the sake of the game?

Anyway, I’ve gone on about this a lot… geez. A lot. So for now, I guess I’m checking out. Until next week, wish me luck!

-Your perky and quirky GM Lo


8 responses

  1. Shockingly, my advice for fixing players that hate each other is “Kill it with fire.” As a GM, you are [i]not[/i] the players’ mother; you are just some poor fool trying to have fun in a particularly complex manner. You’re not getting paid to do this, you’re doing because you think it’s fun. Unless your players are exceptionally good roleplayers, their personal issues are going to make the game much less fun, if not miserable. Just start over; finding new players is easy.

    As for outside influences, once again, you’re not the players’ mother. The players are there to do something they’re interested in and to have fun. If they are more interested in texting and checking Facebook, obviously they’re not that interested in the game. If you demand they stop, they won’t suddenly be interested in the game. If a player doesn’t value the game enough to pay attention, you might want to replace the player (or not, if the player does a decent job of just being there and soaking up bullets).

    And as for hashing out issues, it’s not worth the effort most of the time. You’re not a counselor, and new players are easy to find. The whole point of gaming (which people seem to readily forget) is [b]to have fun[/b]. If personal issues and drama make it not fun, just stop. Play Halo, or chess, or LARP, or any other form of fun activity. There is no reason to put up with personal BS just to keep one avenue of fun going.

    On a vaguely related note, I don’t remember my 3.5 game having that much intra-party conflict. Several players and characters disliked other players and characters, but none of you set the others up for anything (or if you guys did, you didn’t tell me, so it probably didn’t work 😉 ) I did split the game, but all the TPK attempts came after I split it.

  2. I am entirely in agreement with this. You cannot fix players. Well, okay, I am not in agreement with, “Kill it with fire.” That rarely works out as well as you might think…

    But the game IS meant to be fun. Really. If unfun then end.

    Personally, I’ve ended my fair share of games strictly because of players issues. I’d rather end a game, juggle the group, and then begin a new game than struggle with personal issues in-game.

    I do have to disagree that new players are easy to find. This might be true for some, in some places. Sometimes though, this might be the only game in town, and if you end it, then there’s no game at all… Still infinitely better than a game that is making people miserable.

  3. For distractions during the game: it might sound too much like ‘school’, but if cell phones are really becoming a problem (and it’s not a symptom of boredom, but compulsive phone checking), have a ‘cell phone’ basket where the cell phones are deposited (on silent) for the night. It would be courteous to have breaks to allow players to check for urgent notices, but really, there are few reasons why a person cannot give up their phone for a couple of hours a week (hard to believe, I know).

    For the computer – if you are too tempted to check your email or websites during games, either try taking notes on paper (I know, it’s slower, so it’s not a good substitution) or turn off the wi-fi on you computer (it’s not hard to do, just a button click). If you really think you’ll be too tempted to turn it back on, ask your GM to turn off the wireless; I’m sure he’ll comply 🙂

    I think the main thing to remember is that the players don’t usually understand how much prep time is involved in setting up a game. Most do not realize that it could take 3-5 hours of prep time for a single hour of game play. I would hazard a guess, that if you looked at your player group, the ones who have been GM’s before are usually more respectful of the rules you put down to keep the focus on the game. Sometimes, you just have to lay that out for your players, and if it doesn’t work, ‘fire’ those who don’t seem to care (as RG mentioned, it’s not always easy to find new players, but few games ‘require’ a set number of people, so you could try running it with less).

    For interplayer relationships: Being the most clueless person ever, I rarely notice conflicts between other players (either as a player, or a GM) – but that’s a disadvantage that I’ve been working on 🙂 Hashing it out at the game session will not work – there can be enough blood-pressure raising conflicts between characters that you don’t need to start with drama between the players. I would ignore any drama that you may know of (or not know of) and try to run the game. If player issues make it not possible, it’s time to either ‘fire’ the player(s) or end the game.

    It might sound harsh, but as I mentioned above, the GM spends too much time prepping for the game to have it devolve into yelling matches. Ending a game and reorganizing the player base is usually the best answer (and saves a TON of stress). And if you’re worried about killing the totally awesome premise that you came up with for the game – don’t. You will run other games that you can use the premise for – either in whole or in parts. I know that RG has tried to run a particular story line at least 3 times and I’m still waiting for him to try to run it again 🙂

  4. @Morrison True, players the world over are not as easy to find as they are here. I was thinking of here in Harrisonburg specifically, because GM Lo is most likely not going to be recruiting from Thailand. For general advice, I suppose we shouldn’t be so hasty to discard players.

  5. “Does wanting to keep a good game going cause more problems for people if they have issues? Avoidance of problems, glossing over truths and pretending things are okay, etc.”

    A good game is one which has a good group, a group that enjoys each other’s company and preferred playstyle, a group which has agreed upon the type of game which is being played. If the group is having issues like the ones you are describing, it is not a good game. If there is a certain game you want to play and the group you are with is not doing it for you, try again later.

    “What is too much when it comes to cutting off outside influences?”

    It depends upon the group, but I’m with Paul on this one.

    “Would it be a good idea for a game master to try to hash issues between players out for the sake of the game?”

    I would never do it. If I were running a game and things weren’t working, I’d give the players the choice to either work things out between themselves or to find something new to do on gameday. I’d give them one more chance and if they screwed up I’d find something else to do with my time. The GM is a player too, and if I’m not having fun than it’s not my job to change the players to fit my playstyle. They can try to find a new GM and I can try to find a new group. No gaming is better than bad gaming.

  6. Having a problem with the players:
    Talk to them either before or after a game. Hopefully, you’re playing with mature adults who, if they’re made aware of the problem, can put it on a shelf for the sake of the game. Note, however, that you’re still dealing with people, so this may not always be possible. If that happens, boot one or both of them and carry on.

    Distractions in game:

    I will be the first to admit that sometimes having a phone on in game is a necessity. For instance, during the Sunday night Battletech games, I would have my phone on so that if the principals called to schedule me to substitute, I would be able to answer. If I didn’t answer that call, I didn’t get hired because they’d move on to someone else. But this was part of my job, I explained it to the DM before the game even started, and got his permission.

    I would leave phones on vibrate and in the pocket only. If it’s a call, you can decide then if it needs to be answered. Most times, it doesn’t need to be answered immediately. For me, if the same person calls me more than once in less than a minute, I’m going to assume it’s an emergency. Other than that, if I’m at game, I’m going to ignore you. Texts can just fuck right off during game. Nothing important has ever been sent via text.

    I completely agree with jennybeth above with regard to the laptops. If a player is taking notes on the laptop, that’s one thing, but nothing screams “I don’t care about what’s going on” more than doing non-game related things while the DM is trying to set the scene. Hell, one of the first games I ever ran, I had a player who had never gamed before try to tell me that he should be allowed to do his homework during the insanely complicated character creation because he “focuses better when he’s multitasking”. That game did not last long.

  7. I would also like to say, if I offended anyone with these stories, I apologize. I tried to include only ones that involved me, and I really didn’t mean anything awful by them. It’s a fate I’ve seen befall more than one game, no matter how good the people are..

  8. I don’t think you should worry so much about offending, though I would echo the sentiment, No offense was meant by Lo’s writing. She was stating experiences from a relatively young gaming and GMing career. She was not calling people out.

    That said, I think the comments brought out good conversation and I hope that Lo will continue to run games, play in games, and write for me here as an occasional guest.

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