My (last) Week in Gaming
So this last week in gaming was full of personal ups and downs. I had to deal with a major week long disruption to my life due to gaming, had a fantastic session of Mage, and ran a fun one shot of RuneQuest. It ended with more good than bad, so I call it a win. First off, here is the good stuff.
Gaming – Mage
Mage had a second strong week. I am really excited about running this game. The players are really getting into the story, and are enjoying the investigative nature of the game. The one stand out moment was the puzzle in this week’s game. I have a player who loves puzzles in games. The Myst games, riddles, ciphers, etc., she loves them all. Normally it is hard to add something like this into a combat heavy game, but Mage is all about this kind of thing.
So I decided to give her a scene just to scratch that itch. To enter the vaults below the monastery they were given a poem and a phrase that was in Enochian (which I found on the internet). The poem lead to the Benedictine motto, ora et labora, and that gave them a cipher for Enochian. Then in the tombs, there was an Enochian inscription on the floor. Using the cipher, she and another player translated the text. And to ratchet up the tension, demons attacked. So they were translating while the other two players were fighting for their lives. When the translation was finished, the demons were banished. It worked out well!
Gaming – RuneQuest
Our Dresden Files GM was away camping, so I stepped in with a RQ6 one shot. Seeing as this was my first time running the game, I made pre-generated characters for the players and kept the story to a minimum. It was designed to show the system to my players and get some screen time with it. So I only made martial characters, no magic users. I wanted to see how combat and skills ran at the table.
The player’s loved the combat system and special effect rules, and they want to try the game again with magic. (I am thinking of running a session with four players and using all four magic systems.) They felt it was a simple game to pick up, but felt that they were not really that good at any of their skills.
I got to thinking about this on the way home from the game, and after talking with one of the more mathematically inclined players came to the conclusion that their characters were no less skilled than a 1st level character in a d20 system. But in a percentile system you have a stark indifferent number that you can quantify. And honestly seeing a 47% in a skill is a bit disheartening. In the d20 system your bonus gives you an abstract measuring of how good you are. A +3 or +5 looks good for a first level character, compared to a +0 or -3, but when you figure out what you need on the d20, you are at a similar competence level to that of a RQ6 character.
It was crazy to see how a system presents the math of a game can affect the surface level enjoyment by players.
Fallout from the Disruption
[Get ready for a lot of typing]
I am not going to go into details on the bad, but I do want to address something that came out of it. One of my players in an online game got very frustrated with the game, and posted a vitriolic post in the OOC thread. It was directed at me personally as the GM.
It sucked. Not just because of the comments but because this player only offers negative feedback. So it weighed heavily on me. One of the players in the game commented that if he ever received such an email, he would give up on GMing entirely. That is about as deep as I am going to go on this blog onto what was said in the email.
But it got me thinking, both the email and my buddy’s comment. So here are the three nuggets that I gleaned from all of this.
One: GMs don’t ‘owe’ the players
This game routinely sucks up 4-8 hours of my week writing posts, planning responses, etc. That is on top of the other planning and reading I do for all my other games. This is my hobby, and I devote serious time to it, as I am sure most of you do as well. My goal is to run a great game that everyone in the game enjoys. I believe this is a game-masters job. I am responsible for the story, the rules, and the end goal of enjoyment at the table.
However, I don’t owe my players anything. I am not being paid, compensated, or in any way being reimbursed to run this game. I am doing this for the love of the game, so to speak. I have sometimes felt that when I have to put a game on hold, or delay a post, or am unavailable to answer a question immediately that my feelings or life is not as important to them as the game.
Never let your players put this kind of weight on your shoulders; you don’t owe them a game. You are sharing your time with them for the enjoyment of all. You, as the GM, are included that ‘all’. Your enjoyment is just as paramount as any players. I think it is easy to forget that, and to confuse responsibility with indebtedness.
Two: Deal with problem players, but remember it is only a game
I get it, I do. We as GMs tend to be highly invested in our games, and can take negative feedback as a personal attack. It is very easy for us to react in kind, getting defensive and coming out of our corner swinging.
We have to remember, it is only a game. It is not life or death. It is not someone’s livelihood (and if it is, let me know how you got that sweet gig). We are GMing for people we at least tolerate and for the joy of running. It is not worth hurting someone over, or ending friendships.
That being said, when you have a reoccurring problem player, you need to deal with them. I know that at first blush the two statements seem antithetical. JM, how can you say deal with a problem player and also say let things go? Well, I am glad you asked.
I feel like the main idea I am trying to get across here is that, when you respond or deal with a problem player, keep things in perspective. Knee jerk reactions of kicking someone out of the group rarely solve anything, snarky comments exacerbate the situation, and punishing someone in-game doesn’t teach a lesson but fosters player dissent.
So here is how I handled this situation, I hope that my experiences can help someone out there in reader land.
First, I responded. It is easy to let someone else step in to defend you in these kinds of situations or let it go and not respond. The first is not advisable as it can heighten the player-in-question’s rage, by making him feel it is him against the group. You may lose the player, and a good one at that, just because of this. The second option is not great, because we are not talking about an isolated incident, but a perpetual problem player. But even if it is the first time this happens, you should nip it in the bud as opposed to hoping it blows over. It did not for me the first couple of times I had issues with this player, and came back to haunt me.
Second, I responded in kind. No, this doesn’t mean I respond with vitriol or in like tone. That is a HUGE mistake. You are begging for escalation of force at that point. This post was posted in the OOC thread, so I dealt with it first in OOC thread. This was to show the rest of the group that I was handling it. The response was designed to address all of the points this player made, acknowledging some and countering others. I know that my knee jerk response was to apologize for everything in the mail that this player felt was wrong with the game. But then I arrived at the previous thought about owing a player a game, and decided against it. Take responsibility for what you can, but you don’t need to apologize to placate a problem player; their sense of entitlement doesn’t actually cause any onus to transfer to you.
Third, I moved the discussion out of the public view after this. While I feel that the first response was necessary to post in the OOC thread, the rest was best handled in private. You don’t need interpersonal issues to be public. That is just good communication 101.
Finally, establish boundaries. The player is still angry with me, from what I know, but still wants to be a part of this group. So I needed some assurances that they understood where I was coming from, and that this would not happen again. Also, I explained that this would be the last time I would deal with this kind of behavior. The next time, they would be removed from my group. While I didn’t want to start with this reaction, I am ok with removing them from the group after this latest exchange of emails. This is because I have outlined my expectations and the consequences, and hopefully this will cause my player to consider their responses next time.
Three: Let your GMs know you appreciate them
My players got together on Wednesday and got me a Starbucks card and the X-wing starter set. Just to say thank you for all the games I have run and plan on running. I was blown away. This was not the first time this has happened. One of my players (the same guy quoted above) did this after the end of the Anima game I ran. Just as a thank you for running a great game.
Let me say this clearly. These acts are the single greatest form of praise I have ever received as a GM. I have reciprocated once in the same vein, but I think this is something that I will do for every game in the future.
If you think about it, a GM in my group runs a game for 3-4+ hours a week, not including planning time. This year we have been doing 3 month games, so that is 36-40+ hours of running. That is a full time work week. And if you run a game at that frequency for a year? That is a work month of running a game, at least, for free.
So show your GM’s appreciation. It revitalizes us, renews our love of the game, and lets us know that you like the game. I am not saying go out and buy your GM board games (I am not saying don’t either ;)) but a cup of coffee or a beer once in a while will go a long way.
So those are my thoughts coming out of last week. Have you ever dealt with a problem player? What are your thoughts about dealing with one?