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Author Topic: How Do You Let A GM Down Lightly?  (Read 2706 times)
jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« on: June 22, 2001, 02:45:00 PM »

Hello All,

I'm sort of dreading tomorrow.  Tomorrow I'm supposed to play in a 7th Sea Game.  This is a 7th Sea Game I've been playing in for a while now.  My girlfriend (who also GMs 7th Sea) also plays in this game.

The GM running this game plays with us under my girlfriend as GM.  One day she decided that she was going to try her hand at GMing and so my girlfriend and I went and couple other people showed up.  Unfortunately it turns out this woman can't GM to save her life.  The last two games my girlfriend and I were the only two players to actually show up.  We keep going because she is our friend as we keep deluding ourselves into thinking that perhaps she'll improve.

Let me give you an idea of what her games are like.  She keeps having NPCs send us off on little 'quests' usually involving finding and/or delivering an item.  Nothing and I mean nothing ever seems to impede these quests.  We experience lots of static and non-threatening situations where she reads a description of an idylic scene.  And when we arrive at our destination there might be a conflict over which we have no direct control.  Instead we rush about here and there doing more little tasks for other characters and so on.

Railroading isn't the issue.  I have NO PROBLEM with running through a pre-plotted scenario, even a LINEAR pre-plotted scenario but for God's sake give us something to do.  It's like a Gamist game where we're supposed to be travling from challenge to challenge only someone forgot to include THE GAME.  The challenge is automatically resolved just by having us arrive at the challenge.

I'm reminded of that line from Jurasic Park.  'Um, are there going to be any Dinosaurs on your Dinosaur tour?'  7th Sea is a swashbuckling game, 'Um is there going to be any swashbuckling in your swashbuckling game?'

To top it all of she hands out TONS of XP for our idylic road-trips across Theah.  My character is a pretty cool Montaigne Swordsman, too bad I never get to actually FIGHT anyone.

So anyway, how do you let a GM down lightly?  How do you not hurt the GMs feelings and tell them that their idylic descriptions are cool and all but walking back and forth across Theah like a well-armed courier service isn't the most exciting experience in the world?

Jesse
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Zak Arntson
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« Reply #1 on: June 22, 2001, 03:46:00 PM »

I've DM'd and been guilty of the same thing.  I'd do some cool setups, provide a little bit of conflict, but the MAIN conflicts were always predetermined.

My players were very kind, and played the adventure out.  And at the end (though I did prompt them for input) they told me what was wrong.  They said, "We really didn't DO anything!"

And I was VERY grateful for their input.  In fact, I remember that as one of those lightbulb moments.  I used to read ALL the roleplaying advice I could, but it never occurred to me that _practice_ is a million times better.

So if you can let your DM know kindly, and without threatening to leave her game, I'd suggest that you bring up your own goals.  Let her know her strengths (sounds like she's pretty descriptive) but also ask for something.  She's asking you to be players, you should be able to ask of her as the DM.

Roleplaying is a joint effort by everyone involved to have fun.  See if you can't ask for the DM to include you in the conflicts and the intrigues.  Or have your player do things to derail the DM's reliance on pre-plotted happenings.

And if all else fails, maybe you can just plead for a fight?
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greyorm
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« Reply #2 on: June 23, 2001, 10:04:00 AM »

Have you considered flat-out bringing the problem, as you've described it here, up with her?  I find most folks who GM are very concerned about the quality of their games and their players' enjoyment of their games, thus most are willing to take criticism and adapt to fit.

Also, relatively new GMs are always looking for advice from more experienced gamers on how to run things better (even us old GMs are looking for that).

Simply explain to her that her powers of description are good, but you aren't having any fun on the sort of quests she's been providing.
Describe the kind of quest you WOULD have fun on...heck, come up with a storyline, including descriptions of what your character would do in that storyline.

If she looks like she's getting upset, reassure her that you are not criticizing her and are willing to work with her.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: July 09, 2001, 07:37:00 AM »

Hello everyone,

I decided to resurrect this thread because of its relationship to Raven's thread called "Stupid player tricks."

[I wish there were a term that included both "GM" and "player." Since we are really talking about a bunch of living human beings conducting a role-playing activity, you'd think there'd be such a thing. Much of what I'm saying here relates to ANY person whose participation in the game is not fun for others, GM or not.]

Jesse wrote,
"We keep going because she is our friend as we keep deluding ourselves into thinking that perhaps she'll improve."

I'll take that term "deluding" fairly seriously, not because I'm telepathic and can see exactly what's happening among these people I don't know, but because I've dealt with very similar situations myself, or had players doing so in their other groups. So let's say that this person seems, by any reasonable assessment, like she is simply not going to change her mode of GMing.

As I mentioned in the other thread, "communication" is often presented as the cure-all, but I doubt very seriously that it works well. I've known GMs, male and female, who could not endure one word of dissatisfaction - or even suggestion - without getting angry, breaking down in tears, or both. There is simply too much at stake emotionally for many people, especially those who subscribe to the myth that unless everything's perfect and happy, they've failed horribly.

If it seems highly unlikely that the GM is going to do things differently, and if "communication" either SEEMS or PROVES non-useful ... then sooner or later, you'll have to stop playing.

How one does this decently is a good question. The first person has it easiest (or is the best cop-out artist, depending on one's POV), because he didn't "break up the group," but rather "well, just couldn't make it a few times, you know?" It's the last couple of people who are under the gun. No one has expressed to the GM that her efforts are not being enjoyed. So these last people get to be the group-killers AND the criticizers. Fun, eh?

My conclusion is this: role-playing is NOT a "safe" activity. There seems to be, among some gamers, the notion that gaming is somehow different from all other social functions, that anyone can do it, that anyone is welcome, and that anyone's approach is acceptable in a given group. I disagree with this notion, profoundly.

Many years ago, I'd moved to a new city and begun a gaming group there. I met with several people and spent some time with character creation (it was Cyberpunk, 1st ed, which required quite a lot of PC prep).

The night of the first session, one guy called up and said that he'd not finished, or even got around to finishing, the character. "OK, don't come," I told him. He was astounded. "What??" "Right," I said. "If your character's not ready, then you shouldn't play." This guy had never encountered such an outlook - he was under the impression that anyone could role-play, with anyone, at any time, and that standards for behavior were basically non-existent.

Gamers are perceived to be people who have no friends, who associate with one another in a kind of forced-together way, who exist in a "null" social state and thus become a category by default. Role-playing is perceived to be an activity that indicates membership in this category.

Frankly, if we don't want this to be true, we have to act like it. Many, many years ago, I decided that role-playing with ME meant adhering to certain standards of commitment and creativity, as well as social courtesy. And that meant that if I didn't see that from people (many of whom were "experienced gamers"), then they could not play. This outlook was astounding to lots of people, and apparently remains so today, but it is no more nor less than the same standards people bring to any shared, creative activity.

Best,
Ron
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #4 on: July 09, 2001, 08:33:00 AM »

Hi, Jesse.

You need to tell her, man.  Your main complaint is that you do not feel that you're actually doing anything, right?  It's like the movie Twister.  After the third tornado hit and nobody died, I was off the edge of my seat.  Not a good thing for a thriller.

Remember to keep a 2:1 ratio of honey to vinegar.  That is, give her two positive points to every negative point.  This seems to help people deal with the criticism better, no matter what the situation is.

Be sure to do this in private and preferably after your last session.  (This will give her time to adjust the next session.)  No one likes to be critized in public.  Look at John Wick.  Tell him why you think you think his latest game sucks and he'll behave civilly, not necessarily happy about it but he'll most likely leave it at "well, that game just isn't for you."  Post it as a review on RPGnet or someplace and flame city, baby.  (Just kidding, John.  Hey!  Ow!  That hurts!)

It's actually worse to be criticized in front of the group since she'd feel like you all ganged up on her.

I'm going to disagree with Ron here on his advice both here and the other thread which basically boils down to "quit the group."  Yeah, he's right in that all role-players do not get along and that to change things could, hell -WILL- require a lot of work.  But I don't think simply quitting the group and starting over is a good solution.  It may be the only solution, but it isn't a good solution.  Who's to say a similar problem won't happen in the next group, and the next and the naext...and the next twenty groups?

Besides, game or no game, this is your friend here.  If everybody left in the manner he'd described:

Quote
How one does this decently is a good question. The first person has it easiest (or is the best cop-out artist, depending on one's POV), because he didn't "break up the group," but rather "well, just couldn't make it a few times, you know?" It's the last couple of people who are under the gun. No one has expressed to the GM that her efforts are not being enjoyed. So these last people get to be the group-killers AND the criticizers. Fun, eh?


this isn't fair to the GM.  As far as she knows everybody is having a good time then they start leaving like rats on a sinking ship and she'll be wondering what the hell is wrong and why they didn't have the guts to tell her.  

Communication does work, maybe not the way you want it to but it does work.  If nothing else it will get things out in the open and if she refuses to change ("I'm trying a different GMing style...") for some reason, then you can quit right there, no questions asked the answer is already known.

And, yes, she may not take very well and go into some form of hysterics or just carry a grudge.  That's the risk and if you handle it diplomatically it shouldn't happen since you won't be putting her on the defensive.

A wise man once said "He who hates correction is stupid."  
Still applies.
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Epoch
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« Reply #5 on: July 09, 2001, 10:27:00 AM »

With respect to the efficacy of communication:

I played in a D&D game called "A Staff of Old."  I was getting disatisfied with the fact that I felt there was a double-standard for XP gaining -- it seemed like when the other players did something categorically stupid in the name of roleplaying, they got an XP bonus for it, and when they did something that advanced the plot, they got an XP bonus for it, while when I did the first, I got no XP because I wasn't helping the plot, and when I did the second, I got no XP because I wasn't off being zany and wacky in-character.

So I talked to the GM about it in private after one session, and, while he didn't wholly agree with my impression of the situation, after we talked for a bit, he agreed to look more carefully at my character's actions when determining XP, and I felt that I had a more solid sense of what he was looking for when rewarding XP.  And, with him doing his part and I doing mine, I never felt slighted in that game again.

* * *

Later in that same game, the GM felt that everything was getting too staid and ordinary, that the players were never taking any initiative, and that he needed to shake things up.

He talked to the players, and we expressed what it was that we felt was causing the current behaviour, and then the GM took that and integrated it into the game, with the end result that:

We played one session not as our characters, but rather as NPC's trying to hunt down our characters.

During that session, the GM intentionally killed a PC whose player was tired of her.

We then cut to 6 months later, after the normal PC's had been taken as slaves.

And the GM bumped up my character's Wisdom and another character's Intelligence, the better to give us IC reason to drive the group forward.

Again, it worked well.

* * *

I'm now just starting (two sessions so far) my second Amber game with largely the same group of players (I'm the GM).  In both cases, I've tried to seek out player input into the game from the start.  This has meant discarding large chunks of both games (especially the first one, which I originally conceived of as almost entirely different from how it turned out), but the first game, at least, was wildly succesful.

* * *

(Last one).  When I had a war on in my last game, I expressed to the players that I felt the need to speed up the time frame of the game to allow the people who were generalling the war the ability to remain engaged in the game, despite their often having only one or two meaningful player-level decisions per game month.  I talked to the players about how I wanted everyone to work towards having some down time that we could productively skip over, and how this might be a good time for them to start working on side projects.

We didn't get down to the point where I was looking for (several game months a session), but the game sped up considerably, and, most notably, all of my players said, after the game, that they considered that discussion very valuable and useful in keeping the game going.

* * *

My point?  I think that communication can work.  It won't always -- Ron's perfectly correct that some people scream bloody murder at the slightest hint of dissatisfaction -- but it often does.

The secret, I feel, is to understand that "communication" isn't a way to explain how you're right and how the other party should immediately change their behaviour.  In all of the various times I've seen OOC discussion productively affect a game, I've never once seen either side get entirely what they wanted (or thought they wanted) at the outset of the conversation.

But I think it can and does resolve situations that both sides are willing to compromise and work together on.
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jburneko
Member

Posts: 1351


« Reply #6 on: July 09, 2001, 10:44:00 AM »

Quote

On 2001-07-09 11:37, Ron Edwards wrote:

My conclusion is this: role-playing is NOT a "safe" activity. There seems to be, among some gamers, the notion that gaming is somehow different from all other social functions, that anyone can do it, that anyone is welcome, and that anyone's approach is acceptable in a given group. I disagree with this notion, profoundly.

Gamers are perceived to be people who have no friends, who associate with one another in a kind of forced-together way, who exist in a "null" social state and thus become a category by default. Role-playing is perceived to be an activity that indicates membership in this category.

Frankly, if we don't want this to be true, we have to act like it. Many, many years ago, I decided that role-playing with ME meant adhering to certain standards of commitment and creativity, as well as social courtesy. And that meant that if I didn't see that from people (many of whom were "experienced gamers"), then they could not play. This outlook was astounding to lots of people, and apparently remains so today, but it is no more nor less than the same standards people bring to any shared, creative activity.


Hello Ron,

You reminded me of something I was mulling around a while back and I thought now would be a good time to bring it up.  When we talk about gamers and their prefered style of play we're usually talking in terms of GNS.  This is all well and good but there is another aspect to 'gaming style' that is independent of GNS orrientation and that's simply social competence.

In my gaming group there is one girl who is very shy and very quiet.  I used to think she wasn't having a good time but she shows up religiously.  And really the only time she participates is on her 'initiative turn' in a combat or when the GM specifically asks for her reaction to something or when another play asks for her input on the current situation and even then it's not much more than, 'I'll swing my weapon' or whatever.

I also have a couple who are a match made in some happy-go-lucky corner of hell.  They are deffinitely the insert-foot-into-mouth with every spoken word kind of people.  They're loud and awakward and never seem to be on the same page as everyone else.

Now, these people aren't Gamists or Simulationists or Narrativits they're social outcasts who come to be with a group of people who won't chase them away when they make a mistake.  They don't disrupt the game and sometimes we find clever ways of making their OOC social faux pas into IC mishaps.  They're escapists to the core who come to be somewhere else for just a little while.

(Side Note: Classic Example of what I'm talking about.  David, 1/2 of the loud couple, purchased Arabic at the end of a Deadlands session because they'd just captured some spies who only spoke Arabic.  At the top of the next session, eveyone at the table remembered this except for David.  So when they went to interrogate the spies, I spoke in English since I knew that at least one character now spoke Arabic.  When I did this, David, who plays a Mad Scientist, piped up, "So, you speak English!"  All of us groaned but one of my more active players said, 'No, I think his character really said that.  I think the Arabs answered in Arabic, "Disaster Jim" understood them and then said, "So, you speak English!", anyway."  This is what I meant by turning OOC mistakes into amusing IC events.)

Now let's put these people in the light of GNS and see what happens.

If these people are playing in a primarily Gamist session then all that ultimately matters is the stats on the page.  Saying, 'I swing my sword' on their initiative turn is perfectly acceptable.  If they don't know what to do they can always turn to a better tactician in the group and ask for advice.  They roll the dice and when they succeed the group cheers.  Their character has been effective so THEY feel effective.

If these people are playing in a primarily Simulationist session then there is a strong character = player sentiment.  So if they're quite or loud then their character is quite or loud and that's okay because well, this is a simulation.  They are simply projecting themselves into a fictional world and it's the GM's job to figure out what that means.

Anyway, I was thinking about these kinds of players in a Narrativist game.  A Narrativist game requiers much more weight to be carried by each and every single player.  If a character is shy and reserved or goes whirling off on some weird tangent there's nothing to be done.  Nothing to rope them in and keep them focused.  Their security blanket is gone.  As I personally start sliding more and more towords Narrativism it's THESE players that I feel bad about.  

If I lose my gamist d20 fanatic because he feels there aren't enough character customization options in Story Engine then so be it, that's clearly a clash of style.  But if I lose my quiet and awkward players simply because SOCIALLY they aren't up to the task that's when I'll start to feel bad.  That's when I'll start to feel the accusations of 'elitism' that are so often slung at Narrativists.  I feel like I'm saying, 'I'm sorry but your imagination just isn't up to par.'  One is a clash of equaly viable styles but the other is insulting.

Anyway, just some random thoughts on the matter.

Jesse
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: July 09, 2001, 11:01:00 AM »

Jesse,

Apply your points to musicianship and playing in a band. Would you retain all members in the band, given your desire to focus the music in a particular direction? (We will assume that you have the authority and support to initiate such a focus.) What if it's clear that the band COULD be an awesome group, but the keyboardist, nice or not, simply can't hold up that end? Would "escapism" be an acceptable attitude for any of the band members?

I tend to take this view toward role-playing. I realize it's pretty hard-core.

Also, I held forth on the larger social context of role-playing in which GNS (and any other aspect of play) is embedded, about six weeks ago. I'll look around on the threads to point you to the reference.

Best,
Ron
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