This week, I started gaming less.
I had been playing with the same group for six years, but I just wasn’t clicking with our current campaign. I would come home from our sessions, one every other week, and grumble and be generally unhappy. Finally, my wife says to me, “Y’know, you’ve come home from just about every game unhappy lately.”
Reason number 2 we listen to our Significant Others: They will see things you don’t because they listen to you.
Reason number one is a trade secret that I only part with for cash.
On Monday, I let the group know that I would be stepping aside until the next campaign came around. It should go without saying, but it often does not: when a roleplaying session is not fun, that’s a problem and one that needs to be addressed. Sometimes, it’s a problem with that session – your dice betrayed you or the encounters left your character with very little to do. In those instances, it’s important for players to communicate to the GM that what they went through was unpleasant, so that the GM doesn’t draw the wrong impression. It might be that those encounters were designed to give someone else the spotlight for a little bit, and that’s ok (it is still a team sport), but it is incumbent on a GM to use devices that are unfun for a player sparingly at best.
Sometimes, however, the problems are structural. Perhaps the game’s rules are working against the play experience you’re trying to have. This is most often a problem for the player: new players may only have a limited understanding of what the rules allow you to do. GMs should rarely encounter this, especially if they’ve asked the three questions about the game. Still, it happens when we encounter rules we’re not familiar with, or, more often, when a new rules supplement upends our previous presumptions about the game.
And sometimes, to be sure, it’s about the players. Interpersonal disputes are probably beyond the purview of this blog to advise upon, but the solutions follow the same model as rules issues.
Step 1 – Determine the problem. Gamers are not necessarily the most reflective bunch, but it behooves us to try and drill down to determine the cause when we’re not having fun: This is a hobby and it’s probably counterproductive to play games that are not fun, or to let them go without an effort to determine if the problem can be fixed. The simplest method of attack is the one you drove your parents crazy with as a toddler: Why. See if you can articulate your problem, then ask “Why?” Keep asking “Why” until you reach a problem that a) you can identify a solution to, or b) is something intractable.
Step 2 – Communicate. I confess that I did not handle this one as effectively as I could have before leaving the game I departed from this week. It is important, when identifying a problem, to ask about (or, even better, propose) solutions. Without that step, all you’re really doing is complaining.
Step 3 – Act. If you can find a solution, act on it. RPGs are a collaborative event, so most solutions will be collaborative in nature. Sometimes, that means players making adjustments to other players’ expectations. Sometimes, it means minor rule tweaks to get the rules out of the way of having fun. All of those business-class lessons of getting group buy-in and building consensus come into play here. Players are rarely in a position to simply impose their solutions, and GMs who do so might find that they’re fixing their own fun at the expense of the players.
Speaking of the GM and the players, Matt had a great point on Monday about getting player buy-in on the construction of shared imaginative spaces. If the players are not interested in broad-spectrum experiments in the Theater of the Mind, imposing that on them makes the effort confrontational, rather than collaborative.
This works both ways, however. If the players aren’t interested in exploring a shared imaginative space, but the GM is, that’s still something that needs to be discussed. Even with the number of “this isn’t a problem with a great GM” threads on the internet, a lot of players take GMs for granted, or presume their efforts must be solely focused on ensuring the players have a good time. The players have a reciprocal obligation to help ensure the GM also has a good time.
If, however, a solution cannot be devised, then it’s time to weigh the fun you’re having against the disruption to that fun caused by the problem. When we’re hanging with our friends and enjoying some parts of the game, while others might make us grind our teeth a bit, it may be that we decide that we can live with a little aggravation. For generally misanthropic types (like your not-so-humble blogger), the time we put in to learning to tolerate people is a part of that calculation, as is the time they’ve put in learning to tolerate you.
And sometimes, the problem is too much. It comes back to the idea that we play these games to have fun. If they’re not fun, we ought not play them. That comes out as harsh, but I’ve encountered literally dozens of gamers in my RPG career who keep playing games where they’re unhappy out of a sense of obligation. Neither players nor GMs owe their fellow gamers a game – it’s a voluntary activity and needs to be seen as such.
So, if you’re not having fun:
1) Determine the reason.
2) Communicate with your fellow gamers.
The process is never perfect, but following it leads back towards the reason we play games in the first place – to have fun.