Gherkin's Groans


Otherwise known as my Rant Thread, to be used when I'm in need of getting stuff off my chest.

When a games session that you've refereed goes well, it leaves you with a warm, fuzzy glow of accomplishment and a sense that you've enriched the lives of a few friends for a few hours with your efforts. Efforts is the operative word because it is hard work, both creatively when you are preparing material for the forthcoming session, and in terms of handling the players. Non-linear adventures, where the players have free reign to determine how they will interact with the scenario rather than being railroaded along a specific path, are the hardest to deal with but also the most rewarding.

A good games session is one where the referee and the players work together. The referee has made an effort to create the framework of an interesting story, and now he/she and the players collaborate to put flesh on the bones. The players accept that you, as a referee, have a limited time to prepare, may not have thought everything out in detail, and that the premise of the storyline might be open to challenge but let's not worry about that too much. Any game is at best a low-res simulation of reality and to expect perfection is to expect the impossible.

Last night wasn't one of those sessions. There was a confrontational air about it, the premise of the adventure was questioned, unnecessary levels of detail were demanded about things I was actually just making up on the fly, people weren't accepting my judgement calls and the players took an approach to the adventure that I was disappointed in - I had originally envisaged this scenario as one involving careful investigation, undercover work and luring the enemy into exposing themselves, but the party seemed to just want to kick in the door of anyone that they suspected and beat then up, thus losing opportunities to determine the identities and locations of the ringleaders lurking in the shadows.

This last criticism is the least of it. It's their right to approach the scenario like that if they want. It is a non-linear adventure and it's not for me to railroad them into doing things in a specific way. If it weren't for the generally confrontational, cynical atmosphere, I could have just shrugged and accepted it. As it was it fanned the flames of my annoyance, and as I got more annoyed I started making mistakes and the whole thing ended with a bad feeling. Though I did receive some comments about 'that was a good session' from somebody at the end of it. Maybe they were just trying to cheer me up, or maybe their perception of things was very different from mine.

Well, in a day or so I'll have forgotten all about it, I expect, but right now I'm feeling snarled up inside and getting that 'I'm going to find a new bunch of players' feeling. I'm sure we all get it from time to time.

So, my question to Gamegrene-ers out there is - what do you do to unwind when the thing you do to unwind leaves you feeling wound up instead?

I know exactly where you're coming from, Gherkin. There are a couple of things that I try to do to avoid these situations in the first place, but they happen to all of us from time to time.

The best solution I've found to avoid these sorts of situations is to change up your gaming experience fairly often. At the very least, swap out systems and settings from time to time, so that everything is always new and fresh. And, try to convince one of your players to take the GM's seat for a couple of weeks, even if it takes a lot of coaching on your end. I'm lucky enough to be in a few groups that have multiple GM's, but I know most groups have one guy who is always in that role.

The best players are always the ones that have had GMing experience in the past, and reminding them of what it's like on that side of the table can fix a lot of problems before they start.

Your players may just be tired of the campaign, or elements of it. My group is currently taking a break from our long-running DnD campaign, playing Werewolf for a few weeks instead, because we've felt that our energy level for our current game needed some recharging.

Before doing any of this, however, I highly suggest you bring this up with your players. Explain to them what's bothering you, find out what their issues were, and figure out a way to solve this. Perhaps it's just a symptom of the empowered role of the GM, but too many GMs try to solve these types of problems by themselves, when simply talking to your players out of game and figuring things out will go a long way. I know it's trite and cliche, but "talk to your players" has become a cliche piece of advice because it works.

If all else fails, take a break. Watch movies or play video games with your group for a few weeks, until you feel ready to take out the dice again. "Life's too short for bad gaming."

Hi Lorthyne,

All sound advice. Actually, we had a break of about 2 months from the D&D and only started again early in March. The game had a really good feeling to it during the previous few sessions, which is why I felt so let down by last weeks' game.

You're absolutely right about the best players being ones who know what it's like to sit the other side of the screen. The player who usually causes the most antagonism is someone who has never, to my knowledge, refereed a game. He's not always like that, mind you, but he's one of those guys that likes to play devil's advocate to anything you say. Last week it just flared up a bit. It wasn't only him, either. And to be fair I didn't deal with it very well - I lost my rag a bit.

I'm hopeful that things will go better in this week's session. In the meantime, I let off steam yesterday at a re-enactment battle practise. Nothing like a bit of energetic swordplay and maniacally charging at enemy shield walls for getting rid of stress!

If this hasn't died in vitro, I have some advice. Lorthyne's really hit the right stuff, though. The techniques he mentioned are a great way to relax a bit and are used by my group quite often. Sometimes, though, you just need to get away from the people. It's not that you don't like your players, but even just normal hanging out can put the pressure because the conversation inevitably turns to rping. When I hit weekends like that, I just call off the game and relax that day, even if I've got other stuff to do. When even gaming gets super tense cause all the stress buildup, it's time to just sit back, put your feet up and slack off. Just one day of r&r can keep you going for quite a while. And after a session that's so frustrating, you deserve some time. Your players, if they're halfway decent, will understand. Mine do. Well, good luck with future games, man!

Well, I'm pleased to report that things were very much back on an even keel with last night's session. The fun seemed to have returned and the party (and players) took a less belligerent approach to the game.

Congrats, gherkin!

I hope y'all don't mind me highjacking a thread after lurking for so long, but this seems related enough to be an add rather than a new thread. Anyway...

I started running a solo adventure for a friend that I LOVED on paper, but wasn't feeling while I was running it. I'd love to tell the story, but I'm worried that my lack of enthusiasm will just kill it's execution. As gamesmasters, have you ever run an adventure that you haven't enjoyed, but your players did?

I think we got a new member, guys. Yes!!

Anyway, I actually can't say that I have. When you don't have the enthusiasm for it, they can tell, and it infects them. There have been times I've ran stuff that was great on paper but my day or feelings or whatever just screwed it all up. When this happens, I usually take a break. What I would suggest is that you take a break and during that break critically examine what you've got down. Try to find where things go wrong in the transition from paper to playing. And then fix it. If you can't find it, just rethink the whole thing and let yourself come up with interesting ideas. If you like the ideas, stick them in! Also, don't be too worried about rules - they're lame. Just let it flow and rely on your GMing skills to fill in the blanks. There was one session I ran where we were doing a test kinda thing for his character to see if he could get into a pretty exclusive group. I knew the basics of the first two tests, but had no idea what the third was. So, when the third came along, I went to the bathroom (I did need to go) and came up with it while taking a pee! It was some good stuff to. Rely on your creative, on the fly innovation every now and then. You'll come up with some crazy cool stuff.

Lol @ Tzuriel. Yes, never underestimate the power of the 10 minute break.

Yes, DugCoffin, I have been there, to an extent. In my own experience, I've found that the amount of fun at the gaming table is ceilinged (is that a correct conjugation?) by the level of excitement from the GM. That's assuming, of course, that the game has a cooperative atmosphere in general, and not a GM vs. Players adversarial setup.

I've also found that, for me, a lack of enthusiasm for running a game comes from two main sources, a lack of player buy-in for the game, and when you're running a game because you'd really love to play in that same game. I have an example for each of these, and, interestingly enough, they both arose out of the same game system.

I wanted to run Spirit of the Century, which is a small-press RPG set in the 1920's with a very, very strong pulp flavor two it. We went through character creation, and the game never happened because of a lukewarm response by the players. Now, I absolutely love pulp, but one of my players was really grasping at straws to come up with a pulpy character that he would enjoy, while another had totally missed the boat as far as the entire genre was concerned. The game never happened, because I lost my enthusiam for it after my players had demonstrated little interest in the kind of game I had planned to run.

Later, when I did get a chance to run Spirit of the Century with a different group of players, it was one of the worst sessions I've ever run. Granted, the players involved had absolutely no experience with roleplaying, but we've been good friends for a long time, and I figured that we could use that stability and trust to come up with a good game. Turns out I was wrong.

I realized, after the session, that the problem was the fact that what I had really wanted out of Spirit of the Century was to play in it, not run it. I wanted to BE a pulp hero, not provide obstacles for a gorup of them, and so I had set up the session from the perspective of what I would have liked to play, instead of what I would have enjoyed to run.

So, don't follow my bad example. Run games that you want run, and play games that you want to play in, and make sure that the rest of your group wants to come along with you. Life is too short for bad gaming.

I get where you're going. I, too, have run a game I simply wanted to play in, but no one else was willing to run.
Strangely, it went OK (although it was cut short after a couple of months)