Bonus Week Day 3: GM Tip: Making Tough Calls
Whether you are an experienced GM or fairly new, you are bound to have learned (or will eventually), that the toughest GM calls you ever make will not be one rule mechanics or how to fix a plot-line, they will be the out of game calls, the gaming experience, group management. These calls (or choosing to ignore the problem) can lead to player desertion and groups dissolving. Scary, huh?
Well, no need to worry, because I have your back!
“So You Think You Can GM?” is a new blog series I am running (vlogs to come in the future). I will be jumping in to help new and old GMs alike to bring out the best of each and every game. This is the main reason I started this blog. Though this series targets Dungeons and Dragons and The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, the advice will branch over to other systems.
Remember yesterday in Part I when I said that the most important duty of a GM is to ensure that everyone is having fun? Well, the players also must take part in this duty. It is the job of everyone in the group to make sure the game is fun for everyone. But sometimes, well… you or a player will run into some very bad times. If these “bad time” situations are not handled appropriately (or at all), you will lose the player (which might be you!).
So how do you know what call to make? Most likely the group you are playing with is your circle of friends. You don’t want to see any of them leave the group. So how do you know what you should do? Well, the simple answer is: place your friends above the game. Sadly, nothing is ever really simple. So let’s break it down to some of the specific calls you will be faced with and try to figure out how to fix them.
#1- Disruptive Party Members (Players)
Problem: Like many times, these party members will be repeat offenders. They are going to tend to claim they are just “in character”. Sometimes this is just how the person is, but many times it is just a current trope they are embracing.
Solution: You first need to see if it is just a phase or the actual person. Try having separate campaigns in the works (if you need to share the load of GM duties, do it). Tell your group that you will be having a relaxed, anything goes, silly game. Whatever kind of annoying antics or rule boundary-testing they wish to do will be allowed. And follow through with that. Let them get some of it out of their system. You will also have your more serious campaign. Stress to them the importance both in and out of game that they work as a unified team. If you have to restrict alignments, do so, but still try to let them play the characters they envision. You can have them move their old characters to the silly game. If it really is a “in character” issue that they just wanted to get out of their system, the silly game should cover that. If it is the player, try talking to them to find the root of the issue. Tell them, “in character” is never an excuse to continually disrupt multiple games. If reasoning does not work, well… we will cover that in Last Resorts.
#2- Absentee Members
Problem: Someone tends to go missing often. This is probably going to be the easiest thing to solve.
To be honest, I have been an absentee member (AbM) due to real life issues (school, work, getting married and having a kid, etc.). There are two types of AbMs: those with real life issues and those not having fun.
Solution: The easier of the two types of absentee members to solve is the real life issues. As a GM and a member of the group, you need to understand that things will come up. For occasional absences, you can run the players as NPCs to the best of your ability; however, it is continual issues, then just use the “leap method”. By leap method, I mean, you continue like everything is normal whether the AbM is present or not. You don’t need to worry about what that character was doing while they were away or anything. Just continue on and ignore the specifics. Alternatively, some games (Like the Kingmaker Adventure Path for The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game) will have built in story-ties that you can use. Maybe the person was guarding the camp or town, or crafting away at home. This will give you the in-story reasons if you feel like you need one. If you are writing adventures for your group and know that you have some members that can’t make each meeting, try to consider a story option like that. If the AbM has a regular schedule of when they cannot attend, you may also consider having different campaigns running at the same time. That way, they do not miss out on the story, the party doesn’t feel down a man, and you can keep games running without hiccups or trying to explain what was missed. If the AbM is able to make it to the game they are not it, allow them to either join in as a random person or help to control the monsters in the battles.
The second type of AbMs (those not having fun) needs a little more tact. First thing is first, you need to talk to the player. Sometimes, the case may be that they like to do other stuff and have limited free time that they split between activities. Respect that decision and let them know they are always welcome. For long campaigns, you may wish to work out a schedule with the AbM and rotate out games (this seems like a common tactic, hint hint). Also, find out what they like and dislike about the game. By making sure they are having fun, the AbM might turn into just an “M”.
In both respects, AbMs need and are looking for some escapism from their daily lives just as much as you are. Try to work with them and be understanding. They will certainly be there for the important stuff if they can. So just focus on the good times when you do have them.
#3- Hostile Group Members
Problem: Someone in the group is being openly hostile to you or other group members. This goes beyond simply being disruptive. This problem is one that should never, and I repeat NEVER, be allowed to continue for any length of time.
Solution: You need to stop the game (though the hostility itself will have done this for you). The sooner you can get things calmed down, the better. Whether you are in private or in public, you need to first separate those involved and get them away from anything they can injure themselves or each other with. Do not be afraid to ask or call for help in getting the hostile members to separate. Once you have the offender(s) separated, you need to get to the root of the problem.
Try to talk to everyone involved. If anyone start getting heated, diffuse the situation before it escalates again. You need to keep everyone as calm as you can. If something is as simple as someone is just having a bad day, then you can ask them whether they would like to take some time to cool off and maybe come back next session. People have bad days. Accept it, and let them sort things out.
Offer them help if you can. Let them take a break and don’t penalize them in or out of game for it. If they are a reasonable person, they will get back to normal and might apologize. I say might because some people just don’t do apologies. I admit that it annoys me, but I just let it go.
Now, sometimes there are just people that will always clash. If talks, breaks, and separation do not work, you may have to follow the Last Resort method.
Last Resort – When all else fails
Sometimes no amount of talking and trying to be civil will work. When this happens between friends and acquaintances, it can be tough. Sometimes all you need is a break, sometimes a change of scenery or games will work, and sometimes, nothing works.
If you have exhausted all measures of sorting the situation, then it might be best to have someone leave. I normally don’t like to say it, but it is true. If the problem is with a single person and the rest of the group is not enjoying their sessions because of that person, you need to talk to the troubling player one last time (after you have confirmed with the rest of the group on your decision). If they cannot agree to change on this last attempt, tell them that until they can amend their behavior, they are not welcome to the sessions. It is harsh, I know. But remember, you and everyone in the group has a right to have fun. Exercise that right. Enforce it.
If you find that the group is accepting of the troubled player (or the entire group is full of troublemakers), then maybe it is time that you pick up and leave. Find a new group. Find something new to do. Take an extended break. Sometimes leaving yourself is that best option for you.
Personally, I have left two long running groups before. One group (the worse of the two) I played with for four years. I thought they were the only group I had to play in regularly, so I tried to put up with it. There was always the “I am god of this world so if I want something to happen, it happens” and the “look at all the awesome stuff I can make since I control the rules”, and then there is the well… let’s just say that having your mind in the gutter made you look like a saint compared to this dirty mind. The last straw was when the game store owner asked me one day if I could let a nine year-old kid join our game so he could learn to play. I said yes because I enjoy that and because thankfully it was my week to run a game.
I sat the group down and explained to them that we were asked by the store owner to teach this kid to play D&D. Everyone said they were okay with it, so we started making characters. The “I am god player” wanted to exercise that will as a player. The “awesome stuff player” wouldn’t stop asking me about letting him play his god so he can show him how awesome it is. The Mr. dirty mind… After ten minutes of trying to block every mention he had of something dirty and way beyond anything that a civilized person should hear, especially a nine-year old whose mother was sitting at the table, I had enough. I called the game. I told them this session was over and I was not going to put up with their… >.> stuff. Then I took the kid and his mother aside, apologized and instead sat down to discuss the game and show them how battles work and invited them to come back next week for a solo game. He brought friends and soon they were running and playing games without my help.
That was a bit longer than I expected today. So I’ll keep this wrap up short. When it comes to solving problems, you will see that sometimes having more than one campaign can solve some of your issues. Other times, you may have to ask someone to leave, or leave yourself. HOWEVER, most of the time, you need to pause the game and talk openly and plainly with your group. Communication is your best and should be your first option. Learn to diffuse situations and correct problems before they get out of hand.
If you have a tough call and do not know how to solve it, email me. I’ll do my best to help you and your group out. More GM Tips to come! If you have specific questions, just send me an email. I can’t prescribe exactly what your game or group needs, unless you reach out to me. Until next time!
(Click here for Part III)
(Click here for Part III)