Over the past few months, there have been a few threads on the forums about how to handle bad gaming experiences at the table. They've included suggestions on rating GMs/EOs**, personally keeping lists of good/bad experiences so you know who to seek out or avoid, etc.
Regardless of technique applied, at some point you are likely to find yourself in a bad game. So, I come here looking for some guidance/recommendations on how the members of this forum approach leaving a game that is going poorly without being an @$$h@+ about it.
My question(s) for all you fine folk:
** Unless you are putting together a RECOMMENDED list - which is positive and reinforcing to GMs/EOs and actually helps Players find good events - please don't create a rating site/app/forum. GMs are HUMANS - not coin-operated entertainment machines. GMing for strangers is already stressful enough without adding to it the chance that a GM will be shamed in public for a bad game - plenty of GMs will not volunteer to run if public-shaming is on the table as a possible outcome and that's just going to reduce the number of events available.
Please assume that the GM did not come to the table intending to deliver a crappy game. Please further assume that the GM believes they are prepared and ready based on how they've likely GM'd for their regular group. Most GMs, if they are guilty of anything, it is not having the EQ to read the table, understand that play-styles differ among participants and groups and adapt to the needs of the strangers in front of them. I know there are exceptions to this: the GM that partied too hard the night before, the GM that admits they didn't read the system, etc. - but lets give benefit of the doubt here.
Good questions. (OMG warning wall of text coming!!!)
As a player, I have only bailed on one game that I can remember at a con. It wasn't GC (it was RockCon in Rockford IL, years and years ago when puppies were the oldest animals), and it was a trainwreck. Not just "eh, this game is not for me", but a game where all the players are staring at each other as the GM droned on, wondering how we could escape this. My friend and I felt bad, but it was so horrific, that we ditched. My friend got killed, and while the group was debating how to use a raise dead scroll, he said "use it on the cleric, she's more valuable, and I have to go check on some silent auction stuff." So he left. I died mere moments later game-time (but ten minutes later real time...ugh), and more or less used the same excuse, except saying I 'had to go check on my friend, use the raise on someone else more valuable.' He and I ended up demoing a board game across the room later, and that group was still sitting slumped in their chairs not having fun. They looked at us I like to think enviously rather than angrily. But to be perfectly honest, my friend and I being there would not have made that GM any more enjoyable. And telling him we were leaving because it sucked wouldn't have registered with him anyway. Awful. And I wouldn't feel bad about doing the same in a similar situation today.
As a GM...there's more nuance. I write LARPs, with detailed plots. What happens in the game is largely not up to me, as it should be. But quite often Character A's plots, story lines, etc. depend on Character B being there. If your primary goal is to kill B, and B isn't in the game...it's no fun. Just one example. So it's much more harmful to have that player leave than it is to have a player leave when there aren't those dependencies. (Having more players helps compensate compared to a tabletop RPG, to be sure.)
We specifically tell players that if they are not having fun, please come tell us, and we'll break the rules if we have to in order to ensure people enjoy the game. It's literally "Rule #1" in our rules of the game handed out for each game, and we say it out loud as well. We also try to make sure that players get characters they are going to enjoy. We try to find out when we're handing out characters what sort of characters people like to play, whether they want to work with other people, etc. Sometimes it's not a great fit, but we encourage people to tell us if they are really having problems, and we work with them.
Here are a couple of case studies from just this year:
Player 1: LARP, 50 players, complex plots involving multiple characters. Player approaches me and says that they are 'just not feeling it', that they are tired, and that their character is 'too daring' and people are expecting too much from them for them to be able to play it with how they are currently feeling. I try to explain that they can play the character largely however they want, particularly if the alternative is them leaving the game. "That character doesn't have to act those ways, it's up to you." No dice. Player says "sorry, I just can't do this right now". I say "Well...I obviously can't make you stay" and the player leaves the game. We have no one else standing around to play the character, and we as GMs have to scramble a bit to make a couple other player's plot points work, as several people were relying on that character/player for their own goals.
Players 2 and 3: Same game, friends of Player 1. They later approach me and say that they 'have to go', with a suggestion that they are tired. Still half the game left to go, still other players relying on them. Say they are having fun, but they 'need to leave'. So no real option for me to fix anything. They leave. A fellow GM in that game tells me shortly after that she overheard Players 2 and 3 talking about how they had to go drinking that night.
Players 4, 5, and 6: All friends, 50 player LARP. All having fun, enjoying the game and their characters. They approach me with maybe a third of the game left because Player 4 is obviously about to pass out on her feet. Very apologetic, but she's exhausted, and clearly so, and 5 and 6 are her ride--they are driving together. All three discuss with me where they are at with their interactions with other players, what they have accomplished. Player 6 agrees to take five quick minutes to go have a discussion with the two other players most reliant on her, so they can continue with their stories. It works out okay. All three of these players made a real effort to not leave other players in the lurch, and the exhaustion of the one player was not only clearly evident, but I think a surprise to them all. I think she thought she'd be fine for the game.
So what to think of those 6 players? 4, 5, and 6 I would welcome back to our games with open arms. They had reserved characters before the con (an act of faith on the GM's part), and I would have no problem working with them again for future games. There wasn't really anything I could do to make their situation better, and they were great and worked with me and other players to make sure their leaving had a minimal impact.
Players 1,2, and 3, on the other hand...just left. No real effort to minimize the negative results, no real apology from 2 and 3. Seemingly very little concern about how their leaving would affect the game, and therefore also not really much I could do. I won't turn them away from future games, but I won't be working with them to pre-cast a character anymore.
There have been times in the past where we were able to fix things so someone stayed, however. A guy who became a good friend of mine was playing in his first LARP with us, and was playing a tricky character--good, but deceptive. He wasn't sure what he could do inside the rules, how he could accomplish goals, etc. He approached me and said "I'm not sure I can do this, I have no idea what I'm doing!" So we worked out a couple of things. What was he trying to do? Okay, here is a way he might be able to accomplish that. He tries it, it works, and he's off and running. Loves it, plays more of our games, and eventually joins our little family :)
We as GMs spend a lot of our time watching the players. Is that player sitting there quietly because they are strategizing, or because they are lost, or bored? And we'll just ask--"Doing okay?" Usually it's a thumbs up and "Yeah, just planning!" Other times it's "No. I'm not sure how to proceed with this plot. I've been looking for XYZ and haven't found it." Sometimes it's a thing we figured 'for sure' another player would do that this player was looking for, and that other player simply hasn't done it :) Other times it's a plot that sure sounded good on paper but just isn't working out. So
So we throw things at players at times like that. We huddle up and figure out what other player(s) we can bump this player into, get them involved in something else, or give them a clue to what they are already doing. "You notice that Player X is carrying around a book...you get a really bad feeling from that book." And poof, they are off and running.
Whew. Wall of text. Here's my suggestions to players, based on laying all this out:
1) Please do not sign up for a game and show up to play if you know you're going to leave early.
2) Please try not to prioritize your partying over a game you signed up to play and started playing. If you want to party, by all means party. Just don't sign up for late night games, please.
3) Try to give yourself enough rest. Showing up to a game barely able to think is problematic for all kinds of reasons, and sometimes it would be better if you weren't there to begin with. It certainly increases your odds of not finishing the game. Come ready to play for the duration, please. (To be clear, I think 4,5, and 6 above didn't expect any issue at all.)
4) Talk to the GM if you're not having fun. I know, I didn't do that in my first story above. But I still think it wouldn't have mattered. I won't lay out the whole story. Anyway, if you talk to a receptive GM, they can very likely fix whatever it is that isn't working for you.
5) GMs: make it clear from the start that you are receptive to working with your players. If you are receptive. If you're not...be prepared for people to leave. But recognize that it's a Con, it's a one-off game, and the world won't end if you break a rule, change the vibe, throw out a clue, etc. in order to keep a player satisfied and in the game.
6) Players: realize you need to be flexible too. Even if the game isn't quite what you were expecting, take a second to ask whether it needs to be what you were expecting, or whether what the game is is going to be okay.
7) If you need to leave, try to minimize the damage. Players 4,5, and 6 above were great about that. Player 4, about to pass out from exhaustion, sat politely for a couple of minutes while her friend wrapped up an in-game thing, so two other players could keep enjoying the game, and then they left. That was great.
(I'm hating pushing post to see how long this is...)
@brotherbock those are some excellent points and I absolutely agree with most of them. However a 50-player LARP is radically different than a 6-person tabletop RPG where a single player and/or DM can poison the experience for everyone.
I've had some really great RPGs where all the players were at least somewhat interested and the DM at least had a modicum of understand of the rules. However sitting around a small table for 4 + hours with a player whose only goal seems to be sabotaging the game or a DM who has no idea what they're doing is an incredible waste of time and emotionally draining.
I have bailed twice from RPGs and both times during a break I feigned a text or call that required my immediate attention, thanked everyone for the game, and made sure the DM got my ticket so they would get credit for my attendance.
As far as talking to the DM, once the DM was the issue and the second time the DM was obviously overwhelmed by a disruptive player and had no intention or capability of dealing with them. I don't fault that second DM, we all handle social situations differently. I know they could always look for a hall captain or something similar, but that can be equally difficult for many personalities who dislike conflict. And most likely most of the rest of the game would have been centered on how much a jerk the ejected player was.
If you have to leave, I say do it politely and respectfully, and quietly slip away after having made your excuses.
I had a game this year where when we sat down, we handed over our tickets... and the GM refused them! He said that he would have a break mid-game, and if we weren't enjoying it, then we could just leave. He would collect tickets after the break. His point was that he didn't want us to pay for a game we weren't enjoying. I had never heard of such a policy before, but was really impressed by the GM's thoughtfulness.
For the record, none of us left.
@brooks, you're talking perfect sense :) You're right, smaller games are a different dynamic. A player leaving a complicated LARP might cause problems for story-lines that one member of an RPG team won't. But one sixth of the group leaving is it's own problem :) And, it might still be outweighed by a player just being a jerk, you're right.
It's still worth it, if the GM is receptive, to try to work it out. I mean...a GM should be perfectly able to tell the disruptive player to leave the game, and go get a Hall Captain to enforce it. PvP when it's unwelcome, for example. Nope, you're gone, I'll boot you. The players shouldn't have to tell me. But if I've missed it...please tell me. And hopefully I've communicated that receptiveness at the beginning.
But sitting around a table does make that harder. In a LARP spread across a large area, a player can pull me aside and quietly say "Player X is being a jerk", without Player X hearing that. It's harder at an RPG table.
I don't know that there's any sort of universal rule--just taking into account the effect it will have on the people who aren't the problem, players and GM included :)
Sometimes it's the GM's idea of "fun". My friend and I once walked out of a Star Fleet Battles game in open gaming. We we playing Kzin against Klingons. Lots and lots of Drones (missiles) fired at the start of Turn 1. Three hours later we still hadn't resolved all of Turn 1, and the GM called a break. My friend and I didn't bother to come back.
Besides, the scenario was broken and we were going to win in round 2 due to a stupid victory condition. But why bother?
If you are a GM and I said to you: "I'm sorry. I appreciate the effort you put into preparing for this game but I was expecting something a bit different and I'm not having fun. I'm going to bow out now - but I hope the rest of you have fun" what do you think your reaction would be?
When I carefully consider myself on the receiving end of a statement like that, which is obviously intended to be delivered politely, I feel awful and think it would be a real confidence slasher in the moment. I'd be faced with the fact that I let a player down and I'd be left wondering how the rest of the table felt.
I don't know - its these kind of thought experiments that have kept me at tables when I'm not having fun during con games. That...and the sense that maybe I'm the only one *not* having fun and my leaving could seriously impact the fun of the other participants.
Such a conundrum to be held hostage at an event that is geared towards fun. :)
1) How you said it :)
2) How your departure will affect the game. Can the game even run properly if you leave? Will significant numbers of people have their experience negatively affected by your leaving? Or can we just move ahead without you? (For example, in a game with one secret spy, and you're the secret spy...that may tank the whole game.)
3) How different is it from what you expected? Are you really not going to enjoy it, or are you just a little disappointed? This was a point I made in my Wall of Towering Text above :) I do think the player owes to the others to at least ask that question--am I just a bit disappointed in what the game is? Or am I actually not enjoying it?
4) Are there changes that can be made to make it enjoyable for you?
Some games just aren't going to be your thing. But the way I see it, by starting the game (not necessarily by buying the ticket), I have entered into a temporary social contract. All of our enjoyment depends on all of us :) So I do owe something to those people for a brief period of time. But I don't owe being miserable, being abused, being neglected, etc. But if my negative experience is internal--"Man, I thought this was a different type of game"--I'm going to ask myself first whether I will enjoy what the game turns out to be.
If not, and if the other players' experience won't be ruined by my leaving, I may still leave. But for me, it really takes a bad game, not just an unexpected one, for me to leave it.
It is precisely the social contract you mention that prompted this question. I'm in agreement with that contract - and looking for a way to navigate this situation in a way that treats everyone respectfully while acknowledging my own needs.
I think, based on how I'd want to be treated, the thought emerging for me is to acknowledge to the GM (privately if possible) that there is a specific problem, judge their reaction to my comment, see if it improves and then bow out with a statement such as the one above if things do not improve within 15-30 minutes.
This would work as long as I'm willing to confront the GM. If I'm a person who avoids or is bad with confrontation, then what? I'm stuck? That's certainly not right either.
This thread has me thinking...I appreciate the conversation.
In 17 Gencons I have walked out on one game. And I have no regrets. It was a 1st edition AD&D game, an introduction to a MMRPG setting. The GM droned on for about 90 minutes about the world, the mage's school our characters were attending, and the lessons our characters were learning. Finally the actual adventure started. I had hoped we'd start having fun at this point, but no. The GM was absolutely determined that there was only one way to achieve each of the goals we had to accomplish in this completely linear adventure. All attempts to apply other reasonable means (for example, use the thief's skills to climb a wall instead of burning a spell) were disallowed out of hand. Not "the wall is a solid piece of obsidian with no cracks, and it's covered in axle grease", not "you can try but there's a -80% chance because of <whatever>", but just "no, you're supposed to use the levitate scroll here." Attempts at reason were fruitless. A couple hours into it one of the players said "I have had it, I quit" and left. The GM made some snarky remarks and resumed in the same manner as before. My wife and I made up some BS excuse and left about half an hour later. My only regret is not leaving earlier.
If the game didn't match my expectations, that's on me. I signed up, I'll play it out. If some of the players are disruptive, uninterested, or just terrible at roleplaying that's not the GM's fault, and for the sake of the GM and any other players I'll stick it out. But if the GM insists that it's his way or the highway, well, there's always something else to do at Gencon.
As a GM, if someone isn't having fun, and I haven't already noticed it (I try to look for that) I would want to hear about it long before they are ready to pack their bags and go. And I'd want to hear something specific. "Not what I expected" tells me nothing. "My character doesn't seem to have anything to do" would be useful feedback. Their big time to shine might be the very next scene, after all.
But you raise some good questions. Not everyone is able to articulate what their problem is in a way that would help a GM address it. I'm not sure what the right thing to do would be in a case like that, from either side of the table. Food for thought.
The "...not what I expected..." comment, as I note above, is more about allowing the GM to save face in the moment you decide to pack it up.
My wife is currently surfing the "Fans of Gen Con" Facebook group reading horror stories of games gone awry - so its a problem I'd love to see our Community solve...but we need to solve it humanely and with respect.
I honestly believe many GMs who are "awful" at Cons are probably "acceptable" to their home groups - so their perspective on what "good" looks like in a given context and with a given RPG system may be off. GM'ing for a time-boxed, 4-hour RPG event with paying players is definitely different than GM'ing for your buddies at home.
Where as if it was say, cause the DM seemed very inexperienced/unorganized, i'd stick it out, AS I WAS that way when i first started out DMing myself.. So i can cut a newbie some slack.
However, if that bad experience, was more cause of say, just having a real bad dice day, i am not sure what i would have done.
So my 'handle it', would greately depend on WHY i am not having fun...
On #4, i've often wondered, if more folk would just give things a chance that's "Outside their normal comfort zone", they might find out they actually like it..
I've walked out of a few games.
What do all of these things have in common? The GM lost control of the game and wasn't making sure people were having fun. These sessions are generally only four hours and they are ONE SHOTS. They should not have hour long combats to start. They should not have puzzles that are so difficult a table of 6 people working together can't figure them out. They should not have TWELVE PCs at the table.
Any of these situations can be avoided if you plan your games better or really take stock of what your players are doing and how they are feeling. If people are sitting in a corner because their character is dead 15 minutes in then figure something out to make that person be useful!
I only have a limited time at Gen Con to play games - if I'm not having fun, I'm going to leave. End Stop.
The economic principle of "opportunity costs" applies to this discussion, especially at GenCon. Every minute you spend doing something is a minute you're not doing something else. For example, every minute I spend typing this post is a minute I'm not dating a super model. At GenCon, every minute you are playing a bad game, you are NOT playing a good game or walking the dealer's hall or all of the other fun events only possible at GenCon.
I've missed out/left on some events for the following reasons:
Again, we have only limited time at GenCon so I can and will abandon a game but only if it doesn't cause problems with the rest of the table. RPG #1 was the worst session of D&D I've played in the last 40 years but if the DM was any good, they could modify the second session of the game to run with less players.
I wrote in another thread that I haven't had a great experience with RPGs at Gen Con. I've decided that's on me. My expectations are likely too high.
I've always completed my time slot even when it's painful. I'm not comfortable leaving. There was one game where the GM wanted to continue after the slot, but I was able to decline due to another event. It really wasn't remotely close to being finished (a common issue I've found with RPGs - most adventures should be edited for time).
So, I've changed my RPG strategy. I look for two hour events, try to contact the GM before the con, and give myself a secondary objective (learn the system, observe the GM, etc...). I can handle two hours. This year, nothing popped... so I didn't do RPGs. That's okay! There's plenty to do.
I'm talking about a lot of the examples in this thread. GM plans a dungeon with a sh!t-ton of doors...and the party has no thief. Great, make those doors easier to open, or trap them instead of locking them, etc. Change it on the fly when you see what the realities are.
One of my favorite GMs started one of his iconic LARP rules years ago back in Milwaukee when someone died 5 minutes into the game. Someone else had the goal of killing that character, and very surprisingly managed to do it in 5 minutes. In a 4 hour game. So on the spot, Dave created the Ghost Rule. You die, you immediately come back as a ghost and (because it's a LARP with mostly character interaction) can keep playing. All because he didn't want to just say "So...see you later" to that player. The Ghost Rule is now a staple of his games (and in some form, for a lot of our games as well, as we started off playing his games).
"My character has nothing to do." Maybe a few minutes explaining what the character can do, because they don't know. Or if you realize that they are right, and you wrote a character who has nothing to do as the game is playing out, maybe a sudden promotion might work--"The Captain has decided to give you a field promotion to Science Officer!" In our LARPs, we often work by putting clues in people's way. X is having a hard time. Y is a good player, and those characters have not had a reason to interact yet. But Y would definitely be able to draw X into some storylines. So, Y sees X doing something X thought nobody saw...or vice versa. Pull one player aside, tell them what they just saw, and problem solved.
We even have a rule in our games called "Help A Brother Or Sister Out". We specifically ask experienced players to lend a hand if they see someone struggling. If I'm playing a game, and I see a player who hasn't been interacting with anyone for a while, I'll go over and talk to them. Get in an in-character conversation, maybe drop a few clues of my own. If they tell me something of what they're after, I'll try to help if it doesn't work against what I'm trying to do. And sometimes as GMs we'll just enlist an experienced player this way. "So, that player over there is having a hard time getting anything going...so we're going to have you bump into them." No one has ever been anything but receptive to this.
For other types of games--mini games, for example--maybe add some intermediate objectives, switch some stats around. There are a lot of ways that a scenario can be altered, or a player's experience changed, without scrapping the planned game entirely.
BUT imo that's why players should READ the blurb for the session, to know what they should be getting into..
Preach it! "Mature themes" and age limits in the description. <Signs up their 10 year old. Gets upset when mature themes are in the game.> Come on!
Neither event had age restrictions.