Monday, May 4, 2020

What Happens When Your Gaming Group Explodes?

Have you survived a gaming group implosion and now are cast adrift in the abyss of non-gaming?

Although a rare occurrence in the gaming community it can and does happen when certain forces come into alignment…

As a player I had been gaming with the same D&D group for a little over a year now, playing every Thursday evening. I didn’t know any of them before the group, and I was even “interviewed” to see if
I would be a good fit for the party. We rarely missed a gaming session due to the holidays or vacation, and I never missed a session until something switched last minute at work…

…and that very night the game blew up with one of the players and the Dungeon Master yelling at each other out in the street.

As a Dungeon Master I had put together a really great group playing on Saturdays from players met completely online. Over the course of a few months one of those players, my now-friend Jawaballs, became one of my best friends who in turn I infected with the Warhammer 40,000 gaming bug, which is a story for another time.

We played through one of my campaigns which really gave me a ton of material to further build the world and every gaming session was amazing. We had miniatures, Dwarven Forge terrain, and pizza. We role-played out every encounter and drank artisan beer.

Then one day on the way home my car engine died and I had to miss a week while it was getting fixed.

One of the guys stepped in running a once-off adventure, and the group exploded from there.

What was the common thread in both of those?

The Dungeon Master.

The Dungeon Master is the glue that holds the game together- literally.

They are balancing a number of personality factors and if one of those come out of check for a moment, there is the possibility for a blow up.

So how can we avoid this as a DM?

Group culture is the first place to start.

Every gaming group has a unifying culture that is defined when it forms, be it friends or through unknown internet introductions.

You are all getting together to play Dungeons & Dragons a certain way- be it edition, role-playing expectations, or things the party can or can’t do. Up front as the DM you have the biggest say in this as you will be running the adventures.

If you like to focus on combat encounters and the players agree that combat is going to be a big part of the game, players expecting something else will not have a good fit with the group.

No judgement on that, as there are lots of ways to explore and play D&D.

As the DM, it’s always best to be upfront about what and how the group plays.

Let the players know what they can expect, and as such what the social contract of the gaming group is- this alone tends to prevent some of that in-game tension that can build up over time.

But what about players who are just bad for the group- not as in bad or inexperienced players, but rather inconsiderate or selfish gamers.

Naturally it’s easy to say don’t let them play in the first place, but sometimes you might not have a choice, or worse you might find out later how they really are.

What if you are relying on space in a gaming store that has an open table policy- if you game there, anybody can join in?

On a side note, when I have and continue to play in stores like this, I run very specific once-off encounter like adventures, and will use them as a funnel into my own tabletop group. If your hero can pass the test, even greater glory awaits.

Sometimes as player is just a bad fit, and you have to deal with that before it gets toxic and blows up the group- but is it really a bad fit.

Years ago I gamed with a player, who honestly I couldn’t’ stand. Their personality was grating, their characters bad, and they bent the rules to help them any time they could.

Where they a bad player?

Yes, until I had a moment where I could step out and see the situation from a different perspective.

All of us in the group were veteran players and Dungeon Masters- many with 10+ years of gaming experience, and this player was ground floor, level 0, new to the game.

The other player REALLY wanted to fit in with the group and thought the best way for this was to build and play “powerful” characters. Once we had him run a few adventures for perspective, and play a few other characters they settled down into the group, and now are one of our best players.

Are those problem players trying to fit in, or are they just selfish players?   

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