A note to problem players: the view from the chair

I’ve been reading around the blogs and gaming boards the past few weeks about the problems that GMs have with their players. Strange thing is, a lot of them are very similar and revolve around the player wanting/doing something that conflicts with the GM and perhaps the dynamics of the group. Of course, the said player either does not think they are doing anything wrong, or if they do know this expect everyone else to adjust to it.

While I am not going to go into some armchair psychology, a little insight can be gained if the said player gains a little perspective. Sees what it’s actually like from the other end of the table.

Fellow GMs, if the above player sounds like one of yours, feel free to enlighten them just exactly what you go through every game session you run.

Don’t bother me kid

For a standard game session, all a player has to do (usually) turn up with the required book/s, dice and pieces of paper, sort out who is paying for the pizza and who needs a lift home where. Keeping track of the campaign is rather optional, even remembering the names of the important NPCs. Then when the dice start rolling, they work out how to get through the situations the GM throws at them.

The GM on the other hand has quite a lot more to do. They need to have their notes out and their books ready to be turned to the right page, as well as be ready to improv if the players slightly deviate from what they had in mind. Their dice need to be within easy reach and have room so they can be rolled (not an easy task). They need to set out the maps and the miniatures, remembering which one is which and how they are affected by various factors. There’s the various NPCs to keep track of (particularly voices, if they are doing any) as well as “off-screen” events that may or may not be affected by the player’s choices.

And that is all without going into an encounter, which is hell on wheels for a first time GM as there are so many things going on at once!

As well as all of this gaming-related stuff, there’s generally chairing the group. Making sure that the players are on track and not talking about last night’s episode of Doctor Who and declaring breaks when they see their attention is flagging. There’s also the unrelated “housekeeping” issues that all groups have that need to be raised while everyone is there…

Is it any wonder why my pizza gets cold the night I am GMing? And even if I pay my fair share I never get to eat my fair share?

And this is if everything is going to plan. Say something different happens and a player brings a new character to the table five minutes before they start, or worse after the game has started. Please don’t be surprised if you do this and the GM tells you exactly which circle of hell you will descend to.

If you’re a player who hasn’t GMed, you are beginning to get the picture. For me this is normal, but when things start to go wrong in an encounter then they can really go wrong.

The tug-of-war

Encounters get better as you go along. I started GMing four people rather slow and now when I’m in the chair I can have up to eight and am totally fine with it. I can even go for one better now and GM two different encounters with different initiative counts and still keep my cool.

Encounters (usually) need to be fast and the rounds need to flow one from the other. I need what you want to do, then I need your attack roll (one number, not twenty that you recite in the process of adding them up aloud) then your damage. That’s your turn, the less spent on it the better as the person next to you wants theirs and I want mine.

If you take too long, chant numbers at me when I already have so many in my head and take your time doing something cool…well this time, I’m not the only one who is shouting at you. Early in the session this is usually okay, everyone is relaxed. But when it’s getting very late and you’re still doing it…I just want to finish the encounter and go home to the relief of my pounding head.

What we have here is a player who demands more attention than is probably warranted. The attention of a GM needs to be split so they can keep track of what is going on with the game. When a player starts taking more than their fair share, either in an encounter or by roleplaying, it gets noticed. And for the player who does not realise that the game is not about them, but about everyone, it can only get worse.

I will say in defence of players that not a lot of them notice this, and this is precisely because they usually have to only worry about their own characters. The GM is responsible to make sure everyone has fun, and this means not having one person dominant at the expense of someone else. This is a management issue that the GM always has to look out for and is usually (at least as far as I have read) one of the reasons that these problem players leave.

And I’m not even getting into the “not allowing certain content” grievance, which is another tin of worms I’ll address another day.

Of course, this all takes into account that you GM is a rather reasonable and understanding person. And not all of them are.


~ by katanageldar on July 25, 2010.

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