How Do You Tell a Group: "Maybe This Isn't for Us?"

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Like all forms of art, sometimes something can be praised as exemplary of the genre, but it's not the right thing for a specific person at a given time. For example, I know the Godfather is supposedly an excellent movie - but instead of watching it, I'd rather watch Guardians of the Galaxy. I like the idea of masterful cinematography, brilliant writing, emotional acting, etc., but at the end of the day, most of the time I want to tap my feet to 70s pop rock hits and watch Starlord shoot alien robots.
So I sold "The Enemy Within" as one of the most highly regarded campaigns ever written with a richly detailed setting built on decades of lore; deep, interwoven plots; near infinite opportunities to roleplay and forge alliances; with one of the staples of political intrigue writing in the gaming world. I think many players want to be in a campaign like that, and many GMs want to run a game like that. But in practice, a lot of people get home from work, cook dinner, put the kids to bed, then they have enough mental bandwidth to disarm some traps, belch a profanity at an attacking kobold, and count a few gold pieces of treasure.
Many players don't want the Godfather, and I get that. I can't blame anyone for being enticed by saying "yes" to something they think they should want.
I hear that. A few sessions back in a campaign I'm running the party had to decide to try get popular support to overthrow a duke, or just to go for the kill. They are agents of the empire the duke is part of, so they are adverse to killing random citizens doing their job - there's no "the duke is against us so his guards are evil", and they had already been admonished once by the disposed child-empress they are trying to get back on her throne that "regicide is not a habit we wish to encourage". But the duke himself is worth killing. Either way, they decided to go the politics and intrigue route.

That said, they spent their time heading there hiding and doing everything to get to the capital unseen, leaving very little effort on drumming up support. And that ended up being a discussion at the end of the session about if they still want these goals. They all agreed.

Fast forward two weeks, about to enter the capital, and one of the players suddenly is like "we should deal with these zombie outbreaks to drum up support", and the whole session took a hard left to zombie hunting and exterminating. (Well, it's a zombie plague - these were actually CR 5 Spawn of Kyuss reflavored to be "Lair" outbreaks from an Oinoloth haven taken up residence in the area. The party at 8th thought zombies would be easy and were more than a bit surprised.)

They intellectually want to have meaty intrigue. But the emotional call of an uncomplicated game where they just kill things is strong.
 

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I can't help but think we'd be having a better time doing something else. In this case, would you put your foot down and say you want to run another game once we get to a good stopping point (probably in 1 or 2 sessions anyway)? Would you let them keep playing it this way, being frustrated? Would you try to do even less hand-holding and just let them fail?

I'd definitely do the first, but in the form of asking them "Are any of you really enjoying this as we're going? Don't you think you'd all enjoy something else more?" And then point out all the elements they seem to have trouble with. Among other things, it might help pin down what's the real problems and what are, essentially, side effects (so have they found out they don't really like dealing with mysteries, or are they just put off by the grittiness of the characters and all the combat so much they've lost the will to engage with it? It could go any number of ways).
 

They intellectually want to have meaty intrigue. But the emotional call of an uncomplicated game where they just kill things is strong.

And this can't be understated. The mystique of certain kinds of games can look attractive, but the practical elements end up not being fun when you get there. And it can take a long time for people to genuinely understand what they like and articulate it (its one reason you get so much Tigger Syndrome with some people).
 

aramis erak

Legend
One of the big problems with WFRP is that the basic competencies are quite different from D&D.
The default roll in WFRP is about 33% (really, it can range from 15% to 50%). D&D 5, it's DC15, with a +4 for key skill, for 55%.
This difference is a major issue for D&D players on switching to any of WFRP1/2/4.
Further is the rate of rolled crits/fumbles - WFRP 2/4 it's 1 in 10. D&D it's 1 in 20. (noting that crits in WFRP parlance Critical Hits are not directly related to the initial to hit roll.)

This alone makes it feel different.

I'd suggest discussing that difference in base competency as part of your, "Should we contine" dialogue.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
To start with, I'm the GM in this situation.

My group wanted to play a mystery/story-based game with a different flavor of the usual D&D campaign we've been playing for the past two years. We started a big mystery/political intrigue campaign using a fairly complex system ("The Enemy Within" using WFRP 4e).

So we had a fair bit of trouble getting the system to work on Roll20 and moved to Foundry and have been adjusting to that AI. Then we had trouble making characters they enjoyed playing, and had to use two of our short sessions (around 2 hours each) to make new characters. And then the players complained that their characters were poor (which is sort of built-in to the setting), and that there's not a lot of combat (which is built into the system), and that there's a confusing mystery and they don't know how to proceed (which is the point of the adventure).

At the end of each session, after they complain about their frustration with the above issues, I reinforce these points: I am there to make sure all of us have fun. The most important thing is that we all have a good time. If they are not having fun, then we can alter the game or even play something different.

I can tell that they aren't motivated when we play. If they are going to take an action, I have to be the one to suggest it, otherwise they are just sort of lost or indecisive. They also don't remember key details from session-to-session, showing me that they aren't invested enough in the mystery to take notes.

I can't help but think we'd be having a better time doing something else. In this case, would you put your foot down and say you want to run another game once we get to a good stopping point (probably in 1 or 2 sessions anyway)? Would you let them keep playing it this way, being frustrated? Would you try to do even less hand-holding and just let them fail?
The bolded bits really jump out at me. This looks like the players don't feel like they have the ability to do anything, or that they think they're going to be punished for trying, so they feel that they have to wait for the GM prompt and just do that to move the story along. Perhaps they hope that once they get further and get some character improvements (I don't recall how WFRP 4e does advancement) that they'll have more choices.

So, what causes this? The system might, especially if it's hard to succeed at lower levels and consequences are hard. It might be that you're not presenting a robust enough scene -- either not presenting clear clues to follow or way too many so that they have no clear understanding of what to do. Or maybe both. But the fact that they seem totally uninterested in the bits they do uncover sounds like a follow-on symptom to them feeling like their either already on a railroad or that they can't advance until the train rolls into the station so they can hop aboard. I'd look at how you're running and see if any of this looks legit, and if so and if you care to continue this game, look at how to fix it. Stop punishing failures with dire consequences -- take a page out of fail forward and make it costly but still give a way to advance so that failures aren't brick walls with spikes. Pare things down for a bit and provide clear avenues of approach. Overshare a bit of information (or lots, which is my preference). Give them the feeling that they have command of their ship rather than just being tossed around in rough seas with a broken rudder.
 


payn

Legend
Yeah, that's a thing with changing to a lot of different game systems; the base assumptions as to how capable "good" is vary considerably.
Sure, gives me a thought to if it makes sense. In some games, the characters explore the setting, the mystery, the experience. In other games the setting, the mystery, the experience explore the characters' abilities.
 

Sure, gives me a thought to if it makes sense. In some games, the characters explore the setting, the mystery, the experience. In other games the setting, the mystery, the experience explore the characters' abilities.
At least in some cases, you're more charitable than I am; I've seen too many cases in the past (The Chronicles of Darkness system when not used with the paranormal add-ons from various attached games comes to mind) where either the authors had vastly different ideas of what constituted competence, or simply didn't understand their own maths very well. Not all of these were even necessarily games I disliked, but they at least needed to emphasize positive modifiers for more routine usage than they did (BRP comes to mind here).
 

aramis erak

Legend
At least in some cases, you're more charitable than I am; I've seen too many cases in the past (The Chronicles of Darkness system when not used with the paranormal add-ons from various attached games comes to mind) where either the authors had vastly different ideas of what constituted competence, or simply didn't understand their own maths very well. Not all of these were even necessarily games I disliked, but they at least needed to emphasize positive modifiers for more routine usage than they did (BRP comes to mind here).
Even when explicit, many GMs ignore difficulty mods...
EG: FASA STRPG 1E... It stated routine tasks were 1d10, only unusual actions required rolling 1d100 vs the skill. Yet, most GMs seem to have ignored that...
 


Even when explicit, many GMs ignore difficulty mods...
EG: FASA STRPG 1E... It stated routine tasks were 1d10, only unusual actions required rolling 1d100 vs the skill. Yet, most GMs seem to have ignored that...

That's why I say it needs to emphasis positive mods much more strongly in most games; its really easy for GMs to end up using the default difficulties (which are usually intended for use-under-stress cases at least) for things they aren't intended for, and thus make either the world seem much harder than it should be or the characters much less competent than intended.
 

Retreater

Legend
I finally started getting responses this afternoon to my email. (We usually discuss via email between game sessions just because everyone's free time is variable through the week.)
So I've got four players and three responses so far.
The two players wanting more action and combats basically want to stay with the current campaign, even after I told them that the system and campaign doesn't really lend itself to action or combat.
I have another player who doesn't like the campaign at all and wants to do something else.
Considering myself as a player (who also deserves to have fun), I don't see how we can stick with the current campaign and have me enjoy it as written with the current group how they're playing.
What a quandary!
 

aramis erak

Legend
I finally started getting responses this afternoon to my email. (We usually discuss via email between game sessions just because everyone's free time is variable through the week.)
So I've got four players and three responses so far.
The two players wanting more action and combats basically want to stay with the current campaign, even after I told them that the system and campaign doesn't really lend itself to action or combat.
I have another player who doesn't like the campaign at all and wants to do something else.
Considering myself as a player (who also deserves to have fun), I don't see how we can stick with the current campaign and have me enjoy it as written with the current group how they're playing.
What a quandary!
TEW has plenty of combat. It's just that players need to "play smart" in it. (I have run TEW to City of Chaos 4 times; the characters opted to retire either just before or just after City of Chaos.

Doomstones is a much more D&D-ish adventure. Brutal as hell under 1E.
 

I finally started getting responses this afternoon to my email. (We usually discuss via email between game sessions just because everyone's free time is variable through the week.)
So I've got four players and three responses so far.
The two players wanting more action and combats basically want to stay with the current campaign, even after I told them that the system and campaign doesn't really lend itself to action or combat.
I have another player who doesn't like the campaign at all and wants to do something else.
Considering myself as a player (who also deserves to have fun), I don't see how we can stick with the current campaign and have me enjoy it as written with the current group how they're playing.
What a quandary!

While I've made it quite clear my opinion of the degree of elevation of the GM over the players the hobby in general and D&D in particular has promoted over the years, at the end of the day, if you're really not enjoying the game, its going to be extremely difficult for you to run it well. And that likely means it isn't going to end up being good for anybody.
 
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Retreater

Legend
TEW has plenty of combat. It's just that players need to "play smart" in it. (I have run TEW to City of Chaos 4 times; the characters opted to retire either just before or just after City of Chaos.

Doomstones is a much more D&D-ish adventure. Brutal as hell under 1E.
That's not what we're finding in the current release of the campaign. It could be that "plenty" has different definitions for the playstyles of our tables.
Our last fight was a month ago IRL (with weekly sessions). Only one character did any damage (with magic) while the other failed with every attack and the other spent the whole battle sliding in raw sewage (the fourth player was absent that session). The previous combat was a month before that.
So we're averaging one fight per month of real time. Some of this is because we have short-ish sessions, but we didn't have this feeling of lack of progress in D&D.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
That's not what we're finding in the current release of the campaign. It could be that "plenty" has different definitions for the playstyles of our tables.
Our last fight was a month ago IRL (with weekly sessions). Only one character did any damage (with magic) while the other failed with every attack and the other spent the whole battle sliding in raw sewage (the fourth player was absent that session). The previous combat was a month before that.
So we're averaging one fight per month of real time. Some of this is because we have short-ish sessions, but we didn't have this feeling of lack of progress in D&D.
I wonder if short sessions are an issue also, particularly with investigation focused play. I have often found it can take a while for players to get back in to a game at the beginning of a session and that short sessions favour a more bang bang action style game.
 

Retreater

Legend
I wonder if short sessions are an issue also, particularly with investigation focused play. I have often found it can take a while for players to get back in to a game at the beginning of a session and that short sessions favour a more bang bang action style game.
It could be. I think there are probably numerous factors working against us.
 

Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
Yeah, we have an investigation-heavy game and biweekly (if we're lucky) 3 hour games. I start every game session with a summary of what's going on/known, and we use a Discord channel to summarize clues and ongoing plot threads.
 


Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
Online play, for me, is much slower than FTF. Depending upon game, 1.5:1 to 3:1.
We don't use a battlemap, so online play is as fast or faster for us. We actually get an extra half hour of play in because no one needs to commute.

It's different when I use a game with a battlemap, though.
 

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