Once A Fool
This is a tricky topic. I’ll preface all the following by saying that I’m presenting an ideal; I don’t always succeed in handling this type of scenario well, myself.I'm accustomed to always being the GM, so when a player told me he'd like to run for a bit, I gladly passed the reigns. He was excited about trying a new system he had purchased, found a well-reviewed adventure, and put a lot of time putting it on a VTT so we could play a weekly game.
My group has had numerous lackluster sessions in a row. I was talking to another player to make sure it wasn't just my bias, but he's also not having a great time.
It's slow. We're exploring/uncovering an average of 40 ft. of dungeon per session. We've gained no significant treasure. We've lost more XP from character death than we've gained playing the adventure. In the last session, due to his need for specificity in our actions, we found 2 secret doors in a room - in a 2 hour game. Didn't even get to explore them.
It's difficult. Everywhere we turn there are impossible combats that can't be defeated - at best they can be narrowly escaped. We're trapped in a dungeon with no chance to get supplies as our characters are starving to death. Even when we try to find food, warbands come through and we're lucky to flee with our lives.
We're having no opportunities for roleplaying, character development, etc. It's all about tedious procedural minutiae - even after we've set up things like watch rotations, marching orders, he makes us specify each time. Even after we tell him "can we just get on with the adventure," he is strict about enforcing the procedures. As it turns out in most cases, it wasn't even important - there were no traps in the hallway, there were no random encounters overnight, we had to spend 15 minutes to make sure he understood party formation before going into an empty room, etc.
So how do you bring this up to a GM who is your friend? How do you try to improve the game?
In the past, I’ve noticed that my experience as a GM seems to exacerbate the problems, because the new GM is intimidated and, thus, tries to overcompensate and prove themselves capable to the group. This is difficult to address because it is invariably something that the new GM doesn’t know is happening. (As an aside, the choice of using a system that nobody is familiar with may be a subconscious manifestation of this. Regrettably, it’s likely to complicate matters, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.)
What’s missed here is the understanding (gained through experience) that being good at GMing is virtually impossible without practice. That, and the ability and willingness to identify and correct problem areas.
This last quality requires an awareness that most new GMs are going to lack; their heads are usually so full of ideas about what they want to do that they can’t listen to the players talk to each other at the table (virtual or otherwise). This is a crucial skill to develop. There is no better – nor immediate – way to hear what the players want in a game, or what they are enjoying.
So, how do you facilitate the transition? A direct confrontation is one approach (and might ultimately be necessary), but that’s likely to be taken defensively, which will probably make the points harder to accept.
It might be better to break through any anxiety the GM has about making mistakes (and simultaneously subtly teach a thing or two) by telling stories about mistakes you’ve made in GMing and what steps you took to course-correct.
It is important to do this with the whole group present, though; if the new GM is intimidated by your experience, this will help put you on even footing. Also, hopefully, it will put the idea in everyone’s minds that mistakes are for learning, not fearing.