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How to Tell a GM You're Not Having Fun?

Rune

Once A Fool
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?
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.

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.
 
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Ah yes, the "original fun" of having hallways of gotcha traps that thief had a 35% chance to find and even less to avoid blowing the party up trying to disarm it, a kobold with a Nine Lives Stealer, a band of wights to devour every level the party had just earned, and other bad adventure design mistakes we made because we were inexperienced kids back then (I really did throw the kobold with a Nine Lives Stealer at my gaming group back in the day).

He's run a few games over the years, but not traditionally in our group of players. The "new" system is an OSR system, and he expressed a desire to get back to the "original fun" of the game.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
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.
Whoo, this sounds really... procedural, maybe even anal-retentively so. It's almost like he's going over a detailed checklist every time, which might be OK if he were a surgeon or an airline pilot and safety were paramount. But for something like setting watches or marching order in an RPG, unless the players decide to change it, setting it once is enough. Maybe you need to do the ol' Minister's Question Time and say "I refer the Right Honorable gentleman to the previously given answer" when faced with repetitive questions. Or just say "No changes. Using the Standard Operating Procedure".

As far as the rest goes, beer and pretzels dungeon crawling is a particular kind of fun - not so much role playing development, mostly the brains of the players vs the brain of the module writer as far as solving clues and finding traps and so on. It's not for everyone, but I think it's worth asking him if that's what he's going for, if that's the kind of game he intended to run, and then setting expectations accordingly.
 

payn

Hero
Original fun sounds like Nintendo Hard. We had an older member in our group that liked OG fun. To him the game was all about survival period. Your character didn't go to the outhouse without the cleric holding their hand. It was just that dangerous to do anything. The entire point to was to see how long you could survive the meatgrinder.

We had to step back, try some other genres, have a lot of discussions around the concept. We eventually came to the position that this player could run Call of Cthulhu anytime, but would play everything else. Since the theme fit, it worked to the players style and the groups fun as well.

There is a solution here somewhere but you wont find it until you discuss it.
 

Retreater

Legend
Yeah, doing a meatgrinder dungeon would be one thing, but there's a mix of tone. Some of the players want to be overly cautious, some want to have gonzo action - and sometimes those are both coming from the same player. Me, I would just like to feel some accomplishment: defeating a foe, finding a magic sword, uncovering more of the map.
 





Retreater

Legend
Well, we had the conversation tonight. I think he's going to try to lighten up on us. I told him that while the "old school" feel was fine and maybe true to the original intent, but to a bunch of guys in their 40s, with screaming kids in the next room, playing after a long day at the office, on computers on a Virtual Tabletop - we're already in an environment where the "original intent" is not achievable. So speeding past some of the tedium would be appreciated.
 

40' a session? Even if you're only doing two hours a session, that's awful. I broke in on brown book D&D in '79, and we never did things like that back then.

A VTT should eliminate things like discussion of party formation because it is right in front of you. I've found VTT makes tactical exploration and combat a lot faster.
 

Retreater

Legend
40' a session? Even if you're only doing two hours a session, that's awful. I broke in on brown book D&D in '79, and we never did things like that back then
That's in a good session. Mostly we stay entrenched in a room we first discovered several months ago or have to fall back and lose ground.

A VTT should eliminate things like discussion of party formation because it is right in front of you. I've found VTT makes tactical exploration and combat a lot faster.
It should. But the players check out or don't move their tokens in real time. Then he also has trouble with the dynamic lighting and extra features, which also slows down the game.
 

Asisreo

Fiendish Attorney
It seems your DM has fallen into the trap that challenge/adversity=fun. If they stick to the standard adventuring day procedures and carefully limit when and where you get rests, this should be the optimal gaming experience of D&D and all things will iron itself out without any need for a discerning eye for balance.

No. That doesn't work and it never had.

The argument against an easier game is that if the PC's are cruising through the game, there's no tension and no threat and a player can't buy in. But plenty of games both TTRPG and Videogame can be risk-free while also being fun to play.

Another argument is that the table's power balance might start to skew to other characters harder than others, but remind your DM that nobody really cares about that stuff as much as overall fun. And if anyone does care about it, let the DM know that they are the ones at liberty to remedy this by including magic items, houserules, and variants. Nothing in the game can't be finely tuned by the DM.

Tell the DM that you'd rather play your group's game, rather than whatever internet forum's whiteroom game they found online. Let there be deviations, charms, wonder, exotics. Let them take a long rest after the first combat encounter or let them have 3 combats in a row that reduced 0 resources. Let them avoid combat or let them break doors that the DM didn't think could be broken.

Because TTRPGS are not a list of procedures to force your players to run, it is a pastime for fun.
 

That's in a good session. Mostly we stay entrenched in a room we first discovered several months ago or have to fall back and lose ground.


It should. But the players check out or don't move their tokens in real time. Then he also has trouble with the dynamic lighting and extra features, which also slows down the game.

Damn.
 

embee

Lawyer by day. Rules lawyer by night.
That's in a good session. Mostly we stay entrenched in a room we first discovered several months ago or have to fall back and lose ground.


It should. But the players check out or don't move their tokens in real time. Then he also has trouble with the dynamic lighting and extra features, which also slows down the game.
Well, we had the conversation tonight. I think he's going to try to lighten up on us. I told him that while the "old school" feel was fine and maybe true to the original intent, but to a bunch of guys in their 40s, with screaming kids in the next room, playing after a long day at the office, on computers on a Virtual Tabletop - we're already in an environment where the "original intent" is not achievable. So speeding past some of the tedium would be appreciated.
I'm just curious...

What system are you all playing? You said it was a new system he had found. Is he running DCC or OSE or something?

At the beginning of my current campaign, because I'm an alte kaker grognard who started off on AD&D, I asked my party if they wanted to do something old school. They said no. I asked if they would be interested in Dark Sun under 2e. No. They wanted 5e. Message received.

If I go to Dunkin Donuts, odds are pretty good that I'm hungry for coffee and/or donuts. I don't go there because I want a Big Mac. That's a different place. By going to DD, I've already pretty much stated what I do or do not want.

My players selected 5e. They don't want an old-school dungeon delve.

What system did you all settle on? Because if you picked something like 5e and he presented you with dungeon crawling, he's trying to order a Big Mac at the Dunkin Donuts.
 

Retreater

Legend
What system did you all settle on? Because if you picked something like 5e and he presented you with dungeon crawling, he's trying to order a Big Mac at the Dunkin Donuts.
Old School Essentials, which attempts to modulate B/X era D&D.
While I never played that edition, my "old school" is AD&D 2e. It never felt quite that hopeless.
 

embee

Lawyer by day. Rules lawyer by night.
Old School Essentials, which attempts to modulate B/X era D&D.
While I never played that edition, my "old school" is AD&D 2e. It never felt quite that hopeless.
I'll be honest - my memory of original AD&D is lost in the haze of my misspent adolescence, sequestered in the basement classrooms of my junior high with the yellow "fallout shelter" signs giving mute testimony to the age of the building.

And my 2e experience, which I remember as "fun", was probably fun less because of the dungeon crawling and more because of the illicit alcohol and marijuana. After that came a whole lot of World of Darkness and Call of Cthulhu.

Here's some fun with etymology:

Nostalgia.

It's from the Greek. -algia means pain. "Nostalgia," which we take to mean "to look back on something in the past with wistful fondness," actually literally means the pain of returning to the place we left in the past.

And his nostalgia is living up to the latter and truer meaning of the word.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
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.
Sympathizing, but I see a big role-playing opportunity here. I mean, what else are your characters going to do during each camp set-up and tear-down process? Gripe about the need for security, recall tales of military service past, make cracks about who fell asleep on watch, etc.

Shared trauma is bonding trauma.

The most important feedback is honest feedback. If you're not having fun, tell the GM. If you know why, include that.

It all starts with, "Hey, I'm not enjoying this (adventure/game system/playergroup/pace of play)"...
Honest feedback doesn't have to be offensive, though. "I'd prefer" is less offensive than "I'm not enjoying."
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Because...that may not be it. You may have to accept that, from their sincere point of view, the way YOU are doing it is wrong.

At a house-con I often go to, they run a lot of one-shots in systems that are new to the table. One GM has taken to teling folks, "This is where to find the fun in this game," so they can tell where the system and he expects the rewards to be found.

You can turn this around a bit, and say, "GM, this game is running a bit weird for me/us. Can you tell us where you think we should be looking for the fun here?"

If he answers, "Geeze, yeah. I didn't want to structure your experience, but you folks are being so...." Well, then maybe you resolve things.
 

ccs

41st lv DM
Ah yes, the "original fun" of having hallways of gotcha traps that thief had a 35% chance to find and even less to avoid blowing the party up trying to disarm it,
We avoided blowing up the party by bringing pack mules into the dungeons. :)
A great # of mules have been burnt, crushed, chopped, exploded, dissolved, ambushed, vanished, & worse.

And even though the people I played those early games are long gone, mule bones occasionally turn up in dungeons I write.
One of these days I'll write one involving angry mule ghosts.....
 

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