Managing My Expectations? (+)

Retreater

Legend
I spend a lot of time on the hobby: participating in forums, reading reviews, preparing adventures, learning new game systems or optional rules, setting up VTT games, painting miniatures, etc. While I can get by not doing all of these things (or by limiting the time I spend on each component), this is part of the fun for me. But that's the point - it's only part of the fun.

So an ongoing struggle I've had over the past year or so is that my players don't seem invested. I have to push them to make decisions - even when I try to make it as clear as possible. I have to do every session recap because no one takes notes or remembers any details. Between games I try to keep everyone updated via email - usually to no response. Last night at our Session Zero, a player fell asleep during character creation.

I don't want to turn this into a complaining on my players thread - that's not the point. I realize this hobby isn't the main thing in their lives, and I don't want it to be. In fact, I think it's probably been a little to the point of being an unhealthy obsession for me. Especially during COVID, I really leaned into running multiple games and prepping them a lot. But I'm at the point now where I'm not getting as much out of gaming and it's not as satisfying as it should be.

So what should I do? Limit what I put into the games? (And what should I cut out to save time?) Take a break from the hobby altogether (which I'm afraid would leave me with nothing to do)?
 

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AnotherGuy

Adventurer
So what should I do? Limit what I put into the games? (And what should I cut out to save time?)
1. Set the setting, but that is that - let the PCs drive the main compass of story via their backgrounds and this all is teased out at session 0. Let them invest the time and energy for driving the story while you create content only when prompted.
For instance, PC1 and PC2 are siblings seeking the truth about their parents' disappearance and so they have a few leads they wish to investigate (they inform you about these leads). Don't over prepare, run the adventure by the seat of your pants and no need to think of it as a long term campaign. The story should finish within a few sessions, but keep the setting for the next set of characters. But now you have NPCs (the PCs and NPCs from the 1st game) which they are familiar with which allows you to build layers upon layers of story-telling...and so you go. That way the players are invested in their characters, past characters and NPCs.

2. Switch out some of your online roleplaying nights for board/card games. That way you keep the roleplaying group intact but you are mixing/changing things up by playing new games. Keep an excel doc of wins etc thereby creating some healthy competition amongst you all. You also get to play on their level which is always a bonus. We have this thing where on a rotational basis a core player may invite a friend to play - this changes the dynamic and increases our list of gamers.

Good luck!
 
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payn

Legend
You can lead gamers to mountain dew, but you cant make them drink. Disparate playstyles and drives are just an unfortunate reality of any group activity. I know what you are experiencing and it can be tough. There are a few things that I try.
  • Reduce the complexity of the game. Maybe my players just want a beer and pretzels experience? Chuck a few bones and swig a few beers. Have a few laughs and enjoy each others company as friends. Meet the group where they are at. You can still have fun and reduce your workload and stress too.
  • Find a serious campaign that I really desire to run. Then, build good recruitment material and find a serious group to play it. I have found my best friends sometimes make the worst gamers. This might mean being up front about meeting new players. Starting with one shots to gauge compatibility of both drive and playstyle. Launch your campaign when all the right players are present, not before.
  • Try an adjacent activity like board games for a little while. These are usually low to zero prep. I find that sometimes I really enjoy BGs for the concept. They give me ideas for TTRPGs and recharge that desire to run a game again. It's a good way to keep in touch with gamers and friends and still have fun.
 

beancounter

(I/Me/Mine)
I would ask the players what would they find engaging, or what is it about the game they're playing that they don't seem to have much interested in.

Falling asleep during session zero seems strange. I would assume there were extenuating circumstances?
 

delericho

Legend
The key, which is easier said than done, is to find things that you enjoy about the game that don't depend on other people. If you're writing a hugely detailed and complex campaign because you want your players to marvel at your genius, you're going to be disappointed. But if you're writing a hugely detailed and complex campaign because you enjoy it, then have at it!

So... which parts of the game do you enjoy for their own sake? Creating adventures? Monsters? Building a world?

Basically, imagine you didn't have any players at all, such that all these things never saw the light of day. Now, what would you still do, because you like it?

Focus on that.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
The key, which is easier said than done, is to find things that you enjoy about the game that don't depend on other people. If you're writing a hugely detailed and complex campaign because you want your players to marvel at your genius, you're going to be disappointed. But if you're writing a hugely detailed and complex campaign because you enjoy it, then have at it!

So... which parts of the game do you enjoy for their own sake? Creating adventures? Monsters? Building a world?

Basically, imagine you didn't have any players at all, such that all these things never saw the light of day. Now, what would you still do, because you like it?

Focus on that.
I think this is great advice.

I am a huge fan of running a game the players will find fun. But to be honest players don't always know what they want! I've experienced this on both sides of the screen. Sometimes in Session 0 the players might say they want political intrigue, or a classic dungeon crawl... And then just not have that kind of energy when they show up to Session 1.

On the other hand, when I or other DMs have focused on just the joy of D&D, and following what makes us excited, that usually gets the players excited.

A while back I was playing in a FATE game in which the DM and her wife had crafted a custom modern fantasy game... And we just weren't having fun. So we talked about it as a group and convinced the DM to shift to a space-faring Guardians of the Galaxy style game. But the DM wasn't really enjoying it.

Then one day she starts talking about her dream campaign, using the Dresden Files RPG rules. She was so excited that we decided to switch immediately to that campaign! Even though only one player had read any Dresden Files books, the DM's enthusiasm was exceptionally motivating.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
It's also okay to stop running the game for a while.

I was running a game for a mix of friends and gaming aquaintances , things got busy at work, a player kept falling asleep in the last hour of each session, I was putting in a ton of work on a custom setting and I couldn't even get the players to text if they were going to be at the next session or not.

So I ended the game.

I took some time off, found some new really engaged players, and built up a new group. It took a while, but I'm having a lot more fun running the game now than I was then.
 

Retreater

Legend
Falling asleep during session zero seems strange. I would assume there were extenuating circumstances?
For that particular night, I'm assuming so. And I understand it when you work all day, you have young kids, etc. But on top of it his enthusiasm has greatly diminished over the past 6 months or so and he barely participates at all in regular circumstances.
And yeah, there might be circumstances for that change as well. I ask, but everyone in the group says they're fine. I can't do anything if they won't tell me.
 

Eric V

Hero
For that particular night, I'm assuming so. And I understand it when you work all day, you have young kids, etc. But on top of it his enthusiasm has greatly diminished over the past 6 months or so and he barely participates at all in regular circumstances.
And yeah, there might be circumstances for that change as well. I ask, but everyone in the group says they're fine. I can't do anything if they won't tell me.
Man, I feel like you're in my group!
 

JarooAshstaff

Explorer
I have to push them to make decisions - even when I try to make it as clear as possible. I have to do every session recap because no one takes notes or remembers any details.
Bit of a red flag if the story is so complex that you need your players to take notes. Each session ideally would be the beginning and end of a self contained story that doesn't require a scribe.

Age is a big factor, when you get past 22 life is going to start to take over as a priority for gaming.

I think the beauty about DnD when I was in college, was that it wasnt all about story, it was all about exploration, puzzles, danger and combat, and the night ended with a massive deadly fight. Hand out the magic items and gold, and exp, yay fun every time. No need to be a full time writer or actor to have a good night.

I would take time off, and see if anyone cares enough to come back.
 

Retreater

Legend
Bit of a red flag if the story is so complex that you need your players to take notes. Each session ideally would be the beginning and end of a self contained story that doesn't require a scribe.
Yeah, but they tell me they want mysteries, world-building, interesting NPCs, etc. When we were doing a simple dungeon crawl, they weren't invested in that either.
Age is a big factor, when you get past 22 life is going to start to take over as a priority for gaming.
I totally understand that, even if I'm at the stage in life now where I have more free time due to my career but less people to spend it with because they've all got different priorities.
Honestly, work and gaming are the only social outlets I have. No friends besides gaming friends (and the co-workers I pester).
 

innerdude

Legend
I've been in this situation before, and can commiserate.

For me, I basically decided that if the players couldn't be bothered to be engaged, that I couldn't be bothered to participate. If the group was to continue, that change was needed.

I can be pretty blunt when the situation suits. I really, really hate lack of transparency and disingenuousness when I interact with people. When I detect those things, my psychological makeup simply won't tolerate it, and at that point I have very little fear of calling out the "elephants in the room," so to speak.

"So, I'm going to be honest, the current dynamic of the group isn't working for me. There's a lack of engagement, and it doesn't feel like we're collectively getting what we want out of this.

"I want this to change, because all of our time is valuable. If you're only coming to these sessions out of a sense of obligation, that's not going to work. Obviously engagement will vary over time, it's not like I'm expecting you come to every session like it's a World Cup soccer match. But overall, there's a general level of engagement that's needed for this activity to really succeed and be what we want it to be.

"And look, if this really isn't your cup of tea, that's okay! No one's going to be offended if you leave, or decide to spend your time in other ways. It's your life. The number of hours in a day and week are limited.

"So --- what do we really want?"

And then really talk about it. Is it system? Is it the types of content being presented to them as the GM? Is it pacing? Lack of combat? Too much combat? They want more mystery? More player control? More narrative driven?

And the thing of it is, seeing how they react to this kind of conversation is just as much a litmus test as what they actually say. If they perk up and become engaged in talking through these things, then you know your group has a chance. If the conversation is little more than some hemming and hawing and a few vague generalities, then you know that it's probably time to move on. If they can't even bother to talk about what they'd like out of their RPG play, then you know it's not important enough for them to even care about what they care about.

The other thing about having this kind of a conversation is, you have to be fully willing to accept ANY outcome. It's entirely possible your group will get a new lease on life.

It's also entirely possible that the group will disband, or you'll end up walking away---which is what I ended up doing, and I have zero regrets to this day about doing so.

But choosing to NOT hold this conversation generally leads to the group disbanding anyway, but after a protracted stint of unenjoyable, unsatisfying gaming. So why not just skip the unenjoyable, unsatisfying gaming and get right to the result, good or bad?
 

Retreater

Legend
Unfortunately, it was only a couple weeks ago that we had the discussion that led to last night's Session 0 to start a new campaign with a new system. Maybe it will pick up?
 

payn

Legend
Yeah, but they tell me they want mysteries, world-building, interesting NPCs, etc. When we were doing a simple dungeon crawl, they weren't invested in that either.
I'd ask for examples of what they think these things are. As in, game examples that they would find interesting and engage with. After their responses, I'd point out missed opportunities and ask why they didnt hook the players.

Unfortunately, it was only a couple weeks ago that we had the discussion that led to last night's Session 0 to start a new campaign with a new system. Maybe it will pick up?
Now is probably the best time to have the discussion, part II.
 

Retreater

Legend
I'd ask for examples of what they think these things are. As in, game examples that they would find interesting and engage with. After their responses, I'd point out missed opportunities and ask why they didnt hook the players.
When I've done this in the past, they usually respond with "we forgot about that guy" or "we had too many options for what to do" or "I didn't want to talk to THAT character because it would reveal too much of our plan."

Now is probably the best time to have the discussion, part II.
Yeah, we were going to be starting with Session 1 next week, but I'm guessing we'll be having Session 0.5 (since two of the four players didn't finish their characters anyway).
 

innerdude

Legend
You mentioned a couple of months ago that you're also primarily running games online.


I have to say, online gaming is HARD. I've found you kind of have to limit the timeframe to be much shorter. 2-2.5 hour sessions versus 4, 5, or 6 hour sessions. They have to be TIGHT, they have to be FOCUSED, and the material has to be pretty well pre-defined. It's really, really hard to "wing it" online with a "trad" system.

My current group tried online gaming over the pandemic, and it was just never really satisfying, UNTIL we tried Ironsworn. Abandoning the need for battle maps, and highly tactical combat play, and using a system that let us do much more freeform narrative --- THAT made it feel much more like we were connecting on a creative level, and engagement was high. Ironsworn was the only system we've played online where the players said afterwards, "Man, that was almost as good as gaming in person."
 

ruemere

Adventurer
[...]

So what should I do? Limit what I put into the games? (And what should I cut out to save time?) Take a break from the hobby altogether (which I'm afraid would leave me with nothing to do)?
I have ran into similar issues, and this is what worked for me:

1. The person who snoozes - made sure they got less sugar/food. Seriously.

2. Start a game with 5 slides of Google Slides.

For a session 0 it was about basics of mechanics and settings.

For session #+1, just a slide with What has gone before.

3. Start with a bang and a simple premise. Iron/retcon stuff if necessary later. Just so that no one needs to study.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Bit of a red flag if the story is so complex that you need your players to take notes. Each session ideally would be the beginning and end of a self contained story that doesn't require a scribe.

Unless no future session is going to reference the current one, you ought to have notes. Otherwise, later it is, "Who is this Dr. J. McVillain, and why is he trying to kill us?"
 

beancounter

(I/Me/Mine)
For that particular night, I'm assuming so. And I understand it when you work all day, you have young kids, etc. But on top of it his enthusiasm has greatly diminished over the past 6 months or so and he barely participates at all in regular circumstances.
And yeah, there might be circumstances for that change as well. I ask, but everyone in the group says they're fine. I can't do anything if they won't tell me.
I understand your frustration. It's obvious they're disengaged, but they won't admitt it. Maybe they are concerned they'll hurt your feelings? Maybe they are hanging on hoping it will get better.

Without an open and honest conversation (from them), that's going to be rough.

Maybe try a "scorched earth" approach and announce that your closing the game down, and see how they react. Maybe that will get them talking.

And if they act like stopping the game is no big deal, it's time to form a new group.
 

payn

Legend
I understand your frustration. It's obvious they're disengaged, but they won't admitt it. Maybe they are concerned they'll hurt your feelings? Maybe they are hanging on hoping it will get better.

Without an open and honest conversation (from them), that's going to be rough.

Maybe try a "scorched earth" approach and announce that your closing the game down, and see how they react. Maybe that will get them talking.

And if they act like stopping the game is no big deal, it's time to form a new group.
They also might just be hanging on because they want to play but nobody wants to step up and run a game. I've had these sort of Friday Kinights as I like to call them. Just there for the jokes, the dice, and the beers.

Could be the online format too. Its a hard adjustment and some old dogs just don't like new tricks.
 

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