Managing My Expectations? (+)

Not bad, but if it's D&D, that's like saying, "hey all, try to look interested while Steve looks up all of his 3rd level spell options,  again, and your character stands around like a punching bag for ten minutes until your next turn starts."
I read this in Elrond voice thanks to your avatar and it was surprisingly plausible!

I thought at one point I'd need to do a no screens at the table rule, but ironically, technology progressed and it's no longer an issue because people have their game-related app/character sheet open, generally speaking, and so it perversely speeds things up because Steve was staring at his phone but was actually staring at his 3rd level spell options during your turn!

Facebook was a big damn problem in, like, 2010, because people were on it a lot and distracted by it, but by 2015 people were totally "over" it. We do have one player whose phone is a problem, but solely because he has a very controlling/needy spouse who is prone to inventing/inflating crises he needs to deal with. And that's been a problem since before smartphones. Since Facebook there's been no app that distracts players routinely.
 

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UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
@Retreater I have been following your post mortems and this confirms, to me, that there is a mismatch between your expectations and your players. I was going to suggest that since they seemed to be a bit passive to rail road them hard or a classic dungeon crawl but it seems you have tried that.
Not sure what I can add over and above the suggestions made already but I would consider telling them that you need a break and are burned out DM'ing before you actually burn out.
See if anyone steps up, or perhaps find another groups to play in as a player or DM.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
@Retreater I have been following your post mortems and this confirms, to me, that there is a mismatch between your expectations and your players. I was going to suggest that since they seemed to be a bit passive to rail road them hard or a classic dungeon crawl but it seems you have tried that.
Not sure what I can add over and above the suggestions made already but I would consider telling them that you need a break and are burned out DM'ing before you actually burn out.
See if anyone steps up, or perhaps find another groups to play in as a player or DM.
Yeah, if you've tried different modes of play, if you've talked with the players about what they want, if you've had a Session 0, and it's still not working...

Then maybe it's the group, not the DM! I vote for ending this weekly game, joining another group as a player, or starting up a new group with more engaged players.
 

TheSword

Legend
Yeah. Speaking at least for myself, I have been getting a little tired of 5e, so we went first to WFRP and then to PF2.

I did offer to run this one for the group, but it didn't appeal to them.

We ended up completing the first book in the series, ending the mystery in Bogenhafen. It was largely hand-held to get them to the final showdown, but at least that one was well planned. Essentially, they failed the mystery but their planning and clever takedown of the enemies saved the day.
So they wouldn't interview any of the council members. I even got it down to "probably one of these two guys." Flat out told them. And they couldn't be bothered to remember the names of the two suspects from session to session. Or do anything to try to stop them. Even after they were given a very strict time table "the f'ing end of the world is coming in two days" they spent their time shopping and bickering over prices to stable their horses. Finally I had an NPC flat-out tell them "it's this guy. this is when and where he is going to do it. For the love of Sigmar, go there or everyone in the town will die. And then they barely went, almost as an after thought.
It sounds like they would prefer to play a board game. There are great roleplayers out there. I suggest go back to the drawing board and get a new party.

Offer to DM, as you clearly have a lot of experience, but as you play online with strangers, audition your players: Ask people who want to game to produce something that requires some engagement. Something like WFRPs ten questions. Then do a ten minute online chat about their expectations and experience.

Then start of with something you know is a really good quality module and build things from there. Bump anyone who won’t engage. Better to have three good roleplayers than four good roleplayers and two really bad ones. Then ask the good people to help you find more good people based on their experiences if you want to expand the group. It may sound harsh but being upfront about what you expect is the key to happiness.

The Ten Questions: Inspiration not a novella backstory
Where are you from?
What is your family like?
What was your childhood like?
Why did you leave home?
Who are your friends?
What is your greatest desire?
What are your best and worst memories?
What are your religious beliefs?
To whom, or what, are you loyal?
Why are you adventuring?
 

Retreater

Legend
@Retreater I have been following your post mortems and this confirms, to me, that there is a mismatch between your expectations and your players. I was going to suggest that since they seemed to be a bit passive to rail road them hard or a classic dungeon crawl but it seems you have tried that.
Not sure what I can add over and above the suggestions made already but I would consider telling them that you need a break and are burned out DM'ing before you actually burn out.
See if anyone steps up, or perhaps find another groups to play in as a player or DM.
Not all my post-mortems have been with this group, but yes, I've tried a variety of game styles. Most of them for these players have been sandboxes - Rime, The Enemy Within. The best experience since going online was Curse of Strahd - which is a limited sandbox but was also an excellent adventure I had experience running from previous editions as well as the first we played. There could be an exhaustion in online play coming through?
I do have another group I DM online - which is less committed (but also not a weekly game). I am in another game as a player already - and it's nice to have a break from GMing, but I need to find a way to be a better player since I don't often wear that hat (and the game is a bit out of my comfort zone).
 


TheSword

Legend
Incidentally I think this is the best article I’ve seen to explain what I need from a player.


Here’s one snippet… probably the most applicable to your difficulties, but all the advice is good.

INTERROGATE THE FICTION

At the table, each Player’s main job is to interrogate the situation — the Fiction — as presented by the GM. Whilst the GM’s job is to present situations and challenges for your Characters to overcome, a GM can’t be expected to think of everything — and nor should that be the case! Your job is to ask questions, build on the answers, and come up with exciting and dramatic solutions.

The GM describes a dusty library through which the street urchins fled. Olivia — Orion’s Player — asks the GM if her Character sees any footprints in the dust that might indicate where they’ve gone. The GM replies that there are none, other than those Orion and Gwen have just made. Orion points this detail out to Gwen, and Gus — Gwen’s Player — asks the GM if Gwen knows of any levitation spells that the urchins might have access to. The GM responds that it’s possible, but such magic is jealously guarded by the wizard guilds… which has curious connotations for who the urchins really are, if they do in fact possess such power.

Think outside the box, ask the unexpected, and don’t be afraid to ask leading questions. The GM, and the other Players at the table, are playing the game to be surprised, and to find out what happens just as much as you are!
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Yeah, if you've tried different modes of play, if you've talked with the players about what they want, if you've had a Session 0, and it's still not working...

Then maybe it's the group, not the DM! I vote for ending this weekly game, joining another group as a player, or starting up a new group with more engaged players.
Yea, if you've tried open communication, new systems and new settings, and nobody still seems to get on board, you're pretty much in the "staying together for the sake of the kids" stage of that gaming group.
 

payn

Legend
Incidentally I think this is the best article I’ve seen to explain what I need from a player.


Here’s one snippet… probably the most applicable to your difficulties, but all the advice is good.

INTERROGATE THE FICTION

At the table, each Player’s main job is to interrogate the situation — the Fiction — as presented by the GM. Whilst the GM’s job is to present situations and challenges for your Characters to overcome, a GM can’t be expected to think of everything — and nor should that be the case! Your job is to ask questions, build on the answers, and come up with exciting and dramatic solutions.

The GM describes a dusty library through which the street urchins fled. Olivia — Orion’s Player — asks the GM if her Character sees any footprints in the dust that might indicate where they’ve gone. The GM replies that there are none, other than those Orion and Gwen have just made. Orion points this detail out to Gwen, and Gus — Gwen’s Player — asks the GM if Gwen knows of any levitation spells that the urchins might have access to. The GM responds that it’s possible, but such magic is jealously guarded by the wizard guilds… which has curious connotations for who the urchins really are, if they do in fact possess such power.

Think outside the box, ask the unexpected, and don’t be afraid to ask leading questions. The GM, and the other Players at the table, are playing the game to be surprised, and to find out what happens just as much as you are!
Very nice stuff here. I think the Paizo AP style players guides aid greatly in this effort. If the adventure you are running doesn't have one, or are making up your own adventure, I strongly suggest putting a little time into making one.
 

TheSword

Legend
Another tip I’ve found to keep things interesting is to use this structure.


I frequently use this with pre-written modules, particularly those from Paizo and 3e (and earlier) If modules have areas that are much bigger than this then I will usually pare them down. Take out some fluff encounters and filler, and get to the action quicker. If it’s a particularly important area I might split the dungeon into multiple 5 room dungeons with some form of bridging area.
 

Einlanzer0

Explorer
This is why I believe sharing GM responsibilities is important. It increases the investment of players while reducing the workload of the GM and ensures that everyone is a contributor to the world and the story.

Democratize D&D!
 

Dausuul

Legend
Here's a question: What are your players actually, observably engaged by? Forget whatever they say they want--people say they want all kinds of stuff. What sessions with this group have produced the kind of engagement you're looking for?

If you can pinpoint some common themes, you could try more of those. (If these players have never seemed engaged, I'd consider looking for a new group, or at least hanging up the DM hat for a while.)
 

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
Alternately, proactively come up with a table agreement before the game about screens. "Hey all, I notice folks getting pretty distracted by phones during the game. What do we think about a 'no screens during D&D' table rule?"
I think this is a very wise and adult way to go about it, but in our case we have various players who need some degree of "checking in" with jobs and kids throughout the evening. I don't mind the time spent responding to a work issue or telling the kids to do the dishes, but it's the sharing of a meme or checking on the baseball scores that is disruptive for me.

It doesnt help that I'm the only person at the table that still uses a physical paper instead of laptop and phone apps.
 

Mercurius

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)?
I feel your pain, although to some extent this is a common problem - one person (the DM) more invested than the rest (players). Occasionally you'll luck upon a group of all DMs/diehards, although that can have its own problems!

When I was younger, I loved being the primary DM. In a later long-term campaign during 4E, in my 30s, I did it because A) Like you, I was the most invested in the game, and B) When others tried their hand at DMing it wasn't as successful. And certainly, there was a certain gratification to being the guy that everyone wanted to DM in the group, but it also became irritating handing out even just two-page campaign guides and quickly realizing that no one (or only one or two) actually read them.

But I think your thread title is key, and I will expand upon that. For me, my favorite elements of playing D&D are actually the world-building, and very quickly--back in the late 80s/early 90s I realized that this energy was better directed into writing and world-building for my own pleasure. So my interest in D&D diverged: On one hand, there was the game itself, whatever campaign I was in, whether as a (mostly) DM or (occasionally) player; this would vary, with many hiatuses of a year or three over the next three decades. On the other, the creative practice of imagining fantasy worlds and stories, which became my own personal project of world-building and writing that is completely separate from D&D.

The former became more of a hobby - a fun past-time, and one that I tried to temper my expectations and investments to no more than moderate. The latter became my passion.

Maybe you don't have the same interest or inclination to channel some of those energies elsewhere, but it is worth considering. I love playing D&D, but I don't have to play - I can enjoy it on occasion, or even just playing attention to its development and buy the occasional book. But need to be creative, and to create worlds and stories in those worlds, and I can do that regardless of whether I'm actively playing or not.

EDIT: It isn't unlike dating. Problems usually (and often) arise when two people have different degrees of investment. But I think it is important to get a sense of this early on. If your group is into something more casual, and you can adjust yourself accordingly, then there's nothing wrong with a bit of "casual fun" (ahem). But if you want a long-term, invested commitment, don't waste your time and energy if you're not getting reciprocation. There are other fish in the sea, after all! ;)
 

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.

This is in no way an uncommon problem. I've said before that probably 75-90% of gaming problems are because people are unwilling or incapable of communicating effectively. There can be all kinds of reasons for this, unfortunately.
 


Retreater

Legend
Do also keep in mind that "D&D as boardgame" has been a valid approach since 1973... So said Dave Arneson.
It's just not his nor Gygax's...
This group and I did have an in-person board game day a couple months ago (it's difficult for us to meet in person regularly). I brought my copy of the new HeroQuest. We had a blast.
And if HeroQuest were set up to play online, I'd certainly suggest that - at least to take the occasional break from RPG campaigns.
(I know it's on Tabletop Simulator, but I find that unwieldy to use.)
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
I find while I have and interest in games, role playing games, and science fiction role playing games in general; when one looks at what I am usually reading, as well as posting in my discord, twitter, fb, etc.. It is usually science, and engineering articles, many of them technical, which in turn circles back on to why I made my own sfrpg, as a teaching tool, it allows one to experience, and interact with the science fiction concepts, such as transhumanism, or solarpunk, as well as science, and technology.
 

TheSword

Legend
I feel your pain, although to some extent this is a common problem - one person (the DM) more invested than the rest (players). Occasionally you'll luck upon a group of all DMs/diehards, although that can have its own problems!

When I was younger, I loved being the primary DM. In a later long-term campaign during 4E, in my 30s, I did it because A) Like you, I was the most invested in the game, and B) When others tried their hand at DMing it wasn't as successful. And certainly, there was a certain gratification to being the guy that everyone wanted to DM in the group, but it also became irritating handing out even just two-page campaign guides and quickly realizing that no one (or only one or two) actually read them.

But I think your thread title is key, and I will expand upon that. For me, my favorite elements of playing D&D are actually the world-building, and very quickly--back in the late 80s/early 90s I realized that this energy was better directed into writing and world-building for my own pleasure. So my interest in D&D diverged: On one hand, there was the game itself, whatever campaign I was in, whether as a (mostly) DM or (occasionally) player; this would vary, with many hiatuses of a year or three over the next three decades. On the other, the creative practice of imagining fantasy worlds and stories, which became my own personal project of world-building and writing that is completely separate from D&D.

The former became more of a hobby - a fun past-time, and one that I tried to temper my expectations and investments to no more than moderate. The latter became my passion.

Maybe you don't have the same interest or inclination to channel some of those energies elsewhere, but it is worth considering. I love playing D&D, but I don't have to play - I can enjoy it on occasion, or even just playing attention to its development and buy the occasional book. But need to be creative, and to create worlds and stories in those worlds, and I can do that regardless of whether I'm actively playing or not.

EDIT: It isn't unlike dating. Problems usually (and often) arise when two people have different degrees of investment. But I think it is important to get a sense of this early on. If your group is into something more casual, and you can adjust yourself accordingly, then there's nothing wrong with a bit of "casual fun" (ahem). But if you want a long-term, invested commitment, don't waste your time and energy if you're not getting reciprocation. There are other fish in the sea, after all! ;)
Yes this would be a poor alternative to me. World building is my least favourite part of DMing.

I like to take a story - ideally someone else’s - tailor it to my groups interests and then have fun roleplaying the characters and narrating their plans and responses to what the players do.

I used to enjoy the planning element when I was younger but now just see it as a lot of wasted paper. I’d rather play a quality computer game.
 

TheSword

Legend
One thing to consider is a smaller group. How many do you normally play with? I’ve found that attention span can be inversely proportional to the size of the group as they have to give other people more air time, can rely on other people carrying them, and have to wait for more action resolution.

I think my idea group size is 3. Any less than that and they tend to get squishy. 4 can be good too.
 

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