“So, you’re guiding your party into the depths of the ice caverns when – damnit Tom! Get off your cell phone!”
Role playing games are notoriously easy to derail. Here’s some common game killers to watch out for when you’re running your new, atmospheric game.
Probably the most difficult of obstacles, so I’ll start with them first. Rule lawyers are the most dreaded of problems. They aren’t situations, but players. A Rules Lawyer insists they know more than the GM and will fight nearly every decision, or use every loophole in the game to their advantage even if it means going against the intention of the rule.
They can generally quote the pages that certain things are listed on, and will cry foul anytime something bad happens to their characters. Rule Lawyers get stuck on the system, and not the game itself.
You can beat them though! All you need to do is look them in the eye and say “this is a house rule.” That’s right. The “House Rule” is a GM’s nuclear deterrent. It may feel absolutely necessary to follow a rule directly from the book, but if it contradicts itself, isn’t clear, or is being abused then… don’t. Just declare how you intend to use that rule in your game, and that you’re the final arbiter of the decision. For, once you gotten into an argument with a Rule Lawyer, you’ve already lost.
I don’t turn the TV on during my games because they only do one thing: suck the players who aren’t doing anything at the moment out of the game. It can be boring if your character isn’t in a scene and you have to wait to come back. But, it’s invaluable because you pick up on things that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Not every character needs to know everything that happens (separating player knowledge from character knowledge), but having the player know something helps you from having to describe it to them later.
This problem comes in two flavors. One is the player that craves the spotlight so much that they actively speak over other players or make sure their character is involved with everything that’s happening. For instance, they’ll propose to split up, and then when the other group runs into a combat scene they’ll announce that they’re returning to the other group. You know. For no reason. And then they will spend the next 15 minutes asking if their character has arrived yet to join the melee. In order to combat this, you just have to weather the storm. Tell them that you’ll inform them when they arrive, or that they are too far away to help.
You may also get players that try and jump in with jokes or comments on every situation in game, regardless of whether their character is there or not. In doses, jokes are fun and help lighten the game, but too much wacky zaniness pulls attention away from the game itself and can disrupt the flow of any action. In order to save face and not hurt feelings, just remind the group as a whole that it’s time to get back to the game at hand and to settle down a bit.
Well, not you specifically. I might not know you and you could be perfectly nice for all I know. I mean you, the game master. My big problem that I confessed to in an earlier entry is that I get distracted wanting to try out other game systems. I hop from game to game, abandoning any campaign here and there. I am my own worst enemy.
How to combat it? Well, know when you’re doing it. Also, find a group that works well together and who you can secure their availability somewhat frequently. There’s nothing like building a campaign on one character’s backstory, and then having that player never show up again.
Most importantly, listen to the input of your players. If they aren’t having a good time, then you need to adapt. Find out what elements they like and what they don’t. Sometimes the best thing you can do is scrap a non-starter campaign and begin fresh.
Oh, and don’t railroad players into the choices you want them to make. If you don’t want any spontaneity in interacting then you might as well read them a book.
I’ve picked on game masters far too much, so next time, we’ll be focusing on what players can do to help a game succeed and have fun!