Defunking Your Game: Tips on Making Your Play Time Lemon Fresh Once More
Justin Suzuki, a new friend of The Blur [1. And yours truly.], and one of the powers (and voices) of WombatCast, wrote the following over on our Facebook page.
My group funk is infecting my mind, is there anything you can do?!
Well, Justin, no need to yell, we’re right here, but, hey, you came to the right place!
Every once in awhile, a game group will run up against entropy. We, as thinking, breathing, carbon-based life forms should know by now that battling entropy is tough. Couple entropy with familiarity and you’ll sometimes get a game as exciting as visiting your in-laws or hearing a story (you’ve heard a hundred times before) about yourself told by the friend you were with to a mutual friend. Things can digress into a seething pool of boredom and what does boredom due to gamers? Why it breeds erratic behavior and can bleed over into your real life.
For the hardcore gamer, gaming is more than merely a hobby, it’s a lifestyle. When you’re not gaming, you’re talking about gaming or reading game books or prepping something for a game or fantasizing about some sexy new mechanic [1. And we’re not talking Kaylee here.] you’d like to introduce in your next session. When something goes wrong in your game, it can cascade outward and you’re not as likely to notice it as when the inverse happens. [2. For example, if I got a speeding ticket on the way to a buddy’s house to run a game and it goes south, I know why.]
Staleness is the enemy.
It wears many masks. It could be something as a tired group dynamic, a stalling campaign, a rules system which has worn out its welcome, or general malaise. So, what is a GM to do? Why, think like Conan and…
Destroy the enemy.
That’s right. Get out your massive two-handed sword and cut it down. Barring that, try one of these techniques to make your game sessions once more zesty and lemon-fresh.
People get comfortable and when they are comfortable they are complacent. Complacency has no room in a roleplaying session. The job of every GM is to present the characters with conflict. Leave complacency for sofa salesmen.
1. Tired group dynamic? Shake things up a bit. Let the new guy try his hand at running a few sessions. Have everyone swap characters. Get folks out of their bubble. Same guy always playing the tank? Give them the thinker and so on.
2. Stalling campaign? This can happen in one of several ways. The players aren’t taking the GM’s bait and following a given trail. The players are overwhelmed with choices and don’t know what to do, resulting in paralysis. Or, worst of all, the players can feel like they are on the last season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and all the missions seem to be blurring a bit. Put things off-balance. If they are in the middle of a story thread that’s going nowhere, kill it. Imagine the characters have been systematically trying to track down The Shadow Broker and suddenly the Chrome Kids make a splash on the scene and brashly catch The Shadow Broker and gain the glory, the credits, and the enmity of the supposed heroes. Nothing gets a group more energetic than being upstaged and not being the center of the universe. This one never fails to get the group’s attention. Alternately, kill off an important NPC for no good reason. One, preferably, with a connection to the heroes. Listen to them riff on why and run with it a bit. Including their feedback in the loop can restore group dynamics as the players appreciate being contributors to the world at large.
3. Overplayed rules system? As a longstanding Savage Worlds developer, you’d likely expect me to be running/playing it all the time. I did for many years, but, like everyone else, I suffered a bit of fatigue at one point [3. Especially considering I live/breathe predominately this system during my work hours as well.]. I needed a break and I became more receptive to other game systems and not only ran some, but also encouraged the guys to run some as well. We even take breaks to board game every now and then. This is a great way to get together socially and lets us try out new things. It keeps interest high. As an added bonus for me, it actually spurs creativity as I can see/learn other approaches to some of my own design challenges and rejoin them with renewed vigor.
4. General malaise. This is the hardest one to deal with. Perhaps the group is burned out on gaming altogether and a hiatus is in order. If the game group is around each other a lot already (either professionally or socially), the gaming may be perceived as an obstacle in some way, shape or form. Often, while this may manifest on the superficial level, there are likely issues from the other categories which are really to blame. If your group doesn’t get together beyond gaming, perhaps you should slate your next get together at an off-site location where you can grab dinner and talk about the issues. Going to a different place with a different atmosphere can often be good neutral territory and aid people in candidly speaking their minds.
Communication is key.
Regardless of the reason, things can be sorted out and all can be set right as rain with the crew again, given open communication, so remember to nurture and encourage everyone to chat about the games. My big tip on this? I’ve long encouraged feedback at the end of the session to cultivate and refine my skill sets. If you’ve been in my games at a con, you’ll note I take the pulse of folks by asking people if they are having fun. This isn’t simple ego-aggrandizement and is something I suggest you try at your next game session whether you’ve run five games or fifty.
Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!