On the road to Spellgu- postmortem

Written by Tuesday, 08 September 2009 22:13
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I have had feeling that the players my group were not enjoying themselves as much as usual during my last few games.

I felt we had a good start with my retooling of the Kobold Keep scenario. I felt most players genuinely enjoyed themselves, despite my shortcomings as a new DM.

Every session after that felt a bit less than the one before and I desperately tried to grab my player's attention by (at least trying to be) varying game styles and appealing to their various play tastes.

The more "custom fit" I felt a piece of adventure was aimed to please a certain type, the less it actually did.

In fact, after the "Kobold Keep" scenario (which I already had DMed twice before), the best game we had was one I barely had any preparation for!

I had gigantic red flags when a few PC threatened to simply dump the storyline to go do something else... I might've failed to read the signs properly.

The PCs personalities were not jiving with the rest of the group, so I put their lack of interest in the storyline to be an effect of said personality.

I ended up with 3 players wanting to change their PCs - 2 of these were my 2 best role players: those on whom I secretly relied to carry the story forward.

One of these role players - who had so far shown an amazing lack of interest in the game so far - didn't feel ready to roll a new PC yet.

"Fine", I thought - lets us give her time to come up with a PC she really cares about so she can participate in bringing "magic" to the game, as I was accustomed to.

The last game I DMed contained a few fatal mistakes:

  1. Excruciating long combat (3 effing hours!)
  2. I was too tired (after the combat was done, we took a break... and I fell asleep. So there was no proper ending to the session)

So the game - ended up feeling rather pointless.

Last time we played after that was pretty cool and fun - everyone had new characters, every one knew their powers and how to use them, energy was high, people were creative.... and I wasn't the DM.

This game was supposed to be a one shot, but I had to ask if my players wanted to continue the old game or just let it go.

My question was met with an eloquent silence.

"Guys", I said, "if you don't like the game, I much prefer to know it now". See, I don't want to DM if they're not enjoying it.

I mean, I love to DM and I feel I can do much better than I did provided I stop over preparing and if I can help my story-driven players find a hook they like (and a PC they care enough about to try and actually learn how to use).

But I also love to play and, quite frankly, Steve is an awesome DM.

What came out of our little discussion is Steve proposing we do "tag-team" DMing - a style I was actually quite accustomed to "back in the days".

Basically, we share the overall plot and switch DMing duties after every "episode". We each have a few "signature" NPCs which the other DM cannot mess with. Everything else is fair game.

I love that idea (of course) and no one really opposed it. (Whether that was in response to the look of disappointment that was surely on my face, only time will tell. Or someone. Later in time).

So, basically, my game is pretty much defunct and I only have one player actually interested in knowing where the story goes.

I might DM it for that player - with open invite to other interested players.

For the time being, I go from "meta DM" to "meta player". (And happily so - I might feel melancholic from my loss in DMhood, but there really ain't any hard feelings. Only soft ones.)

If I get enough time to resume programming duties on GameTable, I might do online one shots. Shout out in the comments if you'd like to try it out some time.

What I learned

Don't over prepare

I perform best when I improvise. Having too much prepared stuff (like a pre-made adventure, like Spellgard), I obsess about "getting it right" and clamp up my creative muscles.

Shut the eff up

The "meta" side of me enjoys watching the "featurettes" of a blu-ray movie. I love to see "how its made", how some scenes were actually improvised and different from what was planned.

Turns out that's not something to share with players. While I might enjoy how much I screwed up that planned encounter and saved the scene by doing something different or how this clever plot twist everyone went "oooh, clever!" is actually something I just made up on the verge of panicking, it can actually ruin the suspension of disbelief for some players.

Say yes

I already knew that, but I didn't know it enough. I shouldn't hesitate to dump *anything* that was prepared to follow a path the players show interest with. For me, I fell that going all "improv" is the way to solve this issue.

Don't waste too much time to introduce the cool

All I had time to play was filler stuff to get to level 2 to play Spellgard - which, ironically perhaps, I didn't get to play.

My plan was to allow the players to find their own motivation to get there and I failed to provide compelling reasons to get there with all the filler material.

I still feel I made an interesting job of packaging it all together in something that made sense, but probably too little too late.

In the future, I would try to avoid wasting too much time setting up the cool and just go into it.


Eric Maziade
0 #4 Eric Maziade 2010-10-01 17:32
Now you know why I like your writing so much :-)
If its of any interest, my best piece about my more positive experiences are here : critical-hits.com/2008/12/11...
Dixon Trimline
0 #3 Dixon Trimline 2010-10-01 17:27
Oh my, I might have written this. I certainly have experienced this. My last DM-ing experience was with a group of Meetup.com strangers, and they made it very clear I was bringing the fail. That was the beginning of the end for me as a DM. You point about "Shut the eff up" is also powerfully personal, if only because I constantly battle with my need for recognition. If the players don't know how much work I put into the the elaborate cultural laws, then by Gort, I'm going to tell them!
Eric Maziade
0 #2 Eric Maziade 2009-09-14 05:16

@The Chatty DM :

Hey! Thanks for dropping in!

I hope I didn't sound too melodramatic in the recap :-)

I think I waited too long for something to
happen in this game... I wanted the PCs to emerge on their own and take
control of the world... and just waited when that didn't happen.

Provided I get the chance to DM again (probably a shared campaign), I might try your idea of setting up goals with the players up front. 

One thing for sure is that there should be much more improv :-)

The Chatty DM
0 #1 The Chatty DM 2009-09-14 04:57
Good recap.

I still think you are being too hard on yourself. You do not have the easiest group to play with. Not because of who they are... I'd DM for you guys anytime, nut rather because to the ton and a half of competing prorities at the table. Kids, Social interaction, couple issues and mismatched game interest.

Add to this an overly cautious DM with metaositis... OUCH!

Remember that discussion about dropping feathers 2 miles ahead of your players? You should actually inject some of the Meta in your games and do like I did... sion..." chose="chose" your="your" own="own" goals...="goals ..." Now="Now" what="what" do="do" you="you" want="want" to="to" do="do" first="first" /> and use the encounters from the Monster manual or Any low level Dungeon magazine.

My 2 cents

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