Monday, 4 January 2016

Hints & Tips - WELL, WE`VE ALL GOT OUR PROBLEMS

On the first Monday of every month, read a new hint or tip from Jonathan Hicks, as featured on www.rpg.net and available on Kindle as 'The Book of Roleplaying Hints, Tips and Ideas'.

Campaign going down the pan? Players not interested anymore? Running out of ideas? Games lost their sparkle? Here are some hints.

It happens. At some point or another, gaming groups, especially the more laid back ones, go through a phase when the game doesn’t interest them anymore because of something or another. This can be anything to being bored with the setting you’re in or a problem player messing up the sessions or a rather incompetent GM... There are a myriad of things that can stunt the progress of a group. Sometimes you may think it is easier to lay down your dice and forget the whole thing.

Tempting. But it’s a shame when there is a small element of the group who are really eager to play, a hyped up player or a creative GM. But then it’s hardly fair on the people who have lost interest to have to slog through another two hours. Well, no-ones forcing them to play. So how do you get life back in the game when the eager players want to burn their character sheets?

Difficult question, especially when the group has been together a very long time, and they’ve virtually tried everything. There are no definitive answers, each group have their own reasons for playing the games. But here are few ideas that may get you back on track, for a while at least.

OH, GIVE US BREAK!

The overseer of all games is, of course, the Gamesmaster. The God of the gaming world. It’s a bit of a pain, then, when the GM is a downright git who is playing the game for the following reasons...

1. He wants to ego trip on powerful NPCs he’s created.
2. He feels that he is contending with the players.
3. He wants everyone to think he is intelligent and has an imagination (there are people like that!).
4. He wants to NPC his own character and gives him the biggest rewards and best equipment.
5. He wants to show off his narrative skills, whereas he’s just a boring fart.

... and so on. Quick answer? Get rid of them. Don’t let them GM the game. Or at least explain what the problem is. Get them to change their attitude. If they don’t then just change the GM.

It may pay off to change GMs even if the current one isn’t a pain in the backside. It can make a refreshing change when the perspective of a gaming world is changed to the view of another GM. Such things can revitalise a dying campaign with fresh ideas and opinions.

PERSECUTE... KILL THE HERETIC!

Players who ruin gaming sessions can really put other gamers off, especially newcomers to the group. They bicker, they’re loud, they always want to be heard, they cheat... ooh, and they make you so mad! What destroys a gaming group faster than a terrible GM? A terrible player. Or worst of all, a couple of terrible players. Even one can ruin a decent night’s gaming, even in large groups. They just cannot be tolerated unless they take the game a bit more seriously, depending on just how seriously you take your games.

Players who generally are annoying usually won’t change their ways, and should be jettisoned as soon as possible. It can be a shame if they are there to be genuinely sociable, but they should respect the serious gamers wishes and stay away.

I HAVE THE STRANGEST FEELING OF DÉJÀ VU

"Wait a second," says the third player to your right, "We killed a similar creature to that in a similar way when we were walking through a similar city... which was very similar to this one."

Oh, dear. Sounds like the gaming world is becoming a little bit boring. Players saved the world just once too often? Even pulling back the home planet from the brink of certain destruction can be boring after you’ve done it a few times. The players need new and more exciting challenges, not just ones where you find out where the bad guy is hiding and you go round and give him a damn good thrashing. It can be difficult for a GM, especially those who play frequently, to come up with new and interesting dangers or puzzles for the players to face. If the GM is resilient enough, she can get a good few months play out of a game, even years. But you’ve got to notice the signs when the group starts to get bored with the setting. It’s then that you change everything.

First, start with the location. Go from one part of the planet to a fresh climate, or even go to another planet, which is an absolute must in some roleplaying games. After kicking backside at that locale, change the characters. Get the players to create new characters at beginner’s stats, because there is nothing more challenging than playing a weak character after playing a more experienced one. If that starts to wane, chuck out the setting. Get a new campaign in, a new setting, a new part of the galaxy. Change the genre; go from playing a bunch of specforce operatives to bounty hunters. Play differently, do more investigation than fighting, get more story out of the game. Then go back to your original setting, and start again. Or even get another setting in.

Of course, continually changing settings can disorientate and confuse players, and put quite a hole in the old bank balance. Actually, I went for whole new settings I created myself, which cost me a hell of a lot of time... but its nice having a large selection of places to go. It just depends on how serious you are about the whole thing.

HAPPINESS IS MANDATORY

Make a note in your diary about when and where the game is taking place. It can be a really big pain in the nether regions when the group is set up and raring to play and one or two people are late. Waiting around twiddling thumbs and other manipulative limbs can really put a downer on the willingness to play, so make sure that everyone is punctual.

It is also a good idea to have a little privacy. Trying to scare the players with deep meaningful narrative about the stealth-suited killer cyborg in the engine room can all be for nought when someone else who lives in the house waltzes through the room blaring "alright, mates?" Make sure the night you play there will be no interruptions.

There will also be a rather nasty problem that players may have to deal with... scorn from non-players. Being called childish and having such remarks as "don’t you think you’re a bit old for that kind of thing?" can destroy player confidence. What is worse is when your accused of depraved and occultist practising. I’m not sure what that is supposed to mean, but it sounds as though it would make a great game. Players, mainly the newcomers to the hobby, will pack their bags pretty quickly when persons who don’t play the games start on them, and I guess we’ve seen and heard it all. But what the hell, its only a game, right?

Saying that, it is a good idea to avoid those people whose entire existence revolves about the hobby. I don’t label these people as sad; I label them as dead boring. What kept my group going for years was the fact that we were all good mates anyway, and we had plenty of interests outside the hobby. People who chatter on and on about games and characters and stats and gaming worlds and settings and charts and tables and conversion systems and character generation ideas and equipment... they need a good kick up the arse and directions to that great city called Life. They can bring the group down because, well, you can only take so much roleplaying.

EUREKA!

Ideas are a bummer. Where do you get them? Well, there are plenty of places.

I’ve got quite a few games where the author has tried to explain to budding GM`s where they can get their ideas from. They usually say the media (such as television and radio) and do you know something? They’re absolutely right. I’ve got loads of inspiration and ideas from television, by watching the news and other information gathering programmes, taking the item of discussion and converting it to the game I was running. The political intrigue of other governments, the military actions of countries at war, the scandal of a public figure... all of these things can make good stories for your campaign, as long as you change some bits so that the players who saw the program don’t second guess you!

Of course, published adventures are great, but you’ll soon run out of them, no matter what setting you play. It’ll be up to the great pink mushy thing in your head when the printed games run out, and it’ll do overtime. You’ll run out of ideas after a while, but that’s the signal to change things, as detailed above.


I’m not going to say `in conclusion` because there is no conclusion. The ideas and information above may be a total waste of time to your group if you’ve already tried everything, and the games have still taken a dive. Situations like that are regretful, but maybe its time to ask yourself whether it is time that you gave it a rest. Maybe you should let the group go, round up the ones who are still eager and go and find new players. Who knows? All groups are destined to fade away as peoples attentions are pulled elsewhere, and today’s young, innovative, eager players are tomorrow's adults who remember gaming as one of their old pastimes.

Don’t cling desperately to the game and the players if the group if crumbling beyond redemption. Let it go, and then decide if you want to carry on with new players.