Friday, 10 February 2012

Anarchy at the gaming table

I remember a Warhammer FRP game, long ago, when I totally lost control of the gaming group. I don’t want to write out the whole story as it’s not the reason for this post and I don’t want to go off on a rant.

The loss of control was mainly because the players didn’t seem to be interested in the game but more in making as many silly comments as possible. A lot happened in the game, such as combat and puzzle solving, but there was no roleplaying at all. I’m all for having a laugh at the table and in fact some of the best sessions I remember were made even better by the humour and fun we had, but the horsing around in this game had no bearing on why we had gathered to play and was so continuous and overbearing that I simply didn’t want to run the game, that night or ever again. It got so bad that I found myself having to talk over other people, or I was having my descriptions interrupted as players talked to each other over me. There was a string of jokes towards the end of the session about a subject that I’m incredibly touchy about and that didn’t help either. By the end of the game I’d gone from enjoying the session to be quite angry about it all.

I remember that at first I blamed myself – I was in charge of the game and I was running it so surely it was my responsibility to make sure that the players were on track and having fun. It was also my responsibility that the game didn’t get hijacked by jokes and atmosphere-breaking comments. If that’s the case then surely I’ve failed as a GM? I lost control of the game and that’s my own lookout, surely?

Well, no, not really. I’ve seen this happen with other GMs and I don’t see this as a total failure on their part, I see it as a failure on the part of the players. They were having a good time and enjoying themselves, I can’t fault or disapprove of that, but I was there to participate in a roleplaying game, a game I happen to take quite seriously, that I’d spent a lot of time designing and, in this case, that I had spent money on at the request of the players (I have always wondered if they would have acted that way had they contributed to the cost of the game). I was looking for a fun, enjoyable time but I ended up sitting back and watching as the game deteriorated into farce. There was one particular player who seemed to take great pleasure in disrupting the game. Suffice to say that I don’t game with these people anymore.

It all comes down to respecting why everyone is there at the table. If someone is there to have fun and mess around then they won’t fit in well with serious gamers, and vice versa, but with a bit of respect and leeway there’s no reason why every kind of gamer can’t sit at the same table and play the same game. I respect the fact that my players want to have a good time and at the same time they should respect the fact that I, as GM and the person who did a heck of a lot of preparation for the game, really want to get stuck into the adventure and delve right into the roleplaying.

Of course, it’d be easier to find a like-minded, tightly focused group but there’s room for all kinds of gaming attitude at a gaming table and there’s a time and a place for jokes, fooling around and serious gaming. One of these attitudes shouldn’t dominate the table at the expense of any one player or GM.


  1. I totally see where you are coming from here. I used to feel pretty strongly the same way. I would craft very serious, atmospheric settings, and it would irritate me when people would silly them up. Back then, I was uncomfortable with all kinds of uncertainly though. I didn't exactly run a railroad, but I also didn't use things like random encounter tables, and this was before the Internet community had really taken off (during Second Edition, actually) so there was no Grognardia to teach me about things like The Oracular Power of Dice.

    In any case, I have changed my approach since I have gotten back into the hobby. Now I let the game go where it may. I inject plenty of serious into it, so I figure it balances out.

    That being said, if people were making jokes that made you uncomfortable, that is an entirely different matter, and probably needs to be dealt with outside of play. Man, some of these stories I hear about disrespect to referees are crazy. Luckily, I've never really had to deal with such a thing. It constantly amazes me that some players seem to have no conception of the amount of work it can take sometimes to prepare settings and sessions.

  2. Out of everything, the uncomfortable jokes is the overriding memory of this whole sorry event. It happened to me again recently but to a lesser degree, which was why I thought of this incident from years ago and decided to blog about it.

    I'm not looking to control the gaming evening but I do want some respect in the fact that I've created the evening's entertainment, spent longer creating it then we will playing it. From the player's point of view I guess it's 'I've spent no time on this, I have nothing to lose', but that simply infuriates me even more as that's just simply selfish.

    I have no problem with messing about in a game, but when it starts to go too far this strange mob mentality sometimes takes over, as in this case, and things get out of hand. It'd be nice to think the players reflect on the game and realise that maybe they went too far but in a lot of cases they tended to come away with the thought 'that was a great evening, I can't wait for the next one!' based on the fooling around they did.

    It's at that point I'm screwed.

  3. Maybe one way of dealing with this type of situation is to roll with it. If the players are in the mood to veer off on a fun-filled romp then let them - suspend normal service but make sure to transition the goofy narrative back to the intended theme later on in the session with a single calamitous event, perhaps a cliff-hanger with characters or cherished NPCs in serious mortal peril.