Monday 1 August 2016


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

Have you ever had those times when, during a game, you just want to go mad because of what your players are doing?

PLAYER 1 : I’m not going in there. I’ve been in enough crashed spaceships to know there’s always something dangerous going on.
PLAYER 2 : I’m not interested in the ship. I just want to steal the fuel cells from it and get out of here.
PLAYER 3 : Let’s just blow it up!
GM : But what about the distress signal from the dignitary you picked up from the vessel?
PLAYER 3 : It’s a decoy. I bet it’s a trap!
PLAYER 2 : Yeah, we’ve been playing these characters too long to let them get nailed now.
GM : But... (gets exasperated) What else is there to do?
PLAYER 3 : I’ve got some explosives here! Three placements should do it!
PLAYER 1: It’s got nothing to do with us, anyway. We’re just on this planet for some R and R.
GM : Nothing to do with you? (Starts to go red) But what are you playing this for? It’s supposed to be about action, adventure... it’s a roleplaying game, for f...
PLAYER 2 : I’ve been playing this mercenary for weeks now. I don’t want her getting killed over something that has nothing to do with her.
GM : (Head starts to swell) But... but I spent ages designing this game! How can you just throw it away on a whim?
PLAYER 3 : I’ve got fuses, too...
PLAYER 1 : You show me the money, I’ll show you the heroism.
PLAYER 2 : I’m not going to get embroiled in something that has nothing to do with my character.
GM : (Head swells with frustration into huge proportions) Aaaargh! (head explodes all over the room)
PLAYER 2 : What a drama queen.

It can be frustrating. You’ve just spent the last few hours designing a game and now your players are:
Ignoring what you have done to follow their own agenda
Want to mess about,
Won’t do anything unless they get something out of it
Are more concerned about their characters welfare than they are with the game.

It’s important to keep cool during gaming sessions and try to emanate an air of indifference with what the players are doing. You should get dramatic at certain points to try and get across the situation you are emulating, of course, in the form of NPC characterisation and fast, action-orientated narrative but that goes as read. What you have to do is try to appear unfazed by the PC decisions. If you put on a face at a certain juncture when the players have decided to go down a completely different route then two things will happen. Firstly, the players will continue down that route because they see that you haven’t allowed for it, and the more safety-conscious players will go down that path because they stand a better chance of survival. Secondly, they’ll lose that sense of free will. They’ve obviously made the wrong choice of direction and seeing that the GM isn’t prepared for this will make them think that if they did take the path shown to them then they’ve been railroaded into it. The prime enjoyment of play is thinking that you’re playing in a world where anything is possible and being expected to travel down the road shown is a little linear.

Losing control of yourself is disastrous. If you get irate, angry, frustrated, annoyed - basically, if you get emotional about what the players are doing out of the context of the game – then that will obviously reduce the players enjoyment. Watching you pull faces, clench your fist, mutter under your breath about ‘damnable players’ and basically lose your edge will more or less stop the game dead and also lessen the tone of future games as the players wait for the carrot on the stick and your angry reactions to their decisions.

So let’s address each of the major game problems one by one.

(A) Ignoring what you have done to follow their own agenda

It can be annoying when the players turn left instead of right. What you’ve got to remember is that designing a game that basically signposts the players through an adventure (as is the case with many published adventures) can be dangerous to the atmosphere. Many players, especially those with long experience and well-played characters, will not respond as eagerly to the next step of a scenario as they used to. They’ll be more willing to go off on their own and try to get what they can from the game. This is one of the problems with creating a setting with depth that the players have interacted with for a long time. They’ll take their time recruiting old NPC’s they met, or travelling to far-off locations to get items they might need for the adventure. A scenario designed for a few hours can suddenly double in length.

It’s quite simple. You can’t just say ‘you can’t do that’ or simply say that the starship has broken down for the umpteenth time to keep the players in one place. All you have to do is make sure that the situation is urgent, and flying about the galaxy getting help or advice will reduce their chances of getting the job done. You could run a couple of games where the players do go for help, and when they get back it’s too late; the bad guy has had time to fortify defences or carry out their nefarious scheme. Or they could get back and the difficulty of the game has increased over the time they’ve been away. As a drastic measure, any NPC’s they recruited could get seriously hurt, even killed, over what the players had planned. This will make them wary next time they decide to drag someone or something else in to help them. Don’t get annoyed. It won’t be the fact that they’ll feel that their path has been predestined, it’ll be because they’ll think you’re being childish with them and that runs the risk of stopping the games altogether.

(B) Want to mess about

You’ve spent ages designing and drawing and speculating, and when it comes down to it, the players are just flicking paper at each other and making jokes.

First, make sure it’s not something you’ve done wrong. Could the game be unoriginal, repetitive or just plain boring? Take a long hard look at what you are doing and be honest with yourself; would you play the game you’ve designed? There are other articles in this book about games becoming dull and a little stagnant, so take a look at them to see if you can change that.

Secondly, simply make a note of what players are enjoying it and concentrate on them. The players who are ruining it will either get bored or leave you to it, or they’ll try to take a little more interest and get involved again.

Losing your temper over this will not just ruin the game, it may ruin any friendships you have. Playing the role of dictator and telling the players what they can and can’t do in the context of real life (which is how they’ll see it) will make them look at you in a different light. It can be stressful, so be diplomatic; even join in a little to help defuse the situation and get the messing about out of their system.

(C) Won’t do anything unless they get something out of it

This one is simple. All you have to do is ask them, what do they want out of it? If they say enjoyment and adventure then they’ve answered your question and they’ll be more willing to take part in the game for the purposes of adventure. If they say they want as many credits or gadgets as possible then ask them this; what do they intend to do with them after the game is over? What do you remember from the games you enjoyed; was it the fact that you made thousands of credits or was it because you foiled the schemes of the bad guy in a cool and heroic way? Making all that money in the game is good but it’s ultimately false; you can’t spend them when the game is over! The fun from the game is the adventure, not the reward.

Getting upset over this will only make the players feel that they are expected to do something for nothing (as strange as that may sound) and they’ll be less willing to take the scenario or campaign to its conclusion. Keep calm and give them their reward, doing it one of two ways. One, you could give them a reward which is the best they could get from the location they are in but, in reality, isn’t much. Or give it to them and then take it all away! That may sound a little drastic, but it could lead into a game where the players try to get it back. You’ll be surprised how strongly they get involved then!

(D) Are more concerned with their character’s welfare than they are with the actual game

This one is simple, too. If the players won’t get involved with an action adventure because they are worried about what will happen to the personality they have nurtured, then ask them, what the hell are you playing this for?

Roleplaying games are usually about heroes, action adventure, dramatic melodrama and personal strength. It’s not about skulking out of harm’s way, making sure there’s no danger to the character and basically spending the game fretting about what might happen.

Don’t just ball your fists and shout, for God’s sake, do something! Just make sure the players have to do something risky to complete the game. If they don’t, they fail, and to compound the problem those who stood to lose a lot from the game’s failure look them upon with some distaste. This can seriously motivate a player to do the right thing. Getting upset will only communicate to the player that they are not doing what you want them to do and the sense of free will goes out the window and lands in a passing garbage scow.

In many respects it has a lot to do with the players and GM’s feelings towards how seriously they want to take the games and just what the individual participants hope to gain. Make sure you take into account everyone’s involvement with what you think is going on. Some of those present will only feel that they are being unjustifiably included in your plots, and, in extreme cases, your frustration.