Why Did Your Game Suck?

Sometimes your game sucks. Despite the best laid plans, these things happen.

Sometimes you never want to run a game again. You wonder why you are wasting your time doing it. In that case it was probably the players that messed things up. Probably.

Sometimes you want to run another game as soon as possible. That’s because you messed up and you want to make up for it. You want to erase the memory of the last game and prove yourself by running another better game.

If you’re not sure what went wrong in a game, ask yourself: do you want to run another game, now, or never again?

[I leave it as a exercise for the reader to apply this theory to other interactive “performance” arts like teaching or possibly acting – replace game with class or show where appropriate]

    Ben Robbins | February 7th, 2006 | | hide comments
  1. #4 Adam says:

    A DM will never get it straight from the box, if you give a damn, and you should, just keep at it, find a group who knows your new, learn from the experienced, read online sources and just keep plugging away. Maybe you really are no good, but you’ll never get better by giving up.

  2. #3 Aet says:

    I almost lost the faith once after a session for a year-old group, when a dispute between the host and his girlfriend turned suddenly violent (she started beating him with a cutting board and we needed to separate them out). Later on I found out it was because she thought he was cheating on her with a girl in the group, when it turned out said girl was actually cheating on _her_ husband with someone completely different… who was also in the group.

    The entire thing turned what I thought was a fun game into a combination Springer episode/domestic massacre waiting to happen. I bailed out of the group completely for about three months, changed the venue to take the dangerous girlfriend out of the environment, and replaced one of the players with someone more stable. Two members of the group still couldn’t behave like human beings, and I had to drop them. A third member essentially kicked himself out: I’m not sure what happened.

    The one lesson I learned from the experience is that nothing, NOTHING, kills a game faster than unstable people at the table. To wit: get to know people, and figure out alternate venues for games (semi-public spaces). There are many signs for dangerous behavior, but you sometimes have to look for them. If you see, or even think you see, this kind of behavior, either bail out or restructure your game to _only_ meet in the public space.

  3. #2 R00kie says:

    I have to disagree with this.

    I seldom feel I don’t ever want to run a game again, but every time it has happen it’s been my fault. The problems generally come down to one of three reasons – I didn’t vet the players properly, I didn’t vet the characters properly or I didn’t set player expectations.

    1) A single disruptive player can very quickly sap the life from a campaign and the energy from a GM. About three year ago I started an MnM campaign at a newly started gaming club. I had the misfortune of having one player who really wanted to be in a D&D game but hadn’t been able to find a place. He disrupted the game by repeatedly pointing out what he percieved as ‘flaws of the system’, and refused to stay in character. As a GM its my fault that this character even got into the game.

    2) I ran a game with great players, who came to the table with characters who would have worked really well in a different campaign. Unfortunantely these characters had little reason to actually work as a group. Further more, due to a misunderstanding early in the first session they ended up with little reason to work with the plot. Its my fault again, for not properly vetting the characters.

    3) I ran a Paranoia game with a few local players. I used to play Paranoia at University where our games had somewhat deeper conspiracies than the norm, a grimer, grittier feel and possibly a lower death toll (probably about 1 clone a session). In my games things generally made some sense and people accumulated evidence before openning fire. These players were far more used to zap style games which generally didnt last very long and were much sillier in tone. Suffice to say we were playing too different games and things went poorly. Again my fault for not setting player expectations.

    When a game runs poorly because I didn’t add-lib well enough, an NPC was unconvincing, because I messed up on rules, or I got my hitpoint notes muddled up, these are things I know I can fix quickly, they only affect a small part of the campaign and I feel like pushing on quickly because I know I can do better. I will take time to re-read sections of rules or to think about how to avoid it in the future, but the three problems mentioned above are intrinsic campaign problems caused my a lack of communication between me and the players, and cant be easily fixed. These are the only sorts of problems that leave me feeling sufficiently down that I dont wnt to leap straight back in.

  4. #1 Scholz says:

    I assume, by parity of reasoning, that if you want to run a game again, then it was YOUR fault.
    This poses a problem. If it wasn’t your fault, you do not want to run another game. So you probably won’t.
    If you do want to run another game, it was your fault, and you probably will, even though maybe you shouldn’t.

    I assume, from bothering to ask yourself the question, that you think these thoughts and your suckiness are not permanent.

    I am not sure those are the only options. Sometimes, things go afoul for other reasons (distractions at the game, time constraints, random chance, misunderstandings, player/GM mood, etc..) Those seem plausible to me.

    But suppose that it is one or the other.

    It is not clear what you should do with these conclusions. Suppose you conclude that it WAS NOT your fault, but your players fault. Unless you live in a big market of gamers, you might not have access to other gamers, and so you can either quit, or alter your gaming style to accomodate the ‘bad’ gamers. Or maybe try to ‘re-educate’ them I suppose. None of those seem all that satisfying.
    Alternatively, if you are to blame, what then? Give up GMing? There are some people I wish would. Or switch up your style, try something new, alter the game etc.. Or simply repair that problem and hope for the best?
    Normally the latter seems like a good plan. But there are some problems. It isn’t always clear what you did wrong. I am a fan of reflection, but from personal experience I know it is easy to ‘over correct’ in an attempt to fix a perceived problem.
    In many cases the best thing you might do is keep playing the way you would normally and let the players adapt to your style. Assuming they are willing.

    Or… you could read Ars Ludi or Robin’s Laws or other sites for advice.

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