Game Micromanagement – How much?

So, yesterday, I watched a video a friend had sent me the link for (see here Spoony’s Jyhad) and I got a chuckle from the scenario.  I shared the story with a friend who used to play RPGs with us and while they were also amused, they also shared that they stopped gaming because I was like the DM in the video.

For those who don’t want to watch the entire video, the DM was unsympathetic when the other players in the game ran the show and shanghaied the player’s character.  In the video, the character exacted revenge using the game’s rules against those who refused to let him play the character he wanted, but in this case, I simply lost a good player.

I don’t know how it is with other GMs, so my experiences with GMing may be vastly different than others.  Running a game is stressful.  There is a lot of planning required and you have to be willing to adapt as the situation unfolds.  If you’ve read the material that I post, I keep my planning relatively light, preferring to leave a situation vastly unplanned to allow for a wide range of improvisation to accommodate anything the players might want to try.  Because I run my sessions on a Friday night, due to player availability, many of my players work full time jobs and by week’s end, they’re pretty tapped out.  As a result, my useful window of time to run a game is limited.  Every time a game goes off the rails, due to out of game interactions, bouts of laughter, etc, it means less time for the actual game.

Every time there is a stop to the game’s progression, my brain immediately goes to compensation mode… “OK, we just lost X minutes to this conversation… I suppose I can drop this encounter, slim down this interaction, skip this scene…”  I immediately begin to analyze the situation, trying to figure out what I can do to keep the adventure fluid without dragging the game too late into the evening.  Often, my games get too simple because there simply isn’t enough time to throw the full adventure at players without seeing everyone fall asleep at the table.  With attendance hardly consistent, the odds of having the same players out week to week is nonexistent, so simply putting the adventure on hold and picking it up another night is pretty near impossible.

As far as my players go, they can be like herding cats.  Especially if we haven’t played in a while, we’re all friends and we typically catch up on each other’s lives, share jokes and tell stories on how our lives have gone.  I also enjoy seeing the table laughing and having a good time.  But there are times where no matter how hard I try, the game will not keep on track.  My 7th Sea campaign ultimately died after an extremely frustrating session where we played for 5 hours and made it less than halfway through the adventure because people got so far off track.  To this day, I think of that session and get angry that I put that effort into a game and no one seemed to care.  As a result of the dynamic in my group, a few players have risen to become the “alpha players” of the team.  They typically make the calls and direct the action in the games… it started because there wasn’t coherency in the game, so they just took charge and tried to get the game to progress.  It has happened enough times that these leader players now just assume the roles in pretty near every session.

This is where the issue stemmed from… this particular player typically wrote up characters who were useful to the team’s dynamic, but had some rogue-like qualities… they bucked the trend and wanted to contribute on their own terms.  So when they felt their character would have conducted themselves differently from the leader’s decided plan, they found themselves shouted down, disregarding the idea as foolish, as it could bring the team problems they didn’t require, etc.  This happened with enough regularity that they just gave up on Shadowrun and RPGs as a whole.

They had approached me on a few occasions, asking me to intervene on their behalf, but without fail each time it was happening, I didn’t recognize it in the moment because I was too busy coming up with contingency plans to compensate for the players’ chosen course of action.  In a way, I was thankful in the moment for the game being focused and moved forward, as it allowed me greater time and freedom to further the later parts of the game.

For those that don’t know me, stress is a very bad thing for me.  I suffer from cluster headaches, which stress can kick off without much warning.  If I didn’t love the game so much, I probably wouldn’t GM.  I enjoy having the creative control that being a gamemaster provides, but if there’s something I’ve learned over doing this for the 16 years or so I’ve been doing this, is that if I don’t run the game, no one will.  It has been extremely rare that anyone has offered to take over the GM chair and when they do, they are met with a lukewarm response, as everyone is (for the most part), happy with the way I run the game.  I would rather run the game and flirt with pain than not play at all.  While I’m already spending the entire session trying to manage things and keep the game unfolding in a manner that is adaptive and fun, the idea that I need to micromanage the players and ensure everyone’s character is being played the way they want to, is simply impossible for me to manage during a session.

Have any other GMs run into similar issues, and if so, how did you deal with it?  Without putting the game on hold every time a player feels like they’re being led, is there any way this can be addressed?  I know most GMs will probably tell me to let the players work it out between themselves, but due to the personalities involved here, I really don’t have any faith that it would work out in the slightest.  While I highly doubt that I can convince this player to return, if there is a way I can address this without too much disruption, I could least invite them back, or avoid similar issues in the future.

I’m open to discussion, opinions and suggestions.  I feel guilty that this has unfolded the way it has, but I don’t honestly know how I can peacefully resolve this issue without adding more work or stress to an already pressuring hobby that could, at any time, trigger crippling pain.

Thoughts?

J.

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~ by 1nsomniac on September 15, 2015.

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