Yesterday Gnome Stew reader TwoShedsJackson left the following comment in response to Martin’s excellent Why Are Most Gamers in the U.S. White and Male? article:

“I’m a woman, playing in an otherwise all-male group. The situation I describe below is starting to become a problem for me, and I wonder if a similar dynamic may discourage other women from playing RPGs.

There are times when I become very frustrated with my group. They seem to have a very different concept of roleplaying from my own. Almost no RP occurs except with NPCs. The PCs in our parties have as much common ground, understanding and knowledge of each other as do the characters in the first episode of Lost. Whenever I have my character try to do something that would alter this situation in some small way, the others in the group (including the DM) betray visible signs of impatience and in some cases actually interrupt in order to “get back to moving the plot forward”. When this happens I feel stepped-on, marginalized, and out of place.

Is this actually a gender issue, or is my group unusual?”

Is this a gender issue? Is TwoShedsJackson’s group unusual? I do not think so in either case.

No One Is Doing Anything “Wrong” Here

Some groups do not want to explore the personal relationships between the PCs. There are players who find this kind of role playing to be uncomfortable. Gender is not solely related to this phenomenon (at least in my experience it is not), but it can be a factor for some players. Other things may be contributing to this discomfort, such as personal histories.

Some people have a problem with developing the relationships between PCs because it feels too intimate to them. A boundary is crossed that blurs the relationship between characters and players. The situations that PCs may find themselves in are often more intense than what most people will encounter in their daily lives, and the roleplaying of those relationships may be perceived as being significantly more intense as well. Not everyone enjoys being in that sort of situation.

On the other hand there are groups where this kind of roleplaying is intensely fun. The players see a distinct line between the relationships of the PCs and the relationships of the players. What is explored within the game world is safe because it does not impact the relationships within the real world.

Finally there are groups that are not uncomfortable with the roleplaying between PCs, but they just do not enjoy this sort of play. How the PCs feel about each other is irrelevant to the story being told. All that the group wants is to unveil the story and to get to the combat scenes.

And there are infinite variables between these three extremes. None of these approaches are wrong. They are just matters of taste.

Something Is Very Wrong Here

So if developing the relationships between PCs or avoiding such roleplaying is a matter of taste what is the problem? The issue is that TwoShedsJackson feels that she is being “stepped-on, marginalized, and out of place” because her group does not want to explore the relationships between the PCs when she does. We only have one side of the story here though, so we’re not going to be able to resolve this issue for her.

What we can do is to focus on the real issue here and it is not the relationship between the PCs. It is the relationship between the members of the group, both the players and the GM. Without more information we cannot make assumptions. It is quite possible that the group is enjoying their games and that this problem is a minor one, or perhaps the group is swimming in problems. In either case the solution is the same – the group needs to have an out of game discussion about what it is that each player wants from the different aspects of the game.

Get Busy Talking

TwoShedsJackson’s problem is a serious one, and to resolve it she needs to get her group talking about it. The best way to start that conversation? Request that your GM put it on the group’s agenda. What if you are the GM and a player makes such a request? Here are some tips on what to do next:

  • Do not dismiss a player’s request for a group discussion. If a player is asking for a group discussion treat it as a serious matter.
  • Do not make promises. You cannot predict how the discussion will go. All you can do is to guarantee that the discussion will take place.
  • Announce at the end of a session that the discussion will take place at the beginning of the next session. State the issue clearly to everyone in the group, and give them time to think about the matter before the discussion takes place.
  • Demand that respect be given to everyone at the table. It is rare that a GM should ever be demanding of the players. This is one of those times though, and you need to make it clear that everyone at the table is to be treated with respect.
  • Play the role of mediator, not judge. Your job is not to pass sentence but instead to ensure that all sides are heard on the matter including your own.
  • If a resolution is not reached after a reasonable amount of time schedule another discussion for the next session and start the game.

This is a much tougher task to deal with then preparing a session or running a game. For those you have rules to guide you. Here you can only rely on your ability to lead, your people skills, and the maturity of your group. This is difficult work, but it is also rewarding work! Good groups do not shy away from these issues. Good groups address them, and good GMs take the lead in seeing that these discussions takes place.

Have you ever needed to lead a group discussion in order to resolve a similar issue? If so, how did it go and what approach did you use? Share your story by leaving a comment below.

And good luck to TwoShedsJackson with starting a discussion with her group! If you think it will help share this article with your GM, and let us know what the result is.