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Hitting the Wall

Boom. [1]


A couple weeks ago, I lost it. The final straw landed and broke this camel’s back. To be a bit clearer, I ended up throwing a bit of a temper tantrum at my gaming group. I hit a wall and promptly had a meltdown.

What wall do I speak of? In my particular case, it was an issue of scheduling. My group has, for the most part, been gaming together for about twelve years. In the early days, we played every Friday evening. Eventually that shifted into every-other-Saturday due to the changes in family and work schedules life throws at you. When every-other-Saturday began to become more miss than hit, we switched to a looser process where we tried to figure out who was available when for each month. I took responsibility for this scheduling, which I didn’t mind, but it did require a degree of effort to try and plan a couple gaming sessions for each month.

As most of you already know, December is a tricky month to keep playing in due to the holidays, but when I asked earlier in November, we had a consensus that December 4th was okay for everyone. Because gamers often have the attention span of a squirrel on a sugar rush, I sent out an e-mail at the beginning of the week to remind everyone. Suddenly, we went from having seven players to just four (this includes a GM).

To be fair, the reasons for not being able to make it were legitimate reasons. A new job, a wife going out of town, etc. But after two years of trying to juggle schedules and keep everyone updated on when we were playing on top of trying to maintain a couple of consistent campaigns, I’d had enough. One of the guys told me he wouldn’t have been surprised if I had rage quit the group right then and there. I wasn’t that far gone, but I was definitely frustrated and knew something needed to change.

Each person and each group is going to have their own threshold for when and which issues cross a line.
Gaming, in addition to everything else, is a social medium. As a result, there are going to be times when issues come up that cause friction and frustration. Each person and each group is going to have their own threshold for when and which issues cross a line. For one group, it might be players consistently showing up late. For another, it might be a GM playing favorites. Another group might be dealing with players bringing outside drama into the session, while yet another might grapple with a player that hogs the spotlight. Heck, if there are other outside stressors, it could be as innocuous as someone taking the last Mt. Dew. While the resulting explosion from the frustrated party may come as a surprise to some, the irritation usually doesn’t come out of nowhere. There are warning signs if you know what you’re looking for.

So what do you do in the aftermath of a meltdown?

Take a step back and get your bearings. That may mean walking away from a conversation or even taking a week off from the game, but you need to give yourself a little time to think and breathe. The issue definitely needs to be discussed with the group, but make sure you’re doing so with a calm head. It’s difficult to resolve anything when you’re angry and frustrated. It’s too easy to lash out unfairly or blow things out of proportion when emotions are running hot.

It’s important to ask yourself whether the situation is going to be a permanent deal breaker between you and the group, or if the situation can be salvaged. Not every gaming group is going to be compatible with you and that’s okay. If the style or substance of the group isn’t something you enjoy, it’s okay to amicably walk away and start looking for another group that’ll be a better fit. Of course, if it’s something else or something that’s bothering others in the group, it should be worth sitting down with the everyone and looking for a resolution to the problem.

Another key ingredient is to own up to your own role in the situation. Don’t be afraid of recognizing that while the problem may not be your fault, your reaction to it may have contributed to the friction. Maybe the issue should have been brought up earlier or your response was unfair to some of the players. Knowing your own part in things can go a long way to helping you work with the rest of the group to solve the problem.

For my particular situation, I took a few days to calm down and determined that despite our inability to keep a consistent schedule, these folks are still the gamers I want to play with. I contacted everyone with an apology and a proposal to try and fix our scheduling issues. So far, everyone seems okay with the idea. We’ll switch back to every-other-Saturday, but set up an automatic reminder system. This gives each member of the group the responsibility to keep us updated if they can’t make any given Saturday.

Have you ever hit the wall with your own frustrations over a gaming group problem? I’m curious what types of things others have had to deal with and how they resolved it.

21 Comments (Open | Close)

21 Comments To "Hitting the Wall"

#1 Comment By John Fredericks On December 17, 2015 @ 6:10 am

Thanks for the honesty of this column. If you can game with diverse folks for years without ANY interpersonal problems, well, I’d be shocked. You wrote a great column about picking up the pieces.

Our group hits the “can’t make it” issue as well. Not sure that there is any one good solution to this. I’ve even considered trying to do a looser campaign, more a series of one-shots. I also have back-up session that is now ready to go whenever there is a small group.

Again, no one solution to the scheduling problem, but a great column tackling the issue and the personal stuff that comes along with it.

#2 Comment By Angela Murray On December 17, 2015 @ 10:17 pm

Thanks John.

This isn’t the only issue that’s popped up in twelve years, but it was one that’s going to be a catalyst for change with the group. I think the key for me is that I thought about it and these are still the people I want to play with, we just need to be better about actually playing.

#3 Comment By black campbell On December 21, 2015 @ 8:59 am

It’s a matter of priorities. For most peoplegaming is way down the scale (rightly.) But I get tired of flksthat complain they want to game more, then don’t set aside time for it. They commit or don’t. If they don’t it’s better to back out and let the others get on with it.

Our group tries to stick to a once a week schedule. When so eone has to be gone for a week, we still meet and either do side stuffin the game, play something else, or do something else just to keep the schedule and because, if a group is to survive, you should be friends…otherwise, it’s just an obligation.

When events conspire — like the inevitable end of the year holiday season, or shifting work schedules (I teach at night amd the nights change) — we figure out another night and stick to that until we are required to change again. Because we want to get together as much as game.

#4 Comment By NikMak On December 17, 2015 @ 6:42 am

I went through this very recently. I and another gamer at the table are very different people, and if there is more than one possible solution to an issue you can pretty much guarantee that he and I will be on opposite sides of the debate almost every time. In a recent game there was an issue with no clear cut, good solution to the question: “should we sneak away, or try and talk to the (possible) bad guy?”. We spent a significant amount of time discussing it in game, and then hundreds of posts debating it in our messaging system through the week. It went round and round in circles and the same points were being made over and over again. I eventually snapped, handed out a few generous insults in a very childish fashion, and then sheepishly apologized at the start of the next game session.

and you know what? since then the chat forum has been much quieter, but we seem to reach consensus in the game much more quickly (its still early days but so far so good). There was a guy in the 60’s called Tuckman who said every team goes through stages (forming- norming- storming-performing) and periodic blow ups are a normal part of human interactions. Often these lead to greater harmony and improved team performance (for a while) in the period after the storm. I dont know if I fully agree with that, but it does feel to be true, so far, in my case at the moment…. I hope it proves to be true for you and your team as well 🙂

#5 Comment By Angela Murray On December 17, 2015 @ 10:19 pm

That’s interesting and definitely the type of thing that can happen when you mix a bunch of different personalities together. I think the key for your particular situation is that you owned up to your outburst rather than trying to shift blame. I’ve seen groups fall apart because people lack the maturity to do that.

Good luck with your group and keeping the good synergy going. 🙂

#6 Comment By mercutior On December 17, 2015 @ 7:32 am

Fortunately, your issue stems from life interfering with the game and not personality conflicts within the group. The latter have the real potential to bring a gaming group to its collective knees. It is extremely difficult to navigate personality/gaming style issues as these tend to be tied to ego. Feelings get hurt quickly when dealing egos. Unfortunately though, it is impossible to fight time. My group often lacks consistency.
I’ve been gaming for over 30 years. Back in the younger years interest was high and time was no factor. My group would game at the drop of a helmet, and marathon for days. As we aged, time became limited (school turned to college, college to jobs, single turned to married, married to married with children). To add insult to injury, it seems that interest to time is an inverse relationship…With less time, interest INCREASES. Boo…
So, the reality is everyone who misses sessions is disappointed. What makes your quandary particularly vexing is the lack of simple etiquette. You should not have to find out about lack of participation at the proverbial last minute. It is difficult to prepare/GM when you don’t know who is showing up (encounter levels change, healing becomes a factor if the cleric is out, that encounter with the ghouls could be particularly dangerous without the elf, etc). Simply letting the GM know in advance of an absence is not only courteous, it relieves his/her anxiety.

#7 Comment By John Fredericks On December 17, 2015 @ 7:39 am

I agree, letting the GM know in advance is a big help.

Now, sometimes folks take sick at the last minute or something happens. We have to allow for some of that. GMing is tough and any help you can give if you can’t make it is REALLY appreciated by this particular GM.

#8 Comment By Angela Murray On December 17, 2015 @ 10:23 pm

Once, back in my college days, I walked out of a game session because of a GM playing favorites and the player benefiting from that knew it was bothering me and started mocking me for it. That group didn’t game again until that player had left. It’s awful when personalities clash and it kills a group. It’s one of the reasons I’m a huge proponent of ‘game with people you like’. If I regularly game with people it’s because I want to spend time with them.

In our group, we have three different GMs, so part of the issue has been trying to figure out who is running based on who’s showing up and which game we’re pulling out for that session.

#9 Comment By Roxysteve On December 21, 2015 @ 5:53 pm

One chap in a game I had been actually looking forward to drove me so nuts with his constant carping and second guessing and meta gaming and teleporting to where the action was sometimes over hundreds of yards that I ended up screaming at him like a twelve year old.

I definitely *should* have rage quit before that. As it was I had no more rage, so I just ordinary quit.

#10 Comment By Angela Murray On December 21, 2015 @ 8:34 pm

It’s tough when it’s just one person causing the irritation, especially if no one else seems bothered by it.

Hopefully you can at least laugh about the explosion in hindsight. It’s one of those “you live, you learn” situations.

#11 Comment By Roxysteve On December 23, 2015 @ 9:47 am

[4 Angela] I guess. I don’t obsess over it but the screaming left me embarrassed and ashamed for a long time. The other guy was definitely asking for it, but I’d rather have solved the situation according to my age rather than my shoe size.

I think the straw that broke the camels back was the teleporting PC thing. He’d say he was off to form a liaison with the village elders (his character spoke more languages than God and it was clear he wanted to be El Macho Grande in this party), then get wind of something interesting someone else was doing at the other end of town and instantly he was there trying to steal the scene.

In the end I did something that required a separation of gamer/character knowledge and he wasn’t up to it.

I stole a key from a corpse’s pocket that would be vital later and hid it while the other characters were busy and distracted. I was hoping for a “When were you going to tell us you had that?”/”I’m telling you now” scene with the other players for some worthwhile roleplaying, but the GM mishandled the whole scene and let the cat out of the bag, whereupon Mr Teleport just kept nagging about “certain people screwing over the party” every two minutes until I couldn’t stand it any more.

In all fairness to Mr Teleport, when I explained my action and my characters motivation for it to the others (much later), none of them felt the idea was strong enough for the action to have taken place. Naturally I disagree, but it is irrelevant anyway. My place in the game was broken beyond repair.

#12 Comment By Tiorn On December 22, 2015 @ 9:30 am

The second guessing and stuff like that is quite annoying. I was running a pathfinder game with a father & son playing in the group. The son seemed to be very focused on knowing the rules, so that seemed to be a good sign (another player did raise an issue or two with me privately though). The father showed that he was incredibly eager to play, but he had a problem with not knowing the basics all that well AND forgetting what he had been told (or flat-out ignoring it at times).

The son was playing a witch character and the father was playing a barbarian, when the group encountered a large number of hobgoblins. As a father/son team, they worked together fine, even great… if what they were doing was correct in the first place. The father had his son’s witch cast enlarge on his barbarian. No big deal, right? Wrong. For some reason, the father (and son) thought that the enlarged barbarian wielding his enlarged long sword would be able to slice through multiple hobgoblins with a single attack. Not an additional attack due to a cleave feat, which the barbarian didn’t even have… but ONE SINGLE attack. When I informed the father that he could not do that and why, THE SON raised his voice to tell me that my ruling was a bunch of BS! I calmly stood my ground and completed the session. Afterwards, I researched the history of what we always called ‘sweep attacks’ in the DND game from version to version. We had a facebook group for our campaign, so I posted my findings to it. I thought it was the end of any problems, but it was just the tip of the iceberg.

The final straw for me came with scheduling problems. We had agreed to play every two weeks, but the father and son wanted to play more. At least one player and myself told them that we were not willing to play any more often than that. But that didn’t stop the father from inviting us and trying to start up a game that he would run on another night. By this point, I was ready to rage quit. What we had told him about our willingness to play more often was completely ignored within a week. But I continued to make plans for our next session, which the father and son were assuring me that they would attend. I had conflict come up with some household maintenance that put our scheduled game in jeopardy, so the father/son offered to allow us to play at their place. While this was being debated, another player informed me that the father/son had no intention of playing on schedule… they were going to a movie instead. So, to test that information, I announced to the group that we would be playing on schedule at my home, as usual. Within a couple of hours, the father announced that he and his son would not be attending because they had family in town unexpectedly… ***cough***BS***cough*** I immediately kicked them out of the group. After some discussion, we realized that it was best to dissolve the group as a whole. We were down to three, including myself, and finding others to join didn’t seem workable at the time.

I could type more about the father/son garbage, but I’ve typed enough of a book already! lol But, yeah, I definitely raged on them for their poor behavior and lies. The father showed me repeatedly that he wanted control of the group, when it was obvious to me and others that he didn’t even show that he understood the player side of the game very well at all.

#13 Comment By themensch On December 17, 2015 @ 9:38 am

I’ve hit this time and time again with one of my groups, to the point that I just stopped trying. Before I let my other group develop any patterns, we decided: “gaming will be on every other Thursday evening, rain or shine. Show up if you can, we’re playing unless we’re down to 2 people.” This made it somewhat hard to run an ongoing campaign (hyperspace diarrhea seemed to be catching) but having a set schedule and a loose story allowed us to keep on going through the rough times. About once a quarter I’d poll everyone to see if the time slot worked.

#14 Comment By Angela Murray On December 17, 2015 @ 10:24 pm

The ongoing campaign is the hardest part. If all we played were one-shots, it wouldn’t matter who’s available, but that’s boring in its own way.

Heh.. Hyperspace Diarrhea… 🙂

#15 Comment By themensch On December 18, 2015 @ 7:54 am

Yeah, it was no easy feat but my smaller sessions were really a part of the whole, so I kept that continuity. We got through 2 campaign arcs this way, which doesn’t seem like much until I clarify that our sessions were 2-3 hours a pop.

#16 Comment By MarkKernow On December 17, 2015 @ 12:20 pm

I really sympathise having experienced all of this myself. I think you have written an excellent article about what to do when it all gets to you.
As far as scheduling goes, my group now uses a few methods to stay on track:
-We play the first and third weeks of the month, every month
-We have a regular day of the week and an alternate day and we stick to them
-The dates of the next two games go up on a popular social media site for easy reference
-We spend ten minutes at the end of each session double-checking people’s availability
-We still play provided we have a minimum of three players
-We run short adventures, so it is easy to jump back in if you miss stuff.

This may seem over the top but it has made a massive difference compared to my previous experience.

#17 Comment By Angela Murray On December 17, 2015 @ 10:25 pm

That sounds like an excellent plan for a schedule. I think that’s fairly close to how my group’s solution is going to work out, other than ours will be every-other-Saturday.

Sometimes you have to go a little over the top to keep a gaming group together. 🙂

#18 Comment By Scott Martin On December 18, 2015 @ 12:21 pm

We often hit the wall when scheduling in December. We finally decided that from Thanksgiving to New Years the default assumption was no game. If we somehow all clear the same day once during that month+, it’s an unexpected victory.

#19 Comment By Roxysteve On December 21, 2015 @ 5:47 pm

December? Ha! Try surviving spring and early summer if your gaming group contains women between the ages of 18 and 30.

I had two games disintegrate over the course of three months thanks to an onslaught of bloody weddings. One bridesmaid-to-be took out a thriving Space 1889 campaign all on her own as her fittings and re-fittings and rehearsals and showers and frock knows what-all else shredded my carefully conceived campaign session schedules just as things were getting really interesting.

#20 Comment By captaincutlass On December 28, 2015 @ 4:09 am

We had exactly the same issue without actually having a tantrum, it became one of the annoying things. We’re a group of 7, who have been roleplaying for about 22 years now. We decided on the first saturday of the month and continue the campaign when someone is unable to make it. We do a side quest when more than 2 can’t or do a boardgame if there is only four of us. It works like a charm now, even up to the point where we’re gaming trough the holidays and vacations. When two or fewer of us can’t we usually set a second date, allowing for two game nights in a month.
But, another annoyance was the fact that there was too much non game related chatting going on. The players themselves had a pow wow on this before the session and now I just need to remind them now and then of the rules they came up with themselves. But even so, it is difficult to maintain focus on the game for all players. Any tips on that?

#21 Comment By Roxysteve On December 28, 2015 @ 10:51 am

Articles on that very phenomenon can be found in the archives.

One great suggestion made was to have a pre-game get-together as part of the session, where non-game stuff could be discussed over snacks. A half hour should cover that.

Another suggestion was to have regular breaks for coffee and chat, ten to fifteen minutes.

Both of these mean you can generally enforce a “no out of game chat” rule more effectively.