Letting It All Out Part 1: Raw and Unadulterated Player Feedback

Posted: August 11, 2011 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Roleplaying Games

Just recently, I’ve asked my players to submit a pros and cons analysis of how I run games.  I’ve requested for them to be frank, as I’ll need honest feedback if I want to improve.  Honest feedback will result in actionable changes.  The purpose of this exercise is to isolate any blind spots and weaknesses that I may have when I’m running a game and to hopefully be able to formulate a means to overcome these shortcomings.

For this article, I’ll be posting the responses I got back.  Tomorrow, I’ll attempt to address each of the Cons presented and see if there are ways that I can come up with a specific and actionable method to correct them.

First up, Hikkikomori:

PROS:

Real Engine
Others complain that your games are too heavy-handed with regards to consequences. Though personally, I feel that contains just the right amount of safeguards that restricts players from performing zany antics. Since pen & paper RPGs players are mostly composed of escapists, your style of gaming does not agree with those who want to be free from the constraints of reality.

Players cannot simply dish out vigilante justice upon a serial killer without a CCTV or passing bystander witnessing it. Though to some players (like myself) embrace this kind of escalation via consequences type of gameplay, it does not seem to agree with those who want to simply wish to play a laid back, black and white, nazi and goblin punching game.

CONS:

Urban Tactics
Your forté is urban settings. When not based in a modern city, you are a fish out of water.

To be continued…
Campaigns stop at the middle for one reason or another. Either due to work-related or player-induced stress, the game escalating to unmanageable/super-powered levels, or lack of interest.

Flaws are Non-Existent
Players who take a lot of Flaws in order to get more Advantages never feel the consequences of their purchases. Flaws are usually downplayed in Campaigns in lieu of being considerate to the Players.

GF Special Treatment
To stay in the good graces of your significant other, she gets a free pass on certain types of challenges that you know she does not want to deal with. Unlike the rest of the players who have to go through the 3 gauntlets of physical, mental, and social challenges.

—-

From Silver Countess

PROS:
I like how you take the effort to make it personal for our characters. You remember details, you bring in hooks and you’re a big believer of “Actions Come With Consequences”. As a player, I enjoy making decisions that will affect the world I live in and not just to my character.

CONS:
You don’t do well to GMing with big groups or with players who don’t mesh with your style of GMing. Your games though tend to be heavy, as fun as it is, it can get exhausting after a while.

—-

From Rvelasco

PROS

  • Definitive Plot Progression – Its not from the top of a foggy head, its logical and planned.  Players are also often given options to incorporate plot points into the game proper via request.
  • Realism – Speaks for itself.  Has a tendency to overdo this element though, to the point that it reaches simulation-level, but I still think its a positive thing.
  • Setting Details – Even foreign settings comes alive; sometimes overdone too (enhancing exoticism) but more often than not, it actually fleshes out the world.
  • Break the Player – Tests the moral and mental endurance of the players with problems that do not often crop up in an RPG game.  I’ve yet to experience this in full, actually–since most of my characters are Compassion 1 characters.
  • Takes the game seriously – Even has a serious blog.  Also very self-critical on the GMing style.
  • Unpredictability – Yep, plot twists.
  • Genre Savvy:  Politics – Knows politics.  And not gamey-politics, but realistic cutthroat politics.Might require some more backdrop on the political set and clime, however, for those who want to do manipulations and indepth Xanatos planning.
  • Genre Savvy: Horror – Good horror imagery.  Dang good horror imagery.  (Just keep chickens and jellos away, and its gold.)
  • Consequences –  Remember you left the stove open in the first session?  Yup, BOOM.  Can also be overdone (see Cons)
  • Adjustable – Consults players; adjusts the game when necessary
CONS
  • Too Serious – I don’t think I’ve ever met a jolly character in a Jay game.  The games also tend to divert into serious territory regardless of genre.  Might be a World of Darkness influence.  has a tendency to make games a mite depressing.  (Some players actually like seriousness, so this is a personal thing)
  • Tropefied NPCs – The NPCs tend to have very few (if any) unique, personal quirks; their characteristics are often shaped by their alignment, abilities (supernatural or otherwise) and their occupation.  I haven’t yet had a solid emotional attachment to any of the NPCs in the game.
  • GM Defenses up! – Has a tendency to subconsciously block massive successes by players.  This is a more reactive incarnation of the “Keep the Players in Line” GM trait.
  • GM Stress Level – is high.
  • Mistake-Consequence Grid – Small mistakes are often paid out into a massive, painful, world shaking consequence.  Also an element of setting “Realism,” but sometimes the grid is way too uneven.
  • Anathema to Player X – Some players are incompatible to the GM’s mindset, to the point that fun becomes a thrice-killed victim for the player in question.  I think this stems from some massive “player-expectations” that the other party cannot satisfy.

—-

Admittedly, this was quite an eye opener for me.  There are a few things mentioned here that I was blissfully unaware of, and I may have to take a bit of time and effort to retrain myself to avoid some of these habits.  I’ll be revisiting this list tomorrow, and I’ll be working on ways that I could use to overcome the shortcomings that have been presented here today.

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Comments
  1. Anthony says:

    I’d like to point out something that isn’t said in any of those:

    Your players obviously trust you, as they gave you blunt, no BS assessments. This is a truly rare thing, which also means that your group wants to help you improve as much as you want to. Both good things.

    If you just got these, it may be best to take a week to let it sink in before responding. Otherwise, I’m curious to see what you will put in place to try and strengthen the pros and alleviate the cons.

    • Hey Anthony,

      I’m very happy for this sort of feedback. I’m admittedly just more than a little dense at times, so having stuff like this brought to my attention is certainly something that benefits me a lot.

      • On the GF thing…

        I’ll be honest in agreeing to some degree that Pointyman on occassion takes it easy on me, usually when Pointyman knows I’m stressed the hell out (tired or painfully uncomfortable) when we get to the table (usually done in very noisy Starbucks with bad seats, usually after a few hours of mall hopping).

        Also the group size makes it hard for me to get my turn, and I’ve given up my turn on many times to let people get to play (because we tend to start late). Pointyman tries to supplement by running my social parts online through YahooIM (or a conference on occasion), which happens once or thrice a campaign.

        I will admit that, that for the past few campaigns, I’ve barely felt that I played at all, that I have considered giving up on the hobby.

        But I will disagree that Pointyman lets me get away scot free: my character’s have failed, got raped, have my character done inside out. As a player, I will admit that I do shy from doing things I know my character can’t do well–that’s why I had to depend on the other players’ skills. But I’ve never ever invoked the GF card on Pointyman. Ever.

        I feel honestly, terrible about it. I always promised myself, I’d never be the GM’s “pet.” I’ve dated a guy (also a gamer) who gave me special attention because he was courting me and it created a lot of awkwardness in the group, even when I told him to stop (which I suppose didn’t help that I eventually turned him down–he ended up having my characters brutalized btw, which I allowed).

        Hope that clears the air for everyone.

  2. sheimauren says:

    To be continued… and Flaws are Non-Existent go hand in hand. From what i observe on how he prepares games, its not that your flaws are non-existent, it’s just that the game stops before he can use them. PM2k has a loong memory and tends to set benchmarks the way echiro oda would. an example would be Once Piece’s Musician – w/c Luffy wanted at like chapter 3-5… they got him around chapter 400.

    I think the issue is that the realism gets to people and realism doesn’t quite do well with some of the other games themes when you hit a certain XP/Progression bracket. Most WoD games fall into this bracket… actually most games he runs fall under this. Most players want to move on since PM2k cant hold their the “suspension of disbelief” meter of the setting anymore.

    Or in most cases the characters change from the players intention that they eventually lose interest, but this is an inevitable fact of games set with a standard of realism. Trauma changes you, and I like how PM2k can use all those little details when painting his GM canvas.

  3. A great tip to improve as a GM is to record your gaming session. Listen to yourself GMing and the interactions with your players as if you were another person. Hopefully this will give you another tool to improve yourself. : )

  4. Runeslinger says:

    Out of curiosity, what was the initial reaction from your group when you first presented the idea of providing this sort of feedback?

    Did you give them any sort of structure, such as a questionnaire, to guide it?

    • Hi Runeslinger!

      I’ve been informally soliciting feedback from my group at the end of each short campaign or story arc so they’re sort of used to me badgering them already. That said, none of the three players that I’ve contacted for this have any qualms about being up front about their concerns, as we’ve been gaming together for a while now.

      That said, I only asked them to list down the Pros and Cons, and give supporting reason(s) to qualify their statements. I did this via email to give them a chance to sit down and think about it a bit, as it’s easier for them to think about their responses and phrase their explanations carefully and in a more thorough manner.

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