Dungeons & Dissonance, or How Differences In Expectations Crash Games

Posted: May 9, 2014 by pointyman2000 in Advice, Articles, Roleplaying Games
Tags: ,

Not everyone thinks alike.

It’s a simple truth, but one that leads to all sorts of conflict. I’ve been asked by some of the local gamers to discuss the games that I’ve run and crashed and burned horribly.

Like any GM, I’m not immune to running games that fail to take off. But the key aspect to these situations is often the failure of the group to set proper expectations. But what kind of contrasting expectations cause games to fail?

Expectations in Combat

Some people love combat, other people don’t. And even if everyone is on the same page about the frequency (or presence of) combat, how they go about it is another point of contention.

Some players prefer to take on an omnisicent stance, reducing the battle to a tactical puzzle, where all player characters have absolute combat awareness. Others prefer to take actions in battle that are more immediate to their character’s situation. Both are valid, but they can (and often do) oppose each other on the table.

Tactical players get frustrated at the illogical nature of the ones that react in the context of a character, while those who prefer the latter feel that tactical combat robs the situation of the emotional resonance of the situation.

These are things that would be nice to get a bead on early on as combat is a high stakes situation, and a lot of players value the lives of their characters. Depending on how much players trust each other, there should be a tolerance for how everyone plays or else you run the risk of emotions running high and general resentment over what other players feel are “stupid” choices made in combat.

Expectations of Interaction

Roleplaying games thrive on interacting with NPCs, and another potential sore point in these games is when players don’t agree on how their characters should interact with each other and with the NPCs. We’ve all been there, in a game where we were going in with the expectation of negotiating with someone when one of the party decides to behad the king instead.

It’s an extreme example to be sure, but it serves to illustrate a point that the players should all be on the same page as well when it comes to interaction. There’s a difference to being a force of change and prime motivator in a game to being that d-bag who decides to cause a mess and leave everyone else to pick up after him.

Expectations of Objectives

This is perhaps another common flashpoint in games. Players (and the GM) should have a clear idea of the objective of the game. If the GM is gunning for politics, they should say so up front. If they’re looking for lots of tactical combat, there should be that as well.

Groups should negotiate with each other, find the happy medium where everyone gets what they want. Players and GMs should not resort to passive-aggressive one upsmanship in-game to resolve what is ultimately an out-of-game issue.

Ultimately, talking it out with the group before every game is important to iron out the various differences in playing style and preferences that cause games to crash.

I’ve lived through a few of these, some of which had ugly real life consequences due to the emotions involved, so it’s become very important to me to make sure that I make everyone’s expectations clear from the get go, and periodically check with people if the game is going in a direction that they like.

  1. Excellent points, this is why I try to present a general outline of the sort of game I am intending to run before starting a new campaign. So at least we are all pointing in the same direction with the game.

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