As GMs we talk about how to get feedback from our players, and there’s plenty of advice in that area. However, how about giving some feedback to the players?
There are two problems I haven’t been able to solve through feedback: analysis paralysis, and friends who’ve had too many drinks. I can usually guide players around rules issues or when they veer too far from the central narrative. And I typically game with a friend who can read a rulebook once and memorize every mechanism, and that helps a whole lot. But there’s no solve for players who overanalyze dice outcomes to death, other than “Oh for christ’s sake I’m flipping a coin, heads you win tails you lose.”
The drinking is much trickier, and since I’m always popping back a drink myself, it’s hard to reason with inebriated or incapacitated players (I once had a player pass out in another room after being belligerent around my kids; I haven’t seen that friend since).
Curious to know your thoughts; I know the topic of drinking at the table has come up a couple of times on the podcast.
Most game groups I’m in say no to drinking at the game table. It’s a definite no if I’m the host and or DM.
It’s just to hard to moderate people who have 1 too many.
Yeah, sounds like you might have to set some hard line about drinking. The social contract stuff Sean mentioned in the episode covers our social behavior toward each other as well: what kind of jokes are okay, how to handle IRL arguments, what is acceptable or not regarding substances, what topics are not okay (IRL politics and religion or others). I don’t tend to have these conversations with people at my table, but it may be worth the effort when doing a campaign to keep things constructive and fun.
With the analysis paralysis, I have a very long post, please be patient.
One is just to set a timer, and if the decision is not reached in time, either nothing changes (the spotlight moves to another player), or in the case of a party-wide paralysis, the GM gets the initiative with a Random encounter, hazard, or some other nastiness. A flip side to that could be offering a benefit to making fast decisions, whether they work perfectly or not. Getting a few XP for being decisive, or finding some lose gold because you decided to open the trapped door without debating every possible outcome could be a way to encourage the opposite of analysis paralysis.
This approach can use a real world timer or just your judgement, but communicating the penalty/reward clearly is key. In WFRP 3e there is a party tension meter, which the DM can add to in cases when individuals are vacillating, or the party is arguing about what to do. There is some room on the meter before bad things happen, so folks have a chance to catch and correct their behavior. If they don’t, then the party gets a collective penalty. It can help people realize that an imperfect action can be better than waiting for the perfect thing. I think you can do something similar with a BitD clock or just adding some counters to a pile and when you have six counters than something hits the PCs in a resource or their adversaries get a boost.
And the flip side could be rewarding the fast actions “you guys blew through those rooms so fast these orca are still putting on their armor” and now they have an advantage, even if they got hit by that glyph of warding because they were being so decisive.
I hope that is helpful!
Since Brett mentioned the Deck of Many things, I had to share my favorite version of it that I’ve found so far.
Player feedback can be rough. When I wrapped up my longest 3rd/3.5 campaign with everyone at 13th level, we had a massive 8 hour session to wrap things up, and one of my players said “let’s never do that again, I wanted to kill myself it was dragging on so long.”
For what it’s worth, the other players said they enjoyed the session, and really wanted it to feel epic since it was the end of the campaign, and we had a few players that had moved away come back just for this campaign wrap up.
When I’m a player, I try to touch base to make sure I’m not the asshole. For example, when I was playing a Gand and referring to myself in the third person, one of the other players made a comment about it, and I wanted to make sure I clarified that it was in character, and I wasn’t annoying the table with that mannerism.
It can definitely feel uncomfortable to tell a player they are doing something that’s a problem when you are the DM. It also dovetails with another issue that comes up, in that the GM is suddenly the group counselor, even though everyone should be willing to talk to everyone else about their problems with the game or one another.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t had any heart-to-heart conversations with other people. I’ve had to tell people that their playstyle doesn’t match the rest of the group and that some of the character’s jokes are off-putting to other people at the table.
I’ve also had players come to me first to say they were going to talk to another player about problems with their character concept, to make sure I was okay with it, just to keep me in the loop.
I’ll be honest, a lot of my discussions like this are via email because I’m way better at spelling out what I mean in writing than dealing with potential conflict face to face.
I’ve had a hard time running over Discord without video. I’ve done it, but it’s exhausting for me because I can’t see facial expressions, so I don’t get any feedback that I can read, so as soon as I hear dead air, I worry that nobody cares about the session and they are all checking out.
I think player homework, in general, would be a good topic. What’s reasonable, how willing should people be to do it, what does it bring to the table?
Player homework would be an awesome topic.
Standard player feedback (from both DM & players) in the last group I played with was with a gentle, patient; “Learn your character dude.”
Usually uttered after a player struggled to figure out what their character’s will save was, or when their 5th level cleric had to be reminded that they could attempt to turn the skeletons.
This would inevitably be followed up in later sessions with a chorus of:
Learn your f%&#ing character dude!*
As DM my feedback is usually around Alignment/In game consequences:
“So, your Chaotic Good character wants to charm the goblin tribe and use them as raiders on the town, all because one of the town guards said you could not tie your charmed basilisk to the hitching post in front of the tavern while you all went in for drinks?
Your Chaotic Good wizard wants to do this?
Oh, and I forgot - Bob the Paladin suggests you capture all the townsfolk and sell them to the orc slavers after the raids have broken their spirit?
Is that the plan??”
I usually have an at the table discussion about consequences before gods start stripping powers from clerics/paladins/rangers, allies start looking at them funny, and henchmen start to get “lost” while off on errands.
It always seems to shock wizards with aligned familiars (for example a Chaotic Good Pseudo-dragon) who mouth off when said wizards start go evil.
So yeah - feedback from DM to players is not an unfamiliar topic for me.
I also upvote the player Homework topic. I think though it sort of goes back to session zero / table stakes. How much “work” do you expect your players to do between sessions. Some people have challenging schedules and they just want to show up at game night play their character and not think about it until next session.
I ran a campaign where in between sessions I wanted the players to do downtime activities, discuss their next steps, and pursue the rumors I put out. I wanted this to occur via Discord. It fell pretty flat as the players while they wanted to play game night didn’t universally want to do that work between sessions. One even commented “This feels like homework”. I adjusted my strategy after that to a campaign that fit more their style. I still want to run that style of game one day…
I have had a few experiences where players pleaded with me to work on the campaign between sessions. We all figured it would help to create a more immersive and rich world for the characters. But just as @Eric_Salzwedel stated, most were gung-ho about it in the beginning and the excitement faded fast. Maybe I was doing it wrong or maybe I wasn’t clear about how it was going to work. This idea came up recently for my Star Wars campaign and I’m hesitant about doing it. I even created a Discord server for the game to keep it organized instead of using a group text. Two weeks have gone by and still 2 of the 5 players have not accepted the invite.
Maybe they feel it’s too much work or are too busy. It’s hard to believe those statements considering I know how often they are posting and reposting to twitter and facebook or the hours they have logged on their latest video game. I’m not trying to bitch about it, but it’s the players coming to ME for more content. I guess this is where we get back to Serious or Dedicated. They are definitely dedicated to the game sessions. They show up, know their characters, and level them up when necessary before the next session.
I am open for any suggestions on how to get campaign participation for the between session downtime. I’m also prepared for a slap in the face wake up call from the BSer’s saying that most players only really want immersion at the table and enjoy that there is a start and end time to the game each day.
Sorry, needed to get that out.
Feelin Good about being Serious and Dedicated
Heh. After my session zero yesterday, I literally assigned the players homework. 4-5 questions each based on things we learned about the PCs and the setting during the session. I think I’m lucky, because 24 hours later two of them have already done their thing, the others will in the near future, and one of them came at me with some additional questions. Engagement’s fun…
On the broader topic of player feedback, which I’m late to as I’ve been neglecting the forums, I really think it’s a blind spot for many of us. It’s =incredibly= hard to offer unsolicited advice to someone, but when one player makes a point of asking for feedback, many times others will follow. So BSers just have to lead the way!
Love the idea of a party tension meter. Gonna have to look that up and find a way to bring it to my table when the time comes.
I’ve been toying around (in my head, nothing in practise yet) with running a slasher horror game using a small hourglass that’s roughly 2-3 minutes. When the tension’s on, each player has to narrate how they enter a room and interact with it before the killer bursts in and tries to slaughter them. If the sand is done before you finish, your character does. The catch is the next player has to work with the remaining sand in the hourglass, meaning turns will inevitably start speeding up if everyone tries to max out their time. Knowing your character’s fate remains in how you make best use of your time without killing another character if you screw them out of their time… it just feels like either a sure fire way to ramp up tension or a nice idea on paper.
I like that idea! That would be tense!
I am running a game for first-time players. And I have been a little concerned because they take so long to decide what they want to do each time, and I know it’s because they are new. I have wanted to find a way to speed it up without making them feel bad. Thank you for solving this problem for me, I know this will work because during a couple of times when the battle gets really intense they seem to have the most fun.
Years and years ago, before we kept track of time, I got into a discussion with a player about how much could be accomplished with free actions in a single turn. He felt there were too many limitations on what players could do outside of combat and wanted to be one of those players hopped up on Sugar Smacks and cocaine. “In 30 seconds, you can enter a room, search it throughly for treasure, talk with others, and crack open a chest,” he said firmly.
So I asked him to go to the kitchen (in the next room of my house) and fetch me a drink. In a can, no pouring or prepping anything required. And I timed him. He came back in something like 34 seconds.
“That took you a whole turn AND you didn’t even make it back in time to finish your turn with the drink in my hand,” I rebutted. “So it took you a whole turn to enter a room (without a door, I might add), open the fridge (a chest), grab an item, and return here. And you have to wait until next turn to give it to me. Are you sure about doing more things on a single turn?”
It was an eye opener for all of us and it started with player feedback. I mean, it was more whining than feedback, but it was a point of feedback brought forth by a player. Because of that, we realized we were being a little too loose with the interpretation of free actions and started putting a cap on it.
The reason why I bring this up is that I’ve gone years thinking of this as a moment where I, the almighty GM, put a player in their place. In hindsight, this moment has altered how I run nearly all RPGs with regards to balancing player accomplishments. Making sure everyone is doing an equal amount of deeds and accomplishments per turn, even if the game doesn’t tightly manage action types or anything to that effect. It just goes to show you player feedback can have an amazing ripple effect on your GMing style… for the better.
Oh, but I dumped that player in like the next session. Turns out he was bad mouthing me to the other players outside of the game about how I didn’t know what I was doing, he could do a better job, we’re cool, we’re badasses, blah blah blah. Sooooo remember kids… player feedback is when you bring it up to the GM’s face and not behind their back like a rogue with severe backstabbing compulsions.
I too have an issue with players “under the influence”, but in my case it’s wacky tabacky.
I find that my players tend to get lethargic and have trouble following the plot or engaging with the world if they’re stoned. While it might make the game more enjoyable for them, it makes it absolutely infuriating to me as a GM who is trying to get them to bite on plot hooks or engage with each other and not forget what they were supposed to be doing.
It’s hard to sit down with people who smoke every day, as a person who doesn’t engage in it, and ask them not to without feeling like the uncool killjoy.
In my experience, the everyday smokers can handle their high and sometimes even tend to do so for medical reasons (such as myself). For us, it takes away the distracting pain and allows us to focus or at least relax and enjoy ourselves. The “weekenders” are the tricky ones - they’re like hosting a kegger at a dog show. Somebody didn’t think this through.
I know these people pretty well and none of them are toking because they have chronic pain. I’d say they’re doing it out of habit more than anything. You’d think that habitual smokers would “handle their high”, but that’s not what I found. Maybe it’s more noticeable to a sober outside viewer.
Back when I used to run with them in person it was extra pronounced because we’d begin the session and everyone would be alert and on the ball, but as the session progressed and the THC began to kick in (especially if there was a mid-session smoke break) the players became less engaged and more meandering.
Again, it was just frustrating because I wanted to tell them that I didn’t want to run for them while they were high, but I also didn’t want to lose my group by becoming Ronald Reagan.
If it’s a “performance” issue, I’d say that’s valid enough to mention it. You’re not being a prude, you’re noticing that they’re voluntarily slipping as players by having a smoke. It changes the momentum of the game and it’s because of something they’re choosing to do.
Not that it’s as easy and comfortable to say in person… but you’re well within your rights as the GM, in my opinion.