Table Reflection: Dealing With Frustration

As a Game Master or player, you’ll likely encounter a lot of issues when it comes to the actual roleplaying experience. Obviously, there are the times when the mechanics come out against you, but there are also times when you run directly into an issue with other players, the GM, or the story as it has unfolded. In order to promote a great table environment, there are some things you should consider that will greatly improve the gaming experience of not only yourself but also everyone around you.

First, don’t overreach. Know where your authority at the table is. Don’t mess with people’s characters for no good reason. This is the concept of “don’t touch other people’s things” applied to a tabletop game. There are times when it’s appropriate to do certain things, but don’t say something like “your character attacks the goblin”. Make suggestions instead of demands, explain why you think something should happen, and let the dice be an arbitrator in the case of dispute-that’s what they’re there for. Recognizing your appropriate sphere of control will make things easier for you and prevent your frustrations becoming others’ frustrations. If you’re the GM, it’s important to consider the investment that players have in their characters; don’t ruin them unless the players are okay with it or have done something incredibly stupid (like trying to run through a clearly marked minefield).

One of the things that I find helpful is to put off voicing frustration until it can be managed and converted to a clear statement. For instance, if you’re a player stating “I feel that the challenges presented to our characters are too difficult, and I think that forcing the narrative to conform to our horrible luck with the dice is killing the feel of the game.” is much better than saying “I can’t believe I rolled that!”, especially since frustrations voiced by one player often can amplify the frustrations of another, turning a legitimate grievance into an overbearing grudge. Likewise, voice it to an appropriate audience. If you’re a GM and a player does something that annoys you, tell them, instead of keeping it pent up or telling the other players. If you’re a player, talk to the GM about your concerns about the game, unless they’re about a player in which case the concerns should be presented to the other player first.

One thing that I’ve seen a lot of is a mix of in-character and out-of-character confusion with regards to this. It’s totally okay for one character to call another out on an action, but GM’s and players should avoid calling out a player for how they played their character, especially if it’s a mismatch between the perceived morality of the character. Some games have mechanics for this, and if it becomes a major issue one may need to be adopted.

Also, when something irritating comes up remember to give it some consideration. Nobody likes having an action they take fail, but consider a number of factors. If you succeed a portion of the time, it may be that you are pushing your character beyond their limits, but if you consistently and persistently have issues it’s something to discuss, as you may be trying to go against an established narrative. As a GM be sure to weigh the atmosphere of the table. If someone fails a lot based on poor luck, you may want to fudge a roll and give them a break, in order to prevent them from having to deal with the issues of constantly feeling targeted by failure. Alternatively, give them a successful failure; they may have made a lot of noise by accidentally dislodging a stone, but it killed a bandit chief.

Finally, sometimes you just have to walk away from a game. Don’t do this lightly, it’s something that will have a ripple effect and being seen to leave without apparent cause will impact your reputation as well as that of the GM in the eyes of the other players. Always contact the GM first, as not only will they usually have an interest in finding a replacement player but they’ll also want to get a feel for why you’re leaving. You also need to consider that most GM’s legitimately want everyone to have the best possible time; you may not fit the group right, or the GM may have bungled his cards. Alternatively, you may have done something that ran counter-narrative, or the GM may be crippling your character out of fears that they’re overpowered and will ruin the experience for other players. Assume reasons other than malice before getting worked up about something.

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