We continue with the third topic in this discussion on the life stages of a RPG gaming group that borrows heavily on the work place team development concept.
When the storm becomes unbearable there are two choices opened to a RPG gaming group, have the game crash and die or go into…
- Your group develops a Social Contract.
- The DM starts jotting down what works and what doesn’t in his game and adjusts his adventures accordingly.
- The players discuss the game between sessions and come up with shared objectives.
- The number of ‘bad’ games decreases noticeably.
- ‘Maybe the campaign is not doing so bad after all…’
If and when you get to this point, Norming has set in.
At some point, the team may enter the norming stage. Team members adjust their behavior to each other as they develop work habits that make teamwork seem more natural and fluid. Team members often work through this stage by agreeing on rules, values, professional behavior, shared methods, working tools and even taboos. During this phase, team members begin to trust each other. Motivation increases as the team gets more acquainted with the project.
The elaboration of social contract needs not be formal. It can be just a set of unwritten rules that have been discussed and that all members of the group agreed to.
In our case, our social contract is pretty informal and currently goes like this (It was never written down before):
Away from the table:
- We share our preferred gaming styles and game objectives at a campaign’s beginning.
- I will do an e-mail roll call on the Monday of our Bi-weekly (that’s twice a month right?) game week.
- People must report by Wednesday if they’ll show up or not so I can adjust the power level of encounters in my gaming prep.
- I will propose a synopsis of the upcoming game’s plotline at least 2 weeks in advance and ask for players feedback on the proposed scenario.
- Character re-engineering is allowed to adjust PCs to players needs.
At the table
- Limited off topic banter, and mild metagaming is tolerated
- Jokes and good natured ribbing is encouraged.
- If a rules issue comes up, we discuss it for less than 5 minutes. If we can’t agree, I make a ruling. If I feel the ruling is ill received, I randomly determines between my ruling and player’s expected outcome and we all agree to discuss it offline between games.
Supervisors of the team during this phase tend to be participative more than in the earlier stages. The team members can be expected to take more responsibility for making decisions and for their professional behavior.
At this stage the DM needs to move away from being a ‘boss’ and ‘referee ‘ and start acting as a team member. His goal should be to lead the players through fun adventures and intense emotions. Adversarial DMing needs to stop and be re-focused toward looking forward to the Player’s well-earned successes.
In fact, I’ll share one of my best management/DM secret just now. While it may appear that human beings crave instant gratification and easy challenges (that’s what a lot of managers think) this does not lead to long-term satisfaction.à
To truly achieve a level of deep satisfaction in his teammates, I believe that a true leader must give them tasks that bring them in positions of slight discomfort but with clear support on the leader’s part. I call this being put at the edge of your comfort level. Only there will the person spend significant effort and seek out the resources to complete the task. Then that person will return to a level of comfort by achieving confidence and success with the task. This is what brings job satisfaction.
In RPGs this needs to be achieved by placing your players in such situations such as:
- Challenging, dangerous and even borderline-lethal combats
- Slightly awkward social encounters with difficult moral choices (i.e. positive and negative consequences on either side of the fence)
- Challenging Puzzles and Investigations with multiple clues and avenues to explore.
As mentioned in the last post, the absolute worse player or DM is the uncompromising selfish one. Those are the ones that will scoff at the concept of a social contract or agree to it and disregard it. They are those who get bored easily and go around kicking doors with no regards to party safety or fun. They split up from the party at the drop of a hat. They hog the spotlight as much as they can. If they are crafty enough they sit real close to the DM to get attention more easily.
There’s also the Nightmare DMs we’ve had (or have been in the past) that seemed to have stopped reading all GM advice at the “You are the boss and god of your game” chapter. They run the game like it was their personnal kingdom, with NPCs stealing the show and PCs forced to wallow in mud 99% of game time.
I think that only way to make them ‘functional’ in a group is to meet with that person one on one and share with them your concerns in direct unveiled terms:
- To DM: I am not having fun in your game because…
- To player: I’m concerned with the effect your behavior in our game has on our level of fun..
If they get to acknowledge their responsibility, there’s hope. If not, well there’s really only one solution. Inform the player he can no longer play with the group or explain to the DM that you will no longer come to the game. Its extremely hard to do, I agree, but its the workable, long term solution.
Selfishness behavior does not resolve itself. Being assertive on how you feel about that player or DM does. (There ya go, a nice slightly uncomfortable task if there is ever one. Go on! You can do it!)
Once Norming is achieved and selfish players/DMs have been dealt with, I believe that the group should naturally migrate to the ultimate gaming experience: A performing RPG group.