Gamemaster’s Guidepost: Highway to the Danger Zone

Running roleplaying games as a GM can be very rewarding. It can also sap your patience to the point of GM burnout. A state to be avoided at all costs. But how do you avoid that? Here’s a few warning signs I’ve learned (the hard way) to be on the lookout for.

Player Despondency

Maybe they are just down about the current session or still down about the last one, but whenever your players are quiet (and that’s not normal for them) and more reserved than normal something is wrong. Maybe they’re upset about their involvement in the campaign or perhaps the dice gods were cruel, but whatever the reason it’s your job as the GM to try and find out what’s wrong and reinvolve them.

Player Distraction

A player who is distracted can result in the whole ecosystem of your table being thrown off. Maybe they are playing a game on their cellphone or laptop. Maybe they’re reading a book. Maybe they are just pigging out on pizza and Mountain Dew. Whatever it is they are doing it’s either a) they are usually like that; b) they are bored. Boredom is weird in roleplaying games because the character  can be involved, but the player can be bored. Nothing spreads worse than boredom at a table. Nip it in the bud early. Ask your player some relevant question on his character stats or involve him directly in the scene at hand “And then comes in Snake! Now you guys are trying to negotiate your way out of New York with Plissken being treated as the negotiator.”

Player Digression

“I’m getting better!” is almost always followed by “No you’re not, you’ll be stone dead in a moment.” or some variation thereof. Monty Python is like catnip for nerds. As soon as someone quotes it, someone else will follow it. Then someone will want to tell you about their 15th paladin and that time they used a rod of lordly might. And then how that one time . . . and so on. It can’t be helped. Player tangency is just something that happens and roleplaying games are a social activity. The best you can do is draw attention to the tangency and try to get back on track. GMs should be somewhat evenhanded here – let them gab on for a few minutes each and then get back to the gaming.

Picking Over the Bones

Those are the big three I’ve seen. I’m sure I’m missing a few. What sorts of things do you lookout for in your players when you game? Players, is there anything you really dislike in your other players (or GM – but that’s a whole other post). Tell me! I want to know.

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