Why Players Get Bored With Our GMing (But Might Be Afraid To Tell Us)
Why Players Get Bored With Our GMing (But Might Be Afraid To Tell Us)
As a player who gets bored easily (thus I am a forever-GM :), here are three reasons based on my experiences why a GM can lose player attention and participation in a game. Hopefully these tips help keep your table engaged.
1. The Game Seems Random
I’m a Thinker type player. I like puzzles most, but not the funhouse dungeon kind, though those are entertaining once in awhile.
The kind of puzzles that appeal to players like me are:
Laws, customs, geography, languages, and other setting details provide interesting constraints. These details offer wonderful puzzles on how to get the most out of restricted resources or what the best approach might be given current in-game circumstances.
Character Sheet Puzzles
I’m the kind of nut who actually uses their 10 foot pole and other starting equipment repeatedly to solve problems with. So I scan my character sheet a lot looking for options between turns. I am constantly asking, What can my character do to help in the current situation?
While I struggle to stay awake reading rules, I enjoy researching rules and learning a game via gameplay. I need a reason to learn a rule and not just read them for osmosis. So any game situations that could be tackled via skills, equipment, and game mechanics are fun.
As a thinker and puzzle nerd, I need consistency in the game. If a GM handwaves the rules in situations where I was relying on them as puzzle pieces, for example, then my problem solving joy turns to gaming frustration because it’s like trying to run in shifting sand.
If the game world isn’t consistent, then it’s a similar situation. To get out of dilemmas, make the best choices, and think about possibilities, what are the constants players can rely on?
Also, if a character does not change over time, it becomes a repetitive and boring basic tool set.
- Add details to the campaign setting that limit characters, actions, or gameplay in numerous and interesting ways.
- Add to character sheets often – new equipment and items, new contacts and relationships, and buffing options such as through skill enhancements.
- Use NPCs as puzzle pieces – innocent bystanders, witnesses, victims, employers with conditions, and so on.
- Keep details consistent so players can noodle on options and ideas with stable constraints, traits, or functionality.
- Handwaving key rules if at all possible. If the rules say a character with a 16 Physical score can jump 10 + Skill in feet, players rely on that information to make good decisions with.
- Not taking good notes. Best case is that players will take notes for you. This relieves you of the duty. It’ll give you more details than if doing it yourself. And you’ll learn what details players missed. Else, take light notes during sessions and do a brain dump within 24 hours afterwards.
- Handing out only monetary treasure. Watch player energy rise when they gleefully wield some minor utility trinket versus getting a chest full of coins. It’s the child playing with the cardboard box instead of the toy at Christmas problem, hehe.
2. Poor Communication
Bad communication is a silent killer of campaigns. Or, if table flipping and yelling are involved, then it’s not so silent.
In a recent game, I moved my character around in the VTT to see what the GM was describing. The module they were using had boxed text that described a large area, but dynamic lighting meant I could only see a little bit of the scene. When I moved my token, the GM leapt on that and ambushed us, causing a near TPK.
My teammates were very unhappy with me. I was very unhappy with the GM.
A little communication goes a long way. For example, I should have asked the GM in advance if I could move my token so I could see the area being described. My fault. Subtle communication gaffes can make our sessions go awry without anyone realizing the root cause.
- Be a fan of the players. Listen as much as possible to detect frustration or issues. Confirm bad decisions – at least the first time – because the decision might be based on a premise you aren’t thinking about.
- Understand communication is two ways. Put in the energy to see how your words and actions affect others – I struggled with this for years by being too direct and using certain voice tones at work until I was coached on it.
- Be prepared to translate between players, or between yourself and a player. For example, ask questions instead of repeating yourself louder, and ask for clarification or ask Why to better empathize.
- Assuming bad behavior or bad decisions come from a bad place. My teammates thought I was going out and exploring on my own, triggering the ambush which TPK’d us.
- Being pressured to think fast or to react instead of respond. It’s ok to pause, step out of character, and review potentially bad communication or situations with the group. “Is this really what you’re intending here, Johnn you jackass?”
- Talking all the time. This might mean coaching players to do the same. I have been *that guy* who cracked jokes all the time and let my mouth run off, preventing others from getting words in. I’ve learned to be generous with my mute button, and as GMs we always learn more by listening than from talking.
3. Repetition Without Purpose
I pulled the cord and ejected hard out of a campaign that ran meaningless combats back-to-back-to-back.
RPGs don’t have the best combat systems. If I want pure combat for its own sake I’ll play a wargame or board game optimized for that type of play.
This goes double when combat grinds and we lose hours of precious session time and don’t gain much by way of advancing the plot, getting interesting puzzles to solve, roleplaying with NPCs, or learning more about the world through play instead of narrative.
This is ironic, because I do love combat in D&D type games as a GM. And combats offer rich opportunities for storytelling (hello life and death drama!), tactical problem solving, and roleplaying with foes.
- Roleplay foes in combats.
- Rather than grinding to zero hit points, switch to combat missions.
- Design encounters that offer variety, tickle different character sheet parts, and reward teamwork.
- Meaningless encounters that take up a lot of game time. Fifteen minutes roleplaying aggressive haggling in town? No problem. One hour of that? No thanks. A funhouse combat once in awhile? Awesome. Two in a row killing half the session? I’m out.
- Too much random stuff without hooks or ties to the campaign or setting.
- Repetition unless it’s a clever GM tactic.
It’s Your Turn
Thanks for listening to how puzzle type players enjoy the game. If you are indeed plagued with a thinker, problem solver, and puzzler type player like me, run away! 🙂
A sure sign you’ve got one on your hands is they choose characters with a lot of skills, spells, or other options. We use these as puzzle pieces to solve stuff – the more pieces, the better!
Consider these ways to help prevent boredom at the table:
- Details matter. Record and keep them consistent.
- Invest precious energy into listening, observing, and communicating.
- Change things up with encounters, rewards, and gameplay modes.
What do you do when your players get bored? How do you spot this when it happens? Hit reply and let me know.