Game Table Observations – Being Better GMs and Players

Lately, I have been giving a lot of thought to the idea of what constitutes a good gaming group and how members of that group can be better and more connected. We can all stand to be better people and more connected with those around us. And no I don’t mean through technology, but honest to goodness face to face contact. It could be something as simple as reading non-verbal cues or as complex as fundamentally disagreeing with others and working through those issues and remaining friends at the end of the discussion.

When we talk about gaming groups, I am referring explicitly to small groups, such as a group of roleplayers. Group dynamics and relationships at this level are more important than with larger groups where you can disengage with someone and find others to play games with (think game club). I play in several local and online RPG groups and I find I have a tendency to watch other groups are they are playing; sometimes at conventions or at local stores. Call it people watching! The following constitutes my general observations from all the groups I play with or have watched in the recent months. I am adjusting my own interactions with my players and groups based on these same observations.

Observation: Players are not given enough time in the spotlight to let their character take center stage.
Remedy: GMs really need to be aware of their players’ actions. Not the characters, but the players. Is any one player hogging the spotlight? Is anyone looking like they want to take the spotlight but cut off by other players? Your players are at your table to play a game and have fun. There is an expectation that you will, as the GM, allow them time in the spotlight so that their character can really be an integral part of the story. When one or more players appear to be getting more spotlight time than others, GMs need to be able to interject and promote the other players to step up and have their voices heard. This is one of those things that really should be discussed as a group up front before this happens in the game, but if it does happen, and it will, GMs need to be able to remedy the situation quickly!

Observation: GMs unable to read non-verbal cue from their players.
Remedy: A few things come to mind here. First, GMs need to ensure they have a connection with their players. If you’re running a game at a store or a convention this can be a challenge, but make every effort to get to know your players before you start. By doing so, it will help them in picking up on those non-verbal cues when their players are dissatisfied with the situation, scene, or even the game. Let’s face it, some players just won’t speak up when they are not happy. Second, GMs (all of us) need to understand the idea that just becasue we like game we’re running, maybe the players find they don’t. It could be mechanics of the game, the assembled group of players, or something else entirely. As GMs, we have to be able to pick up these subtle cues and makes changes ass needed.

Here’s a personal example, I am running Tomb of Annihilation which is a hex-crawl through the jungle. As designed, travel is an important element, but it is far to tedious and utterly boring. I could tell my players (online game) were getting frustrated with the tedious nature of it all and I remedied that by pre-writing little narrative snippets that encapsulate the day and we only stop for points of interest or random encounters that were pre-determined before the game began. The feedback I received thus far from my players is that the new approach is much better. Both in terms of avoiding the boring tedious nature of the hexcrawl, but also in keeping them engaged in the unfolding story that was getting lost previously.

Observation: General Dissatisfaction at the table.
Remedy: This one is everyone’s responsibility and applies to both GMs and players. If a player is unhappy, they need to be willing to tactfully address the situation, whether it be with another player or even the GM. We’re all there to have fun, right? If people aren’t having fun, the act of gaming becomes a burden, and people stop playing. Likewise, if the GM is unhappy for some reason, s/he needs to figure out why and address it. Chances are you have seen or experienced a dissatisfied GM and seem to poison the game. Let’s all remember that we all have different expectations and it’s okay if a ruleset, game group, or specific people don’t meet our individual expectations. We, as players, need to recognize this and tactfully address the situation or find another game or group to play with. As GMs, we also need to recognize this too and we should ask our players periodically for thier constructive feedback.

Observation: Games and groups are not very inclusive.
Remedy: Unfortunately, this is all too common and a real problem. Look around you the next time you go to a game store. If it’s anything like where I live, there is very little diversity and inclusion at most locations and specifically within the games held there. Many, by no means all, of the groups that play at local stores are not very inviting in the first place. There is a disperportionately low number of a groups that are shinning examples of welcomeness and inclusion. I fully appreciate the idea that we as people tend to gravitate towards others with similar interests and personalities, but there are other people out there that want to play too. To really address this situation, game stores need to take the lead. They need to make their stores welcome and inviting to all types of gamers. When this happens, we will surely see more inclusivity at game tables. For those that play outside of game stores, when you’re canvassing for new players, make your table open to everyone. You may just find some really great gamers out there and some new friends, I know I have!

My observations are by no means an all-inclusive list. What observations have you made at the table and what are your recommendations to remedy those situations? Comment below and share your thoughts.

~ Modoc

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. My observation is there are a lot of preachy blogs out there full of people that would rather try to “fix” other groups than run a great group themselves. Commentary is cheap. Action is complicated and hardly ever memorable. More broadly, the world doesn’t need “fixing.” You need to do better and show how you are being better. If your philosophy is objectively better you will win. If it is not, you will lose. Everyone doesn’t get a trophy.


    1. modoc31 says:


      Thank you for the insightful comments. You’re right, peopleneed to run great games for great groups, but far too many groups fail because of some of these observations and many others. Far too often people just don’t realize they are doing something that is not productive or harmful to the group.

      ~ Modoc


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