Today I just wanted to share something I have been thinking about since playing a couple sessions of Monster of the Week: the problems that may arise when you finally get to sit on the player's side of the table for a change. To start, I have managed to play in roughly 5-6 games in the past 5 years or so. To put that in even more perspective, at least 2 of those were just two hour con games, and any others I am forgetting were too. Other than that I have been able to take a short lapse from GMing to play in Glorantha, the world of Shadow Run, a 4E D&D game, and Monster of the Week.
Now, I have written about being a DM that gets to play and how to go about carefully not stepping on the new DM's toes, but also being open to help. But what I didn't realize, or internalize at least, were the other problems that could arise. That original thought was based on the idea of switching seats, mostly, though I do mention the new DM/GM choosing something they are familiar with. That may be a setting or a system, or perhaps both, to aid them in running the show.
But such things may not always be the case. In fact, the game could be completely new to everyone and you could have no suggestions when problems of any kind arise. Here we get closer to the possibility of accidentally stepping into dangerous territory. When you are a GM most of the time you get used to arbitrating and facilitating the game, the mechanics, and the situations. When you are the player you have to stand by. As a GM player you at least have a grasp on things and can be called upon in times of need or suggest where to find a point the new GM wishes to look up.
In some situations, such as I was in with Monster of the Week, you are once again just a simple player. You don't really know the rules or what to expect from decisions. You don't know how things will work, or even how you expect them to work. Instead, you hope that things run smoothly and your dice don't screw you over. The latter was something that happened to me a lot during session 2. A lot. Session 1 went very well. Session 2 involved a lot of tension and not a small amount came from me.
You see, we added a 5th player. While not new to us playing games in general, it was a wrench in that natural flow we had as a group in the first session. Combine that with it being my second session in a greater-than-2-hour adventure, and the first of such in two years. Combine that with a lot of bad rolls and bad timing. I got frustrated quite a bit, feeling as though I was being hindered in what I wanted to do in more ways that just bad luck. Not on purpose mind you, but nevertheless it was rough. Looking back its easy to see why, and clear that many things combined to make the session especially hard on my high hopes. So here I am to share some of the ideas I have had since about helping to avoid such things at your tables.
First off, as a normally-GM do not get your hopes too high. You may, no you will, have bad runs at the table. Back luck, bad rolls, poorly timed decisions. We all do, it doesn't matter how many years of GMing you have under your belt, just try not to let it get to you. You make it harder on the new GM when you do that. Of course other things may seem more able to be controlled and blamable but that's just the virtue of hindsight.
In order to help make things easier on new GMs and in order to mitigate table frustration, be careful in how you go about things. When picking up the new game figure out if its a good idea to pick up a brand new game. I'd say it is never a bad idea, but be careful. I think one of the major stressors in that session was adding a whole other player so abruptly to this new game. Part way through the adventure, second session in, second session any of us had with rules. In the end that is, plain and simple, a stressor. Adding a new player into any game where there is already a good meshing can have pretty big repercussions. Don't get me wrong I don't want you to avoid it, just be aware of it, no matter what side of the table your on. Help the GM and other players make that new meshing work.
Another way to make things much easier on the group is for the new GM to be familiar with something about the game. The more familiar the GM is with the world or the mechanics, especially when the players are not, the better. For the freshest GMs, running a world or setting where the players can hold no real assumptions is great because being right or wrong about those can be a problem. Sometimes that problem is on a personal level and other times a group level.
Additionally smaller groups work the best when in a new situation. There is less to mitigate and less to track, making things easier for players and GMs alike. The less thought processes spent on information overload the easier new system mechanics can be handled. This is especially true for systems the GM is not used to since none of those mechanics have yet become second nature. When you don't have smaller groups be careful about group dynamic. This is true whether the GM is new or a veteran and regardless of how long you have been playing the campaign. Make sure the party all knows each others assumed "roles". Expecting something from a character and getting something completely different could lead to tensions and even though it may not be disastrous among the players, it could lead to TPKs.
Finally, remember when you need to that the game you are playing is NOT the game you are used to. Most of us playing Monster of the Week were thinking in terms of D&D. The paradigm shift to something so different lead to some great interactions and game play, but was also one of the roots to the tensions formed. Remind yourself before and during the game that you cannot expect the same things as normal when you deviate like we did.
And talk about it after sessions too. All of the things that have happened our group has talked about outside of the game. We have discussed problems, the cause, the potential solutions. The gaming table is not a place for grudges or out of character stubbornness. Everyone is there to have fun and sometimes there is a learning curve to making sure that happens. Remember it is no one person's responsibility either. Just as when you expect the PCs to help you help them when you run a game, you should help the GM help you and your friends when you play in one.