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My rpg group is generally very good about 'playing well with others' and most of us lean towards story-gaming more than anything else. We have one member, though, who tends to be a pretty prototypical powergamer--needs to win every encounter, always has to be the most important character in the scene, etc, and will argue or dice-fudge until it's so. Since our campaign was ending and the old GM wanted to go back to being a PC for a while anyway, we came up with the clever idea to ask the powergamer to GM, on the grounds that he wouldn't have the same problems if he didn't 'own' a character.

Unfortunately, it turns out you can powergame as a GM. For example; In one of the first couple of sessions of an SR4 campaign, we ran up against a NPC with a monofilament whip who the GM later told us had initiative 22 and 3 initiative passes--a tall order for characters much more advanced than ours were at the time. The NPC naturally started to clean the floor with us (also no matter how well we rolled, we * cough * inexplicably always failed) until the players were becoming visibly irritated and we were on the verge of a TPK. At which point the NPC mysteriously stopped rolling well and suddenly mediocre rolls were enough to hit him.

All well and good--I understand that GMs sometimes slip up and accidentally overpower an encounter then have to fudge it, and that's cool. Also that sometimes encounters really are very hard, and characters do die, and that's part of the game. Except this has been the model for nearly all subsequent encounters (or tasks) in the campaign. Whether it's getting past a low-level bouncer or a corporate assassin, in the characters' area of expertise or completely new to them, the characters will fail miserably on anything but a critical success right up until the players become annoyed, at which point one or two successes on a roll are all that's needed to guarantee victory.

A couple of us have mentioned our frustrations to the GM privately, but he seems to take us asking him to balance encounters more as us requesting the game to be easier, whereas at the moment the game is both annoyingly difficult and annoyingly easy; you can never win right up until you can't lose.

Does anyone have any concrete things we could gently suggest to the GM that would allay these problems? Or are there things we could be doing as players to discourage this?

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Have you tried to outsmart the GM? PGs tend to think only in terms of stats. Avoid all encounters or confrontations. Worst case scenario: ditch the player. –  Deathbreath Mar 13 '12 at 22:00
Do you know if he does it to create "tension" or if he just overestimates the group? –  malexmave Mar 13 '12 at 22:07
Sometimes rule thumping helps. I.e., the door and lock are described and you decide to shoot it instead of picking the lock. If the wooden door is suddenly just veneer over adamantium, public shaming is appropriate. –  Deathbreath Mar 13 '12 at 22:10
Quite frankly, point him at this Q&A. If he doesn't see the error of his ways, then simply find someone else to GM. It's harsh, but if people aren't enjoying the game, or are getting excessively frustrated by combats, something has to change. –  Mark Booth Mar 25 '12 at 13:16
Late comment, but you might also want to pick another game than Shadowrun, where there is no real guideline about how to balance an encounter. –  Cristol.GdM Dec 2 '12 at 16:25

3 Answers 3

up vote 28 down vote accepted

The goal of the tactics below is to inform the GM what behaviours produce a good enjoyable game for all (point 2), what behaviours they should adjust (point 3), as well as (point 1) to try to make them aware of the fact that they have a different role at the table as the GM (as judge, as arbiter of fair, and as the interpreter and controller or rules) in addition to the role they had as a player (to have fun, to try to not ruin the fun of others)

It's unclear from the description if this person is new to GMing or not. This may be a case of the person GMing in the only manner they know how to play. This will be easier if that is the case, but even if not, my approach in this scenario is to use all of the following:

1) "Catch him in the act" ... When an attack roll that used to miss now hits, ask why. Accept the answer, but make sure to question every time. The idea here is to make the GM know that they are expected to play by rules (for the purpose of asking that the GM follow rules, what actual rules doesn't matter, just that they need to play by some rules).

2) Reinforcing (positive) Feedback ... When there is an encounter that runs right, talk it up. Say how fun it was. Say how tense it was. Point out swings that appear to happen naturally and how they produce story. The goal here is obvious - to encourage more of the good stuff.

3) Adjusting Feedback ... (which it sounds like you are at least attempting) When things are not right, tell the GM - after the fact is fine - you're not out to embarrass or insult, but to get the GM to be better next session - but make sure to say both why the encounter was not as fun as it could have been (the on-the-fly adjustments made it feel like deus ex machina, rather than real tension, with a real chance of failure) AND most importantly, what would have made it better (if the uber-whip-dude had been a little less tough, the start of the fight would have been easier, but the end of the fight would have been a tense touch and go affair)

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I particularly like #2, as the carrot is often more effective than the stick, and may actually get this player to understand that it's not about him winning, it's about everyone winning by having a fun game. –  Erik Schmidt Mar 14 '12 at 2:51
@ErikSchmidt - yeah, the idea is that you want to help the person learn how to GM in a way that is fun for everyone. Just as much as they need to know what does not work, they need to know what does, and what better way to encourage "good" behavior, than to reward it. –  Simon Withers Mar 14 '12 at 3:07
Thanks! I'm still worried about how to demonstrate what the problems are, as he seems to have trouble understanding, but I think having more positive feedback might help by contrast. –  RSid Mar 14 '12 at 19:54

There's no shame in asking for an easier encounter - not everyone wants to play on Super-Extremely-Deadly mode, after all. (And perhaps Mr. GM is legitimately having trouble balancing his encounters - easy to do).

Get him to dial the encounters down to "Easy mode" (if you can get him to admit that he's fudging the encounters, the "can't lose" level he's going to now). Then, over a few sessions, walk him up the difficulty ramp until it's where the group is comfortable. Lots of feedback and positive reinforcement - the GM should get to share in the glory, after all.

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Do bring it up with the GM in an assertive manner. Try to get to the bottom of why he feels that he needs to win all the time. Explain that it lessen the fun for everyone else but that you want to work it out. Better to do this as a one to one otherwise, he may feel cornered. Be honest and up front but not aggressive or passive. Assertiveness at Work: A Practical Guide to Handling Awkward Situations by Ken Back and Kate Back comes highly recommended for this kind of situations.

If this fails, find better friends. Life is too short. Harsh I know.

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