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So I've been running a game of Shadowrun over the internet for the past few weeks online, and I've had a hectic personal schedule, so I haven't been able to do lengthy sessions. I've got a player who wants to leave the campaign (or at least has talked about this to the other players-I haven't received any word from him about this, but I trust the guy who talked to me about it).

Long story short, he wasn't happy with the way the game was going, and after the result of a few weird rolls (which I rolled hidden, instead of open), he became convinced that I was not only railroading, but running a rather powerful NPC intentionally to mess with the party. However, instead of communicating this to me, he communicates to my other players.

Now, this wouldn't be such a huge deal, but the other players want to sacrifice said player's old character and give the remaining (black magic tradition) mage a boost to his casting ability to make up for the loss of a player.

I would have no qualm with this-it's dark, but fits in with the general mood of the campaign, plus it emphasizes the moral ambiguity of the group-except for the fact that I had no contact with the player himself, and I only see him online on rare occasions so I haven't had time to get first-hand confirmation myself.

Are there any tips for:

  • Trying to mediate with the player. I recognize that he may not want to play in my campaign anymore, but I'd like to at the very least get some meaningful feedback to improve my GM'ing.
  • Confirming that the player actually wants to leave for good, and ask if he cares about what happens to his character (as well as telling him explicitly what will happen), before letting it happen, since obviously his character will not survive if he decides to return later.
  • Dealing with the fact that my group knows each other, while I only know one of the players from a past game, in particular ways to prevent losing the rest of my players; essentially, "How do I make sure that my group doesn't split up when a player leaves?".

We're still rather early into the plot, so the loss of a character doesn't really change anything (and even then I've been of the mindset that the world is the world, without worrying much about adjusting difficulty for players' characters, so long as I can fudge the right dice when push comes to shove).

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3 Answers 3

up vote 20 down vote accepted

This always seems to be the answer, but...

Talk to the player first.

I'm assuming you have some means of contacting your players outside your normal game time, if only to set up game or let each other know of cancellations or emergencies. Send your player a message, something along the lines of "Hey, I've noticed that you seem dissatisfied at game lately. Is there something going on you're not happy with? I want to make sure our game is fun for all of us, so please let me know if you have any concerns."

See how he responds to that. If he responds with a list of concerns, use those as a starting point. If they're things you can address, try to do so. If you think his problems are irreconcilable with your game and/or the other players, then say that, politely, and suggest that he might want to look for a different game to join.

If his response is neutral or brushes you off (such as "nothing's wrong, see you next game"), then you can let it go for a session or two. See how he behaves, and whether he raises the issue himself.

Ask another player to initiate communication

If you're not comfortable approaching the problem player directly (or don't have the means to do so), you can speak again with the person who told you this player wants to leave. It sounds like the go-between is friendly with him, so you can ask the go-between to, next time the player brings up the issue of wanting to leave the campaign, tell him to talk to you about it.

Don't use the go-between to actually convey messages like "I heard you want to leave, what did I do wrong?". That kind of thing usually gets lost in communication, and it puts the second player in an awkward spot. Just ask him to pass on that you're open to hearing your players' concerns and that the player is welcome to talk to you if he has a problem.

Don't jump the gun

Either way, don't rely on hearsay to drop a character and his player from the party. Don't allow the other players to sacrifice this guy's character unless you have his explicit buy-in (or if it comes up naturally in-game and the player himself is all for it). Don't assume that he meant what he said about wanting to drop, either - I've had players complain about my game in moments of frustration, but when I ask them if there's something I can do better, they reassure me they're having fun and were just briefly frustrated.

TL;DR: Communication is your friend!

Talk to the player. Follow his lead, and don't make assumptions based on what other people are telling you. If you handle this issue with grace and good will, then it's highly unlikely the other players will see a reason to stop playing a game they enjoy just because their friend did.

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+1 very good answer. –  LitheOhm Apr 25 '13 at 1:15
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One more point that should be stressed: even if the player does leave the group, try to get his explicit buy-in to have his character sacrificed. Many players will probably like the concept, a dramatic farewell to the game, but not all. I've seen similar situations - PCs of former members dying to get them out of the way, narratively speaking - turn into ugly situations in real life, with existing tensions and dramas between players suddenly brought to the surface, with various accusations and recriminations of "you never really wanted me to play with you" and so forth.

People get attached to their characters, even if they stop playing them. Don't kill the character off too lightly, and if possible - with the permission of the original player.

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I've already sent a message to the player asking for his explicit permission. I consider this to be one of the core tenets of killing a player's character (I run typically low-lethality campaigns). –  Kyle Willey Apr 25 '13 at 5:52
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Talk to him in person or, failing that, send him a well written email.

You definitely want to approach this delicately and with as much respect as you can communicate towards the player in question. Mention that you feel you don't get to communicate with all the players as much as you would like to and then dive into talking about what issues he might have with the direction of the campaign and if there's anything you and the party as a whole can do to help reconcile him to both what happened and the ongoing game.

You may want to consider making dice rolls public if he stays as a player. This does make things more gamey, but at the same time can alleviate player fears about railroads, fudged rolls, and killer DM.

If he still wants to leave the group talk about the group intentions as you stated and see if he is truly interested. I would also offer his character some kind of heroic/badass sendoff within the story so that he has options if he's not interested in the ritual sacrifice that sounds more like an opportunistic power grab from the other players than a real sendoff.

Lastly, you communicate to everyone else that pen and paper gaming is collaborative so if people have issues with the campaign direction and the mechanics that they should air them with everyone. Likewise what you can take away is to try to announce this at the start of an game with so that players are advised ahead of time to talk to you.

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Side note: This is an online group, so the only way to talk to him "in person" is through Skype, though as an entirely online group that probably doesn't carry the same stigma (unless he seriously expects me to take a six-hour flight to Florida, in which case I think there's a mite too much of an unrealistic expectation there). –  Kyle Willey Apr 24 '13 at 20:32
    
No, that makes sense. Yeah go for a private skype conversation if possible or failing that, a well written and polite email. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Apr 25 '13 at 13:15
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