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When preparing for a new game (be it a one shot or a campaign) our party, yours truly included, often slips into a humorous mode. It's usually light-hearted fun, and most of us like it, but some, yours truly included again, find it distracting and disruptive for the mood, after a certain unspecified point. This point is not universal, though, it comes sooner for some and later for others. Also, this doesn't happen only when we meet in person: our preparatory emails usually fall victim to joking as well. It doesn't matter what we're about to play, either: the (introduction of our) most serious stories get as easily derailed as the lighter ones.

What's the best way, in your experience, to cut back on the pre-gaming humor (both live and in preparatory emailing etc) - without completely eradicating it? (Once again, I'm talking about the preparatory phase, mostly. Creating characters, inventing background stories and agreeing on setting details etc.) We'd just have to bring those "enough is enough" points closer to one another's: how should we do it?

I've found a related question which already has some good advice - How to deal with players not taking things seriously? -, but it's not the same problem. We (usually) do take things seriously once actual play begins. The trouble precedes that, which can be a real turn off for some, and the beginnings of our stories suffer for that.

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I don't think I fully understand. If the game isn't started, what's wrong with the humour? Is it delaying the start of the game? Does silliness slips into character stories or other parts of the game? People don't take the mood seriously after the game has started? –  Flamma Jun 20 '13 at 11:17
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Time boxing?... –  Sardathrion Jun 20 '13 at 12:13
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@Sardathrion Hmm, try and see if (certain elements of) agile methods can be adapted to gaming? Seems like an excellent idea! –  OpaCitiZen Jun 20 '13 at 12:30
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@OpaCitiZen I understand that. That's why I added the "slowly" adverb. Slowly to give time to settle the mood. Some drama series are shown after comical spaces, and this intro serves for settling the mood. As BESW suggested, the music can help catching the player's attention and create an immersion. Cutting the jokes out of the game seems a bit antisocial to me, but there's no problem if the players agree. –  Flamma Jun 20 '13 at 13:22
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I would say not a duplicate. The underlying causes appear to be entirely different, and because the other has the addition details of frequent interruptions much of the advice there is at least in part inapplicable. Some answers will overlap, yes, but not all, and some answers to this would be inapplicable to that. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 20 '13 at 14:57
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2 Answers 2

up vote 19 down vote accepted

I don't have much experience with play-by-email games, so these are probably less useful in that context, I'm afraid.

Don't be subtle.

For any of these strategies, tell the players straight up what you're doing and why. Solicit their opinions and ideas, and create space for feedback about the techniques once they're being used. This creates an atmosphere of trust and mutual accompaniment toward mutual goals, instead of a sense of manipulation and mistrust. The best social engineering is the kind where you enlist the targets as willing participants.

Start earlier.

Provide a time and space for the group to socialize, catch up on what happened that week, and get the giggles out before you try to do anything game-related. How much time this requires will depend on your group.

Provide transition cues.

Playing music during the pre-game socialization and then turning it off, or starting up game-specific music when it's time to settle down, can be very effective. Other techniques include having everyone wash their hands (no, really, it works!), moving from one room to another, saying a prayer, ringing a bell... you get the idea. Be creative and find something that suits the reality of your group.

Don't forget to transition out of the game at the end, too!

If necessary, impose gentle carrot-and-stick.

The nature of the reward and punishment will depend on the group, and this requires group buy-in or it'll seem arbitrary and mean-spirited. But if you can get it right, rewarding the group for staying on-task and gently reprimanding those who don't can be effective. But don't lay this down from on high as the GM; this needs to be implemented by the collective or they'll balk.

Remember that rewards and reprimands can be very simple: often simply having behavior called attention to provides the requisite pride or shame. Combine with the transition suggested above: it makes for clear demarcation regarding when the carrot/stick dynamic is or is not in effect.

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+1 Transition cues are a great way of doing things. It becomes a ritual that everyone follows. –  Phil Jun 20 '13 at 11:52
    
+1 for rituals. When I was a cub scout pack leader that's how we created the right atmosphere for telling tales from the Jungle Book. And the 8-10 y.o. boys suddenly fell silent and listened to the reader. (But that was a subtle strategy, for they didn't know what the ritual's aim was). –  Zachiel Jun 20 '13 at 12:21
    
Great tips, thank you. We've been trying/doing most of these (to a degree), but you've pinpointed an extra mile we could and should go here and there. (The idea I like most is to have a music for the pre-game socializing part itself, not just for the actual beginning. Turning that off and then starting the "here we go" cue could be a big help indeed.) –  OpaCitiZen Jun 20 '13 at 12:25
    
Useful tips, but rewarding or punishing things that happen out of game (and out of game time) seems a bit excessive to me. –  Flamma Jun 20 '13 at 13:26
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@Flamma I tried to make it clear that the carrot/stick is explicitly for the time set aside for the game prep/play. Also, I get the impression you think I mean something like penalizing attack rolls for making a joke. I don't advocate game-based reward and punishment for this, and I don't think I say anything about it at all. –  BESW Jun 20 '13 at 13:28
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In the group I'm part of, our pre-game chatting tends to last a varied amount. This is because some of the players(mostly myself and the ones I carpool with) arrive earlier than others.

What our DM does to signal the start of the session is a recap of what happened last time. This serves the dual purpose of refreshing everyone on the current situation(useful for those who miss a week) and as a transition point. It also gives the players a chance to remind the DM of any special conditions or points they missed.

Also as our DM is a smoker, we usually have a break mid session. At that point, our DM simply asks if we are ready before resuming.

In our group we are lighter on limiting the meta-gaming joking as we play in a card shop(in which our DM manages) so interruptions happen. Sometimes pre-game chat will affect the session, as long as you make it clear how you want to play the game it can be managed.

Summary:

  • Recap or Introduce the game at the start of a session
  • At breaks explicitly let the group know you are ready to start
  • Plan for the situation. Let the players know what you expect
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