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Our current GM is quite new to GMing, and has stumbled into a few pitfalls. To give a few examples, he killed my character (by accident) and brought him back via deus ex. He locked the party in a dungeon as they slept with no saves or checks, and took all their gear. A few levels have gone by without the party finding any treasure. All encounters are very hard, averaging at APL +3 I'd say.

None of these things are necessarily bad, but the players don't like them. However, I don't want to discourage our GM by telling him so. It seems like every time I bring up a problem, he gets very defensive and comes up with some justification. I think he would be amenable to change, but I also think he doesn't want to be told he's doing a bad job.

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Note, there's a difference between "I don't like" and "the players don't like". It reminds me of a manager I once had who couldn't believe how many people out there were so hard to work with. Hint: it wasn't all those people who were hard to work with!! –  corsiKa Mar 31 at 18:46
    
@corsiKa Good point, and for clarity I edited the title and a few spots in the text to make that clear up-front. –  SevenSidedDie Mar 31 at 18:56

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Ask and listen, then give feedback

What are your individual goals? What are the players' common goals?

Each gamer (player and GM) has goals. It sounds like it's time for everyone to reflect on what their goals are, and then discuss them to try to reach a mutually workable plan.

It sounds like you believe there is broad agreement that your GM is unfun. I'd likely start with informal conversations with other players about what they are and aren't looking for in the game to confirm your impression and clarify what folks want. I wouldn't be surprised if (even if there's broad agreement about what folks don't want) there may be variety in what they are looking for.

Next I'd talk to the GM privately. I might start by saying "I've had some thoughts about the game for me. Would you be open to discussing them? Is now a good time?"

I'd frame my feedback in terms like, "I've recently realized: what I'm looking for is X" or "...that I get frustrated quickly when Y." If you're really talking about yourself and your personal preferences, it may be easier for your friend to hear.

What are the GM's goals?

Before I've said more than a handful of sentences I'd pass the ball back to him again, first seeing if he has any thoughts or questions for you. Then I'd ask what his goals are. Here are a few GM goals I've encountered:

  • Create opportunities for the player characters to have fun and be the stars of the story.
  • Create a challenging mystery for my players to solve. Make it tough enough to beat that victory really means something.
  • Craft and share a believable world with tough choices and lasting consequences.
  • Enjoy tactical combat versus the players.
  • Get to be in charge and make the decisions.

Is there reasonable common ground between them?

None of these things are necessarily bad, but the players don't like them.

That's a great insight. His goals may not be bad but given all the goals a GM might have, you need to make sure his and yours can happily coexist. I've seen great GMs and great players who really weren't a match for one another.

If so, would feedback be welcome and useful to help the GM better reach his own goals?

Let's assume his goals match yours well enough, but his actions haven't been achieving those goals for you. Fair enough; being a GM is hard. Here's a place for specific feedback. Depending on your relationship, it might be useful here to say something like, "Those goals totally work for me, but a few specific moments in the game have felt to me like they conflicted with those goals. Can I give you an example?" Assuming you get confirmation, give one specific example, e.g. "When X did Y, I felt powerless and frustrated." In some cases the GM may be eager to improve but not know how. Consider asking if he'd like ideas about some portion of his goals. Let him drive this conversation, if he genuinely wants to improve.

What if he's unimpressed?

Does he think the problem is you? Maybe encourage him to talk to other players too, and warn them that you're trying to reach agreement on some group goals.

Does he just not want feedback? Or want something different than you do? It might be time to thank him for putting so much time and energy into GMing, and to bow out of the game.

Good luck and let us know how it goes!

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Framing the discussion with goals as you suggest is an excellent approach because it makes it easier to find solutions. If everybody talks about narrow, specific issues, it's easy to paint over the rough patches without addressing the fundamental shape of the campaign. Big, general goals also provide lots of opportunities to combine so that everyone at the table can get what they want. –  Grubermensch Apr 1 at 14:59
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I found this answer to be the most complete, and helpful. After using some of the tips here, the campaign has taken a wildly different direction and we're all having a great time, GM included! –  Eric B Apr 11 at 22:39

Talk

"I don't want to discourage our GM by telling him so" is a strategy that won't help you change anything. Talk - first with the players to verify if there's a consensus and they really feel the same way as you do, and then confront the GM.

The longer you postpone it, the more painful it'll get; it's better to deal with it sooner.

Constructive criticism

Don't say 'it doesn't work out', be specific and particular - 'X sucked, because so and so, and it turned out to be unfun for that player'. Enumerate a few specific examples from recent games.

And be constructive - instead of saying 'X doesn't work', try to come with 'X was so-so, but in that situation Y would've been awesome'. Roleplaying isn't about averages, but about memorable moments; you don't need to raise everything from 'sucks' to 'okay', but you want to get from 'okay' to 'awesome' as often as possible.

Switch roles

Have you considered rotating who GMs in your group? If you want to continue the campaign, have someone else run a one-shot with you and your current GM as a player. Spending a night or two in player's shoes tends to remind or teach GMs about what they could do to maintain a fun game.

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Nice answer. People often assume that specific is more hurtful, but it's actually the opposite: specific complaints means that they can "cut off" their emotional investment in those specific things and retreat onto the stable ground of the things not being criticised. Reminding them of what is okay and good helps them find the things they can stand firm on while you are criticising the things that need criticism. –  SevenSidedDie Mar 31 at 20:04
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Maybe I'm over-reading a single word but don't "confront" the GM. Just talk to him about it. (Given your excellent suggestions about constructive criticism, I figure "confront" was just a poor choice of word, rather than an actual recommendation.) –  David Richerby Apr 1 at 7:24
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For "difficult" conversations: If you have any player/friend with reasonable acting skills, the group can practice with that player acting as the person you want to talk to, and feel out a few approaches to the conversation - when it is not the actual person, but a proxy then you can try many times, and check afterwards how it felt to be on either side, and whether the correct message came across. –  Neil Slater Apr 1 at 7:28
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Good answer. When delivering this kind of news, I use LCS. "L" Here's what we Like about what you're doing. "C" here's some Concerns we have. "S" here are our Suggestions for how we can all have more fun. –  Zimul8r Apr 1 at 13:02

I don't think there is any better approach than telling him. Of course, how you tell him matters a lot. But its hard to provide good suggestions on that without actually knowing him.

The most important thing is to make any criticizm productive. If you just say, "This is bad" or "I don't like this..." That can come across as insulting. If you say "It works better to do X" that gives a concrete suggestion without putting anyone down. You can even say "This was good, but X is better" when the first part is true.

As a general rule, I would say it would be best to approach him one-on-one and not to make it a group issue. When in doubt, praise publicly, criticize privately.

However, if it really is a group issue and your group is mature you can get more done in a group discussion and also show that it really is everyone. If you want to try it with a group, it may work well to just phrase it as an opportunity for people to discuss in general what they think works well in in a game. That keeps it from sounding like a session to criticize him, and more like a general chat that perhaps everyone can learn from. Also, focus on what people do like rather than what they don't.

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