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I am in a campaign with several players who also DM, on a rotating schedule.

One DM in particular has a control issue, in my opinion. He tends to say "no" to just about any action the PC wants to perform that is not planned for.

Examples of responses:

  1. Librarian in Dark Heresy searches a database: "You can't find anything."
  2. Illusionist in D&D casts a spell: "The spell has no effect."
  3. Bard using music in D&D: "They seem unaffected."
  4. Assassin sneaking in D&D: "The person you were sneaking up on turns to face you."
  5. Warrior charges in combat in D&D: "You hit them." – This is the only case that works.

[Edit] The problem here is that the 'core' mechanic is being denied to the class. Wizards without their spells, bards without their songs, librarians who are denied information when they have the books etc. I have deliberately killed characters who were effectively useless in the campaign. Far above and beyond failure of one or two attempts, but rather all situations where the player has a chance for their 'class' skills are denied even though they have invested heavily in specializing in their expertise.

I have no problem with story/plot line elements overriding mechanics, but these are genuinely unmitigated player-blocking, pure and simple. I tend to play support/utility classes such as Illusionists, Jack-of-all-trades, and high-intelligence characters. This usually means the DM needs to be quick on their feat as my PC is always doing something they didn't expect. I personally love to find another solution to the problem than just 'fighting'. The DM basically expects us to fight everything we encounter, and when we do attempt to out-think the situation it appears as if he is not prepared.

Basically it reduces the ability to have fun down to playing a munchkin-warrior. Otherwise your effectiveness (and by proxy my fun) is reduced to nothing.

How can I deal with or fix this?

[Edit] After trying many of the suggestions below (on multiple occasions already, including not appearing). I will simply take the 'lame' route and make a munchkin warrior and focus on the combat heavy campaign.

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I think in questions like this (maybe ones with the group-dynamics or problem-X tags) the "what have you tried?" aspect of question detail is still important. That is, have you simply talked to the problematic people? If so, what happened, and if not, why not? Maybe you want to know how to convince your GM to be more fluent. Maybe you're a wimp (like me) and hate confrontation, and you want to be subtle about it, and are looking for a sneaky way to make the GM figure it out without being told. While all answers might be generally helpful, details like this help answer your specific question. –  EnvisionAndDevelop May 6 at 15:50
    
DM says no. –  IQAndreas May 6 at 22:36
    
Devil's advocate: could your group be abusing alternative solutions? e.g. does a clever illusion always work with everyone except that DM? Are you always able to catch the enemy by surprise with everyone except that DM? It could be that your expectations of success are inflated, and/or this DM is trying to balance out what he believes is the overly generous rulings when others DM. –  Hurkyl May 6 at 23:21

6 Answers 6

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Different playstyles

You virtually say that you and the GM in question do not want to play the same type of game. The answer, as with so many things, is to talk to them. But the topic should be how to get into the same style of game.

If the GM is playing a mostly tactical game and expects most of the drama and fun to come in handling tactical situations, then trying anything else is going to be at best unfun for him and probably won't work well. Remember, if he has spent a lot of time planning a battle, balancing it against the party, possibly custom making maps, he is going to be invested in seeing that battle happen and understandably reluctant to a non-combat resolution. There is nothing wrong with a mostly tactical game, as long as everyone agrees that is what they are playing.

You seem to want either a wide open sandbox or at least a game with very light rails enforced invisibly, and you seem to want most of the action to come outside of combat. This is a valid style of play (and one I prefer), but it requires a GM who is good at improvising (not everyone is) and willing to set aside any set pieces he may have spent a lot of time planning. Not all GMs are even capable of playing this way (at least not until they have practice doing it). Even ones that can, may not find it fun.

Finding Middle Ground, or not

So, the answer, depending on relevant situations may actually be for you not to be in that game when he is GMing. It sounds like you want a very different style than the GM is providing. He is not providing you fun, but shifting to accomodate your style may very well ruin the style of fun he enjoys.

Less extreme than that, you could both consider shifting some towards the middle ground. He may agree to hide the rails better and be ready to hand you information, and go out of his way to make some of it useful for the upcoming battle. But he may ask you in exchange to focus your solution finding to creative ways to prepare for the combat rather than really avoiding the combat he has invested time in preparing.

For some examples of that, think about Wizards in D&D. They shine best when they are facing an enemy with particular strengths and weaknesses, and have had time to prepare for those in their spell list. You could be the one to learn the information about what they need to prepare for. The Witcher in that series is similar. He is a powerhouse if he loads up with the right potions and oils and traps...but needs to have an idea of what he is facing ahead of time to do that. A savy player could spend a fair bit of the game time researching the creatures to know what to prepare for (or looking that info up online). Your character could be like that, researching how to prepare and then doing the preparation. Batman is also like this.

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I think the real problem actually stems from lack of preparation. I will though shift my focus to be combat heavy so that I can feel 'effective'. –  roscoe_casita May 7 at 15:32

The great thing about a rotational DMing system is that you can propose things to the group to check out without making it seem like you're targeting a specific person. They might realize they're the biggest offender, but it's still a more tactful solution when you present something like, "Hey, here's something that I think could help us all improve as DMs!"

For instance, I would send everyone in the group a link to this article: Angry DM: Four Things You've Never Heard Of That Make Encounters Not Suck

This article in particular talks about using dramatic questions to design encounters. Rather than simply design an encounter with monsters you throw at the party until one of the two parties die, you design every encounter keeping in mind what the monster wants and what the party wants, which opens encounters up to having multiple solutions for the party as long as they are getting what they want (or even so long as they aren't actively opposing what the "enemy" party wants). It gives a great example of a giant spider in the cave, and how assigning different motivations (protect its home, protect its eggs, feed on party) leaves things open for different kinds of resolutions for the party (escaping out the other side of the lair, skirting the outside the lair, or killing it, respectively), and how any or all of those separate outcomes result in success for the party.

Hopefully this will be a clue to your "problem" DM (and maybe even improve everyone's game). Plan B would of course be sitting down with the DM specifically about how he seems to be limiting player actions. It could be a power control issue; it could just be a lack of confidence in his own ability to improvise. Still, if the indirect approach fails then never discount the direct approach. Any game of D&D (and especially one involving rotating DMs) requires an incredibly strong social contract, and that means being open to feedback about your own sessions. That's something he'll need to learn eventually.

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Great article!! –  Lohoris May 9 at 8:07

As I see it, there are two types of ways to deal with it, directly and indirectly. My answer, thus, will be divided according to this.

Indirectly

With some GMs, and/or in some groups, approaching the problem indirectly may work better. As you've stated, the group has rotating GMs and the problem is only that the person GMing now is not what you're looking for. This suggests looking for an indirect solution might be good.

Sit down as a group and define what the GM's role is

Take a break from the campaign, or wait 'til it is finished or something, and sit down as a group to define what the GM's role is and what the players' role is. It is extremely important to know in order to have a hard definition of what one should do in the game. Both of those roles, players and GM alike, are far less defined than we would expect and it leads to many problems of authority allocation. Sit and talk about it. Is the GM's role in your games to be the only storyteller? Does it lean to a more equal-weight kind of storytelling, with the GM having the ability to veto? Through this conversation, many of your problems will surface naturally, and all of you will leave with many things to think about. The thoughts that will run in your heads will lead to better games, games that are far more suited to your tastes.

Suggest reading material

If you have a policy of GM-rotation, bringing reading material like GMing articles or books for the entire group won't seem that much like criticism. Present it as your latest finding and he will take it much more lightly. The reading material that you should present to the group should deal, at least to a certain degree, with the problems that arise in the game.

Attend an improv seminar together

Improv is a really nice skill to develop, and it is useful to the entire group. It can help you roleplay characters better, to think about ways to improve the story from both roles (GM's and players'), and so much more. If an improv class isn't offered near you, there are some online lectures and presentations. Articles are great also. I saw once a really nice TED Talk presentation that showed the difference between a story that is being told with "yeses" and a story being told with "nos". It is amazing to see the difference.

Directly

But maybe you need to go the other route, maybe because the indirect approach failed, or because you don't think it will work for one reason or the other. For that, we have the direct route.

Talk with your GM

Go to your GM and just speak with him about it. Whether it is before the session or after it, sit and talk with him. It is usually advisable to have the conversation after the session, as you can give examples from the session that just took place. Tell him about your problems, about why you have stopped enjoying the game, and suggest some solutions that might work. Then, together try to figure out a solution that will bring back the spark of the campaign.

Leave the game

Leave the game, the campaign, for a short while. While this person is behind the screen, don't come to sessions. Sooner or later, questions will be raised and a conversation will ensue. Then resolve as appropriate.

Compromise

Maybe you will just have to compromise. Suggest this to your GM, and if he agrees, both of you agree to compromise a little in order to have a better game. It will be a little bit harder at first, but if you do your part he will be obliged to do his. The game will be far more enjoyable for you. After all, he is not necessarily a bad GM; he just has a different play style.

Switch GM

If you are not alone in this, maybe just switching GMs, or even the entire game, is better for all. Present it nicely, and explain that it is not personal, but just that the time has come for this switch. If he asks, explain calmly why you are all for the switching.

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Examples of responses:

Librarian in Dark Heresy searches a database: "You can't find anything." - It's possible that there wasnt anything of interest in that specific database.

Illusionist in D&D casts a spell: "The spell has no effect." - Illusions have a lot of drawbacks, they require the target to not be mindless, insect, undead, construct and other things. The target can resist the spell by passing the saving throw, and if the target was important to the plot, it would make sense to make him auto-pass your illusion to keep the story flowing, instead of auto-kill.

Bard using music in D&D: "They seem unaffected." - Same as the illusion. Wait, if we are talking about what i think, they are illusions and follow the same rules.

Assassin sneaking in D&D: "The person you were sneaking up on turns to face you." - He could have passed his Perception check, he could simply have turned around and you happened to be there, or he could be important to the plot and not be caught off-guard.

Remember, not everything will go according to the player's plans.

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'if the target was important to the plot' - that could be the problem. Some DMs auto-fail anything the players try if it would interfere with the scene the DM is setting up. That is writing a story, not running a game. –  TimLymington May 6 at 15:45
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This doesn't seem to answer the question. Is your answer "that doesn't happen, you must be mistaken"? If so, okay, but say that. If your answer is "maybe you're mistaken, here's why", then this answer seems to be incomplete in that it doesn't have anything to say about what to do if they're not mistaken. And, I can't tell which of those your answer is supposed to be. So, could you edit it a bit to be more clear about what your specific advice is? –  SevenSidedDie May 6 at 17:50

1. WALK AWAY

In your case, since he's on the rotation, simply opt out when he's GMing.

Hopefully, you get asked why, and it starts the conversation needed. If not, well, at least you are no longer suffering his GMing.

2. Discuss with the group

Don't discuss it with just him - discuss it with the group as a whole. It's a group level issue. Odds are that if you sit out a couple of his sessions in a row, everyone else will ask why, anyway.

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I largely agree with #2 and discussing with the whole group to make sure everyone is on the same page. But such a discussion needs to be broached carefully to avoid sounding accusatory. –  TimothyAWiseman May 5 at 21:44
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Hence the sequence. Stop subjecting yourself to it first, THEN discuss. –  aramis May 5 at 21:56
    
I agree with #2 as well, but #1 is very passive-aggressive. Maybe it would work with some groups, but I think #2 is far more likely to get results. –  Travis May 7 at 19:49

TALK TO YOUR DM

Simply talking to your DM may entirely solve this problem. Talk before or after play, not during play; this allows the DM to plan, adapt, and see what you are talking about. Say that you feel like "all we're doing is bashing people's faces in," and you'd like to solve problems in different ways. Perhaps your should mention that you enjoy non-combat solutions. Talk, Talk, Talk!

Switch DMs

You seem to do this regularly. You are all different people, and you all likely have different DM-ing styles. You all should be learning from each other as DMs and players. You could point out some good examples of DMs rolling with alternative solutions to whatever was planned, and also point out how much fun that was!

Plan for the Unplanned

Having some resources available to quickly generate the impromptu solutions may help as well. This can take the form of stat blocks for various people, planning your events in terms of choices: "if event A results in this, it triggers event B, otherwise even C happens in place of B."

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I'd say "talk to your DM outside gaming session". The idea of not wasting gaming time by talking about this will surely please some players. –  Zachiel May 5 at 18:33

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