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New DM here. Under a year of experience, but I have learned alot from my friend who has helped guide me through the basics of DMing. Basically the only games that I have run have been with my close friends, none of them public, except for one. That one public game is what I want to ask about here.

This game took place last weekend. Now, it's at my local game shop. I'm not much of a nerd so I felt pretty insignificant when I went to reserve a table for this weekend coming up. But they seemed friendly and willing to help me learn to DM. At my game store D&D groups are formed like this: you go up to a clerk and say something along the lines of "I wanna DM here". You gain limited privileges to the backstore and the backroom and a place to DM each weekend, as long as you fill out the form and pay the proper fee. So they gave me a charter and told me to put up to 8 people on the list for players. So I went around, collected the signatures of said group members, and turned it in. Our group was formed.

I didn't want to be a liability, so on Thursday night (my game was on Friday) I looked up on all the important stuff (AC, THAC0, etc.) and got my campaign together. Then, when I got back from school on Friday, I did all my work around the house and did some pre-game meditation and workouts. So yeah, I was feeling pretty good about myself.

Anyways, I got to the store, went in the back, set up my table (thanks to my buddy for letting me borrow his dice) and waited for my group to come and join me. Eventually they all gathered around, and the first thing one of them said was "Let's get this over with, I got stuff to do." Yeah, right there I almost lost it. But I didn't, I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to make myself look like more of an idiot than I already did.

The campaign started with me dimming our table light and setting the scene. They were on a ship at night, sailing towards a jungle in hopes of finding a lost warrior. And yeah, I kinda got nerdy and got really into setting the scene. It was an opening narrative, so it took about 4–5 minutes for me to give all the backstory to the local area. And the same group member that "had stuff to do" from earlier wouldn't stop rolling their eyes at me. I tried to ignore it, but then they said:

Dude, can we just get on to the game? Like c'mon, it's not a book.

Yeah, that was the last straw. I said some stuff I shouldn't have, and ended up packing up all my stuff and leaving the store. I was pissed for the rest of the weekend: it was pretty hard to get over it.

But anyways, I'm scheduled to have a game with that same group on Thursday. I want to know how I can recover from that incident, as that guy probably doesn't wanna put up with me again after I got in his face, and the rest of the group thinks I'm just an angry 14 year old.

Please help me. I really like to play D&D with my buddies and I want to expand the group of people I can play with.

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You seem to have two intertwined issues here, and may be better off separating them into two questions: (1) how to manage a player who's bucking your GM style, and (2) how to regain group trust/buy-in after you badly handled number 1. – nitsua60 Feb 2 at 4:35
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Thanks everybody for the responses. I have made up my mind to apologize to all the players, even if they don't wanna finish the campaign we started. – GamingCrusade Feb 2 at 21:53
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Glad to hear! I converted your post below to a comment, since it didn't contain an answer, and added its clarification to the question itself. It's fine, no foul. Cheers! – SevenSidedDie Feb 2 at 22:13
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"So I went around, collected the signatures of said group members, and turned it in. Our group was formed." How did you find these group members? As Dale mentioned in his excellent answer, player and GM expectactions about the style of the game are very important. While it's understandable that a new GM wouldn't think to ask about this up-front it's odd to me that you'd have random people join a campaign when they also don't know what kind of game you'll be running. But then I'm also wondering why a novice DM would want to run an eight(!) player campaign. – Lilienthal Feb 5 at 9:49
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@Lilienthal That is indeed ambitious, unless they're all good friends already. On the flip side I'm also wondering why someone would ever show up to an 8-man game expecting it to be "quick"... – thanby Feb 5 at 18:03
up vote 105 down vote accepted

You

I'll deal with your issues first: you are an angry 14 year old.

Don't sweat it; everybody was, is or will be. Maturity can in fact be summed up as learning not to punch the face of someone who richly deserves it.

You have to remember that you have no control over the way other people behave; you only have control over the way you behave. And ... you behaved badly. People say "I lost my temper"; this is a euphemism that means they choose to express anger in an aggressive and non-productive way. Learn to choose to react differently; no one ever changed their mind by being yelled at - at best you can get someone to back down and resent you.

Oh, and because none of us is perfect and I have chosen to "express anger in an aggressive and non-productive way" myself (and no doubt will in the future), you need to know how to recover from that. This is easy: it's called an apology. There are 2 reasons we say sorry and both are applicable here: 1. to show that you know that you behaved badly and 2. to repair the hurt you caused other people.

Him

This guy was rude; there is no doubt about that. You haven't mentioned his age or the age of the group but if this guy was an adult then this is really bad behaviour; if there were adults there who didn't intervene then this reflects poorly on them too.

All the stuff I said about you is equally applicable to him; of course, he's not reading it.

Due to the wonderful diversity of humanity you will, from time to time, encounter people who are rude. They may be rude because they are: tired, drunk, just had their dog die, just got fired, have a splitting headache or are just obnoxious p*%^ks who didn't have enough parental discipline growing up. Notwithstanding, dealing with rude people is a skill and, like any other skill, you can learn it.

Here's a quick quiz. In response to his opening remark of "Let's get this over with, I got stuff to do.", which of the following is likely to give the best outcome:

  1. Ignoring it
  2. Beating him to death with your dice bag
  3. "Sorry we're keeping you, why don't you leave now?"
  4. "I was planning on a 3-4 hour session. What time is your other appointment and we'll see what we can do to accommodate it."

No 2 could be fun but No 4 does a lot with a great deal of economy, it:

  • doesn't let the rude remark slide through unremarked
  • shows that you care about his problems (both the other appointment and his rudeness)
  • establishes expectations on timeframe
  • establishes your authority
  • enables the group as part of the solution
  • shows what a nice guy you are.

Note: even if you say this you don't have to accommodate him! Polite and nice are not the same thing.

Expectations

When you sit down to play chess you know what you are going to get but when you ask someone to play football and you come ready for soccer and they come ready for gridiron; you have a problem. Ways of playing D&D range from treating it as a tactical war game to be won to using it as improv theatre and everything in between. All of these are valid and it's you job to give the players (including yourself) what they want out of the game.

Take 5 minutes next time you meet to find out what type of play each player prefers and describe your preferred style to them.

Agency

I think of agency as:

Players making informed decisions that have reasonable consequences

The D&D 5e Player's Handbook neatly encapsulates this in the "How to Play" section on page 6 and it is applicable to all RPGs that have DM/GM (some don't):

  1. The DM describes the environment

  2. The players describe what they want to do

  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions

"I kinda got nerdy and got really into setting the scene. It was an opening narrative, so it took about 4–5 minutes for me to give all the backstory to the local area."

Cool, at what point did this lead to step 2: The players describe what they want to do? How much of it was describing the choices they could make? How much of the information was relevant to those choices? RPGs are a dialogue, not a monologue; unless the player's feel like they are involved in the storytelling then they might as well be at a book reading.

Back story is fine but if it was good it would be part of the story; the reason it is back story is that it is not enough fun to be the story. Back story may need to be there (or not) but it should emerge from the play; not be read at the players.

Scene setting is about providing just enough information that the player's can see the choices and have enough information to intelligently choose one; remembering that choosing to seek more information is always one of the choices.

For example:

It's a dark and stormy night when the captain puts you ashore in front of the imposing wall of the jungle. "This is where I left your friend; I'll be back at dawn five days hence. Don't be late!"

The beach stretches off in both directions, a narrow strip of sand bathed in moonlight. There are no obvious paths into the undergrowth. Sailors are carrying your possessions off the longboat and dropping them above the high water mark.

What do you do?

The scene is set and its now the player's turn.

Do they have enough information to make intelligent choices? No but you have handed them the initiative and they are now free to ask questions about what interests them. They might:

  • Talk more to the captain
  • Ask about their "friend"
  • Ask what supplies they have
  • Ask what the jungle/beach looks like
  • Decide to troop straight off into the undergrowth (your job involves enabling idiots, too)
  • Cast some long duration spells
  • Cast Fly to take a look round
  • Do something neither you nor I have thought of which is where the ultimate fun of DMing a RPG lies - dropping players into a situation and seeing what they do to it.

Now it is possible that some player's will not be comfortable with taking the initiative but the overwhelming likelihood is that within the group one or two will shoulder leadership roles. If so, they can start the ball rolling; I would suggest that you ask the other players "Are you happy with that?" to up their level of involvement.

In the unlikely event that no one seizes the opportunity, you can go on to enumerate what you think they can do. Some people like to pick from the menu rather than having to write it themselves first.

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Excellent answer, mate. – Omegacron Feb 2 at 13:32
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Don't forget that the DM is a player too. Forgetting to mention that in advice can (doesn't always, but can) lead to inexperienced DMs thinking it's their job to run the game the other players want even if they're personally miserable doing it. That's to be avoided, by including the DM in the group of people whose preferences should be factored. :) That aside, great answer, would +1 again. – SevenSidedDie Feb 2 at 16:40
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There are some very good points in here... but it falls off rapidly towards the end; there is no singular way gaming must be, and if there's only one way it "should" be, that's a "must". It's about fun, for the GM and the players. – T.J.L. Feb 2 at 18:59
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"Your job is to enable the player's to be heroes." - First, they aren't paying him or anything, so they can't come to his table and see his role only as a job / duty / servitude. Second, it's not the only way to look at this, not really. Third, their "job" is to make it fun for DM, to make him want to enable them to be heroes. – Mołot Feb 2 at 23:14
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@DaleM Please change the ending! It is true that a roleplay game should be a shared experience where the focus is on everyone. But there are also play styles where the players like to experience a nice presented narrative by the GM and only interact in a minimal way, enjoying the story unfolding (see the D&D Handbook about the "Watcher" type of player, if you have several of those in your group, they might enjoy listening to a lot of narration) – Falco Feb 3 at 12:27

Well firstly, you need to behave in a mature manner, which is sometimes tough, even for us middle aged guys.

The best way to show your maturity is when you go in, apologize to each person as they walk in, including the guy who acted like an arse. Take it on the chin and share how disappointed you are in yourself for reacting the way you did, but conclude it with the fact that you will not tolerate rude behavior this evening nor in the future and that you will kindly ask anyone who isn't enjoying themselves to just please leave so the rest of us can continue without further interruption.

You really have to keep this low key, sincere and honest, stand your ground without losing your temper and everyone will respect you for that as well as your very adult acceptance of responsibility for your actions last week.

Edit: in the vein of the other answers and comments, you should also take time to let your players know that you would like to receive feedback from them, and that perhaps 5 or 10 minutes after the play session could be spent on setting expectations and learning from your players how you can make it more fun for them as well.

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@GamingCrusade I think Escoce is suggesting that you should apologise for losing your temper, not for anything before that. – Miniman Feb 2 at 4:39
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@GamingCrusade Apologising doesn't mean you're a pushover; It means you understand your own limitations, and that's a strength. It also lets people know you're not a jerk who never apologises, which is a nice plus. Anyway, it's possible that Rolls-his-eyes was just having a bad day last time, but if he keeps on saying he should be elsewhere, you should politely agree and point out the exit. – GMJoe Feb 2 at 6:38
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Is the "same page tool" for this group, which had not played before, worth folding into this answer? – KorvinStarmast Feb 2 at 13:36
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Just keep in mind, this is a political problem. If you go back and act righteous and blameless, you will not be looked upon kindly nor with the respect you are asking them to give you. Accepting responsibility for your part, no matter how right you were, is a mature attitude and that will garner more respect that righteousness will. Be firm, but accept your part in what happened last week with grace and work hard to manage yourself in the heat of the moment, so you can stand firm but maintain your maturity at the same time. – Escoce Feb 2 at 14:31

As the DM, you can ask a player to leave your table if they're causing problems. Be willing to do that. :)

(If, for whatever reason, you can't ask a player to leave, you probably don't want to run games for that group.)


You say this was a public game. Are you sure you will have the same players as last time? (If the players you had last time had a bad experience, they might not have signed up again.)

If you do run into them again, yeah, it's probably correct to apologize (to the players who were behaving politely).


Also, about DMing: remember it's important to give the players interesting decisions. It's not clear from your question how long you spent setting the scene, but you might try breaking up the narration by asking for actions or skill checks. Try not to go more than a few sentences without giving at least one player something to do.

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Upvote for giving the benefit of the doubt: Reduced agency vs just impatience. – Novak Feb 2 at 7:26

Escalation, especially public escalation is almost always the wrong answer-- like every group activity, playing in or running a game is an exercise in social capital. Ideally, everyone has fun, everyone gains social capital and maybe friendships are formed. Pessimally, things like this happen, everyone loses capital, no one has fun, everyone goes home and eats worms. And at the beginning of a game, if these are mostly strangers, no one has much in the way of capital.

One way (maybe not the only way) to have handled this is with a curt, "This is my style. Try it for a while. After that, no one is nailing your feet to the floor. But while you're here, be please be polite and treat everyone with respect."

The way to handle it now is to recognize that you not only made a terrible impression with your actions, but also that the other innocent bystanders didn't get any of what they wanted out of the evening-- they got no gaming. And they could have had other opportunities for the evening.

I would say an apology is in order to all the innocent bystanders, and I will suggest that not including the instigator will make you look petty, as opposed to the pushover you fear becoming. I would specifically apologize on two or three prongs. After the actual apology, which really should include the words, "I'm sorry":

  1. "Let's make this a do-over." Since you'll end up doing a re-cap of sorts, it's up to you whether you modify your pace. But you'll have some cover, if you will, to speed things up, as long as you don't dwell on it.

  2. "Let's all remember to be polite-- no eye-rolling, no hurry-ups, and no storming out. Nobody has to be here, after all."

  3. "Let us never speak of this again." (I've done dumb things, too. Never-speak-of-this-again is sometimes a good rule to prevent the temptation for one side or the other to keep bringing it up and-- possibly unintentionally-- rubbing salt in a wound which might otherwise heal.)

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Thanks for the advice. I'm not as much afraid of being considered a pushover as I am to having my reputation ruined at that gaming store. How can people respect me as a GM if stuff like this happens too much? Even if I do resolve this current issue, How can I prevent it from happening again? And besides, that player is probably gonna run his mouth about me and how I just randomly got pissed off and ruined my party's night. – GamingCrusade Feb 2 at 5:03
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Your reputation is already ruined at that store due to your actions, this is the way you get it back. – mxyzplk Feb 2 at 12:48
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@GamingCrusade Per your account, the other players at the table let the aggressive player be rude to you, their DM for the night. Granted, you handled it badly, and you are trying to recover. RPG's are, at their best, a cooperative event between DM's and players. Those who stand aside and let the vibe be poisoned have little grounds to complain that the vibe is poisoned. – KorvinStarmast Feb 2 at 15:53
    
@KorvinStarmast It was a game arranged through a game store, so there's a high chance that the players didn't yet know each other - and also a high chance that they're of similar age to the OP. I strongly suspect that everyone at the table was still getting used to the social dynamic and still unsure of what was and wasn't acceptable behaviour for that situation. Yes, they didn't call out Rolls-his-eyes, but I don't think this should be taken as a sign that they approve of what he did. – GMJoe Feb 2 at 23:14
    
@GMJoe Fair point – KorvinStarmast Feb 3 at 11:58

Was this player's behaviour justified?

No, it really wasn't. They are entitled to prefer a play style that emphasises faster, combat heavy roleplaying and limited verbose descriptions – it is a valid way of playing. However, the way they went about expressing their views to you and the table was extremely disrespectful, especially to you.

The preferred way for them to have dealt with this mismatch would have been to talk to you about it in a measured and reasonable way in an attempt to come to some sort of compromise about the play style that is used at the table.

Alternately, they may just have had a really bad day, and drawing attention to it more subtly and with less confrontation may have easily defused the situation there and then.

Was your behaviour justified?

No, it really wasn't. I get why you were upset – I would have been in those circumstances. When you've spent your precious free time preparing for a game, and the behaviour of a player devalues this or shows disrespect to that effort, you are completely justified in being unhappy. However, reacting in an aggressive or combative way only made the situation worse. It can be really, really hard not to do this though, and you are far from alone in reacting the way you did.

The preferred way for you to have dealt with the situation would have been for you to call a short time out, and then speak with that player individually in a calm and measured way about why you feel their behaviour is unacceptable. Doing so individually helps remove some of the potential confrontational nature of the discussion, and makes it easier for you both to be honest and open without feeling attacked. This also covers the possibility that they may just have been having a rough day for whatever reason.

What can you do now?

So you've lost your cool and want to recover. There are a few things you can do here.

At the beginning of the next session, take the player in question to one side. Apologise for losing your temper, but explain the reason you did so and why you were justified in being unhappy. Make it clear that you thought their approach was unreasonable given the effort you put into preparing for the game, and note the importance of everyone at the table enjoying themselves, including you.

Then, speak to the rest of the group about how to move forward. I would discuss the underlying issue here, which after taking upset out of the equation, appears to be incompatible expectations regarding the playstyle of the group. Ask people for their views on what they enjoy, then come to some sort of compromise that hopefully everyone is happy enough with.

Note though that it is entirely possible for there to be a situation where you or one of the players decides that a compromise is not possible. This is OK, really it is. Groups have a massive variety of playstyles, and differences could potentially be large enough that someone is simply not going to be a good fit.

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Styles of Play

This has been mentioned by others, but I think it is worth a much more elaborate discussion because I think it is the root cause of your problem. There are many styles of RPGs, especially when you are taking about a system as diverse and venerable as D&D. Some people play it as essentially a tactical challenge with just enough of a story to explain why you are fighting while others focus entirely on the story aspect and give combat a superficial pass. Both of those are valid, as well as everything in between.

You and your "other things to do" player seemed to have radically different ideas of how you would be playing. He seems to have wanted to get to the combat quickly while you seem to have wanted to have major story or setting exploration. The key is to manage expectations. This can be done, especially amoungst relative strangers, by setting a social contract ahead of time.

Despite what some others have said, I (as someone who prefers plot driven games) wouldn't bat an eye at the GM spending many minutes setting the initial scene and providing background material in a story driven game. But there are lots of people that would find that tedious at best. There are people that would probably be happy if you start the game with "Your party is attacked by a group of X" and got straight to the combat. Most people are in between. These are all fine, but (especially if you plan for your game to be at one of the extremes) you should tell your players ahead of time. Also, if you do have a lot of scene setting or background material, it can sometimes help to write it down first and hand it out. That way your players can read it instead of listening to it.

Fixing it

The key to fixing it is to first apologize to everyone, including the person who prompted the outburst. An outburst like that is almost never acceptable and an apology can help the others know that you realize this and are working to fix it. From what you describe, I think your player was at least as rude as you were, but that is simply beside the point.

Once you have apologized, then set the expectations about how much story, how much combat, and any other things that you think might come up. Then see who wants to play. It takes time to recover from any faux pas and rebuild trust; also a little humility helps.

Also, after setting expectations, you may want to solicit feedback especially if you are new to GMing. Listening to feedback helps show that you do care about your players enjoying themselves. You never need to sacrifice having a good time for their sake. If your game isn't for them, then that is fine, they can find another. But if you can accommodate what they want and improve as a GM without eliminating your own enjoyment, then it will be better for everyone.

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"...write it down first and hand it out." I like this idea for avoiding long expositions at the table - email the background setup to your players ahead of time. – RobertF Feb 3 at 14:56
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+1 for writing it down--not that I don't like exposition, but I cannot comprehend long passages dictated/monologued to me. I don't take in information aurally with any fidelity. I've got to read along. – nitsua60 Feb 3 at 14:57

Honestly, I don't think you have anything to be sorry for. The PC obviously had decided to not enjoy the game and be openly hostile way before your session started. I would not want to play with someone like that and would remove them from the group. If the whole group feels that way, look for a group that wants to play your style of game.

Now, I will say that it is important to lay out what your expectations are for the game when putting together a group. If you like story and intrigue with a smattering of combat, then lay that out right at the beginning. If they don't seem interested in it, then it's not the right fit for you.

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" I don't think you have anything to be sorry for." Well, wasting the time of the rest of the group comes to mind. – Adriano Varoli Piazza Feb 2 at 13:56

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