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That does sound a bit harsh, but let me explain.

We have been gaming for a few years now in this group. We do have fun, but lately I have been noticing a recurring factor that is impacting on my experience as a player. Basically, they appear to be creating situations that will constantly make the game an uphill struggle.

For example, the GM may come up with a scenario, then leave that as a cliff-hanger, giving us a bit of time to come up with a plan of attack, to talk about over chat for the coming week. He is a part of the chat group; we don't want to be rude.

However, when we do come up with what we feel is a good plan, the situation always has a twist or something that makes everything go awry, leaving us to abandon the plan, and handle the situation as it unfolds.

Another recurring issue is that the GM will throw sticks into the spokes of our progress in situations that are out of our control. A recent example of this is we were attempting to extract information from a captive. They were not cooperating when we used persuasion, but before we could attempt to use Intimidation, we were engaged in combat. By the time we were able to return, the captive had killed itself with a cyanide pill, leaving us stranded.

We have also been the victim of situational encounters multiple times, where one of us will be forced to fight a monster, simply because the rest of us could not make it to help, or were singled out.

At this point I am beginning to feel that I should just stop contributing, so that my plans cannot be used against me.

On top of all of this, I am also having issues with levelling - I will level my PC, only to again be overpowered by new, and sometimes recurring enemies. This in particular is causing a bit of a "treadmill effect".

As a player, I want to talk to my GM about handling this issue. I understand that he wants to create challenging scenarios for us, but at this point, like I said, it's a constant uphill struggle. What suggestions might I be able to provide in order to reach a common ground between us?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you know how the other players feel about this? It's possible that they (and/or the GM) may just view this as the GM creating "an appropriate challenge" rather than a problem, in which case you may need to discuss the varying expectations within the group. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Sherohman Apr 26 at 8:28
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Most problems with the GM can only be solved by talking about the problem with the GM.

You have something displeasing you. Something that your GM is doing. Probably it's not intentional from the GM's part but still an issue nonetheless. In cases like this, specially if there are other players feeling the same but even if not, you must address the problem to your GM and make him aware of the issue; that is the first step. Tell him exactly what is displeasing you and ask if he could not doing that every time; there's a chance he thinks that you guys like it this way and go out of his way to increase the challenge up to 11 because of lack of feedback.

I prefer doing things in a subtler way.

If you want to start in a more discreet way (not my style by the way, I'm very direct), you can start giving feedback from the sessions, stating clearly what you liked and what not that happened in that session. Almost every GM I played with were interested in what the players were thinking about their campaign and were willing to change a thing or another based on players' feedback. I usually give feedback to my two friends that GM for me more often than the others because I know they appreciate it; not because I'm displeased to the point of complaining since feedback can also be positive, but they are open to constructive criticism.

Those are the 2 ways I have been using to deal with problems with a GM with the most success rate. I hope one of them works for you since my third best is leaving the game. If there's no fun and it will not change, there's no reason to stay.

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Not everyone plays role-playing games the same way. Different GMs have different styles. A pretty great categorization of different GM difficulty styles can actually be found in a book where you wouldn't expect it: The Munchkin Master's Guide by Steve Jackson, of Munchkin card game fame.

The chapter "The full Monty" describes various different GM styles. Among them are (paraphrased from memory, I don't have that book available right now and I read it many years ago):

The "Monty Haul" GM

The best friend of the player-characters. Tries to make them succeed at all of their plans. Softens the consequences of unlucky die rolls and poor decisions with GM fiat and rewards players with any magic items and powerups they want.

The "Monte Carlo" GM

The Gameist and simulationist. Plays strictly by the rules. Never cheats for the players, but doesn't cheat against them either. Doesn't hand out any undeserved gifts, but doesn't create any implausible obstacles either. If the players come up with a plan, the Monte Carlo GM will play it out the way the rules say, and if the rules fail to provide guidance, as common sense would dictate.

The "Monte Cristo" GM

The sadist. Actively plays against the players and tries to make them suffer. Will try to ruin any of their plans. Only lets the players succeed when it can be used to make them fail even more spectacularly later. Also known as the Killer Game Master.


Each of these GM styles leads to a completely different game experience. There is no "right" or "wrong", no "better" or "worse" way to GM (although different rule systems might encourage or discourage certain styles). Each of these styles can result in a good game experience. But not every player enjoys every playstyle. And not every GM is able and/or willing to play each of these styles either. The purpose of roleplaying is that everyone has fun, both GM and player. So it is important to find a campaign style everyone enjoys.

So what do you do now?

  1. Find out if the rest of the group actually agrees with you. Maybe they like the challenge? If you are the only one who dislikes the game, then it might be time for you to find a different group.
  2. Assuming that the other players are on the same page as you, ask the GM if he is aware that he is running what you feel is a "Monte Cristo" campaign and if he is aware that there are other ways to play. The GM might have just misunderstood their role. A common misconception among new GMs is that they are playing a competitive game, and they "win" by defeating the players. But maybe they actually want to play that way? Again, there is no "right" or "wrong" ways to play RPGs. Just "having fun" and "not having fun" ways.
  3. Ask the GM if they would be willing to try a different style.

If the answer is yes, give them a chance. If the answer is no (and that's perfectly OK), ask another player if they would like to GM from now on.

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Here's part of your problem: enabling GM metagaming

I suggest that you discuss this in particular with your GM, and your group.

For example, the GM may come up with a scenario, then leave that as a cliff-hanger, giving us a bit of time to come up with a plan of attack, to talk about over chat for the coming week. He is a part of the chat group; we don't want to be rude.

GMs are human, and sometimes take the approach of going a little over-the-top in taking the monsters/NPCs side without realizing it. (And yes, sometimes it is deliberate). One way to mitigate that is to have "players only" chats/planning sessions.

You are not being rude to the GM by having a "players only" planning session. Over the years I have encouraged those sessions, and often will leave the room while players do a quick brain storm. I do this for two reasons:

  1. In part to protect myself as a GM from giving the monsters/NPC's the benefit of "GM ominscience" (a trap any of us GMs can fall into), and,
  2. So that I can enjoy the surprise, or the reveal, of any clever plan the players come up with. That too is part of the fun for the GM/DM.

Treadmill impressions: group discussion required

This particular impression, in terms of your apparently feeling that "this is too much like work" must be addressed to the whole group with whom you are playing. It is quite likely that your GM and the other players may feel somewhat differently than you do. That suggests that you all need to do another Session Zero event to reground expectations and "what game are we playing together?" ... Session Zero is not limited to "before we start the campaign."

Challenge creation: it's a balancing act

Some RPG players and GMs feel that if there isn't a challenge, if things are a bit "too easy" then the full experience of the game is missed out on. Others are, like my weekly group with my brother and friends, Beer and Pretzels style games. Your GM may be of the former school rather than the latter. Back to the point on "session zero" and regrounding the style the whole table is looking for during your games.

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After following Aguinaldo Silvestre's advice, and speaking to the GM, I have found that the issue was a conflict of interest in terms of story.

I have an attachment to the characters that I play, and sometimes the GM may throw a spanner in the works that hinders my character's development or safety. Some examples of this are:

  • In D&D, my character was unwillingly thrown down a chasm. I had no control over this, no abilities to save myself, and all I could do was wait to see just how dead my character was.
  • In Numenera, my PC was a cyborg, and had just managed to save up for a new cybernetic arm. I was so happy, but this was short-lived, as the GM had decided to place a remote detonation device in the shoulder joint.
  • In Savage Worlds, I had worked hard to get a decent protective and characteristic suit for my Spider-Man character. This was short-lived, as the next time I recovered from a rather lethal battle, it was taken from me.

Needless to say, I was not very happy about any of these scenarios. However, talking to the GM has enlightened me to the fact that the GM is actually more in-line with a more pseudo-railroad storytelling approach. He creates scenarios that create a conflict in the story's progression, and my involvement in the story was trying to forge my own path through the tale, which was just not doing anything for me. The GM was creating special paths for my characters, and I was simply ignoring them and going my own way, to little or no avail.

The idea is not to try and pick on the character, or punish the player in any way, it is merely taking something that I, as the player, is invested in as a plot hook to chase after it, down the character arc. In my specific case, this is likely the only way the GM feels they can get my attention, as I can often not interact with roleplay; therefore not invest my character in any characters or situations.

At this point, there is a solid understanding of what both of us are trying to achieve, so we can move forward from here with a clearer understanding of how our dynamic can work.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Ben, I think it would have been helpful for you to mention in your question which three games you were playing, and that they all ran a similar course. Glad to see that you and the GM have been able to clear the air. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 30 at 12:37
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It sounds like you're running up against two issues, both of which (unfortunately) separate a good DM from a bad DM.

A Good DM Avoids Meta-gaming

Let's run over a player meta-gaming example. For a moment, pretend you happened upon the DM's note for your next session. You're anticipating a big boss battle. You want a "leg up". It would be unsporting for you to read through the notes and then act on them in game. It would give you an unfair advantage to bring "real life" knowledge into the game.

In the same way, a DM musn't do their own meta-gaming. It is unsporting for a DM to take the player's planning and use that "real life" knowledge to craft something unbeatable.

Unfortunately, meta-gaming is something hard to avoid. Intentional or not. To resolve this, you must speak with the DM. It can only be relieved by discussing with them. Let them know that they are privvy to your party's internal (potentially OOC) conversation and that you feel they are using that information to change/alter the story to your detriment.

As for a solution, there are two:

  • The DM can acknowledge this and do their level best to not meta-game in this context.
  • Your party can create a separate "party" chat for communication. Keep the DM in a chat channel for fun and general communication, but if your party is making plans, make your plans in private.

When controlling an adversarial force, the DM must act the part. Baron Von Bad isn't standing outside the inn door listening on your conversations. The DM can't either.

A Good DM Builds Players Up, Not Beats Them Down

This is the tougher one to address, and one that's the toughest for DM's to grasp and tougher yet to follow through on.

It is not DM vs Players. In roleplaying games, the DM is not a player. They don't "win" and they don't "lose". They guide the story, and any good story builds the hero up. Obstacles and challenges are good if they deepen the story and allow the characters to build and grow. Challenges are not meant to "beat" the player, they are meant to propel the story forward.

Caveat: Depending on the type of campaign/game, the goal may totally be to "beat" the player. But more times than not that isn't the case.

There's not a ready solution for this one, however. I would use your judgement on previous experience with the DM. If it's been overwhelmingly good and it's just recently that it's turned sour, there is probably opportunity for course correction.

A Viable Solution

Try switching up the dynamic. Take turns DM'ing smaller stories. If the DM has switched to trying to "beat" the players, it may be that they're getting tired of sitting on the sidelines (as is the role of a DM) and want a chance to shine. Let them take up the player role.

This gives your party the opportunity a chance to run a session the way you want it run. Perhaps seeing how you run a session might give inspiration to the current DM. Or perhaps someone wants to take the role in its entirety.

Ultimately, you just need to talk to them. And be prepared to bring ideas to the table.

Sources

There seems to be some thought that my response is opinion based. Everything here is based on official material.

DM's are not against the player. They should build up the player.

This concept was important enough to warrant being printed on the first page of the first chapter of the DMG.

  • "your goal isn't to slaughter the adventurers"
  • " your role is to keep the players (and yourself) interested and immersed in the world you've created, and to let their characters do awesome things."

This is the intended role of a DM, not the preferred role.

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1 for conflating "play style I don't like" with "bad GMing." \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 27 at 14:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Added clarification on sources. I am referencing the intended role of a DM/GM (as outlined in the DMG), not a "preferred" role or play style. If you find something else you believe to be "personal preference" in my response, lets definitely discuss. \$\endgroup\$ – Bryant Jackson Apr 28 at 22:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ That may be the intended role of a D&D DM, but the OP never said they are playing D&D. Other RPG's require a more adversarial GM (paranoia springs to mind). \$\endgroup\$ – Saladani Apr 28 at 22:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ You could still construct an answer using 5e sources for a system-agnostic question, but again it would be better stated as “Some games, like D&D 5e, specifically advise that...”. Of course, you are also assuming the OPs suspicions are completely true instead of allowing any room for misunderstanding, which also weakens this answer. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 29 at 0:02

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