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This may be a silly question, but I'm still quite curious. How do deal with unfun game sessions that you feel are still kind of required?

The context of my question is, our group just had, effectively, a TPK. We made a few tactical errors but more pressing were horrendous dice rolls. Like, our Blessed One critically botched her parry attempt, stabbed herself and went from full HP to dying... in a low-damage game system. We're kind of used to bad luck on our part and NPCs rolling really well, so it wasn't a shocker. It still leaves us with either a game over, or a capture scenario. And thinking about playing through one of those almost makes me prefer the TPK.

The campaign has, up to that point, been rife with moments where we PCs felt powerless and incompetent. We were stuck in a tournament where each event had several NPCs that far outleveled us, or plain cheated. We won exactly one discipline, and only because we cheated after the GM told us how. Our greatest success came from an NPC on our side heroically defeating the NPC antagonist (the prince of the realm who is set up to become a major enemy later on) in the joust. We tried to prove an innocent man not guilty and got everything turned around on us until we did exactly what our GM told us to do. Long story short, we sucked, but we're starting characters so we accepted that we sucked. Sucking is natural at this stage. Plus I feel we players are a little stupid.

After the tournament, we were following an escaped murderer through the wilderness, got into a fight we could've easily won but lost instead. And now I'm worried we're right back to being helpless and getting humiliated by the NPCs. And sure, this could all be a setup for a daring escape... but at this point, I don't trust us to do that right, and even if we do, that means having to sit through the prison scenes first. We lost, so I guess some punishment is in order before we can try being heroes again? Eating our broccoli even if we hate it.

So, what's your approach when you know or suspect the next few sessions will be unfun, but need to happen so you can get back to having fun? Do you have any tips? Should I talk to the GM about giving us a summary of what happened? Our GM is one of my best, dearest friends, I don't want to upset him.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "... this could all be a setup for a daring escape..." Has your DM confirmed that this is all necessary setup for something awesome? If not, then as interesting a question as 'broccoli sessions' is, it's probably not your real problem. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 19 at 3:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @StopBeingEvil No, he hasn't. That's conjecture on my part. He's told me he doesn't like to kill characters unless their players deserve it for "being dumb". I'm glad you think the question has potential to be interesting, though, so thank you very much for that! \$\endgroup\$ Jun 19 at 3:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ At the end of the day it's a game, there for you to enjoy. A lot of the words you use (suck, helpless,stupid, powerless, incompetent) sound like someone who really isn't enjoying the game their DM has set out for them. Try talking to your DM about this - it sounds like the game style is getting to you. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21 at 6:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you playing a published campaign or did you GM make it? Which version of the dark eye are you playing? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kekse
    Jun 21 at 7:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kekse I'm positive that this is a published adventure called "Die Zuflucht". I have GMed it many times. Some of the problems described by OP are inherent to the adventure and need some adjustment made by the GM to be fun. The tournament is against competent warriors of a (rather backward) country, which can easily outmatch the PCs if played rules as written. I always added some level and character appropriate competitions to the tournament, to give the players a fun thing to do. This adventure, and even more so it's follow uo are amazing beginner adventures, but need an experiend GM.. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cohnal
    Jun 22 at 17:52
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First, some definitions and context.

Table time and player energy are finite resources. There aren't enough hours in the day, let alone in your game session, for you to focus on everything in detail. And if you could, there's always deeper levels of detail.

What this means is that the table will economize: different things will be handled at different levels of detail and focus. More involved scenes requiring finer detail will be treated with more focus, while times when finer details are unnecessary or boring will be treated with less and thus take up less table time, leaving more time for what the table wishes to spend their time doing. For example:

  • A trip through the woods lasting three weeks will, overall, be treated at a very low level of detail. It might pass in a single sentence.
  • A wild animal attack during that trip will pull the focus closer. Now every second counts. This is typically where combat rules start getting invoked.
  • Once the attack is over, there might be a discussion over why it happened, an examination of the wounded, etc. That's going to be handled at less focus than the attack, but more than the trip itself.
  • And once the discussion and patching up is done and everyone's back on the road, the focus pulls back to where it was originally.
  • Then when you get to your destination, we focus more closely on your contact and your conversation.
  • etc, etc.

So what is a broccoli session?

It's when there is unresolved disagreement with the DM over how much focus a part of the game warrants.

Disagreements on this between players are common - it may be that one player enjoys spending time dealing with the bartender NPC, while another prefers exploring the other patrons, while a third wants to get to the fighting, leaving each to being bored while the other is having fun - but in this case it's like negotiating any other activity. If the balance of fun leans too far away from one player, it might be a broccoli session for them, and a large part of the DM's role is to manage this balance to ensure everyone is having fun overall.

In some cases, it may be between the table and the system. You'd like to just skip past this scene, but you need to know the fiddly details for later? In that case, you have a DM; they can simply adjudicate whatever details 'need' to be done, so I wouldn't call this a broccoli session either - unless the DM disagrees.

That brings us to when it's between the players and the DM. Maybe this NPC is important, and the players need to build up some kind of a relationship to determine how later things go while the DM needs to spend time developing and portraying the character? It's not uncommon for players to balk at this. Maybe they just hate the NPC's portrayal, or something similar?

This one is harder for the players to deal with. The players may not feel empowered to speak up and say they don't find this part engaging, or they may be expecting some kind of payoff if they just sit through it - that it's leading up to something that they will find both engaging and worth the time spent setting it up.

This last scenario is what I expect is happening to you, with the caveat that I've been making the assumption that the DM has a later payoff planned, even if they haven't made it clear to you.

This is where I challenge that assumption.

You have bigger problems than broccoli sessions.

Your DM so far hasn't allowed you to do much of anything and has relied on powerful NPCs to thwart you at every turn until you do their bidding. As you put it, you've been made "helpless and humiliated by the NPCs".

This particular DMing style is more indicative of a campaign with a lot of railroading and almost no room for player agency. Some people call this a 'power DM'. It's not bad so long as the players are enjoying it, and some tables do enjoy this kind of antagonistic game. You don't sound like you do.

You need to talk with your DM, tell them that the game so far has been not-fun, and figure out which is the case:

  • If there is a payoff coming (that is, if they acknowledge that the game so far has been fun, but maintain that it is critical setup for something later that they promise you will like), ask for the game to get there sooner, because so far has just been dragging on you.
  • If there isn't a payoff coming (if they thought you were having enough fun with the game as it was), tell them this isn't the game you want to play. You might agree to change the game to something you both want to run, much as players might, or you might not, in which case you'll have to decide whether you want to keep attending or push for a different activity entirely.

No matter what, communication with your players and DM is key to you all enjoying yourselves.

Good luck.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Either the first bullet point has a typo and the "has" should be "hasn't" or I am misunderstanding something. The rest of the answer is great. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21 at 19:48
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If they serve an important purpose, you just sort of get through them with as a much grace as possible, but if not skip them.

Games are supposed to be fun. They are hobby. You are probably not being paid to play, and even if you happen to be one of the very rare individuals who manages to get paid to play this is an area where your performance probably benefits from you having fun too.

There are some things that may not be fun but that you have to do them anyway to make the game work. This is true in just about every hobby. You need to learn enough of the rules to function, and that may or may not be fun for you. You need to make or choose a character. I find that fun, but a lot of people think its tedious bookkeeping. Sometimes, you may need a serious talk about how the game should run. This probably isn't fun, but if you have a new group it may be necessary, especially if there are plans to include possibly sensitive topics such as torture, sex, etc. Sometimes, you need to sit through an info-dump from the GM/DM so you understand what's going on. In these cases, you sometimes just need to deal with it with as much grace as possible.

Similarly, sometimes what is unfun for you is the whole reason someone else is there. In that case, as long as you are getting enough fun to make the whole endeavour worthwhile, you focus on supporting their fun for a while. You may be able to enjoy the fact they are having fun even if you don't enjoy that particular scene. You may be there for the combat and they like the role-playing in between combat. In those cases, as long as the balance is reasonable, you support their fun with the expectation that they will support your fun when the spotlight swings back to your preferred section.

But the important thing is, the hobby as a whole should be fun. The stuff that is necessary but not fun for everyone should be minimized and dealt with quickly and efficiently. The stuff that is fun for one section of a group but not for another is necessary and everyone should support everyone else's fun, but it should be balanced.

While some unfun work is necessary for just about any hobby, as long as it is a hobby the fun should heavily outweigh the work and if it isn't then you need to examine the situation. Perhaps you need to talk to the entire table about rebalancing things so that you get more of what you find fun. Perhaps you need to find a different group to play with. And if that doesn't work, then its just possibly you may want to look at a different hobby.

Punishment for players is virtually never in order, and "punishment" for a character should be handled in a way that is fun for the player

I admit that this is a bit of a tangent, but you said "We lost, so I guess some punishment is in order before we can try being heroes again?" No.

Players should almost never be punished. Generally, you are all peers enjoying a hobby together. Peers generally do not punish each other and definitely should not be trying to punish each other over a hobby.

In fact, I can think of exactly two exceptions and one strains the definition of "punish." The first, is that now that I have children there are sometimes mixed age groups with younger kids, teenagers, and adults or I'm present when my kids are playing without me. In that case, an adult in a proper position of authority (parent, guardian, or with permission from a parent or guardian) might need to actually discipline a younger player that is not behaving properly. Normally, a brief discussion is enough or timeout from the game is enough. The second is that the group as a whole may occasionally need to remove a problem player. But that strains the definition of punishment in any normal sense, it is deciding to continue the game without someone that is not contributing to the fun. And that is the only "punishment" I've ever seen appropriately used by a group against a player.

The game should be fun, you are not supposed to be punished for playing it.

Now, in character consequences for in character consequences are different. If your rogue commits a crime and gets caught, it is quite natural that the in-world authorities might try to enact a punishment such as imprisonment. In fact, it would be weird if the in-world authorities didn't at least try. But while that might be a literal punishment in-world for the character, the GM/DM should be structuring it so it creates interesting new opportunities for adventure immediately, not making the character sit through a dull prison scene (an interesting prison scene is different of course. Plenty of media and even a few real life plots involve getting captured on purpose for different reasons...) before they can be heroic again.

In short, unless you're a minor playing with adults with a real authority over you, your GM/DM should never try to punish you and consequences for your characters should be natural and lead to new adventures, not boring.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Thomas Markov Thanks for the corrections. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21 at 20:30

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