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I've been tabletop-ing with a longtime group of friends (Shadowrun, but it doesn't really matter). I've been having fun, I suppose, but we are five sessions in and there is still no semblance of a plot. There is no immediate danger to the party, no reason for us to work together and no huge reward in store. Every time the GM creates an interesting plot point (that one time we accidentally assassinated a politician's daughter), it just ends up getting dropped and nothing ever comes of it (turns out we were never identified).

I don't think he's a bad GM. I just think he's not putting any effort into creating an engaging world for us to inflict ourselves on. Nothing we do has any real impact on our situation and when someone acts like an idiot (like getting plastered before meeting Mr Johnson), there are never any consequences.

I don't want to be a jerk to the GM since he is a good friend, but something's got to change. Have you had to deal with a problem like this before? Is it worth it to complain to the GM, or would you try to do something in-character to force his hand?

tl;dr GM is unimaginative and boring. How do fix without whining?

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    \$\begingroup\$ "There is no immediate danger to the party, no reason for us to work together and no huge reward in store." Maybe your GM is dealing with some existential work/life issues? Because that scenario you describe sounds like the 9-to-5 work grind. \$\endgroup\$ – JakeGould Sep 14 '15 at 6:40
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There are several things you can try to improve your experience with this game. That said, they all come with one big caveat: Do not approach this by telling your GM that he's "doing it wrong". There are a lot of different styles of GMing and playing, and even if the GM is using one that you personally don't like, that doesn't mean it's wrong or objectively unenjoyable. Perhaps the GM doesn't find plot-heavy campaigns fun, or he knows other players in the group don't. Perhaps he comes from a background of combat-heavy games where plot was never an issue. Perhaps he's used to games where the player roster isn't consistent enough to support plot. Whatever the case, he's the GM and he's not doing anything "wrong" any more than you are playing "wrong" by wanting more plot.

Consider a few things before deciding how you want to approach the issue:

Do the other players like the current game?

If the other players are enjoying the game as-is, then you've simply got a playstyle mismatch. What you find fun in an RPG isn't the same as what your friends find fun. Again, there's nothing inherently wrong with this; it just means that you're not likely to enjoy playing (this style of) games with them. If you're the only one who's not happy with the game as it's being run, then you have two choices: accept the style and don't expect your actions to affect the world, or leave the game. Which one you pick depends on you and your friends - how much do you enjoy the time hanging out with them independently of your enjoyment of the game? Do you have other things you can do with them so that the loss of the game won't affect your relationship? Are you so frustrated with the game that your annoyance is leaking from the game to your friends? Etc.

Does the GM like the current game, but the other players don't?

If the other players are as dissatisfied with the game as you are, then you should talk to your GM as a group, either before or after a game. Highlight a few plot points that your group was interested in, and ask the GM how your group can pursue them further. RPGs are a collaborative medium; the players can, and in many cases should, be as involved in creating the story as the GM is. When having this conversation, you may discover that there's a communication problem - perhaps the GM was putting in hints for your group to follow up on, but your group missed them and now your GM believes you weren't interested. Or perhaps you the players aren't expressing your interest clearly enough - the GM may be throwing things at you to see what sticks, but from his POV, nothing's catching your interest. Whether or not there's a communication problem, having a discussion as a group with the GM can help him figure out what your group enjoys.

Again, don't approach this as "Hey, GM, you're not doing plot. You should do more plot." This puts the GM on the defensive, and makes him feel bad and unappreciated. Instead, say things like, "Hey, GM, we're really curious about what's going to happen now that we've killed the politician's daughter. Can we spend some time next session exploring the consequences of that?" This tells the GM you're paying attention to the events of the game and you're invested in the world he's created for you, which usually makes GMs feel excited about the game.

Is the GM just honestly bad at plot-heavy GMing?

Not everyone has the skills to be a prolific novelist or TV writer - likewise, not everyone has the skills to GM a plot-heavy campaign. This isn't a diss on your GM! Figuring out detailed plots, action consequences, character interactions, and other elements of plot-heavy campaigns is hard. Your GM may simply not realize that there's plot to be had in these kinds of interaction, or know how to create it if he does. If that's the case, you again have to decide whether to accept this and keep playing with no expectation of plot, or to leave. But you also have a third option, depending on your relationship with the GM: offer to help him improve his skills.

This one's tricky: no one likes being told they're bad at something, even - or especially - by a good friend. If you really, truly think your GM would like to improve his ability to put together interesting plots based on PCs' interactions with the world, then you can offer to help him. Perhaps go over each session after game time with him, pointing out places where the characters' actions should affect the world and offering ideas for how. Perhaps find a way to do it real-time, where you can say during game, "Now that we've killed the politician's daughter, he'll probably send the police to find out who did it. Or he'll accuse his rival of doing it, thus using it to his advantage. Should we start running from the cops, or should we be on the lookout for his rival trying to find us instead?" Whichever you choose, make sure you're still respecting the GM and his choices. Be careful not to sound patronizing or bossy, and make sure you're not stepping all over his GM authority when offering suggestions.

TL;DR: You need to figure out whether the problem is one of playstyle, communication, or skill, and take appropriate action from there.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, some GMs may avoid plot because they're used to players that don't support it. (In my experience, this often comes from running campaigns for players whose attendance is unpredictable and sporadic; Either because they have jobs and other commitments that mean they're "always on call," or because they're "guest players" who leave after a session or two.) \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Sep 14 '15 at 7:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe Good point - thanks! I've added that to the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – thatgirldm Sep 14 '15 at 14:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1, good point about the DM possibly thinking the party isn't interested in his hooks. Heaven knows I've dropped plenty of breadcrumbs in front of my players only to have them shrug and go look at something else. \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Sep 14 '15 at 18:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ This possibility means that maybe the group should have a "recap" discussion at the end, expressing opinions about things that went well during the campaign. Maybe the players will settle on a common theme they all find enjoyable. \$\endgroup\$ – Dejay Clayton Sep 15 '15 at 1:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Okay, thanks for the analysis. I talked to him and I think he was trying to go for a more episodic "monster of the week" type story. Turns out that the other players would prefer a more cohesive plot as well, so he is willing to change things up for the group. The players will need to make more of an effort to play up their roles, though if this is going to work. Looks like things turned out well :) \$\endgroup\$ – anthony Sep 20 '15 at 20:09
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Talk to your GM in private

First step first. Call him in private, and give him feedback. Try to not be vague, actually point out what you didn't like, with examples that happened in game. If possible, also give a hint of what you were expecting, by saying how you would handle this if you were the GM on that situation.

Don't be afraid about "losing a friend" because of that. As long as you are talking in private (Ie, you are not bursting out in front of an audience), he has no reason to be angry with you. Listening to their players is GMing 101. As long as he is willing to listen, feedback will make him a better GM in general, and with a better affinity with the current group.

RPG is a social event. You are meeting a group of friends to run a game you all agreed. If there is some dissonance on assumptions between any two players, the best way to handle this is open dialogue. Trying to "fix it" by forcing something with your character to "see if he gets the hint" might mark you as an annoying player that can risk making the game worse to everyone else in the table.

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If you're determined to stick with this particular GM, you should give him constructive feedback in a way that won't trigger his defenses. One particular way to do that is to construct your feedback in the form of:

You're doing this thing right, and it would be even more exciting if...

"and" is an important alternative to "but", because when people hear "but", they are already preparing their defenses.

Here's an example of using "and":

I really loved it when our last campaign had each of us players feeling like we just entered a precarious situation that would be best tackled as a group, and it would be extremely exciting if one of those plot points tested our follow-through and collective problem-solving as a group by posing a particular challenge that had a long-term and satisfying payoff.

Either the GM will slowly get the point as the dawn of realization settles over his head, or he'll carry on exactly as usual, at which point you'll find a new GM.

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This person is supposed to be your friend. I think if you play long enough eventually a person in your usual group decides they want to be the GM/DM/referee and it's crap. Whether its the game or your friend it's just not fun. What usually happens is either someone has the talk (which no matter how nice you are is telling someone they stink at something they are either trying to be good at or think they are good at) which even when done well is going to sting or people start finding better things to do with their time.

I think your spidey sense was leading you toward the third, most interesting option, which is to play the game and make realistic, interesting, choices. For instance before the next run, ask the GM to see if your contact that got you in to the mess with the politico's daughter knows where the politico is. The goal being that since you got no street cred out of popping a politico's daughter, it's time to up the ante and pop the politico (or his successor)

Role playing games are a group effort and while the entirety of the issue may very well rest on your GM's shoulders, it's up to the group as a whole to try to add some interest. If getting drunk won't interest him a little mayhem might.

Last but not least find a local shop with a game (frankly just about any RPG will do) with a decent GM. Your friend doesn't need to be lashed (either with the cat of nine tails or a wet noodle sack as some suggest), he needs a mentor. Not everyone is a natural born GM but I truly believe anyone that wants to be can be taught. There unfortunately is no "GM school" hopefully however, once he sees the difference in your group as a whole he will start picking things up. If not- well there is always the talk...

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Talk with the other players

There's a chance that you're at a table with players who have different interests. Are the other players engaged? Do they see the same problems you do? If the answer is yes, then you should talk with them first to see what they think the GM can do. If the answer is no, you can either play a game with your friends and accept that it's not as interesting as you'd like it to be, or politely find a different table to play at.

If you've found that the other players are having the same problems, then...

Talk with the GM

This doesn't need to be confrontational - you actually don't even need to be critical of the GM at all to give good guidance. It's at this point you tell the GM what you like and don't like so far about the game. Now would be the time to mention that you'd like to:

  • see more character hooks. Give your GM some tips on this. For instance, remind your GM of what's important to your character, and what might get them more involved in the plot.
  • see more motivation for interaction between characters. Again, making suggestions instead of simply saying "this is a problem" is likely to get you the farthest here. What do you see that might help bring your characters together? Suggest that.
  • see more plot. Unfortunately, it's hard to give the GM suggestions on this one, but if you have a great idea, you can definitely suggest it anyway. In other words, give them a little nudge in the right direction.

If that doesn't work...

You're once again at square one. You have two choices: you can either accept that the game won't be as interesting as you'd like it to be, or you can politely find a different table to play at.

Just remember that, through all this, these are your friends, and that most of the time RPGs are less about the game you're playing and more about the experience and people you're sharing time with.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer seems pretty much the same as thatgirldm's. Maybe a little more concise. What are you adding here? \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Sep 14 '15 at 18:47
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As a GM this is one of the things that keeps me up at night. Are my players enjoying the game?

I would start out by referencing past plot points that you believe were dropped as your character, and try to drive the party to look deeper into them. This will actually force the GM to make up content (or reveal content if he has it already). It also shows your interest.

If that doesn't work, then I would approach them alone after the session and let them know what you really enjoy about it. It always pays off to spin it in a positive light. If you go and start complaining about everything, the GM will know what you DON'T want, but not what you actually are looking for. This can be discouraging and often elongates the problem.

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