Here at RPG.SE we form a quite specific bunch. We discuss or , we use terms like "player agency" or "emergent settings". We approach the hobby at an intellectual level, analysing implications of a variety of RPG-related factors, we dissect situations and promote understanding of soft-touch interpersonal techniques. We like to think about our games, but not all folks do.

Sometimes a group has a problem (or maybe is prone to falling into a specific trap situation) and you'd like to address that using your RPG.SE-approved methods. Usually the first order scenario is to talk to your players. You think about the situation at hand, what it means, where does it come from and try to set up a fair discussion at your table, as a GM or otherwise.

And the rest shuts you down with uninspired comments and bored, blank stares. Why do you over analyse everything? Can't we just play? It's gonna be fine this time. What do you mean, social contract? Agency? Same Page? Bollocks! It's so much work and discussion and no real benefit. Can't we fix it when it happens?

What does one do when the group bluntly refuses (or very reluctantly agrees only to oppose every motion) to any preparation or discussion about preventing likely problems in the game you're about to play?

I think I need to put some clarification here.

First "Take it or leave it" is a given. If the situation is not fun I know I can leave the game. I'm asking that question as I'm not at the decision point - but I also do not want to pretend there is no issue or that the situation cannot be improved.

Second: The group actually doesn't have anything against fixing problems when they come up. They don't want to apply preventive measures or discuss it beforehand. So, in practice, a lot of problems are addressed when they become a problem, but as you can probably notice, when something grows to be an issue, the damage it has done is already done. We might address it at that point and clear the situation, but it already costed us a sour game or two.

I'm looking for methods on how to deal with players addressing problems only post-factum and dismissing discussion about the game as unnecessary, too laborious or excessively difficult. It is, in my perception, an anti-intellectual attitude of people who want to have a game, but not a discussion about it.

Also, if you're reading this and you're in a game with me, it's not about you. Seriously. Ask me in person and I'll explain.

  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ Based on your comments on the answers I think your question has a problem, where it has a focus that does not match your intent. Reading the question the focus appears to be "I want to have an intellectual, analytical discussion before the game using a bunch of technical theory, but my group doesn't, how do I get them to?" Reading your comments though, the intended focus appears to be "My group won't talk about anything, even in a casual non-technical way, until it's already a problem, how do I deal?" This is getting you useless answers, so you may want to revise to refocus the Q. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 14:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good point. I'll give it a ponder. \$\endgroup\$
    – eimyr
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 14:53
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ It's not that this question is unanswerable, off-topic, or too broad, it's that this question seems to be a Rorschach Blob that causes everybody to address a (different) abstract problem than your actual problem. Consider adding a concrete example of something that's gone wrong and your group has refused to discuss, this may focus the answers more. \$\endgroup\$
    – user5834
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 22:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Since this will still keep pulling answers over time that are based on how it's currently written rather than whatever it's supposed to be asking, despite the accepted answer, I'm closing this as unclear to prevent that trickle of answers before the pondering and updating to make it say what it needs to say is done. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 14:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie That's fair to close it. I'm not sure if I'm able to word it differently while still preserving current answers' relevance. At some level it could warrant an entirely new question, but at the same time I have an answer I needed right here. Would you have some advice? \$\endgroup\$
    – eimyr
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 15:08

6 Answers 6


The Situation

  • A gaming group, that occasionally has problems resulting from a lack of shared expectations of what the game's about, and resolves them in the moment - pretty well, it sounds like, but definitely after some conflict.

The Problem

  • This is frustrating for you, so you suggest spending some time on proactive measures to prevent problems from happening in the first place.
  • When you do, you get blank stares and resistance.

The Cause

In my experience, these are signs you're trying to offer solutions to people who don't think they need them. Take another look at The Situation above. Can you imagine a mindset where someone would choose to accept that? You know your friends best, but some possibilities:

1) They don't see any problem. Perhaps they don't have a strong aversion to interpersonal/player conflict. Thus, to them, what you describe as "sour sessions" may register as "slightly suboptimal but still fun sessions", even if they include things like yelling that would be dealbreakers for me, and it sounds like maybe for you.

  • A particularly likely subset is if the group problems affect different people to different extents. Taylor's Barbarian interrupted your diplomat's negotiation with a beheading once again. Their character is satisfied and they're amused; your character is thwarted and you're frustrated.

2) They acknowledge it's a problem, but don't think it's a preventable one. We all know that people aren't numbers and can't be dealt with as neatly and systemically. Lacking as our society does any common education to the contrary, many people think that means there are no techniques that can be learned and applied to consistently improve social outcomes. To them, arguments are like hurricanes: something to be dealt with as best you can, not eliminated.

3) They acknowledge there may be a solvable problem, but aren't confident your solution is worth it. Mapping out expectations in advance costs time and effort for uncertain benefit. Starting the game is fun now. I don't think it's just this, because if it keeps happening most people would look for any solution, but it could go along with a less extreme #1 or #2 if they don't think there's much of a problem or it's not likely to be solved.

The Solution

It's gonna depend on the exact cause, so the numbers roughly correspond, but it'll probably take all of the below in some extent.

1) Explain the problem. This the most important step. If the other players don't already see it as a problem for them, then you'll have to share that it's a problem for you, using I-statements: "When XYZ happens, I get frustrated. Even though we always work it out, I've found that I really don't enjoy the sessions where it happens in the first place.1 Can we try to change that?" Whatever their own attitudes, it sounds like they don't realize how serious an issue this is for you.2 If, after you explain your position, people don't agree that it's not fun unless it's fun for everyone, well, at that point it's time to consider whether you want to stay under those conditions. But hopefully that won't be necessary.

2) Offer a solution. You've been doing that, but you may need to offer examples of how what you're suggesting has actually improved things for actual gamers. If you've played in other groups where what you're trying to do has worked, now would be the time to say so, but only if it's relevant to the actual problem you agreed on in step 1. Try to avoid any "inside baseball" terminology like we use around here; just make it as straightforward as possible and explain how the information you're looking for will affect your decisions. "I was thinking about playing a bookish healer this time, but if there's gonna be any PVP action, I obviously need to do a more well-rounded combat medic. Can we establish that now, so I can decide one way or the other?"

3) Limit the scope and investment. I got a group to actually go through the Same Page Tool for the second time in my life yesterday, because we're all strangers and the GM joined last so none of us knew what we were getting into. The first time, we'd been playing for a year and the campaign had kind of stalled. Otherwise, it seems to go over like a lead balloon. I've had much better luck sticking with the one or two points that are most important to me. Obviously, this is easier when you're the GM: "For this game, we're going with a strong $GENRE feel. You're expected to work together. My rulings on crazy stunts will mostly depend on whether it advances the group's goals or not." But it can also be done as a player: "Hey, let's agree to not have any player-killing or -stealing this time." "Should we run away when appropriate, or is this gonna be full speed ahead, no holds barred?" Obviously it's not that simple, but after you've done #1 and #2, it should be easier.3

1For completeness's sake, if that dialogue isn't true for you, it's possible you're trying to fix something that isn't even really a problem for you, just an artifact of how you think Good Gaming Groups operate. I don't think that's the case here, though.

2One of the things Ask a Manager frequently says is "You've asked your employee to stop doing X a few times, but have you explained to them that this is a serious issue that is putting their job [or in this case, your enjoyment of the game] in jeopardy?" Make sure there's weight behind your words.

3And whatever you do, don't use the phrase "anti-intellectual attitude" in any discussions with someone you want to improve relations with. :P

  • \$\begingroup\$ My solution #2 could use beefing up; suggestions welcome. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 16:34
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Awesome answer. For number 2 I would suggest things like: drop the lingo, do as little explaining as possible, do not advertise techniques or solutions by their popularity. One problem with 2 or 3 is that they might not be willing to have any discussion at all until the problem is at hand. Which is fine, but for certain situations, very limiting. Say, I want to know whether we accept combat within the party to decide if I'm going with my dependent-on-others-bookish-healer or with an independent-combat-medic. That piece of information is needed now, not when party is about to fight each other. \$\endgroup\$
    – eimyr
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 17:49
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ ...and yes anti-intellectual is not an adjective I would use to describe anyone in his/her presence, even if I believe it sincerely. Well, maybe certain politicians, but that's it. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – eimyr
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 17:51
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Ah. In that case it's unlikely you'll be able to change their idea of what "a good group" is (especially if that's their preferred style); I would focus on #1 - games should be fun, and the way these issues keep coming up isn't working for you and impacts your fun, and you would like everyone to take a moment to ensure that the game is fun for everyone. Once you've made your case, that's really all you can do; it's up to them to respond (or not), and then up to you. But right now I think there's a decent chance they just didn't realize why this matters to you. Good luck! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 20:14
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe Yep, it's a US/Canada term. “Inside baseball” is a metaphor meaning an approach to something that is technical and subtle, and of little perceived worth to those who approach the same thing more casually. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 3:42

Investment Level in a Leisure Activity

Your players to you:

Why do you over analyse everything? Can't we just play? It's gonna be fine this time. What do you mean, social contract? Agency? Same Page? Bollocks! It's so much work and discussion and no real benefit. Can't we fix it when it happens?

It appears that you and your players are communicating, but not all messages are getting through. They are sending, but what are you receiving?

  1. Games are played to have fun as a leisure activity. Each person has varying levels of investment in a given game, from a "beer and pretzels" casual approach to deep investment. (I run the gamut myself, depending on the group and the game).

  2. Your players are indicating that they are not at the heavy investment level at this point in this game. If you are, resolving that mismatch needs to be with fun as the objective. When resolving this, your fun matters. GM's need to have fun too. If you aren't having fun, and your fun needs are not responded to by your group, then make a choice: don't GM, since your fun is not being supported, or grit you teeth and have as much fun as you can. There isn't a third option.

  3. Fix it when it comes up is a valid approach to a leisure activity when the investment level is low. Is it worth the effort to try and persuade your players to approach it differently, with more investment? Should you go there? Their investment level being different from yours isn't badwrongfun. While you may have a sour game or two, trying to push for more investment can do a different sort of damage to a friendship. I doubt that is where you want to go.

    Experience: In our current group, we vary from me (substantial investment) to our Paladin, beer and pretzels approach, often needs pointers on spells and abilities that will help the group, to my brother -- he built a spread sheet with all of his spells and a three paragraph outline on how to play the wizard when he can't make a given session.

    None of us tries to get the others to change their level of immersion and investment. We have fun.

    We never used the same page tool. (It's a decent tool for some groups, but it is to my taste overkill. Our group have all known each other for years. Not all groups have that advantage). We agreed long ago that during play, the DM makes a ruling if a "what, I thought it worked that way?" situation arises ... then we play on. We can later sort it out if we think it needs more attention. Rarely used, rarely needed.

Second: The group actually doesn't have anything against fixing problems when they come up. They don't want to apply preventive measures or discuss it beforehand.

That's part and parcel to their version of fun during a leisure activity. Fix it on the fly is an acceptable approach. Roll with it. The point is to play, and have fun. We need not be perfect in our pursuit of fun.

A second example, not RPG intensive. Golf.
I have played golf for 30+ years. There are a variety of approaches to golf, ranging from "now and again, better be lots of beer" to every round being a match play 5 dollar Nassau and at least one practice session a week at the range. Some groups are free with mulligans, others are very much USGA-rules-only -- get out the book if we aren't sure what to do when there's a weird lie or a weird obstruction.

I've gone from deep, deep investment in golf (nearly an addiction) to beer and pretzels and more beer, then back again to serious, and am now beer-and-pretzels-and-cigars-and-whisky golf.

Each approach represents a different level of investment in a leisure activity, and each met my fun/leisure needs. RPG's, as a leisure activity, will have as broad a range of investment levels in the pursuit of fun.


Improve your understanding of interpersonal dynamics.

This question tacitly assumes that 'the rest of the group' are being 'unreasonable' in not wanting to discuss same-page dynamics or soft-touch techniques, and that those techniques are a superior means to create an interesting game. In reality, interacting with other people is not simple and relies on inherent and learned skills to a far greater extent than memorized principles of interaction - if an individual approaches a group and tries to improve the game they are all playing and they refuse, then that individual is the one who has failed to convince the group, not vice versa.

The status quo is the status quo for reasons - assuming those reasons are 'rank stupidity' and 'unreasonableness' indicates the base root of the problem - a lack of empathy and interpersonal skills that would enable the individual in question to frame the changes in a manner that is considered positive by the group (and to create a set of changes that would actually benefit the group in the first place).

Reading answers on rpg.se or articles about interpersonal communication does not mean you are good at it - neither does it mean you can impose positive changes on an activity, or design changes that are genuinely positive in the first place.

As for learning interpersonal skills, i'll give you a piece of advice someone gave to me once. Assume you know nothing. Even if you think you know what is happening, especially if that assumption includes your own level of skill being high, assume both that you know nothing and that your skill is not high, and approach the situation with humility and from first-principles. That is the easiest and the fastest way to learn to 'deal with' other people who do not necessarily share your groupthink.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I don't see any techniques or actions. I see some general attitudes you recommend, which imply a potentially great answer about how to present oneself as a collaborator and avoid didacticism, but right now your answer isn't very helpful to anyone who doesn't already know how to do those things. "Think about why you're wrong" isn't a solution in the Stack Exchange sense. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 12:47
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @BESW - This question is literally about Stack Exchange answers not working. This answer also only says 'think about why you're wrong' if you accept as read the premise in the question - which this answer explicitly denies. What it actually says is 're-approach the situation from the viewpoint that you have failed, not that others in the situation have failed you'. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 12:52
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ And after said re-approaching, I still don't know what to do, apart from accepting I know nothing and should shut up or leave. \$\endgroup\$
    – eimyr
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 13:16
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @JackLesnie The last paragraph applies to a lot of interpersonal interactions, to include marriage. Good call! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 15:51
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @eimyr - Repeat last paragraph as necessary until desired result is achieved. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 17:22

I'm afraid that in general I agree with @DaleM and @JackLesnie in that a frame challenge is the best answer to this question. Let me try to unpack why for you.

While @DaleM points out you probably need better interpersonal skills and @JackLesnie points out you are not listening to your players and thus denying them agency, they may be right, but you may be thinking "Well whatever, but it's still the right thing to do to address all this up front." Let me explain why that's a fallacy.

First of all, a lot of that effort is wasted. I mean this in the technical Lean sense of waste. You aren't generally going to be able to accurately identify the problems that can arise in the game ahead of time. Every bit of social contract rules about something that doesn't come up is wasted time. Every bit of rules that seemed like a good idea but really doesn't fit the situation when it comes up is wasted time. And then unforseen problems will come up that you'll need to handle on the fly anyway. I know that many people, especially gamers, feel like they can accurately analyze and predict outcomes, but real life proves that in general they can't (which is why untested opinions are not considered good answers on Stack Exchange and we have Good Subjective, Bad Subjective). You'll probably be more successful sticking to the obvious ones. Take my answer to this question on evil campaigns as an example - boundary setting for a horror game doesn't have to be all super complicated and end up with a huge list of "stuff you can/can't do," we just use TV/movie ratings analogies and go from there. Your fellow group members are instinctively sensing this and they don't want to spend valuable play time on talking about stuff that might never happen, where even the discussion of it could cause conflict and bring people at odds without the activity even happening.

I've never (in 30 years of gaming) been in a group with a written social contract. The closest we came was when I wanted to run a long term super IC campaign and I said "Folks can only miss one game a month. Talk at the table is in character. Don't share character sheets, secrets, etc." That was it for the social contract. If you think you need more, you should consider why, and why anyone else would be convinced that more is needed.

As a tangential analogy, I've worked for companies of all sizes. One billion-dollar multinational I worked for had a 2-page HR policy. Basically it said "no sex, drugs, gambling, and be professional and reflect well on the company." This company is successful and on the Fortune Top 50 Companies To Work For list. Then I've also worked for 20-person companies graduating from startuphood that decide they need a 200-page HR policy because, you know, "we're growing up and becoming a real company and they need these things." The latter approach is provably wasteful and stupid, and ends up degrading confidence in the company as a result. The players in your group have surely had this or an analogous experience to where "the thrill of proactive paperwork" isn't their idea of fun.

You are being victimized by all the answers where people shout "Same Page Tool!" as the answer to any interpersonal question on the site, often revealing they haven't actually read it (no disrespect, but it's a very limited in scope tool that only addresses a couple axes of group preference).

Now, if there's something you know is going to be an issue, usually because it's happened before with this group, it's fair to bring it up. "Hey, I am not going to bother playing a diplomat if Steve's just going to do his usual half-orc kill everything we see deal. Can we come to some understanding on this?" But that's proactively addressing specific items that everyone will probably trivially agree will come up. There's very little that requires more than 15 minutes spent in terms of setting expectations/same page/social contracts, and more time spent than that is most likely wasted play time.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Oh my, where do I even begin. I was tempted to stop reading after "but you probably are still thinking..." No. I'm not thinking that at all, thanks for making the assumption. I'm also not a huge fan of written contracts (does anyone even do that?) or Same Page Tool in it's many forms. In your last paragraph you have an example of concern over Steve's orc habits. Let's say the group responds with "Nah, no need to talk about it until it happens." That's what this question is about. \$\endgroup\$
    – eimyr
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 13:46
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ That doesn't line up at all with what your question says. You brought up social contracts and Same Page Tool not me... \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 15:19
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @eimyr As your question is currently worded, it sounds to me that this is the correct answer: Social contract discussions are governed by a social contract of their own, and your players disagree with you about what that social contract should be. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 2:42

Conflict is not a bad thing. Conflict, of itself, is not damaging and is not something that needs to be avoided just so everyone can dance into the sunset holding hands.

Unresolved conflict may be a bad thing; but maybe not too. Not every conflict needs to be resolved to allow the parties to get on with their relationship, lots of disagreements are inconsequential. Above all, conflicts do not have to be resolved fairly; life isn't fair, deal with it.

If you have a group that is happy to deal with conflict using the impromptu aquatic barrier construction method (i.e. they build a bridge and get over it) then good luck to you. The whole point of the group dynamic, social contract, sociology stuff is to help you think about how to deal with groups who can't do this. If your group doesn't need it, don't use it.

It sounds like that you followed step one: talk to the players, and didn't listen to what they said. They've told you how they want to resolve conflict: on the fly. Why are you denying them their agency in this?

  • \$\begingroup\$ I believe I tried to talk to the players, but the discussion never happened. The "best to do nothing" attitude was assumed without acknowledging alternatives. If we had a discussion where I present what I'd imagine would help the group and the group prefers on-the-fly conflict resolution, it would be fine to me and I wouldn't need any answers here. It's not about me throwing a tantrum over a rejected proposition, but over rejecting the whole notion of me having propositions, whatever they are. \$\endgroup\$
    – eimyr
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 13:24
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ It's clear from the question that the discussion did happen; you've written down what the players did/said - it was just short and partly non-verbal. If the players gave you a look that you correctly interpreted as saying "we don't want to talk about this" then communication happened. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 20:07

Just a few minutes...

Sometimes the prospect of homework is really pesky to people who want to just get going in the game. You can circumvent the feel of homework simply by saying 'Before we get started, I wanted to take a few minutes to ask you guys about a few things...' You could even do it at the end of your session, but at that point people are wanting to get home. This sort of thing is markedly easier when beginning a campaign, but I have found that taking a few minutes before each session to discuss feedback about the campaign is not only a great way to improve as a DM, but also as a player.

As long as you stick to just a couple minutes each session, over time you can cover all the topics you want to cover, and at worst, it limits bad sessions to a single episode. Also, it creates an open atmosphere where issues can be dealt with.

For a player who wants to get going in the game, a few minutes going over a few items beforehand should not be a huge deal. However, spending an inordinate amount of time covering a wide array of tedium does not sound appealing. The trick is to not say 'hey, we should do this same page tool exercise that I found on the internet', but rather 'I wanted to take a couple minutes and ask you guys a few questions.'

The end result of the exercise is the same, but how the exercise was framed made the latter seem so much easier. Just my thoughts.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .