Talking Through Issues
This week's article is going to be just slightly different. This isn't a hilarious anecdote, or a bunch of advice - instead, I'm going to present the situation we once ran into in one of my groups, how we worked through it, and maybe - just maybe - how you can do the same when needed.
We were halfway through our Star Wars: Edge of the Empire campaign, playing through the "Mask of the Pirate Queen" adventure. And at one point, due to circumstances beyond our control and totally unavoidable (sarcasm), we got arrested. However, as part of our arrest, we had our gear taken away. We managed to fight our way out of custody, but it became clear that our equipment was far away, and we may not be able to recover it anytime soon...
After the game, a few of us hung out for a while, and the topic came up: "Why did you take our gear away?"
I don't GM the "Star Wars" games (surprising, I know, considering how many games I run, and also how much time I spend watching Star Wars, but I looked over at our GM, wondering how he was going to answer.
But I knew the answer even before he said it: "Your gear was breaking the game."
We'd only been playing Edge of the Empire for a few months, but we had acquired some really good technology and armor as part of our ongoing missions, and some players had managed to modify that gear to a pretty intense level. And part of the reason we did those modifications is because it feels satisfying to roll a whole bunch of dice and know you're going to do incredible damage if you hit.
But as we talked through the issue, late at night on a Saturday, sitting around our GM's living room, it became clear there was another reason we kept trying to build a better gun, and why we keep trying to upgrade our armor.
Our party felt we need better weapons and armor because the combats were getting more lethal. But for the GM, the combats were getting more lethal because our weapons and armor were making the fights too easy.
To be fair, the players' issues with losing their gear weren't based on trying to break the game - in fact, our most minmaxing player said, "You should definitely never give us our jet packs back, they were making things way too easy." But at the end of the previous arc, some of the party had acquired armor as a reward. Yet now they felt their armor was being taken away, and our GM conceded that he certainly could have communicated better with us, and let us know why some of our gear was being lost to us.
Part of the issue is we had a group of seven players. And another part of the issue is that we tended to think through our combats tactically - EotE has a "popcorn"-style initiative system, so everyone rolls for initiative, but any player can take a player slot; unlike D&D, you are not tied to the initiative you rolled for yourself. However, we would always give the first few slots to the same few players, because we knew they would be able to do the most damage in a single turn. Which, of course, led to redundant combats.
From here, the conversation turned to mixing things up. EotE is very game-able, but we spent too much time focusing on cover - one of us brought up that just adding more unique details to fights (like a pipe of sewage running overhead, or a speeder full of luggage sitting nearby) could help make these fights more dynamic. And again, due to the more story-based elements of EotE, the onus to add those details is not all on the GM's shoulders.
And at that point, we were on a roll, so we moved on to the issue of role-playing. Our group had always been a bit more beer-and-pretzels, but it became clear during the conversation that the party wasn't doing very much role-playing anymore. So, we started talking through that issue, and how to address it. Early in the campaign, our GM sent us surveys to establish more about our characters, and how they felt about each other. But the problem there was that we all filled those surveys out independently; once we got back to the table, none of those ideas really came along with us.
So, at the beginning of our next session, we spent about 45 minutes going around the table and establishing connections. How do the two Force-sensitive characters feel about each other? How do the gun-fighters feel about each other? Our Toydarian sleezebag (who recently lost an arm, because after all, this is Star Wars) established that his relationships with the entire group are going to start changing, in light of his character's recent brush with death.
From there, we figured out how to address the other issues we discussed. Our combats hadn't been engaging enough, so going forward we would lay a whiteboard on the table, so we could more easily visualize the environments and add details to the combat scenes. We didn't want to fully use miniatures, but at least helping everyone get on the same page about geography can make a huge difference.
The point of all this isn't just to share with you the things that worked for us, because these may not be the answers for your own group. Instead, my point is this: if there is an issue at the table, it has to be addressed. Chances are, if you explain your position, you'll find there are no enemies at the table, only friends who all want to have fun together.
And if there's something getting in the way of that fun - be it a rules discussion, a lack of connection to the other player characters, or just a question of why your very cool and ridiculously overpowered gun got taken away - then you have to talk it through with your group. If your fellow players can be reasonable (and there's no reason they shouldn't be), you'll be able to find a happy medium for everyone.