The Disconnect Between GMs and Players

My post the other day about selfishness in GMs and players led to a fascinating comment by lindevi of Triple Crit. Here’s a part of it: You speak in the language of kingdoms and gods and ruins; the players converse in levels, equipment, friends or foes.

Sometimes, talking to your players is like a bad game of telephone.

That is a fantastic quote, one that has a lot of connotation to it.

There’s an incredible disconnect between players and GMs, even with people who often wear both hats in their group. The players only have control over one thing in the game: Their character. As such, they don’t care as much about the greater plot (Kingdoms and gods and ruins) than they do about what is directly in their control, their character (levels, equipment, friends or foes).

If I’m running a game where I drop hints here and there about a greater overall plot, and the players just drop the ball, can I really blame them? Those hints didn’t directly relate to their characters (at that moment), so how can I be surprised?

With my new group, being entirely new to RPGs, I plan on breaking them of that a little, by encouraging them to take lots of notes. In doing so, they will perhaps be able to piece together the varied plot elements to realize the overall story. And, as brand new players, they won’t have the bad habits of old players have (hopefully).

Is there another way to help players look beyond the character sheet to the greater world around them?

"This is the NPC I've created. His name is Joe."

I think so: Let them create NPCs.

If you give them a little homework to come up with three allies, three enemies and three contacts, it gives them a vested interest in the world. I’m not saying they need to create the full stat-blocks of the NPCs, just the names, jobs, personalities and information about the character.

In doing so, and with the expectation that you’ll introduce the character into the story at some point, you can populate the world with people they actually feel a connection to.

I think it’s also key to not let them know when the character will show up. It allows for a surprise when suddenly, their NPC, Joe the Dwarf wanders in, flirting with wenches and pounding tankards of ale, just like they described him.

So that’s the advice I have for helping bridge that disconnect between the players and GM. Do you have any advice?

9 thoughts on “The Disconnect Between GMs and Players

  1. If you want your players to start seeing the big picture beyond levels and gear, make sure their actions have consequences in the larger world. Want a monstrous evil demon to threaten the world? The players have a bigger stake when they were the ones who accidentally released the beast from its ancient prison!

  2. I like the 3×3 NPC idea. I haven’t had a chance to use it myself yet.

    Another way to get them involved is to introduce NPCs that want things from them. Merchants that want to trade for the treasure they bring back, nobles that want fealty, socialites that want notoriety, and, in your campaign, church officials that want results. Especially with new players, set up the world so that it demands interaction, and doesn’t just watch idly from the sidelines until the players choose to engage.

  3. I like the idea of having the players make an NPC or two. My plan for my next game it have a bit of collabortive world building so they more investment in the big picture rather than having it just be a big GM info dump. Plus makes the GM’s job a little easier.

  4. @packofgnolls: Great point. I remember my wife getting really upset when she released a massive fire elemental, who went on to destroy a nearby village.

  5. I’ve recently done something similar, at least with the same results. My group started at 2nd level and I immediately threw them into a new and developing mining town. The group as a whole have embraced this town and made it their own. I have thrown in certain NPCs that have associations and relations with individual PCs. It has really fostered a connection between the PCs and the rest of the world.

    I do think that I will take your idea and have each player develop another ally or contact to sprinkle into the town as well. Thanks for the idea.

  6. One of my weak spots. I often wonder why the players “Miss this obvious clue” Or “Forgot this Important NPC” so I tried to convince them to take notes. Failed, they just could not be bothered. So I tried to get them to take part in world building. Failed, they just could not be bothered. Its infuriating me to no end. There is only one Player I ca get to be a bit more involved but so far he failed to get the others on board. The simple truth is the group has a different reason to sit at the gaming table then I do. I want to tell the story, live great adventures, see wondrous things. They want to hang out with each other, forget the world for a few hours and have Fun. I want to have an RPG evening, they could as well sit together and drink a few beers chatting away. I conceive far to complicated stories and plots for them to follow as we only play very other month if we are lucky. I probably just put too much effort in that would not be required and produce disconnect and frustration that way. I also had to admit to myself I was running a game I wanted to play, not necessarily what they wanted to play.

    Deep inside I know I have to change my approach to the group and gaming. But I am also convinced I just need to find the right methods and the means to start a campaign they care about. And that has to start way before character creation. Your tips however will be definitely one part in my toolbox.

  7. I listen to several gaming podcasts (RPPR, FTB, THACO, Narrative Control, Gamer’s Haven, even Amorphous Blobcast for some reason) and what they have in common is that they discuss RPGs from the perspective of GMs… who run games for tables of GMs. I run two 4e campaigns and most of them are not DMs. The non-DMs are much less – attentive? – to the details of the setting. Players in general are not used to the “homework” aspect of DMing, and don’t do it as a rule. The solution may be to approach the game table like a teacher approaches a classroom, and behave accordingly.

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