This week it's the reverse of last week. I want you to think back to all the different tabletop RPG campaigns that you have played over the years. Think about individual scenes or moments that you least enjoyed, and most importantly, think about what caused them to be less-than-fun.
Describe an individual scene or two in a tabletop RPG that you really didn't enjoy. Then, more importantly, tell me what about the scene made it so non-enjoyable for you. Was it something to do with being uninterested in the characters or the tropes? Was is something to do with the players or actions in the scene? Was it lack of agency or unwanted consequences? Was it some player interaction with the mechanics?
Scenes I didn't enjoy. There have been some, though usually they are forgotten in time. I think the main problems fall into three categories:
1. The Meat Grinder GM - A scene set by a particularly aggressive GM that basically kills the characters unless done exactly as the GM would. Unlucky rolls just add to the misery. Taken a step further, a GM who kills a character out of spite. I am very glad I have not had to deal with this in years.
2. The Mechanical Nonaction - Some mechanic either knocks out, kills, or incapacitates the character, so no agency or long periods of nothing to do. I felt MERP had some scenes like this. The test for this one is simple: put cardboard cutout in a players chair instead and replay the scene, and if nothing changes, it may be a problem.
3. Player/Player Conflicts - Sometimes player issues spread into a scene and undermine it. It can be a problem.
A superhero game I ran several years ago devolved into PvP one session, and this was due to a Player/Player conflict bleeding into the game. It was only between two characters/players, but then the other characters tried to get involved to stop it, and…yeah. Do not recommend. I don't much like PvP (although I don't mind sparring scenes and such, like the one Eric and I had a few sessions ago), and PvP clearly motivated by OOC issues is just about The Worst.
I also once played in a game where there was a rather clever puzzle created by the GM. It was a logic grid sort of puzzle, using intercepted communiques with some pieces of info to piece together a list of five future missions, their dates, and who would be on them. The puzzle was really cool, but it quickly became apparent that only so many people can usefully contribute to one puzzle of this sort at a time before they start getting in each other's way, and that number was smaller than the number of players at the table. The other players were much more gung-ho about logic grids than I was, so I just sort of…sat around for half an hour while they solved it.
Finally, I'm currently playing in an online play-by-post GURPS game, and there have been a few scenes in that where the GM's style has really grated on me. The biggest problem is really that his NPCs seem to exist mostly either to 1) Order the PC's around and mock them, or 2) Show off how super-badass they are while we watch. I understand how attached a GM can get to colorful NPCs and I love interacting with them, and I don't even mind if the PC's boss NPC is a huge jerk, but I can only stomach so many entities telling me and my fellow players, “Get out of the way, let me handle this,” or “Go make yourself useful and mop the ship's floor or move boxes.”
Low points are trickier to comment on, because I often forget about them later. I try to focus on the good stuff and remember that.
However, I will echo the points above about lack of play due to mechanics. Being taken out of play for one reason or another kind of sucks, but how much it sucks depends on what else is going on at the same time. If it is a long drawn out fight, it sucks more. In the recent kidnap attempt by Electrico, that was not boring. I was very entertained by the roleplaying going on around me and wondering whether I was going to end up in a death trap because Micah was corrupt. I would have been totally okay with that happening, because it was a natural extension of the characters.
Early on in Trystal, I was not a fan of the rivaly between Guards and Military, because it tried to push the characters into PVP more than it should have. It wasn't as fun for me, which is why I had my character try to propose a law that defined the roles of each better, so it wouldn't be a discussion in the future.
I don't like life or death PVP. I don't like players trying to remove other players from the game, even at the end. As a general rule I want to be able to trust the people around the table with me to have my back, and I really don't like feeling like I've been betrayed. The end of Babylon 5 *really* bothered me, and on some level ruined the campaign for me.
I also tend to zone out during large combat encounters that I'm not a part of. They're not… bad persay, but I can't help but kind of check out. It's one thing if I'm watching In Character, or at least around to be motivated by what happens, but when I'm, say, singing in a lounge while a fight I can't possibly hope to notice is happening outside, it's rough. (That said, as I've said previously, I'd rather check out than be asked to fight to kill against other PCs).
I don't hugely like big puzzles that take a lot of time, unless they are skippable with clever usage of powers (I was in a D&D game once where there was a giant puzzle door that we were supposed to solve. Instead I Stone-to-Earth'd the wall around and we all walked through) or capable of doing something else while some people solve it. In Matt's example, I dislike puzzles in games like this a lot of the time, so I would opt for skipping and thus spend a lot of time twiddling my thumbs.
I don't like feeling completely hosed without a chance of winning. The final boss fight in Hunter was frustrating, as was RANDOM APOCALYPSE in 40k and Vampires 5ever in Deadlands. I get the first two were due to fluke mechanics and the last was due to us splitting up, but it felt unfairly deadly. Thankfully, those situations were all mitigated by the GM, which was appreciated.