I have finally pronounced my D&D campaign, "Pink Frost", dead after running it for about nine months. (I have two other D&D campaigns that I run, so I'm not going cold turkey.) It got to the point where I not only stopped enjoying that campaign, but running any of my games.
So what went wrong?
Right off the bat, there was a conflict between player expectations and DM goals. I was trying to craft an epic storyline that would affect the characters throughout the game. While some of the players were usually into that kind of gaming, it became obvious that the group consensus was that they wanted Saturday night beer and pretzel gaming. It took a few sessions for the mismatch to become truly obvious, and several plot twists had been revealed; I didn't want to have to scrap the entire plotline after putting a fair amount into creating it.
Even more damning, several of the players defended their right to make crass comments and disrupt the game in the name of "fun", "having a good time", and "being social". On more occasions than I wish to remember we only accomplished 1-2 hours of gaming in a 5-6 hour session. And I was made out to be the bad guy for spoiling everyone's fun. It should be mentioned that we only played twice per month, so a wasted session was a fairly big deal (IMHO, at least).
The next major problem was the scheduling and location. As a favor to a married couple (and longtime players), I agreed to run the game at their place, so they could avoid having to pay for 8 hours of babysitting. The husband turned out to be one of the most problematic players: it was his apartment, and to him disrupting the game was fun. Moving the game to my apartment wasn't an option, since the majority of the players were unwilling to make the commute for a third campaign. And I didn't want to rock the boat by cancelling the game altogether.
When we actually got to playing the game there were still issues. One player tried to create a twinked-out character, but didn't understand the rules enough to make an effective character. Somehow it became my fault because his character wasn't a killing machine. Another player got upset when his character did the most damage, but then became a target for the creature in question. A third player felt that the others weren't gaming correctly because their characters weren't min-maxed to the hilt.
The players refused to think for themselves. A major antagonist hired them with the promise of information, and they were happy to destroy and murder on her behalf without question or hesitation. The players were astounded to find out they'd been used; they had effectively destroyed evidence and killed witnesses who would have been very useful to their cause. Instead of investigating the plot in-character, I received constant out of character complaints that no one know what was going on. To keep the campaign from collapsing, I had to hand out information "for free" because the players were more interested in generic adventuring than finding out what was going on.
Lessons I've learned from this:
- Know your audience. If the players want beer and pretzels, don't waste your time and energy giving them wine and cheese. (But you can still serve quality beer and pretzels.)
- Penalize disruptive players...
- ... and kick them out if they don't get the hint within a game or two.
- The schedule and location are the GM's to control. It's one thing to work with the players before the game starts, to establish a schedule convenient for everyone. If players are unwilling or unable to attend, they should have planned better.
If the GM chooses to game at a player's house, let everyone know that the GM's place is the backup location so they can plan appropriately.
- No character should be irreplaceable or central. (yeah, I broke that one too)
- Nor should the absence of a player throw the game off, IC or OOC.
- Players who make assumptions get what they deserve. Let the players know that I don't mind questions (and even if I did, they're a lot better than hearing someone whine "I didn't think it worked that way.") As the saying goes, measure twice, cut once.
- If I stop having fun running a game, stop running the game. Don't drag it out until my other games suffer.