Hold on to something, or strap yourself in. This one might get bumpy.
During a recent post-game pow-wow where we discussed what went well, and what could have gone better in that day's session, two of my players said they felt like they had little to do during the last third, or so of the game.
They complained, and rightfully so to a large degree, that I (as GM) didn't give them enough to do.
It's true. I did not. There were numerous reasons for this, and factors as simple as 'I didn't quite realize that was the situation at the time', to 'But you arrived to the game extremely late, after initially saying you wouldn't be able to make it. I didn't really have a lot for your PC in mind since I figured you weren't coming' played at role.
On the other hand though, there were several players whose PCs received more attention from me. Why? Again, there were a number of elements that lead to this, but the bottom line was:
Certain players are more pro-active. They get my attention, tell me what they are going to do, and then they do it. I like pro-active players.
I'm a real sucker for a player with a plan that they can describe it in under 5-10 minutes which can both solve problems, and generate new ones. Additionally, if the plan leads to adding material, expanding on existing material, getting the players to really role-play their PCs, and getting me to really role-play the NPCs, I'm going to jump on that like a Glommer on a bunch of Tribbles.
Present at the game were two such players who just happen to play more in the style I prefer. I mentioned recently that I'd played a Star Wars session with them. Well, as these two people got more attention, two other people got less. That's not good, and certainly I need to find a way to resist the temptation to give more 'screen time' to those whose approach I simply grok more.
This is certainly a Gamemaster character flaw of mine, although it's rarely come up over the years. Why? Well, I usually have a whole group of pro-active players who are really invested in the game.
Generally speaking, I remain aware of all the PCs, and their abilities, and try to include a variety of opportunities for various types of characters to perform various types of actions. The players are welcome to have their PC take any approach logical, and reasonable to the genre /setting/game we're playing in. If they don't, is that on me?
It's a game. We're there to play it. Do I need to give you something to do? Hey, here's something you can do - participate. Get involved. Do something. Make something happen.
In the session in question, a Star Trek session, it was the Science Officer, and the Engineer who felt that I did not supply them with something to do. More specifically, I did not directly stop to ask them what actions they would like to take.
Now I did, once or twice, ask the Science Officer what he wanted to do, and most of it did not directly relate to the event at hand.
The scenario involved a God-like Alien entering into our space-time continuum from subspace, using a static warp field/bubble that surrounded an entire planet. On the surface of the planet was a never before encountered emergent life form. Meanwhile, two alien species were fighting over the planet for very reasons.
Neither the Scientist Officer, nor the Engineer, tapped me, raised their hand, whistled, or did anything else to signal me that they had an idea. They never indicated that they wanted to do something. They simply waited until I got to them, and wanted to know what they could do in this particular situation.
A number of players during the same session grabbed opportunities, saw things they could do whether I directed them, or not (including planning out an intelligence gathering maneuver, and boarding a space vessel in danger of imminent explosion), and were genuinely entertained, and entertaining.
I know, I am venting here, and even ranting a bit, but I found it frustrating after the fact. I felt that there were so many things one could do! If you don't do them, and other players take the reins, is that on the GM?
It is. It really is. But it's also really hard for the GM, or at least for me, to stop those on a roll, and for those who aren't showing the same level of initiative.
GM: "OK, let's hold there. I need to find out what these other want people do."
Player 1: "I want to ask you yet another question about what the aliens look like."
Player 2: "What is there for me to do?"
*Blinks. Twice. Slowly*
I'll be honest, I didn't realize these two players felt they had nothing to do until after the game. As I've noted, we try to have a post game debriefing, and that's where it was revealed to me. Both also said they felt rude interrupting the other players to say they hadn't had a turn.
I feel more embarrassed, and mad at myself for not noticing they weren't having as much fun then I am at not giving them something to do. As a GM of my years of experience, one who is usually really perceptive about such things, I felt terrible.
As you can see, I am pretty torn on this. On the one hand, it is my responsibility as GM to make sure everyone has a good time. My adventures should be exciting, or at the very least interesting, and should give everyone a chance to shine.
Yet, if in my head I did give everyone a chance to shine, and they didn't take it, did I fail in my duties? Further more, I feel that sometimes the investment level, and buy-in is there, but a certain level of detachment remains. Both of my current groups show this behavior. Is it a modern gamer thing? An element of the mindset of the younger generation? They sit back, and wait, assuming I will get to them, instead of showing an interest, and excitement in the events transpiring right before them!
One of the two players [who felt under-utilized] actually said during the debriefing -
"I don't want to have to work that hard for my meal."
My response was -
"Yet I should work as hard as I can to cook it for you? I then need to spoon feed it to you after it's done? That's not very fair, and kind of lazy don't you think?"
I feel a little better now. I needed to get this out of my system. Not every group is my old NJ group, my old NY crew, and my old High School gang. People play differently.
I need to remember, I play differently as well. Differently from most people. I have a rather unusual background, an atypical approach, and a way of looking at RPGs that is probably the exception, not the norm. Only a fool would be away of his unique nature, and then be surprised not everyone gets it.
If I want to remain the GM for this group, I have to learn how to GM for the way they play. Hopefully they now have a better idea of how I play.
Somewhere in the middle is a consistently high quality game.
We'll get there together.