Breaking Up with Your Gaming Group

Sometimes it’s not you, it’s them.

Have you ever had to break up with a gaming group? It sucks, right? Below are some experiences you might recognize, along with some advice on what to do when it’s time to break up with your gaming group.

Let’s get the ball rolling! Who here has ever broken up with a gaming group?

Ari: Yes. During our D&D campaign we had one player that was a rules lawyer. Twice during a game he interrupted the game to argue about the rules. It was the DM’s first time running D&D and we had one player that would verify the book just to double check.The rules lawyer would occasionally do corrections but the two times were… explosive. It got to the point that no one wanted to play with him. Eventually the GM ended the game, all of us agreeing the rules lawyer wasn’t a good fit.

It’s honestly hard, and awkward. Table-top games is a social event despite the fact you’re hiding behind a character sheet and dice. You talk about your day, you start understanding certain cues and quirks. You want to get along with them. It’s hours a week together, they become friends or really close acquaintances. You want to get along, you don’t want to dread going to do something that’s supposed to be fun.

Liz: Uhhhh, rules lawyer, that is painful! Did you guys try telling him to quit it? I know that is easier said than done, but if you guys liked him as a person…

Sarah: To digress for a moment, I’ve known one rules lawyer that I’ve liked and play with. They have a bad rep for a reason. It’s such an obvious power play most of the time. The one I like? It’s just how his mind works - everything is linear and logical.

I’ve had to break up with groups/players a couple of times. Usually it comes back to the good fit problem - the guy who would shut down other player’s actions, or the game that was sucking energy rather than making my life more fun.

Liz: Actually, Sarah you are totally right about that. I have one friend who is the king of rules, but he is lovely to play with. When we play D&D he is always just super helpful and friendly. To quote Uncle Ben, “Remember, with great power, comes great responsibility.”

Ari: At the end, it wasn’t fun to play or talk to him. When we tried to have a normal conversation it went back on how we were playing the game wrong.

Rules lawyers I like are people who will correct people without making you feel awkward or understand the GM is allowed to interpret the game is necessary. It’s another if they do what Sarah explains- shutting down other player’s actions or sucking the energy out.

Stephanie: I’ve left groups before, and I’ve had people leave mine, but usually citing schedules and kids and such, not the underlying problem in the group. I’ve had lots of groups that I should have broken up with. I have also been fired from an online game, but I don’t take it too personally-- we were only in the second or third session.

I still have recurring nightmares about a long-time campaign I was in with a highly competitive D&D player. Yes, competitive. It brought out the worst in me, and was a big, epic campaign which constantly felt like a tug of war. I should have quit years before the campaign fell apart.

Is it easier or harder to do online vs. real life?

Ari: That was done online, I am digital player- the South so far hasn’t been the friendliest in finding players. It wasn’t during through IM , so it was done over Skype… like an awkward break up.

I’ve had players we haven’t played with again due to the fact they lack respect for players’ time (never available for games after establishing how many sessions we will be playing), lateness, power playing, or being so offensive or that much of a jerk no one can concentrate on the game. That part is easier. Online can be simpler to deal with, real life… I was once in a game that the GM and his ex were had a bad breakup, she insisted on playing and she played his NPC’s ‘wife’. We wanted to continue but were so tense waiting for the tick bomb to explode. Remember… this is for fun. FUN.

Sarah: I’ve done both, and I think due to circumstances real life has mainly been easier, except for the one dude I worked with (wince). I still see the people I don’t game with online, which is cool because most of the time I want to remain friends. But I’m really uncomfortable with confrontation and conflict, so the actual moment of break up is nausea-inducing either way.

Stephanie: It’s easier online because they can’t see you face-to-face. However, for “meatspace” games (online, of course, still being “real life”) you can just stop showing up. If you do that online, inevitably someone in the group is going to ping you on Skype or Steam and say “hey, aren’t you coming?”

What if it’s the GM that’s the problem, but you love the other players? What do you do?

Ari: Never had that problem, it’s always been another player but I would try to ask how the other players feel. Some players are loyal to their GM for whatever reason, other times people are so focused on their storyline to not realize maybe something is in the wrong. It’s okay for you to leave, it’s okay for you to maybe invite the players for another game sans the GM- just make sure to talk it over.

Liz: I’ve had this problem before and I left the role play group. All the other players were enjoying themselves, but I really wasn’t. I realized that is was kinda my thing and not on anyone else so I left. Normally, I am not that picky of a person, I am happy just plodding along and listening in if I enjoy the people I play with, but it was just too much for me and I knew I had to leave.

Sarah: I also very sadly left the group. In one instance, it led to me not even being able to be friends with that GM anymore, since she took it really personally, which I totally understood. It just sucked that I lost the group and the friend. I’ve never really tried to bring the players with me (looks longingly at certain individuals). I’m afraid I’ll cause a rift in those players’ relationship with their GM, and I don’t want to do that.

Stephanie: I wrote a post a while back about the trust between players and GMs. One of the only “gaming break-ups” I’ve had was one of my close friends. Normally, he’s a great GM, but we’d been fighting, and I felt he took it out on my character, beyond the needs of the story. My trust in him was broken, and I don’t play as a player with him anymore. I’m sure we could get past it, but getting back to being friends is more important than restoring our gaming relationship.

In general, though, if I have a problem with the GM and I don’t think the other players will back me up, I’ll just leave. Since I am also a GM, I’ll also offer to run games, or sometimes coach (if I think they’re struggling because they’re new to GMing). I’ve been known to leave a group and invite players I liked from it to come play in my game, though I am polite enough to schedule it for a different night so the players don’t have to choose.

Any advice on recognizing when that time has come?

Ari: When you’re dreading the game. Basically, has that giddy feeling gone? Has the game become a chore? Do you wish that your character die a horrible death so you can just check out? Are you looking at your phone way more often than the game? Do you find yourself fantasizing about other gaming groups? It’s time to bail.

Sarah: Oh my god all of this yes. It’s kinda tricky to do, since women in particular are socialized to smooth things over and worry about everyone else’s comfort over their own, but screw that. You deserve a good group that works for you. There are other groups out there. Don’t stay with ones that are ruining your fun. Also, if you want to try a new game system or a different way of playing, but your group groans and digs in their feet? That may be a sign that you need a new group, whether that’s alongside your current one or replacing it. We change, people. It’s OK.

Stephanie: When I’m angry for more than a day after the game, and my anger isn’t about the story, but about the players. If I’m angry, it usually means something is going tremendously wrong somewhere.

Sarah: Aw, hell yes, Stephanie. That’s an excellent point.

Any tips on how to do it?

Ari: If by chance talking it over won’t fix it, walk away. Life is too short to be playing games you don’t enjoy. You shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable, unwanted, tense or any other negative emotion when you participate in a game, unless those are the emotions you wish to feel while gaming. Tabletop role-play at the end should be fun, you’re participating in a grand story together.

You can start by letting them know that maybe you’re not interested in playing and if it’s okay to end your character there or kill them off. Know that sometimes GMs might take it wrong, think your character is now belongs to the story and kill them in some horrible way- this happens because people are sensitive or mean but know this, that is not you. Do not take it personal. If not, just say you can’t participate anymore. You really don’t need to give a reason but if they insist without being nice about it, there are wonderful ways to block people.

If blocking doesn’t work then call the police, make a report and stay safe.

Liz: Oddly enough typical break up things totally work, in my case, It’s not you, it’s me. It works because in the end it is your choice. If someone is making you feel uncomfortable, you should tell them, but telling people that it is your choice to leave and not putting it on anyone else assures people do not get their feelings hurt.  

Sarah: Damn, Ari. I wish part of me didn’t see that as an actual possibility for some people.

Yeah, I’d go for the soft touch as well, to avoid that pesky conflict. It’s not really anyone’s business why you can’t game anymore. We’re all adults with busy lives, and we’re the only one who can judge what brings value to it. You’ve got to make the right choice for you, and people should (but of course don’t always) respect your short, clear reason. I’d give someone a tiny bit of back and forth, but I’ve never found someone arguing with me over a thing I’ve decided isn’t for me anymore to be productive on either side. Be polite but firm, then shut it down and go listen to your flavor of punk rock while complaining to your friends about said person’s obtuseness. Angry music and a sympathetic ear gives many situations that needed distance.

Ari: I ruin dreams and eat cake.

Stephanie: Actually, the one time I almost fired an entire gaming group, I was extremely confrontational about it, and I feel I was justified in being that way. It was a public game (D&D Encounters), but our group of players was “locked in” for the season (I had the same group every week-- most Encounters groups are more fluid), and they were playing an evil campaign. The problem was, it had gotten rapey, fast, and I was overwhelmed with rape jokes, rape imagery, in-character rape actions, etc. The organizer hadn’t dealt with it, despite my complaints, and so I went online and asked around on some forums: “Hey, how do you folks feel about rapey talk in an Encounters campaign? If relevant: I’m a female GM and it’s making me uncomfortable.”

I brought the (overwhelmingly supportive) responses to the organizer and got him to finally back me up in whatever I chose to do. I then went to the players and sent them an email explaining that it wasn’t okay, I was extremely uncomfortable, no longer felt safe, and neither the word nor act would exist at my table anymore, or they would lose a GM and the game. A few of them apologized. One retired his character, immediately. I was cautious. They needed one or two time-outs after that, maybe to prove that I would stick to the boundary? But they behaved a lot better, and we finished the evil campaign with tons of fun betrayal and back-stabbing and glory for Lolth!

Sarah: Wow, that sounds incredibly awful, but you handled it so well! All glory to Lolth! Ari, do you have any cake to share?