Balls and the ****-o-meter
Let’s start with some background about my role playing history. I am 22 years old and have been role playing for roughly 4 years with various different people. In this brief time I have played quite a few different games and systems including Dark Heresy, Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, D&D 3.5 and 4th edition, Pathfinder, the list goes on. I have recently started up a new group with some people where I now live, and have decided to run my own game to take the pressure off the other DM. Now I have ran games in the past, but mostly without success so this time I felt it was important to be 100% sure the game I was running was going to work.
This is going to be a series of articles about what I have been doing and learning that has made my overall experience as a DM more enjoyable and my game more enjoyable for my players. After all everyone is there to have fun. My first idea was to talk about prep as the way I prep my games has changed drastically and this has reduced a lot of stress, but I think it’s more important to talk about the way I have learned to control the table and my players.
My first session was a disaster, I was getting hounded left right and centre for attention, I couldn’t think because it was loud, everyone was talking at once, and getting mad when I didn’t respond, I felt like an underappreciated, over worked school teacher. As a new DM I tried to help everyone at once and make them all happy, but all it did was ruin the experience for me and to a degree the players as well, in the end I stopped my game early, and got the groups other DM to start his. Thankfully he is always well prepared. Unfortunately for me it was back to the drawing board.
My knee jerk reaction to the first session was docking experience. However in the end I decided that this wasn’t a good idea. After all, how could I dock when everyone was talking over each other? So that idea went in the bin, it works if one player is causing problems, but really, is it worth it? Most of the times you can just talk it out like adults. So I started looking online and talking to my friends and other DM’s who gave me various tips and ideas.
So I ran my second game, this time if anyone spoke out of turn they were ignored outright, which worked well, but once again they just got louder and louder, or they would talk over me and the player I was dealing with, with either their personal conversation or in game comments, both of which were equally annoying. Now I feel it’s important to point out, I am by no means a Nazi DM who thinks that people should only focus on the game, quite the opposite I like people being relaxed and enjoying a personal conversation, just if we are playing, don’t talk over the DM or the players he/she is interacting with. So once again, my game was cut short.
At this point I was at my wits end, but at the end of the session when everyone else had gone home I spoke to the other DM from our group we spoke about ways to control the group. He hands me a ball and says use this, only the person holding the ball can talk to you, everyone else has to be quieter than that person… So I thought Id give it a try.
On the day it works a treat, nobody talks over the person with the ball, when they want the ball they ask each other. It was like a life saver. But obviously I’d rather not have the focus on the ball, so I kept it in rotation for a few sessions and slowly weened them off. But rather than risk going back to chaos, I got a piece of paper folded it in half, put everyone’s names on it and sat it over my DM Screen. “What’s that?” they all asked… “This is the C***-o-meter”
Ok now I understand that is quite a harsh word, so if that’s how you feel, use a different word, but it worked well, and had the desired effect on my group. It got their attention and still worked as a deterrent for speaking over me.
The basic idea behind it, is that at the end of the game everyone gets a negative something in exchange for each point they get on the meter. Pretty easy, I used negative exp, but anything would work, nobody likes loosing things.
Now I know I said negative exp is not a good deterrent for a group but now since we have used the ball for a few weeks, its more about the individual, The first session I used the trusty meter nobody spoke over each other the game was civilized.
That’s all for Part One I will be posting Part Two next week. Feel free to leave any feedback, ask any questions or anything else you feel relevant in the comment section below or via PM on the forums.