Left of Arc #7 – A most unpleasant GM experience

I really enjoy running a game for a group of friends, seeing them react to unexpected events, working together, conspiring against each other, and engaging with the story.  But what happens when very little of that happens?

During lockdown here in the UK I attempted to run a bit of a 2-team narrative-based Battletech campaign using the Alpha Strike rules for 8 players, 4 to each team.  A veteran player helped me to set it up and I felt like I had added plenty of well (or at least “ok”) balanced flavour.  But difficulties arose even before the first turn had started – one player was trying to essentially defect to his opponents to “screw the GM over”; the player he was in contact with had forwarded the emails to me.  Thankfully this player’s offer was soundly rebuffed, but it was very obvious that he lingered in the backfield of the campaign map when play began.

“Ok”, I thought, “things should run a bit more smoothly now.”  Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.  A rule I had amended at the behest of the group eventually turned out to not be thoroughly thought out and one team decided to cheese and take advantage of it.  It would be the opening battle of the campaign and potentially wipe a player clean from the game.  I had forewarned all players that since these were untested rules that I reserved the right to make changes in the interest of fairness.

As one whole team wrote rather bland orders (save for one player) and piled blindly into the battlefield, the defending player (note – singular) had written very good orders with scouts and battle plans, solid stuff.  Since it was lockdown I was fighting the battles for the players.  5 hours later and the attackers emerged victorious, but not the efficient crushing victory they expected – a pyrrhic victory.

A few days later I get an email from one of the two players who had thrown themselves into the very deep end of wargaming campaigns and weren’t coping, and he decided to withdraw.  Fair enough, perhaps the setting was a bit too much despite my attempts to make it as easy as possible.  Later that day I get 2 lengthy and rather blunt (some would say rude) emails in rapid succession from 2 other veteran players crying absolute foul, not only at the result of the battles they had fought, but also at the ‘flavours’ I had introduced, the changes in rules on how battles were to be fought, and a belief that I had ignored their orders… naturally upset and growing steadily more angry I took a little while before I replied.

I tried my best to explain everything, and to great detail, but I couldn’t convince them.

Now here comes the awkward bit.  As the GM I could see how the campaign was going to play out, and more importantly how the players were going to react.  Since I already had to deal with essentially half of the group being upset in one form or another, I took the decision to end the campaign before any more time was invested.

And I hated it.

The two players that complained were adamant there was nothing nasty about their emails, but I’ve reread them a few times now and I cant see how that’s the case.  The veteran player that helped me set up the game even tried going to bat for me, but seemingly that didn’t turn out well.  How could something like this result in such emotion?

I tried comparing this to my situation in an Ogre campaign where my arse was continually getting handed to me.  Sure I was upset and demoralised, but it was just a game and I didn’t take it out on anyone…

What’s most disappointing is that I feel I won’t be able to do something I really enjoy and run campaigns, not without this being in some folks’ minds.  Although it could be that I’m just not that good at GMing, or I need to be pickier about the players who join.

Hopefully, this is just the one time I have a negative GM experience, but I’d be interested to hear your stories if you’re willing to share.

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