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What Did I Do This Summer? I Dissolved My Gaming Group

It happens.  You work hard and everybody puts forth a sincere effort, but sometimes a relationship is not meant to last.  When you are just looking at each from across the table and find yourself with nothing to say perhaps it is best to move on at that point.  Perhaps it is best to just be friends.  Remember the good times together fondly, and move forward apart from each other.

Sure that might sound like the topic for the next episode of Oprah, but it applies to a bad gaming group too.  Human relationships can be tricky things and when they go sour they become even trickier.  That is what happened to one of my gaming groups this past summer, and that is why I dissolved the group.

Something just doesn’t feel right.

You read correctly: I as the GM dissolved my own gaming group.  The group is no more.  I took it out back, gave it a pat on its fuzzy little head, then put a bullet in its skull faster than you can say “The Yearling”.  It was the right thing to do.

There were warning signs that the group was falling apart.  We took notice of these issues as a group and did our best to address them, but in the end I realized that we would be losing the group no matter what.  Better to sacrifice the game than to lose the friendships with the gamers.

The red lights start blinking.

What are the tells that a gaming group is falling apart?  Some would say that it is when the group no longer games, but at that point it is too late.  The real warning sign is when your group is still gaming but no one is enjoying it.

Sighs come from around the table.  No one seems to be on the same page.  You try to encourage people to talk about it, but in the end no one wants to hurt anyone else’s feelings.  An argument is better than silence, but we geeks tend to have our socially awkward moments.  Some of us have learned that all conflicts should be avoided.

What a load of crap.

Arguments are healthy when conducted with respect for the person that you are arguing with.  When it is just pointing the finger and blaming the other guy you have a bi-partisan congress in the middle of the campaign season.  Funny how nothing gets done during an election year.

Unfortunately my former group just was not willing to confront each other or me with their complaints.  No one wanted to hurt another person’s feelings.  No one wanted to be the bad guy.  That is understandable, but if you do not express your true feelings about something that annoys you one day you are going to explode.

I did not want to see that happen, and I saw no way to mend the group.  I grabbed my black hat and put on a Snidely Whiplash moustache.  Damn straight – I was going to play the bad guy.

It is better to crash land than to crash.

All it took was an email.  One short, sweet, and to the point email.  Here it is:

Subject: Dissolving the Gaming Group

Sorry to do this, but the group is not accomplishing its goal. We're all good fella's and that, but I just don't see the group working out.

This is not anyone's fault. We just aren't getting together to do what it is that the group was formed to do: play RPGs. Scheduling problems and other interests have derailed the group, and I feel it is best just to move on and try a different approach.

Obviously we are all still friends, and I'll keep you guys in mind for future games that come up. I hope that you keep me in mind for your games as well.

I'll keep this email address around for a couple of weeks if anyone has anything to say.

Yes, I was vague about what was tearing the group apart.  Specifics would not have helped the situation, and most likely would have inadvertently offended someone.  Fixing the group was not the goal, but retaining the friendships was absolutely critical.

Any crash that you can walk away from…

There were a couple of players who felt that dissolving the group was wrong, but the overwhelming majority all but said “Thank you.”  We all wanted to game, but we all wanted to play different games.  This just happened naturally as we learned about new games and new play styles.  No one did anything wrong per say, but each of us was progressing down a different path.

And that is why the group had to be dissolved.  By letting the group go each of us was now free to pursue the type of game that each of us wanted to play.

One of the former group members I pulled into my 4e group at the local game shop.  He is happier there, because he likes tactics and strategic play with clear and precise rules.  Another member is working with me to form a new group that will focus on cinematic games and play styles.  Another is happily running his own weekly game that is open to all comers at the game shop which emphasizes military style combats.  One of the former players is now prepping to run his own supers game as a first time GM.

We still say hi to each other, we still hang out with each other, and occasionally we still game with each other as individuals but not as a group.

And we are all still good friends.  ‘Nuff said.

Have you ever needed to dissolve a gaming group?  What caused you to do it?  Did it end well, or did it go poorly?  Share your experiences with the rest of us in the comments section below.

13 Comments (Open | Close)

13 Comments To "What Did I Do This Summer? I Dissolved My Gaming Group"

#1 Comment By BryanB On October 22, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

Bravo to you for realizing that the end was near and ending it well before any hard feelings developed. A lot of gamers suffer from a Geek Social fallacy that implies, “I have to game them or we won’t be friends.” It is an absurd notion that far too often keeps a suffering group together just long enough to implode.

Three years ago, my old group died due to apathy and a pissing contest between two players. I watched two long-term friends’ relationships with each other disintegrate at the gaming table. It was ugly. And it could have been avoided had we paid attention to the warning signs. The red lights were there. When one of these friends moved to another state, the other friend did not even make it over to say farewells. It was sad.

My current group has been suffering from scheduling difficulties lately. How much of that is due to apathy or frustration and how much is due to adult schedules and obligations is still something I’m trying to figure out. I’m in a great group now, so I’d hate for it to dissolve before its time is up. I don’t see too many red lights yet, so the effort to keep things rolling is a worthy one.

This kind of thing is a tough call. Do you end a group before it is time to do so? Or do you wait too long with too many red lights and have the group collapse in a bad way? I’ve been gaming for thirty years and I’m still not sure how to manage this with any degree of certainty.

#2 Comment By BryanB On October 22, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

Man I’m getting old. The group prior to my current one imploded in the summer of 2006, so that was over four years ago, not three. 😀

#3 Comment By Rafe On October 22, 2010 @ 1:01 pm

Well done, sir, and well said. I’ve only ever had to send an email about my disinterest in the game, not the group. I can’t imagine an entire group falling into such a state. That sucks, Patrick. Hope you can salvage some of the players and reform into a group with the dynamic and common motivation you want.

#4 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 22, 2010 @ 3:30 pm

[1] & [2] – Thank you both for the compliments on doing the right thing.

I will be the first to admit that it is incredibly difficult to know when to keep fighting to save the group, and when to switch gears and dissolve the group in order to save the friendships.

Luckily I belong to more than one group, and all of the members of the former group know what it is that they want from a game. We need only to work together now to help everyone build a new group around their particular gaming interests.

#5 Comment By Jeffrywith1e On October 22, 2010 @ 4:05 pm

My gaming group dissolved this summer, too. But we failed in trying to ignore the signs. I’d say it imploded rather than dissolved, actually.

#6 Comment By BryanB On October 22, 2010 @ 4:52 pm

[3] – Implosions are ugly things. Did you manage to salvage any friendships in the debacle?

#7 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 22, 2010 @ 5:03 pm

[3] – I’m sorry to hear that. That is exactly what I had hoped to avoid by dissolving my group. Are you working on forming a new one?

#8 Comment By zerfinity On October 23, 2010 @ 12:24 am

My current group was taken out back and had a bullet put in its head by the GM too. The zombified players rose up and ate the old GM’s braaaaaains. The rapidly desiccating corpse of former group now has more than half of the group willing to GM.

It wasn’t time yet. The players continued on. We periodically invoke the spectre of the former GM. There are divergent gaming styles in the bones that rattle our table. Mine are the most divergent of all I think. More than once when GMing I’ve loaded the bullet, walked out back, and pulled the hammer back. I always put the gun down after looking those fawn eyes straight on. It isn’t compassion that causes me to back away. I just know I’m one bullet away from being the next victim of the zombiepocalypse. I’ve decided that I’m going to just walk away from the group if I need to, I like my brains where they are. Zombies only die when there aren’t any brains left to eat.

#9 Comment By Zonemind On October 23, 2010 @ 5:54 pm

I exited my gaming group this summer. I was not the only GM available; dissolution was not in the equation.

Fear of conflict is not a factor in the recently departed group. Although raucously “geeky”, loud-and-proud geeky, the group is full of people who love nothing more than they love a cruel jest delivered in the guise of sage observation.

There was plenty of conflict… TONS of conflict. Heck, at least one of the players deliberately provoked conflict because it was “interesting”. (I think he was a drow in a previous life; it’s only counter-intuitive that he played a lot of paladins until you actually think about it.)

I am unsure if I’ll ever actually game again, but I came to the conclusion that no gaming was better than being disappointed and bummed out on 75-80% of my weekends.

#10 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 24, 2010 @ 10:14 am

[4] – I’m glad that you were able to maintain your group. I hope that you are able to work through any lingering issues to keep it going. 🙂

[5] – Sometimes it is better to just walk away (cue the Humongous) and to find the group that works better for you. It is unfortunate that you decided that no gaming is better than the gaming that you were part of. Good luck in finding another group if you decide to return to gaming, because I’m sure that you would enjoy it with different types of personalities at the table.

#11 Comment By Roxysteve On October 25, 2010 @ 8:56 am

Gah. Yeah. Um.

One sign I personally take as a sign to run for the hills these days is any “RPG” evangelizing. I’m not talking about rabid preference for one system over another, or vocal excitement of this or that gaming group, but the person who salts their e-mails with “Game On!” and exhortations to “just play the game”.

Personal experience has shown that such people and I do not mix well because they tend to lack the ability to walk away from the table post game and get on with life; to put it bluntly, they don’t seem to know it’s all made up.

Having been raised in the “Diplomacy” school of gaming (where the smiling backstab is part and parcel of the game) I can honestly say it never occurs to me to carry over in-game stuff to the out-of-game relationship between me and the players. I appear to be in a small and shrinking minority.

Of course, you have to consider the source here. I’ve had my share of games where I looked round the table and couldn’t see the a$$hole.*

But I also had one nightmare GM who carried on such an unbelievable collection out-of-game shenanigans at my expense that I won’t attempt to catalog them here, and I’m *still* trying to figure out WTF was on his mind. I’d heard tales of such people of course, but I honestly thought them apocryphal until then.

The only down side of our parting is that he and I once shared a very small pool of players for our RPG games and some of them still feel nervous about asking to get “in” to mine. I feel bad for them (they are always told they’d be welcome) but I have built two solid gaming cores since those days and don’t sweat it.

I think game stores are a great place to meet too, as a good one will offer you a huge pool of potential players. The best move I ever made was to befriend my FLGS owner and his clientele – some of the best gamers I’ve ever encountered.


*: And therefore, it was me.

#12 Comment By paddirn On October 28, 2010 @ 8:09 am

I’m on the other side of the table as a gamer looking to walk out on my gaming group. Too much negativity getting in the way of the gaming. All the “magic” and fun that we used to have is pretty much gone. When my free time is starting to feel like a stressful day at work, something’s got to give. It doesn’t help that we’re stuck in the same half-ass gaming system we’ve played for the past 10 years (Palladium, I know, right?).

Our last session ended with a TPK that the GM had every opportunity to prevent and should have. The logic of the situation just made no sense and we were not only being railroaded, but were pretty much forced with a gun to our heads to go the way the GM wanted. After the TPK the GM said we could “go back in time” and do it again (only we do it his way instead). So instead of the GM just doing a minor tweak to the conditions he created for us the first time around, he had to completely break with the rules to let the game continue.

It’ll be hard and I hope there’s no hard feelings, but I think I just need to start seeing other people.

#13 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 28, 2010 @ 9:46 am

[6] – The FLGS is my first choice for finding new players and forming new groups. Never stick with a group that you do not gel with. It is better to leave on good terms if possible, but the agony and frustration of sticking with a bad group is just not worth your time.

[7] – I’m sorry to hear that, and I agree that sometimes a single person has to leave for their own good. I’ve done it, and I nearly did it again very recently. I wish you luck in finding a new group that matches your style.

TPK followed by a retcon suggestion? Yeesh! That just makes me cringe reading it.