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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Dungeons & Dragons - Why I Quit the Adventurer's League

I run games of Dungeons & Dragons in a game store. Currently we're playing through Princes of the Apocalypse. I write about it every week in this blog.

I am using art by Jason Thompson in this article. His walkthrough maps are insanely fun and detailed

What is my Role?

I have long been confused about my role in the game store. Am I the official coordinator, or am I just a DM who reports the games in the DCI system? The store owner would sometimes address the tables as if he was running the show.

I assumed I was just a DM who did the reporting. Every few years the store would tell me that they'd take over the reporting (why, I never knew) but within a few weeks they'd stop doing it and our store would lose our gold status. Gold status means that your store gets D&D books before the release date, and it used to mean getting cool free stuff.

The communication in the store is not ideal. I long ago learned that the best way to exist in that store is to just do your thing and don't ask questions. It's a space to meet people and run games, and in that department it is pretty fantastic.

I had an ominous feeling a month or two back. It was after the store owner came up to me and made a comment to me about reporting the games in the DCI system. He said something to me about showing the other DMs print-outs of the reports, which was completely out of the blue. I didn't even know what he was talking about.

Basically, I was reporting the games, but sometimes I'd smoosh them into one big report. That meant that sometimes, a DM would be put in as a player. Additionally, sometimes I listed Encounters games as Expeditions games. I've called wizards before, and they told me as long as I listed the names of everyone who played, it didn't matter. It was true that I wasn't reporting the games completely accurately.

So I thought to myself, well, OK, let me do this right. I will report these games perfectly. I took the owner's comment to me as a challenge to myself to make this game in the store as good as I could for everyone, not just my table.

I made sign-in sheets in photoshop. I encouraged each group to give themselves a group name and to share with me what was going on in their game. I tried to assume more of a coordinator role. But at the same time, I also was getting really fed up with the whole situation.

I decided to write an article about the game store, not to post in my blog, but just to vent and try to sort out the situation. Once I had finished it and read it over, I decided that I was nearing the limit of my tolerance for this place, and if it got worse, I'd quit.

The Fateful Sunday Game

That was the situation heading into Sunday, June 7th. I was running a special session of Princes of the Apocalypse. I wanted to make sure our campaign got done by the time Out of the Abyss came out.

This session was awful. I had what I like to call a "problem player", and for almost a year I've tip-toed around the guy. His dad plays in the campaign, too. In this session, the problem player complained about getting attacked while resting in a dungeon. He tried to rules lawyer his way into casting spells on invisible monsters. He tried to claim that a djinni's create whirlwind power was a spell that he could counterspell, and then when I shot it down he laughed and said, "It was worth a try".

Most offensive to me was that he greedily snatched up windvane, the artifact spear to the dismay of the 14-year olds he was playing alongside. This player had taken the only artifact in the previous campaign as well.

After this horrible session was over, I tried to move this player and his dad to another table. His father, who plays the game with him, refused to move. He said that his son was disabled and that I was violating his "civil rights".

I had been extra tolerant of this guy because I suspected he was not well. When I worked at the movie theater, we had a lot of group homes come in. When I say group home, I mean disabled people who live in assisted living communities. Sometimes, they'd bring someone who would make a scene in the theater. We'd have to ask them to leave. So they left.

Maybe I am just wrong. Maybe my job as a DM to manage this kind of thing. I could certainly understand the dad wanting to protect his son. It is nice that the guy cares.

All I know is that a thought popped into my head during all of this: I don't want to do this anymore. All of this people management stuff has become too difficult.

The father and I ended up having a series of heated phone conversations. I explained to him that his son could still play D&D in the store, just at a different table. His father again said no, his son was playing at my table.

Now I was getting really mad (as well as slightly amused). I said, "So the next time we play, you two are going to sit at my table? And I am going to refuse to run the game for you... and so we're all just going to sit there?"

"Civil rights", he said.

I wonder if we had moved our seats to another table and left him and his son where they were sitting, if they would have moved with us.

The Store's Take

I called the store twice in between phone arguments with the dad. During the first phone call, the store owner was very receptive to me. I later found out that the dad had called the store owner many hours before. I don't know why the owner didn't tell me that up front. He already knew the situation, but he let me explain it again as if he'd never heard it.

Why wouldn't he have told me that he already knew what was going on right when I called?

The whole thing boiled down to this situation where the owner claimed they would make them switch tables, but I was wary.

This is what I feared would happen: They'd bend to the dad's will and tell me to just keep running for him. The dad was hellbent on sitting at my table, and I could honestly picture having mall security come and drag him out. Neither scenario was at all appealing to me.

If I could have, I would have just kept running the game for the dad and his son to avoid all of this conflict. But the fact is that my patience had simply run out.

I Failed My Save

Another thing hit me as I talked to the owner. Even if I did get these people switched out to another table, that leaves a seat open at my table for someone new.  If I remove this problem player, there's a chance another problem player will take his place. That's the nature of public play.

So I said to the owner, "I think I should just quit. This isn't for me."

For seven years, I've been running games in this store. I built D&D in there from absolutely nothing. In 2008, there were no games of D&D going on. Now in 2015, we have five tables going and the store contains more D&D players than magic players, in a store that has massive magic events.

Would the store owner beg me to reconsider? Would he reassure me that this could be taken care of in an efficient manner? Would he give me a nice little thank you for helping him build D&D games in his store while encouraging the players to buy things to support him?

Here's what he said: "OK. See you around".

Seven years of encounters seasons, lair assaults, game days, free RPG days and my own Scales of War public play campaign which went from level 1 to level 30 (two years of weekly play!). That's all he had to say. "See you around".

What Now?

I've been talking to other players. My table in the store is going to be run by Dark's dad, and I think he will do an awesome job. I have put out feelers to certain players. I am going to try and keep going with Princes at my place. I am not sure if I will be able to make it work just yet.

I still have my Great Modron March home game, but that is on hold for a couple of weeks until Jessie gets back from vacation.

I have a number of D&D dreams, many of which were fulfilled in the game store. I was able to run a bunch of classic adventures like White Plume Mountain and Baba Yaga's Hut. I got to run a game for kids, and it was extremely awesome.

I have two D&D dreams left:
  1. I want to form a group of all-female players and a female DM. I don't want to play in it, I just want to hear about the game and what happens in it.
  2. I want to run a game for senior citizens. When I say that, I mean I want to go to an old folk's home with a briefcase and run a campaign for people 67-years old and up.
I don't know if either of those things will ever happen, but I'm keeping my mind open.

I will probably write a few guides in the next few weeks while I set up new games. It's a weird time but hopefully things will work out,


Buzzclaw o'Buzzclaw said...

I think quitting was a good decision. Even ignoring the apathy of the management, you'd be in a rough spot if you had continued.

The dad might have gotten on your case or complained to the owner if anything happened to his son's PC, claiming you are trying to actively harm their roleplaying experience.

Or the dad and son might have become much more stiff or aggressive, stifling the mood of the game.

And the greatest danger of all is that you might have begun unconsciously targeting the dad's and son's PCs.

The DM is a player too, and a player who isn't having fun shouldn't be forced to continue. "No gaming is better than bad gaming", as the saying goes.

Robin Pittman said...

I'm sorry this happened to you. I think that removing yourself from the situation was the only choice that you had. Staying would only let the situation ruin dungeons and dragons for you. I really enjoy your column and hope you will continue to publish it. It got me to try public play as a player some months back, and I'll be DMing for friends starting next month. Thank you again for your efforts and know that they are appreciated.

Teos Abadia said...

Stepping away seems like the right resolution. At the very least, a break is a good thing. It is very common for DMs to need a break or at least a change from time to time. Otherwise, you burn out. Stepping away doesn't mean a failure. It is just a necessary thing to recuperate. All of what you achieved at the store was still achieved.

And, it is good for programs to be larger than one person and to change from time to time. Even when a program loses a good person and periodically suffers, that can be necessary for the store to realize this. This store sounds like it took you for granted and cared little for unifying the DMs. The Adventurers League "Master, Dungeon Master" series is a sharp contrast and shows what a great store can do to support DMs. (The latest is here: )

Special needs players are a tough choice. Realistically, a DM has to be comfortable with their players, special needs or otherwise. If you aren't it is okay to change tables. It could be a simple personality conflict. The store should have backed you up on that. It isn't as if you are dismissing the person due to their needs, you just aren't able to help that player and take care of the table and have a good time.

Special needs players can be a really rewarding addition to the table. And I certainly understand the dad, because they should really want to find a store where the son can enjoy the experience. But, the burden can't be just on the DM. Ideally, the dad would note the behavior and help curb it - such as speaking to the son and explaining that they can't always take the best item. DMs can work to bridge that gap, but not all DMs can be comfortable with those topics. When they aren't, they should be allowed to swap tables. If no DM is willing to take them, then the store has to speak to the family about why that is the case.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry. I love your work and it's terrible that this happened. I got in to DMing because of your blog here, so know that you're an insiration to your readers, whatever you decide to do.

Eodrid said...

Sorry you had such a bad experience. Nobody is entitled to your time and effort in a hobby. Good luck with your future gaming, and your blog continues to be great.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry, I hope you'll continue your lore articles, because they are written very well and are soooo inspiring (excuse me for my english , I'm Italian)

benji said...

Yeah, sadly, you probably did the right thing. I wouldn't have done. If I'd have been as nice as you and said 'it ain't working' and they have protested civil rights to continue playing I'd probably have said 'Listen. That won't work. I'm warning you now it won't work. You just won't enjoy it.' then continually killed characters and made them roll new ones while play continued until they got the message. It's weird really, cause it's a pride issue for them (they could move to another table and let everyone enjoy the experience) so by being the bigger man you lose out. Funny if you move the game to your house, no one turns up to the store and they want to come to. 'You can't come to my house. Why not? Civil rights.'

From a special needs standpoint, I get that some players have problems one way or another and we should bend over to be inclusive, but we aren't being paid and you have set your own personal rules. One of my players for a long time has mild autism but while we're aware of his condition and don't hit barriers to play (indicating character intent only by facial expression, lots of shouting) he also knows he can't use his disability as an excuse for rude play: we're trying for him, he's trying for us. It's about us all doing the best we can. If you feel that relationship isn't working the best thing you can do is walk before someone becomes bitter.

Bronk said...

It's a sad time when no game is better than bad game!

I'm sorry it ended up like that. I've encountered people just like that before... People who bring their kid with special needs to a place that's not prepared for them, which is bad enough, but being secretive and mean about it too. In my case, it was at a scout camp where some guy had won a two week stay in the regular camp (as opposed to the Easter Seals camp we had on site), then just dropped his poor kid off in the provisional group (where lone scouts with no troop go to) with no warning to either him or us. Luckily my boss at the time was a Special Ed teacher, and we made it work, but it wasn't easy. For the kid, I mean, he was alone, always lost, and scared of everything. Luckily there were enough of us to stay with him all the time. And yeah, we eventually met the dad who dropped him off and he was a real winner who just wanted his least favorite kid out of the house.

If that Father of yours (well, you know what I mean) had any sense, he'd have kept his son from being disruptive, and you all could still be having fun. Very sad. I probably would have dropped the game like a hot potato too, though, if someone started throwing conspiracy theory level lawsuit type threats at me.

Total bummer about the store owner too. I wonder if he even connects the dots from all of your efforts and the increased traffic in his store? I guess he'll find out soon enough.

I have to admit, I've been enjoying the stories from your game, especially the Sorceress and her Dad. I hope you still get a chance to play with them in the future! I'll second the awesomeness of your lore articles too. Very fun!

Oh, and anonymous person who speaks Italian, your English is great!

Anonymous said...

There are no other game stores in town?

Sean said...

Buzzclaw: Agreed! It was sticky situation. I guess it was just time for me to go.

Robin: Thank you! Make sure to scour those public play games for cool people to steal for your home game, that's one of the best things about the adventurers league.

Teos Abadia: Thanks so much for the thoughtful response. The store is, in my opinion, disorganized. The whole special needs situation was very difficult. I didn't want to cause a lawsuit or some kind of discriminatory incident and I just had no idea what the appropriate way to handle it was. The store owner did say he would back me up, but I had a feeling when push came to shove they'd back down. I could be wrong.

Anonymous: Thanks! I will still run games. It is a bummer to miss out on the Adventurers League, but I still have stuff to write about.

Eodrid: Thank you. It really did feel like a job running those games.

Anonymous: I will continue doing the lore articles.. I have been planning to do one on the Slaad soon. The more I look at the Slaad, the more material I seem to find.

Benji: The special needs thing is so tricky. I really didn't know how to handle it. In our store, there are quite a few players who are there because they have special needs of one sort or another, to the point that it sometimes felt like I needed special training to handle it properly. All I wanted was to run a D&D game.

Bronk: My sense was that the father had special needs, too. He told me numerous times that he didn't think his son was out of line at all. He told me that the game was the DM vs the player, so his son was right to try to break the rules to his advantage. At that point I kind of realized that there was no reasoning with this man. I am hoping to play at least one home game with Dark the Dragon Sorceress and her dad. Her dad just played in my great modron march campaign tonight, so we'll see if we can work it out.

Anonymous: There is one other store, but it's a bit farther away. The thing about it is, I really don't want to have to deal with this public play stuff anymore. I don't want to be at the mercy of whoever shows up. For now at least I think I'd rather just run home games or nothing at all. Public play became too much of a chore.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the store you game at doesn't seem to be any different than my local game store. I spent five years building up their program and getting people to play. When the owner discovered that players were earning rewards from Wotc. They suddenly began to go to his friends who had never played in the store but that were playing home games. Eventually I quit because i got burned out dealing with these types of things from management, and because of unreasonable expectations and attitudes on the part of some of the players.

Stepping away was probably the best thing to do given the open-seating policy.

Great blog by the way!

Sean said...

Anonymous: Wow, that owner is lame. Running games in stores, IMO, is a very thankless job. It's like running an after-school program where the age ranges from 10-60. In my store, they would periodically take over the reporting of games, and then just stop doing it. Our store didn't get the Beyond the Crystal Caves season of encounters because they didn't bother reporting anything. I stepped up and ran a special 4e campaign to fill the void, and to keep the players in the store each week. I got no thank you, no nothing. The owner just didn't care.