Reasons Your Roleplay Might Not Be Working

Are you involved in a roleplay that just isn't working out for some reason? Are you trying to figure out what's wrong so you can fix it? It's not always easy to identify just what is going wrong and where, so here's a list of possible problems to help you troubleshoot your game.

Remember, anyone and everyone can end up with some of these problems, and anyone and everyone can make them, too - including experienced roleplayers - so don't feel too bad or get angry if this happens to you or a game you're in. Instead, focus your energy on how you're going to fix the problem - and then do what you can to fix it.

Rules & Mechanics Problems

The rules don't give players any real idea what they're supposed to do or how they're supposed to behave. Neglect to write out a comprehensive set of rules, and you're likely to end up in a scenario where everybody ends up trying to play a slightly different style of game - and they may not be mutually compatible. You might also end up with a lot of people just leaving because they can't figure out what it is they're supposed to be doing or how they're supposed to be doing it.

The rules make things needlessly complicated or counterintuitive. Rules along these lines are highly frustrating and drive off a lot of players. Rules should not make things more complicated than or different from how other RPs (especially ones similar in subject or tone) typically are than they absolutely have to. And no matter what the RP, you shouldn't make people have to jump through needless hoops.

Potential players have to go through too many hoops and delays before they can even evaluate the game. For example, before players can even sit in and watch the game played to see if it's for them, they must first create a detailed bio, submit the bio for evaluation, and then possibly wait hours or days before finding out if their characters are approved. People might not be willing to gamble that much effort - so consider making it possible for them to sit in on the game and watch for awhile before deciding, or letting them "playtest" with a less-detailed character.

The rules undermine typical reasons people would have for joining this kind of RP. For example, an urban fantasy roleplay that forbids player characters who are anything but vanilla human probably won't be too popular - people looking for urban fantasy RPs are often doing so because they want to play something magical or supernatural.

The game has no mechanics or guidelines for resolving certain scenarios (EG, fights). A lack of guidelines for resolving fights can end up in an endless loop of attempted hits and successful dodges, or with players throwing in extra power out of nowhere. If the game has problems like this, it probably needs some rules and mechanics for fights.

The game mechanics are imbalanced, giving far too much advantage to certain character types and/or too many disadvantages to other character types. If this is causing a problems in a game, it's a good idea to try to figure out how to equalize and balance the character types. If this isn't possible, some character types may need to be restricted.

Upper and lower limits on powers and abilities are not established. If the limitations on these things are left up to players' whims, you might run into them assuming things are as powerful or powerless as it suits them, which in turn can lead to powerplaying or power imbalances.

The rules are unnecessarily restrictive. Perhaps the rules force players to stick so close to canon that they have little room to to come up with anything new that would let them make original plots. Perhaps so many things are forbidden that the number of things players actually can use or do can be counted on one hand. Perhaps things are forbidden for no good reason. Games like this get repetitive and frustrating fast.

Plot & General Setting Problems

It's so easy to fix problems, there's no challenge or difficulty doing anything. If everything is easy, nothing is exciting. Such a game will grow monotonous and stale in very short order. Challenge can be created by setting limits to powers or abilities, by creating scenarios that require more effort than simply throwing one's powers and abilities at them, and by setting up scenarios where characters have to make dramatic choices - that is, choices where the final decision will have long-lasting impacts on their lives.

There's nothing to do but engage in basic social interaction. Most players want a little more excitement than this sooner or later. If their characters don't have anything to do besides talk and possibly hop in the sack with each other, they'll probably get bored and lose interest.

It's so difficult to change or accomplish anything, there's no use even trying. If the player characters have almost no chance of succeeding at anything they try, why should they try to do anything? If there's no point in even trying, why should they stick around? There needs to be something that the player characters can accomplish and feel good about doing; otherwise, it's going to be a very boring and demoralizing game.

The plot is too boring. Perhaps the stakes are too inconsequential, or perhaps the what the players are expected to do is just too dull or banal for their tastes, or perhaps it centers around something they just don't care about.

Players have little to no freedom to make a little chaos. Settings where players can't step off some narrow path or other (be it plot-wise or morally) without some kind of punishment or severe repercussion (be it from NPCs, game mechanics, or even other characters) end up boring and/or broken fast. This isn't to say that actions should never have consequences (especially if it would make no sense for the characters not to face consequences, given the circumstances), but players do need a little wiggle room here and there.

Conversely, there are no consequences. Characters are allowed to get up to anything and everything with few to no in-game consequences, even to the point where they're sabotaging plots left and right or it no longer makes any in-character sense for anyone to be letting these characters roam free (or even live). If a character's continued presence hurts the game's playability or plausibility in some way, that's a problem.

People are allowed to abuse their characters' authority. Where people playing high-ranking characters use their characters' authority to make things in the game go how they personally want, regardless of whether the game is still enjoyable - or in some cases even playable - for others.

The game has a case of player lockout. Player lockout occurs when it becomes impossible for players in the game to properly participate in the main plot event or events. Causes include important/plot-relevant locations or items being impossible for player characters to reach, no in-game way for new players to have their characters legitimately join the party or contact other characters, or certain players having a plot monopoly. (More on that below.)

Player Problems

Players are confused about what's going on in the game. It happens sometimes that players get mixed up over what's going on. Maybe someone failed to explain something important, or maybe something was explained too ambiguously, or maybe someone misread or missed something somewhere. Either way, if this happens it's important to make sure the confused players are given accurate information.

Too few players are willing to be proactive and take initiative. Rather than have their characters get up and talk to each other and/or explore the world around them, the player characters sit around and do nothing that progresses the plot - instead doing things like sitting on couches smirking at everyone else, or sitting in dark corners angsting over their traumatic pasts.

There is a major power imbalance among the player characters. One or more players have characters who are so powerful that they can do just about anything with little to no help from the other PCs, leaving them with little to nothing to do. Or, the more powerful characters antagonize the less powerful ones, but because they are so powerful it's a futile effort for the less powerful ones to even try fighting back. People don't want to be in a game where they have little to contribute or where they can't defend themselves.

A small number of players have a plot monopoly. A plot monopoly occurs when a number of players get a plot going on that they're not willing to share with anyone else or let anyone else interfere with, but there are few to no ways that other players can start something of their own and have it go anywhere.

Some players monopolize other players' characters. Where players prevent (or try to prevent) other people's characters from getting involved in anything else by having their own characters require a ridiculous amount of attention from their target characters, or try to maneuver target characters away from the main group and into places where they cannot easily get back to or make contact with the others.

One or more players want to play the main character. Players with a "main character complex" tend to expect other PCs to aid and support their characters in their journeys to success, but won't do the same for other people's characters. Most people tire of constantly playing second fiddle to someone else's character, which can lead to boredom and disinterest in the game.

Players have incompatible goals. Maybe they expect different playstyles, or maybe they want things for their characters that are mutually exclusive. If possible, players need to be brought to a common understanding and/or compromise. If not, some players may need to be removed from the game.

One or more of the players are poisonous. Poisonous players make any RP group feel unwelcoming, even hostile with their attitudes and actions. They might fly into rage at the drop of a hat, or berate other players over small mistakes. They might spread malicious gossip or vilify other players. They might be snide, condescending, or scornful to others. Their behavior can make other players feel too afraid to say or do much of anything lest they set them off, or can even drive players away entirely.

Administration & Management Problems

The game master/roleplay admin is poisonous. Same as with poisonous players, poisonous GM/RPAs might be overly harsh or critical, or might lose their temper at small provocations. Many poisonous GM/RPAs treat all criticism or discontent as a personal attack and go on the hyperdefensive against their own players, often playing themselves up as poor beleaguered victims who are just trying to have fun. If that's you, cut it out and head over to Tips For New & Beginning Game Masters/Roleplay Admins to learn how to handle these situations like a big kid.

The GM/RPA brings everyone down. Maybe the GM/RPA just has a poor attitude or puts off a negative vibe in general, or is constantly unloading onto the group. This can bring down the whole mood of the community, driving many people to just leave.

The GM/RPA is at odds with the players. GM/RPAs who feel attacked or disrespected by their players can end up essentially trying to fight with their players, whether directly (insulting them, threatening them, telling them to back off or get out, etc.) or indirectly (making bad things happen to their characters in the game, pushing their characters out of the plot, etc.). GM/RPAs need to work with their players, not against them.

The game master/roleplay admin is unreliable or even useless. Maybe the GM/RPA is often distracted or absent when the players are waiting on input or approval. Maybe the GM/RPA won't actually make a critical decision when required, instead hemming and hawing until everyone gets sick of waiting and just leaves. Maybe the GM/RPA just won't do anything to make the game easier for players, or to even get the game rolling. Players are easily discouraged by this sort of thing and may leave as a result.

The game master/roleplay admin is too whimsical. GM/RPAs who make sudden game-affecting decisions without consulting the players can ultimately drive those players away. For example, perhaps the GM/RPA decides to reboot a game that everyone's actually pretty happy with. Perhaps the GM/RPA decides to introduce new elements that players don't actually want.

Also, take a look at:

Things Writers (And Everyone Else) Should Know About Running A Roleplay
Setting Rules & Limitations In Your World: Why & How You Need To Do This
Starting & Running Roleplays & Bringing In New Players
How To Spot & Handle Parasitic Roleplayers
Dealing With Unhappy & Complaining Roleplayers
How To Roleplay Villains Fairly
When A Game Master Or Roleplay Admin Might Be Power-Tripping - And What To Do About It
Why People Might Not Want To Roleplay With You
The RP Character Playability Test

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