I sat there at the gaming table, waiting to actually game. We’d started an hour ago, and after all of the usual bullshitting around, looking up youtube videos, and sharing jokes, we’d finally gotten into it. A brief encounter that set us on our path and the Game Master had to look up some info. While we waited, one of the other players started asking advice about leveling up his character. This went on for a few minutes, and then it kept going on, and on, and on, and on. The player kept mulling over which feat he would take at next level, and then looking in this book or the other, grabbing them from the various awkwardly titled piles around the gaming room. Every time the GM got ready to get us back into it, the other player would pipe up with another character question, suggestion, or thought for what he would do NEXT level. The mood was growing a bit tense, and it was not solely emanating from my direction. The Game Master was a bit new to being in control and he didn’t seem sure how to get back on track. It was an hour and a half before we really got back into actually gaming, and then it only occurred cause I dropped all aspects of politeness and pushed things along. I was annoyed for the rest of the session, you see wasting time at the table instead of gaming is one of my biggest peeves when I’m a player.
A peeve, as defined by the online Merriam Webster dictionary is “a particular grievance or source of aggravation”. Everybody has peeves, those little things that annoy us to a great degree, even if they are only rather minor. The way someone chews, the way some people drive, etc. Gaming being a supremely social activity is ripe ground for pet peeves, and they can really kill a gaming session. A peeved player is someone who isn’t paying attention or having fun. In extreme cases, peeved players act on the psychological need to make others as miserable as they are and start to sabotage the game even more, sometimes not realizing it.
And every player has peeves that can be particular to gaming. Some players might get peeved by other players being rules lawyers or being argumentative. Some players might get peeved by Monty Haul Game Masters, or Game Masters who show favor to certain people at the table. Some players might get peeved by cell phone usage or texting at the table, some might get peeved by railroading or a lack of certain elements in a game rendering their character concept less effective. The types of things that might get a player peeved are as limitless as there are gamers in the world. As the Game Master of your game, you have some power to control and mitigate these situations.
”Wait a minute John, are you saying that I, as the Game Master, should be responsible for protecting players by preventing their peeves?”
Is it unreasonable to ask you, the Game Master, to deal with a player’s peeves? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, and I like your use of alliteration. You can’t really be held responsible for the fact that player is peeved by the way someone else chews their pizza or slurps their mountain dew, but as the quasi-leader of the social activity that is most gaming, you are the one who has the authority to keep the game moving and help enable the fun. If a player is getting peeved by game related or hampering activities, then you have some ability and responsibility to deal with it if it is reasonable.
In the personal example I wrote about above, I feel that it was the Game Master’s responsibility to keep things moving. Figuring out character options at the table isn’t really so annoying, but when it eats up a good chunk of the gaming time of 6 players, it can become an issue. I could only act in certain ways as a player, gently suggesting we get moving or trying to do things in character to push the game back into action. The Game Master could reasonably ask the other player to hold off on character building until we actually leveled, but as a player, none of us could say “It’s time to put the book down and actually play now”, without it coming off as somewhat confrontational. Besides which, most of the players’ mental states of annoyance, especially mine, would have made it come out as: “Hey Dumbass! Let’s set the book down and do something in character before I give you a real close up view of the wording of that skill!”
And that is the attitude of a peeved player. It’s not rational, it’s not the correct response, but a peeve is a minor annoyance that takes on significant importance in a person’s mind. That kind of attitude is dangerous to the social situation and the fun of the game.
Recognizing and Preventing Peeves
So, in those areas where you have the power and responsibility to intervene, how can you? Well, the first step is to recognize when players are getting peeved. It isn’t hard to tell annoyance on a player’s face, and it is easier when they are your friends who you are familiar with. So look for moments of annoyance, seeing if players are agitated or more fidgety than normal. Look for signs of stress or consternation. Mostly, you are looking for things that are out of the ordinary for particular players.
Knowing a player is peeved is easy, knowing why is often harder. Knowing your players makes this easier, but they might not be vocal about their annoyances. Nobody likes to be the complainer, so if you don’t know that player X hates things Y, look for what else is going on at the table or what has just happened. Maybe the annoyance from player X is because of the way that last combat went or the fact that they felt that the trap that nearly killed them shouldn’t have been as lethal. Recognizing the annoyance AND the source of it are the first and second steps in keeping things running smoothly. The final step is in dealing with it.
Dealing with a particular peeve is going to be all about controlling and smoothing over that particular situation. I’m not saying to roll over whenever a player is unsatisfied, but to step in and take action when it is appropriate. If you notice a player being peeved about being tricked by a surprise trap, throw in a chance for the players to ambush a lone goblin or guard. When they know that being surprised by something in the game works both ways, hat will psychologically balance out the feeling of inequality. If you notice a source of annoyance originating from one of the player’s activities, such as not paying attention and texting on the phone, address it in as polite a manner as possible. Every situation will be different and require a different level of directness and tact, but dealing with a significant annoying factor will help things run smoother. Determine what is annoying and deal with it in the politest and nicest manner possible.
As I was writing this, giving a few weeks space to the idea in order to not write about it in the heat of the moment, I realized that this is a very touch subject. So I’m interested to hear what you think. Do you think it is the Game Master’s responsibility to deal with things that might peeve off players? What do you do as a player to get your peeves addressed? What do you do as a Game Master to deal with a peeved player? What are some of your peeves. Chime in, I’m highly interested in hearing what you have to say on the subject of peeves.