Where to find balance between weak games and allowing others to learn?

Ever since I joined Gauntlet my expectations for games are going up and up.

Every now and then I try to play with new people and new groups either offline or online, sometimes those groups are awesome and I want to play more, sometimes those are just weak games.

System and creative agenda excluded.

Weak game for me is when I think after a game that I should have stayed home and watched Netflix or played a boardgame instead.
But on the other hand people (both GMs and players) need to learn and here comes my question.

How do you find a balance between playing weak games with hopes that over time those games will get better or not playing to spend time elsewhere? Is it even possible to find such balance?

I like to think that I run good sessions now, but it was not always so and I need people to play with me so that I could learn, I want to return the favour, but it is hard.


I think managing expectations is important, from and to both the players and GM. If a player wants to try out a system, being able state that they don’t know the game and will need to be taught it (which is always true, just reading the rules only goes so far) helps the GM manage spotlight around teachable moments and let the GM remember that the mechanics will need to be explicit at first.
On the other hand, if a GM is running a new game, stating that (even before players sign up) can help manage what exactly the sessions are going to be about. The story will probably be smaller since more time will be spent with the mechanics.

Aside from that, as I think back to more “teaching” games that I’ve played in and ran, I remember the mood of the sessions was different. They were more exploratory; narrative consequences were second to mechanical experimentation and correctness (more retconning, too)…in contrast to coming into a system I and other players/GMs know, there is more focus on story, narrative and character interaction.

I suppose the difficulty is in bridging the two and when/if it is appropriate to transition a teaching game into a non-teaching game. I think managing expectations, again, can help with that, maybe explicitly stating new intentions/expectations after a few sessions to refocus the group.

There are probably other factors that divide this two types of games than just narrative and mechanics, but those are what come to mind for me.


This is interesting because I find that new players can often provide a better experience than jaded experienced gamers. Generally, I don’t need new players to know the mechanics well. What a really good rpg session needs is enthusiasm , open-minded play, and investment in the story.


I find it helps to keep in mind that there are many styles of gaming and levels of gamer experience. If I come away from a session that was less than stellar, I look for the lesson that will help me to make better choices for the next one. Then, I try to make better choices.

There are many reasons for a weak session, and just as many opportunities to make it stronger. A game is only as fantastic and strong as the energy put into it.

The next time you find yourself in a “weak” game, consider that you are a part of that equation
and ask yourself, “how can I help make this a better experience, not only for myself but everyone involved?”.

Is the GM new? Help them by being a good and thoughtful player.
Is there a new player? Help them by being a role model that fits the game.
Are you stressed out from the work week and looking for the game to give you some respite? Relax and let the game do its magic. It will.

It’s a bit ironic that gaming is like real life: There are highs and lows. You have to give to get. Life’s not perfect and that’s OK.


I totally agree, but it’s a different story when the new or poor player is the GM.

I don’t have much experience with newbies GMing, but I’d imagine that it’s important to help them start with games they can actually manage. Often I’ll see posts about people preparing to DM for the first time, but they have these grand aspirations for a years-long homebrew campaign with gamechanging house rules and yada yada… Obviously a bad idea. Start small!


There’s something about the phrase “weak game” that makes it feel judgemental. I’m not sure if you’re judging people or not, but it’s worth thinking about.

Submaximal games happen all the time. Just like submaximal tv episodes or movies or books. I’d argue that these experiences are necessary in order to fully appreciate the maximal experiences. Sometimes an Iron Man 2 helps you appreciate The Avengers all the more.

Plus, the experience might not be the same for others. It might have rocked their world! Use their enthusiasm!


If I play with a group for one session, I can sense where it’s going and if it will suit me and what I want from roleplaying games. If it’s not, then I wont continue with that group.

For inexperienced game masters, I can continue playing with them for a year … or forever. Again, it’s more about the experience around everything, where I gain a couple of new friends, rather than someone doing a good job or not.