I suppose it was going to happen sooner or later: a bad Dungeons and Dragons session in Adventurer’s League, and boy did it happen.
Adventurers League is a more portable format by its nature, which means that players can drop in to any game (as opposed to a more dedicated “campaign” with a set group of players who meet every so often to pick up the story). So, you never really know who you’re going to play with. Most players are easy to get along with (I’ve been playing over a year and have only had 1-2 bad experiences), since we all come to enjoy D&D anyway, but occasionally you’ll get an obnoxious player who rubs every on the wrong way and spoils the mood of the game.
We had such a player a couple Mondays ago. He was apparently new, and tried to dominate the game. He complained frequently because the game didn’t go his way (his character was fragile and had a random, bad encounter that nearly killed him), and kept trying to push the group into the direction he wanted. Finally, he lost his temper when our DM had mistakenly missed his turn, and he went into a rant about how everyone got a turn and left him with no monsters to fight. This made things very awkward for the rest of the game.
This really got under my skin for a few reasons:
- He rolled bad initiative, which was no one’s fault but his own.
- His character was a healer (according to him) and by design isn’t a powerful damage-dealer anyway. I am not sure what he was expecting to do.
- DM’s make mistakes, and he shouldn’t have taken it personally.
Needless to say after 4 hours of listening to his whining and his rant, I was mentally exhausted after the game, and felt like taking a long, long break from communal D&D for a while.
Dungeons and Dragons as a game has its strengths and weaknesses. Coming together as a group to solve a challenge, whether it be a battle or a difficult puzzle, or some social dispute can be really fun and exciting. It’s why I play D&D, and dropped games like Magic: The Gathering: I prefer collaborating with a group more than constantly vying with one another for petty rewards (and then having to repeat the process over and over again ad nauseum).
But this also means that D&D requires a functional social-group.
Countless posts have been made online about dysfunctional D&D gaming groups, usually involving one or more toxic personalities. Some of them very toxic. Oftentimes, I feel these happen when:
- People try to cobble a group together out of desperation. It usually starts out well, then peters out within a few sessions because people lose interest, the group doesn’t “click”, etc. I’ve been on, and DM’ed, groups like this. Or,
- Open play (e.g. conventions, etc). People with serious social issues seek these out because the bar for entry is pretty low, and they can get what they want out of it, without consideration for the rest of the players.
The first one though is usually the most common, and most frustrating, because like so many things in life, people start out with good intentions, but the whole foundation is shaky.
I had a group I cobbled together at work to play the D&D adventure Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, but one by one the people dropped out due to work obligations, leaving only the socially-awkward players left, who were pretty frustrating to DM for. One of them insisted on an 18-page backstory which was definitely cringey in parts. The group fell apart fast, and left most of us kind of awkward thereafter at the workplace.
I think secret to making a successful, sustained D&D group is to already have an existing social group that willingly hangs out with or without D&D. Afterall, if people can’t get along in real life, why would they get along in a fantasy realm? Trying to force some strangers together for a group fantasy adventure is more often than not going to fail, but if a group already has a healthy social-dynamic, a well-run D&D campaign will certainly flourish. There are exceptions to this, but without an underlying, healthy social dynamic, usually the odds are not in your favor.
But what if you don’t have such a group? In my opinion, taking the risk of an unfamiliar group, and the potential emotional distress that this causes may not be worth it. It might be a good learning experience in general, but when people get sucked into an unhealthy group the situation can really go off the rails. So, I kind of think it’s better to just miss out and save yourself the unnecessary anguish. But, if you really want to play, caveat emp-friggin-tor.
So what about Adventurer’s League? After the bad game, I took a week off and then played again. The subsequent games were with players in my community whom I already played with and trusted, and we had a good time. My faith with AL was restored, and I’ve had a good time. Also, I haven’t seen that problem player again, which leads me to suspect that one of the community admins had a chat with them and showed them the door. The admins in my community are pretty sensitive to keeping the atmosphere healthy, and are willing to step up and protect players if need be. That’s very appreciated. But taking a break, even a short one, was worth it in order to “reset” things for me.
I suppose that’s another life lesson: there’s nothing wrong with taking a break. It might just be the best thing for yourself. 😉
P.S. yet another bad D&D session.