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In this stage, the group starts wondering if they might actually achieve something. The tip-toeing around each-other they've been doing in the Forming stage is great for getting along smoothly with each-other, but not very good for getting things done.


As people realise not much is getting done, they start getting frustrated, and start bringing up the conflicts they'd set aside earlier. When one person brings up a problem, someone else brings up another in retaliation. Suddenly there is chaos.


At this point someone will step forward to try to give some structure to the group. Often there will be suggestions of how much power the Game Master should have, who gets to speak when and for how long, what should be the house rules of the game, who should host the game and so on.


Example of Storming

Consider the earlier example of choosing "Who hosts?" the game. The group went through quite a few dramas for a while before they sorted themselves out. But they also had conflicts over other things.


Bob got his wizard, but in the fourth session the party confronted the evil overlord, Baron Von Handlebarmoustache. Anna hadn't expected them to confront him yet, she thought they'd grow in power for a while yet, and she could string this storyline out for another few sessions. But the party deliberately let themselves be captured. They are led into the evil overlord's throne room.


Anna: "Baron Von Handlebarmoustache says, "I see you through to thwart my plans. It is well that you did not, even though you did not know the half of them, for -""

Bob: "I cast Xagyg's Ghostly Foot of Arse-Kicking."

Anna: "But you're tied up."

Bob: "The spell description says it only has an oral component. I don't need my hands. And we're not gagged, you said."

Anna: "What? That is stupid. All spells should require your hands to be free."

Dave: "Haha, hands-free like my phone. The Baron is toast!"

Charlie: "Shut-up, Dave."

Bob: "Can I roll now?"

Anna: "No, that's stupid."

Bob: "Well what is the point of having a rulebook if we're not following the rules?"

Charlie: "Anna should write her own rulebook, and then we could follow that."

Dave: "Man, what did I buy this book for, then?"

Charlie: "The rules are just a guideline for the GM."

Erika: "We should have a vote on what the spell requires."


The group explodes in argument.


In the above example, the real argument is not about the rules concerning the spell Xagyg's Ghostly Foot of Arse-Kicking. It's about how the group will be run, how decisions will be made, who is in charge and so on. The essential conflict in this instance is between Bob liking magic, and Anna not liking it. Because he liked it, he read every spell carefully and made best use of it. Because she disliked it, she skimmed over those rules and looked at other things like the combat rules and what the evil overloard was going to say when he captured the party. The second conflict is between Anna's ideas of what a dramatic story is – people making speeches – and Bob's idea of what a dramatic story is – kicking evil's arse and taking its stuff.


Another conflict is between the whole group, about "who should be in charge?" Anna and Charlie think the GM should be in sole charge, Bob and Dave think the rules-as-written should be in charge, while Erika thinks the group should decide things together.


Many game groups break apart at this stage. Common causes of conflict are when and where and what to play. Those often cannot be resolved.


Resolving conflicts can be a very difficult thing to do. One problem is often that people's expressed conflicts are not the fundamental conflicts. The Anna-Bob conflict in the example is expressed as a conflict about the rules of magic, but fundamentally it's about whether there should be any magic at all. So long as Anna and Bob only talk about house rules, they will never resolve their conflict. Their second conflict is expressed as one about house rules, but is really about whether the game will have dramatic speeches, or be about killing things and taking their stuff. They need to realise the real conflict and deal with that.


In life outside gaming, it's often the case that people have conflicts about issues which they don't dare deal with. But the tension has to come out, so they have conflicts about minor things. So for example a man might yell at his wife when she's watching Daily Dramas, insulting her chocie of television. But the real conflict is how much time she spends with him; he comes home from work to have lunch with her, and she's watching television. But that real conflict is one he's scared to bring up. If he says that she doesn't spend enough time with him, instead watching tv, she might say, "but I prefer the TV to you," or she might criticise his spending every Sunday out with his buddies. So he suppresses that real issue – but his tension is still there, and must be expressed. That's why he criticises her choice of tv show.


That's why for many people, conflicts seem to be pointless. They seem to be pointless because in fact they are; they are not attempts to resolve the conflict, but avoid it; the avoidance is achieved by substitution. "The real issue is too scary to argue about, so let's argue about this bullshit issue instead."


When people are in the habit of substituting minor conflicts for the real ones in their work and family life, they'll naturally do it when they come to their hobbies. This is especially so with roleplaying, since in a roleplaying game session you're supposed to all get along well and have fun – conflicts aren't fun.


For these reasons, many Storming game groups break apart, or people get frightened by their step into the Storming stage and retreat into a Forming stage, where everyone stops arguing and is suddenly really nice to each-other. Sometimes one part of the group will continue Storming, while another two or three members will form a fortress of Forming. "Look, we can get along without arguments, why can't you?" The still-Storming people should be comforted by the knowledge that the New Formers are only postponing their conflicts, not resolving them.


If the group has an able leader or the right combination of people, they'll Storm through their conflicts and resolve them, reaching the Performing stage. In Tuckman's original analysis, it seemed inevitable they'd pass through Storming. This was because he was looking at groups in the workplace, teams brought together for a project. There, you resolve your issues or get sacked. In a voluntary group like a roleplaying group, you may be "sacked" (asked to leave) or "resign" (leave), but there are no career-destroying consequences. So rpg groups will often never pass through Storming into the next stage; they break up or return to Forming.


Those groups able to pass through this stage and resolve their conflicts will Norm and eventually Perform.


Most rpg books pretend that Storming does not exist. It's assumed that all groups automatically Perform well. "Traditional" rpgs tend to back the authority of the GM as the ultimate resolver-of-conflicts; they fail to discuss what happens when no-one accepts what the GM says. Many "Indie" rpgs try to get around this by having no GM at all, so that all players have equal authority. Many GMless games have very good mechanics for resolving conflicts between characters, but few have any mechanics or even advice for resolving conflicts between players. What happens if a player of a GMless game disagrees with the rules interpretation of another player? The true answer is, of course, "Storm!"


This ebook, incidentally, is all about the sort of things groups have Storms about. By knowing the sorts of things gamers have conflicts about, it'll be easier to sort the conflicts out. The important thing to realise is that some sort of conflict is almost inevitable. If the group, or an able leader, is able to identify the true sources of conflict (not, "what they're arguing about loudly", but the true sources of conflict), then the group can be steered through Storming and into Norming.

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