TL;DR: Turns out my players didn't trust me to help them with their hardships and faced extreme discomfort in the game due to my failures. I fell broken. How do I build trust with m friends, and get back to running the game?
So I've been running a D&D 5e game for my close friends for 3 years now. We know each other from Highschool, and thanks to D&D going to uni didn't scatter the friends' group. It's been going very well, a fantastic bonding point to all of us.
Except, it turns out, that last bit is not exactly true.
About me: I am a stereotypical awkward, shy writer-type guy, into history, literature and board games.. I ended up as the DM because we were all new at the time, and I was the one willing to do it. During the years I found out that DMing is a huge passion for me and I wouldn't have had it any other way. but obviously, I still have a lot to learn and mature, especially in the social obligations that come with running the game. Spotting tension between players that sort of stuff. I also suffer from depression and panic disorder so confrontation comes very hard for me.
There has always been a lot of tension in the group. Those who are close friends IRL keep tend to become best friends in character as well, the more anxious players often stay a step back from the spotlight, and the most self-confident guy often takes charge of the game, occasionally going against one or two players plans. None of them mean harm, and I try to deal with these situations as best I can, but these mostly arise from the players' personality and reflect collisions we often face outside D&D.
And I do sincerely believe that none of them are problem players. These guys craft dice trays and beer mugs for one another or write flippin' songs about each other's characters. Most of the time they are amazing players. But sometimes personalities collide.
Enter the last session: they have been uncovering a mystery about a forbidden school of magic. They are in possession of a high-level spell scroll, that they could present as evidence. Two members get into a debate over whether giving up something that dangerous is a good idea. Turns out two immovable opinions are meeting, the debate goes nowhere, escalates into an argument and finally a fight, which I'm pretty sure transcends D&D now. So I interfere and stop the game calling for an IRL discussion of what's up, and to clear up the problem.
We handle the thing like adults, the party comes up with a compromise, the game continues. All fine and dandy right, no need to post on DMAcademy, right? Well, mostly.
Where I need help.
So during the discussion past situations came up where the players felt uncomfortable with each other, and quite frankly, it broke my heart. Turns out on multiple occasions they felt so hurt after a game that they lied about schoolwork so that they don't have to show up next week, pretended to be sick for the same reason. Sometimes they felt left out or lied about someone needing help during an online session so that they could leave the game.
I, naturally feel like an utter failure. I knew there were collisions but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine things being This bad. I failed to notice, prevent and resolve problems. But worst of all, I cultivated a game, it seems like, where the players don't trust me enough to bring their problems to me, and apparently, feel the need to lie to get out of a session (they think that I will force them to stay? I would never do that, I couldn't hurt a fly)
I am broken, I failed to keep my friends trust and I failed to run a safe game. It honestly even took my DM motivation away. Naturally, I didn'T mention any of these feelings to my players, dealing with each other and resolving that is hard enough on them, and they are 100% the victims here. they do not the burden of guilt over my feelings.
But I need to seek advice from someone. So I turn to you, hivemind of Reddit. How do I get back up? How do I build trust with these players? How do I get my motivation back so that I can show up next week, and a week after that to run the game for us? I genuinely want to run the game, it's my one creative outlet.
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