The storm will pass, and the groups who have survived leave the reality show behavior behind by the transitioning into the norming phase. At this stage, the power dynamics have been worked out, everyone is speaking to everyone else, and perhaps the first wave of house rules have been adopted. In my weekly group, most of us started bringing our own dinner to the game, rather than trying to negotiate delivery options. Power decentralizes as the group develops its culture. The game master has rules to follow just as the players do. On a whole, this phase is much more pleasant than storming. It isn’t all good, however: excessive courtesy can stifle creativity. In a drive to get along, members can lose sight of the real goal of having fun.
The groups who stay together and develop a healthy enough culture will enter the performing phase. These groups share decision making, find ways to have healthy debates and, on a whole, have members who are interdependent. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Virtually all successful teams, whether in work, gaming or sports, have reached the performing phase. In my weekly group, no one cares about the food anymore. We remember who understands the rules well, we know who really enjoys the role-playing parts, and, most importantly, we trust and respect each other.
It is common for groups to cycle through these stages as they evolve. Every time a new player joins the game, you have to start again by forming. It will probably be easier this time, especially if the group has established habits and expectations. On the other hand, those habits and expectations can make it harder to integrate new players. Remember how it was always better to start in a new school at the beginning of the year? Every time a player leaves the game, you’ll probably have to start again at the beginning. This is especially true when the vacating player had a specific role within the group.
As you may have guessed, you can’t perform until you’ve stormed. If your own gaming group has never shared a tense discussion over a rule interpretation and is filled with players who have never been annoyed with one another, you haven’t skipped to performing: you’re still forming. Hang on, because the storm is coming. If your new gaming group just had a session that ended with everyone annoyed with everyone else, hang on. The storming phase will very likely pass and things will improve. There are many ways to make storming as quick and relatively painless, but those details will have to wait for another day.
The Chatty DM has also written about this topic in a series of posts titled, “The 4 Stages”.