Tuesday, May 5, 2015

player responsibilities

"People behave very differently under gold as xp than under monsters as xp." I never played under that style of play, neither have I ever run a game that way. I always played in games where role-playing was the dominant force for xp rewards and during my 2nd edition days that's when I started to see players who would follow a plot that was spoonfed to them from a GM or follow a protocol of behavior that the same GM had established. Bowing to lords, currying favor with locals, haggling with shopkeepers, and asking for opponents to surrender mid-battle. However, some of the worst games I ever played in happened to be because the GM expected their players to role-play their way out of a situation rather than looking for alternative solutions or resorting to violence.

I think it's that expectation of player behavior that makes a bad GM. However, there can be bad players too. Playing badly means following vague descriptors (of class, of alignment, etc.) and never looking for anything outside of the box that has been drawn for them, essentially a bad player is dull and predictable. A good player creates the game as they go and asks the GM to accommodate them, a good player throws creative punches. Rolling with those punches is what makes a good GM.

I once played a cleric-wizard in a game set in Waterdeep, the metropolis of the Forgotten Realms setting, where my character worshipped Gond, god of artifice. I started asking about who owned the land around certain areas and the GM never had easy answers. He finally asked me why I was so interested in who owned what and I told him of my plans to introduce a mass transit system to Waterdeep, utilizing both magic and machinery. I will never forget how he guffawed and said "Yeah, that'll never happen."

The younger version of myself soldiered on, but today if I heard a GM be that dismissive I would confront them with their buffoonery. I had just handed him a whole campaign worth of adventures on a silver platter - corrupt government officials, mobilizing labor, maintaining facilities, funding the construction, monetizing the finished project, attempts at espionage, disputes over property values - and he was more concerned with maintaining his status quo of experience points per session. The same horrible GM who would create impossible to solve problems to force us into role-playing our way out of them didn't want to bite into a veritable feast of role-playing potential that I was just handing over to him.

On the other hand, I've described the ingenious problems that could have arisen from this venture to many other players over the years and they all say the same thing: "Why don't you run that campaign?" and therein lies the problem. Most players don't even create their own goals, I can't expect them to follow one of mine.

I remember another game with another GM that had just as final a moment when it came to shutting down a player's goals. In a game where virtually any character was allowed, I asked to play an ogre and was allowed to do so. The ogres and dwarves of this world were locked in a centuries-long animosity. I don't remember what the two races fought over, but I remember that the GM often used it as a stick to beat my character with. Everywhere our party went we always ran into dwarves who took extra pains to be dicks to my character, and thus also the party. Since my ogre character traveled and adventured alongside another dwarf - a PC playing the only dwarf in the world who seemed to be polite and friendly - I mentioned that there must be friendlier dwarves and as soon as I found them I could forge an ogre-dwarf alliance that would shame the other dwarves. The GM just said "Good luck with that! The only friendly dwarves you're ever going to meet will be player characters."

I was still pretty young and I stopped playing with that group at that time because I took that oafishness personally.

As a player, I always create a lofty goal for my character. Maybe something that could be attainable, but often it is something that a GM could build adventures off of. I hate playing with GMs who expect you to share their goals, or follow their breadcrumbs.

As a GM I always try to foster a player creating goals for their character, and though I don't expect it, I am disappointed when a player would rather just level up then interact with the world. That disappointment probably makes me a weaker GM overall. When I run the Dwimmermount game I feel like the campaign skirts a fine line between role-playing and XP-gathering. The characters have goals and there are some inter-party conflicts brewing, but in relation to the dungeon itself it is just there as a thing for them to conquer rather than to interact with.


  1. Great op-ed, PHD. I share the flexible, adaptable thread of your views. Is there a potion for Productive Gaming Chemistry? It's a lot like romance, or rock bands, or anything both creative and benchmarked.

    I play (player) in an online group now with two different active campaigns. In Campaign "A" (Nishka) our party was delegated a leader. In Campaign "B" (Duro) we are a motley assortment of wanderers-together.

    Camp-A has the feature of occasional poor decision-making (manifest: a left-handed character marching on the right, while a right-hander marches on the left? It's like fighting over an airplane armrest!) but at least there IS a decision made.

    Camp-B is wilder-gaming with a ragged jumble of actions and divergent paths. Christ, even Pirates could aim a cannon at a common target! Role-playing in Camp-B is largely talking, about talking, about deciding, about wheretogowhocarriesatorchandwhatguyleadsthemule. Lack of leadership, good or bad, is stalling the game experience. Thus, it seems "wild" and "free", but may in fact touch on stagnation while we seek a pirates' consensus on which goddamned corridor to explore.

    In America, the Marines say they would rather do something wrong than do nothing at all. That's just my little take from the USA eastern coast.

    A Gaming Chemistry Potion. Trademark, applied-for!

  2. I wrote a long reply the other day but it got eaten by the internet

    Let me summarize a few characters their goals... and the results... in order to expand on some thoughts i had on different ways goals can be treated.

    Goal: Get revenge on father
    Result: Character died while achieving goal by bringing father with him into burning oil.

    Sloppy Joe
    Goal: Suicide
    Result: Was granted death by supervillain... only to be revealed that the method of death left him a "quantum ghost" who would never die

    Birdie Stanza
    Goal: to reform the gang that kidnapped her as a child
    Result: game ended with goal in progress

    The General
    Goal: to seek revenge on an evil lich
    Result: completely confounded when revealed he was under false impressions on the nature of his history.

    Chase Stanza
    Goal: Bring the spirit of his mother to peace
    Result: achieved at the end of an early session

    Goal: to inspire people
    Result: countless instances of creative inspiration (converting an entire spaceship of slaves into a communist collective was a highlight)

    Bort Stanza
    Goal: to eat and take baths
    Result: numerous instances of hilarity from his food eating and bath taking shenanigans

    James Ting Jr
    Goal: to find and protect his father
    Result: impending (game still being played) however it is possible that his father is dead.

    Ill stop here. The point im trying to make is a discussion of some of the neat kinds of goals a player can have... and how the GM can respond. The player can have clearly defined goals with nothing to do with it after it is achieved like Slick, a goal that is the start of something bigger like Birdie, Or general vague goals like impression and Bort. As a GM the options are myriad as well. Let the player achieve their goal, completely confound their goal and make it impossible and make them deal with that, or in the case of general goals... keep giving them opportunities. The only one i would advise against is prematurely allowing finite goals be achieved in a lackluster way (as happened with Chase).