Thursday, March 14, 2013

Flexibility & the One Direction

Ozzie Pippenger wrote a couple days ago:

"Do you leave it entirely up to your players to work out when they have a conflict? What if some of the players insist on doing something the rest have no interest in? Do you ever run extra games or one on one adventures for independent goals? I know my players can have trouble with this. Sometimes two or three of them are working well together, feeding off each other's energy, and making the game much more interesting. Sometimes though, a single player dominates the game and the others slowly stop paying attention."

Of course it happens.  I actually have several examples from my online game.  Delfig the Bard decided to go back to Dachau to face his demons, while the rest of the party went on.  Franz and the party went loggerheads 14 months ago.  And even just last week, the present party couldn't decide about killing sheep, going back to the ship or heading out further.

Now, regarding my failure in the 10,000 word post on how to play a character to include something about inter-party conflict, that wasn't an error.  This is not something I expect a party to resolve.  It is, therefore, not relevant to the act of a player playing a character.  It is relevant to the question, how do you control your players in a game ... and this I did mean to address in the book I'm writing, An Advanced Guide to Managing Roleplaying Games.  I tell you, if that crew thinks 10,000 words is pretentious, wait until they get a load of my book.

I don't want to rehash the points of the book, but I will say this.  People at the table disagree.  They are entitled to disagree.  They are expected to be patient and reasonable.  You will note that in general, I don't dip my hand in when the party wants to wrangle out a choice of action.  I didn't intervene with Franz until he started getting combattish ... and later J.B., who played Franz, would agree with my decision.  The man has character coming out the yin-yang.

Overall in my gaming, this hasn't been a problem.  I believe that is because where I see a single player dominating other players in the game, I don't see that as a "gaming" problem.  I see that as a "This person is being a bad person."  Whereupon, I say to this person, "What the fuck, man, you're not the only one playing here."  And if that particular fellow (its always a fellow - I've never seen a girl player act this way) doesn't get himself straightened out in terms of his self-importance, then he's asked to get the fuck out the door.

I have played with people who were incredible dicks.  And I have had DMs tell me, "Well, Bill's really a nice guy ... it's only when he's playing that he acts like this."  Really.  I mean ... really.  Because from where I'm sitting, Bill pretty much looks like an ass, period.

I know, Ozzie, that you're not saying this about any of your players.  I'm just presenting this as the extreme.  In general, I've always had the sort of players who recognize, logistically, that they're going to have to play together towards the same goal if they want to play as much as possible.

Still, I can remember times when I left one player, who wanted to play a solo game while four other people sat at the table waiting for him (again, its always a guy), stewing in his juices.  Once I let a guy sit for THREE hours while I ran the other four who wanted to play together, while he just got more and more pissed because I wasn't prepared to put the adventure on hold for his little joy time.  I would never have done this normally ... except this was the first night the guy had ever played in my world.  Yessiree folks, he joined an active party, then tried to usurp the campaign for his own ends.

That wasn't the end of it, either.  If you'll forgive me, I'll include a war story about this fellow that I won't be adding to the book.

It's the first night of his appearance.  He rolls a thief.  The party encounters a camped gnoll patrol in gnoll territory, stumbling out of the forest and surprising them.  As the battle starts, the thief - we'll call him Dave - breaks apart from the party.  Good move, a little 1st level thief against huge gnolls is a bad idea, and the rest of the party was 4th and 5th level.

But where does Dave go?  While the party handles the 18 gnolls, Dave makes a big circle and sneaks into a gnoll tent, to rob it.  Oh, lovely.  Way to build bridges, buddy.  The party goes on fighting.  The gnolls are losing, so some of them break off ... and one running away, free and clear, runs right into Dave, arms full of loot.

Now, the next bit was funny.  Dave starts shouting for help.  The party, perfectly aware of what he was doing, refuses.  Dave starts arguing with me that the party can't possibly refuse because they don't KNOW he was robbing the gnolls.  I answered that the party clearly knew he hadn't done anything to help them, and anyway, they'd only met him a couple days before, right?

Well, the gnoll had been hit a couple of times and Dave had been able to kill it on his own.  But he didn't get to keep all the loot, as the party found it while he was fighting.

And then ... then ... while the party strikes out on their continued way south, to get out of gnoll territory, what does Dave want to do?  He wants to go off on his own, into the trees, and find his own way.


So he sat on his ass.  I gave him several chances, but he stubbornly refused to just rejoin with the party.  Then, after three hours with me not running him, he left in a huff.  We were all really sorry to see him go.

D&D is a group activity.  Explain this to your players.  If they can't work out a way to play together, then the least flexible ones are willing to get up and leave.  I'd rather play with two flexible people than with four that can't get along.  With two, I can add a third and a fourth in good time.  I'm at the point now where I run eight, sometimes nine or ten people.  And they all want to do the same things, not because I tell them, but because they know if they want to play, they will organize themselves into a program where everyone can do so.

They all like each other, you see.  So if someone were a selfish pain, that someone wouldn't be liked.  And if not liked, I wouldn't have to be the one to say get out.


YagamiFire said...

You mention it's "always a guy"...ever notice that guy is also often playing a Thief?

And they're always a Thief that thinks they're going to somehow strike it rich by picking pockets or sneaking about into a gnoll tent. Sigh.

I have very active players that are very motivated so often I have to shift focus between them so they can get their individual pursuits underway. This is, of course, different from your example in that it is a balancing act the players themselves are doing rather than the DM having to monitor the group.

Most DMs have dealt with the "lone wolf" player who wants to go and Wolverine every situation they see. They're also usually the first to flip out and throw a fit when they get themselves killed or otherwise inconvenienced. Of course, the reason is because they're trying to play to their own ego rather than actually achieve in the game. It is an adolescent attitude that quite a few people never entirely grow out of.

In my current group, though, I have found that in-character many times the players will be reluctant to necessarily go along with any single action...even if they might have the same actual goal in mind out of character. They just enjoy working to that point in-character...especially since it usually creates good quid pro quo for the characters. In general, I don't care how much they disagree in-character because it helps them work through their characters goals, pursuits and motives in a way that keeps those things in focus for them...and that is immensely useful for the game.

So long as people can remain mature about everything and enjoy the interactions it's all good.

joe said...

I've rarely had this happen to me, and I tolerate it, to a point.

Most recently, the mage and the cleric couldn't convince the fighter to follow them on a trail that led to certain death/adventure. The fighter was dead-set on walking the three hours to the nearest town, and did so.

Meanwhile, the mage got herself murdered and the cleric was seriously wounded.

Caught up with the fighter the next day, and there was hell to pay.

Carl said...

This is the reason I stopped DMing. I didn't have the courage to throw my friends out of the game one at a time until harmony returned.

This is also the reason I've been reading your blog for so long. You give me something that I can't get anywhere else. Alexis, you give me insight.


ravencrowking said...

In the original Player's Handbook, Gary Gygax gave advice that is still spot-on today: Players should try to come to the table with a plan. If you are arguing out the basics at the table, you are wasting your gaming time. That is not the fault of the person behind the screen.

I have no problem if the party splits. I will run separate sessions. What I will not do, nor would expect anyone to do, is let one player "force" the session to be about him.

You split off, fine. I will get to you as I deem appropriate. That might mean right now. That might be a long time later.

There are times when it makes perfect sense for parties to calve like icebergs. If everyone has a stake in both groups, the odds are good I will let the players choose which to follow this session.

The players get to choose where their interests lie. I get to choose how to deal with their choices. If anyone is unhappy with that, really, they should be doing something else with their time. Including me.

Dave said...

I just don't know why the bad guy has to be "Dave." I think I'll go out drinking tonight to drown my existential sorrows.

Oh wait, I was gonna go out tonight anyway. Never mind.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Don't stress it Dave. Usually around here, the bad guy is Alexis.

ESR said...

I have also had the experience that the players who are dicks play (Chaotic Neutral) thieves/rogues...

Funny, that.

PS - none of them were named Dave, in or out of game. :-)

Alexis Smolensk said...

This observation, ESR, that you and others have had is probably the leading reason why so many DMs want to get rid of the thief class ... it offers too many opportunities for dicks to be dicks. As though the class were the reason and not the DM's style.