Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Three Wheels

I've been dead on my feet.  Never write a book.  It isn't worth it.

Either the last post was so vague no one understood it, or so obvious it wasn't worth writing.  Given that I've been medicated to the gills for five days (do computers count as 'heavy machinery'?), I'll go with the former.

I've been making the point lately that everyone that sits in and plays the game, from DM to players, is responsible for that game being good.  I'm not dividing that responsibility 50/50 with the players on one side and the DM on the other . . . I'm saying that if there are four players and a DM, every one at the table has a 20% responsibility towards making the experience positive.  Share and share alike.

Obviously, the DM has more work and preparation to do.  The players, however, do the bulk of the decision-making.  I wonder how often that is really considered.  As DM, I adjudicate on the game rules, that's true, but in actual fact I don't make many important decisions - at least, not on the spur of the moment.  My context is pre-set most of the time, I already know what the NPCs mean to do, and at any rate my making a wrong decision about what is behind a door or what an NPC does can be rectified as the game goes forward.

Players, on the other hand, are held to account for the decisions they make, and they can't simply rectify those decisions by slight modifications to the world.  A player makes the wrong decision and it can have dire consequences, not just for the player, but for everyone at the table.  That is a heavy weight on the player's shoulders that I don't feel.

That alone should make it clear how much the game depends on the players sharing responsibility for what happens.  If they're not supportive, if they don't allow for others to make mistakes, if they become petty or even vindictive about their fellow players, then the game is going to be BAD.  Even a moderate level of indifference - from even one player - is enough to ruin a game experience.

And there's often that one player at the table that doesn't put in his or her share of ideas, who tags along and takes their share of the treasure and rolls dice to prove there's a pulse there.  And when you're the one wanting the party to make a decision, where is the support from this player?  It isn't there.  Nothing is there.  The response isn't positive and it isn't negative.  It's, "Sure, whatever, I don't care."

If the reader is looking for a good table to play at, there's more to consider than just the DM.  ALL the players have to pull their weight.  If they're not, then the cart of your game is just rolling along on three wheels.  It still gets there, but damn, what a pain in the ass.


Oddbit said...

There's been more than one game I've played where I... well I can't say I abandoned it because of a player, but I sure didn't enjoy it nearly as much because of one.

Not only is there the player that doesn't care. But the player that actively pursues self at the expense of the other players.

That I can tolerate even less.

Barrow said...

Can anyone share their successful experience engaging a disengaged player? I currently have a player who thinks the current subject matter of the campaign would not interest his character. So he did nothing during game play. The party had decided to hunt down an elusive lake monster that would eat villagers and he determined it was a waste of his time.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I would suggest taking the player aside and explaining in the kindest, most empathic manner possible that the player needs to accept that an agreement has been made, and that he needs to get on board and be positive about the campaign. If this doesn't work, then the player must be excused.

This is really the sort of behaviour that we were supposed to have grown out of by High School.

Ozymandias said...

A few years back, I was working with a group of high school students as a sponsor for a gaming club. I ran a game as well and ran into this very problem. A player decided that a course of action was "against his character's 'character'" and refused to join the party. The group was large (around 8 - 10 people), so it was a challenge to involve everyone. I chose to let him sit the session out (and the one after, until he stopped coming altogether).

I made the wrong choice. What I should have done was: 1) what Alexis said above, and 2) look for the reason behind his reluctance.

In this case, at least, the player was not known for being disengaged. He simply decided one day that he would not 'play ball' with the rest. I should have seen the change in his demeanor. I suggest that, perhaps, something similar is occurring. Is your player consistently disruptive? Is this normal behavior, or is there something amiss?

Naturally, I don't mean to insult by suggesting that you haven't thought of this already...

Maxwell Joslyn said...

Sorry, Alexis, but regarding yesterday's post, I'm in the "too obvious to bother mentioning" camp. The players are responsible for the game being enjoyable just like the DM is, albeit in a different way: what's there to not get? (Well, quite a bit, if you're a problem player. But then you're a problem player.)

I do enjoy seeing you expound on the idea, however. Just because it's something I already know doesn't mean I should object to its being clearly stated. A kind of defining one's terms.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Then let me ask you a question, Maxwell.

Why is there so much debate online about what standards do we use to judge a good game?

Alexis Smolensk said...

This is the conversation I hoped to start yesterday, Ozymandias.

Because it is a 'game,' and because it is 'group activity,' we are led to believe that somehow as human beings we are expected to go the extra step towards being inclusive and indulgent of players who are self-motivated and indulgent. In my book, I have to encourage this because it is EXPECTED that I should be generous.

When looked at in terms of many other activities, however, it is surprising how generous we are. If we were 10 people who wanted to go to a bar, and one person did not want to go, we would drop that person off without a second thought. If that person came along and began to complain, we would be very cold about how little we cared about the complainer.

The truth of this can be seen easily when we look at the whole range of human activities. Does anyone want to take along the guy who hates camping? Or the girl who doesn't want to ski? Or the guy who hates the band that's playing? Or the girl that doesn't like the beach? Hell no.

Why should D&D somehow be the enabler for anti-social behavior?

James said...

But here is the problem: all your examples are of complainers and negative input, which everyone will consistently agree is a problem. But the example you raise in your post is far more common; the person who won't (or can't) engage. Because even in real life, we may not go to the bar with the person who actively hates it, but we'll usually go with the person who is like "yeah, okay."

They don't drag their feet, they don't even complain, but they refuse to take any agency of their character and/or situation. They aren't "problem" players by the normal definition, but they are players that, in time, will derail and end your campaign not via active destruction, but through sheer apathy.

I am planning on starting another campaign in a month or two, and I think when we sit down to create characters and hammer out setting details and the like, I will give an explanation that each individual is responsible for their own level of enjoyment. Because that point isn't discussed enough, that everyone has an equal share in making things fun, and when all that weight is placed on the DM, it is how you get DMs burning out.

Carl said...

"Why should D&D somehow be the enabler for anti-social behavior?" -Alexis

Hello Alexis!

D&D is not 'the' enabler, but 'an' enabler for anti-social behavior.

D&D (and really, all games) is an escapist pursuit. The main difference between D&D and games with a definite winner and loser, like Monopoly, is that D&D takes place almost entirely in the imagination of the participants. Anything is possible within the realm of imagination, and so it follows that anti-social people would be especially drawn to something that relies so heavily upon this tool of limitless possibility.

The pure, unfiltered escapism offered by role-playing games is like booze to a drunkard. Anti-socials are addicts of a kind. Addicted to getting their own way on everything. Addicted to breaking off sociality at a whim with little-to-no consequence. Addicted to being the star of their own play.

These problems you and others in the comment thread are describing are arising from those anti-socials being forced to interact and cooperate with others. They don't want to do that. Therefore, their character would not do that, or somesuch. They want their own adventure. They want to be the star of their show, and these other people are interfering with that. And if others want to come along with them, that's OK, for now. But, the moment those others start to deviate from the path the anti-social lays out, he (or she, but anecdotally most often he) will begin to disengage, then move to passive-aggression and then finally to withdrawal.

Asking why D&D is the enabler for anti-social behavior is like asking why bars and 24-hour liquor stores are such enablers for alcoholics.

I think it might be more interesting to ask how did these homo sapiens, whose very biology demands sociality, end up not wanting to interact with other homo sapiens? How is it that they've overcome several million years of evolution and decided that it's better to be alone than with others?

Alexis Smolensk said...

That's worth a post on its own, Carl.

The point you make, James, is true. Everyone is responsible for their own level of enjoyment. What I worry about is that putting it that way, it sounds as though everyone is responsible ONLY for their own level of enjoyment. And that is the problem. Because everyone is ALSO responsible for everyone else's level of enjoyment also.

At least, they are if the game is going to be very good.

Sometimes, it just takes one or two players to shoulder that burden to increase the level of play for everyone. But one or two people will inevitably wonder, why don't we have a game where only the three of us, Jim and I doing the work, and the DM, play?

I'm working very hard with the book not to write preachy statements about how everyone should behave and who's a bad person and so on. There's little point in doing that - but on some level, it is important to frame an ideal situation where talking about what a DM does in organizing a party.

I don't think I have space in the book to argue that D&D is a drug for assholes, Carl. But it's a nice observation.

Maxwell Joslyn said...

I trust you when you say that such a debate exists, Alexis. But I've never been part of it. I suspect that at least some of the time the debate gets hung up on "fun," and ends up with "A good game is one where DM and players all have fun." Which of course falls prey to players who have fun through being assholes.

However, I'll retract my "too obvious" judgment for the following reason: I more carefully considered your wording. "Accept the shared responsibility" is not what I was thinking of originally. There is a difference between acknowledging that everyone should have a "rich and rewarding" experience, and actually working toward that goal, keeping it in the back (or perhaps forefront?) of the mind during play. Putting one's money where one's mouth is, in other words.

Scarbrow said...

FWIW, I think your previous post was one of those so glaringly clear, compact and visionary that I had nothing significant to add to it. It went straight to my bookmarks of your best ones.

Barrow said...

I know the topic has progressed from my initial overly generalized question, but I will still offer some detail. The disengaged player I asked about is one of the most generous, understanding, and creative people I know. He stood beside me at my wedding. In many ways I aspire to be like him.

He will spend hours thinking of and talking with me about ways to build and progress his character. He is very creative when trying to optimize his stats or powers. He is also pretty dynamic when he and I run a solo encounter. However, his creativity wanes and he does tend to shut down in the group setting or when he runs up against an obstacle during play. Sometimes even minor barriers make him turn away. (Like minor dart traps in a tunnel)
I run a small group (4-5) and he is friends with everyone involved. So when he pulls back a bit I tend to look inward at my own inexperience as a DM. For example, maybe I haven't shown him that his character can benefit from working towards a group objective. Maybe I haven't given his character enough space to be dynamic and creative when overcoming an obstacle.

Last week he was particularly distant, because he had his character actively not looking for the lake creature. When I asked him about it later in the week, he said that his character:
"has no interest in these side missions that don't directly benefit any of his major interests. But I have to push the point harder (ie. push the group to go after tieflings rather than chase a monster in a lake)."

While it reads so, I can assure you that he isn't talking about pushing the group into an encounter that they aren't already planning to do. That is not the problem, the problem is that he is will shut down when he is not into the encounter. At times, it does bring the table down a bit, kind of like breaking the fourth wall for the others.

After reading others comments (thank you for replying), I think he has to change his attitude a bit. Have the mindset that every encounter is an adventure and opportunity. While he might not like to eat crowd pleasing red apple encounters, he can still squeeze some juice from the apple for his character.

I am going to take Alexis' advice and make a point to talk to him. I am going to ask him to engage himself in the group goals, and find ways that his characters can benefit. If he does this, I think he will see that there is a lot his character can gain, even if it doesn't further any of his personal goals.

Alexis Smolensk said...

While you do talk to him, Barrow, turn one of those sentences you said on it's head. Ask the player what you, the DM, can do to make every encounter an adventure and opportunity for HIM. Not that he's special, but clearly there's something he likes about some adventures that is missing in others. Dialogue, perhaps, or problem solving and innovation. You know him best. You might find that by making your own adventures multi-dimensional (looking for the lake monster WHILE arguing politics with the fellow who offers the boat) might solve problems for both of you.