Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Predatory Play

I wish I could express how saddened I am at the comments lately received on the subject of player-versus-player.  It measures up there with my feelings about the patch for this practice, depicted as a player being shot in the back.  I wonder if the entity who invented the logo even considered depicting two figures dueling.  Probably not.

No, killing another player is depicted as an act of cowardice.

Online, its validity is defended as the personal right of a player's agency.  PvP is freedom.  The freedom of a player's character to act in a predatory fashion towards other players, who - it must also be argued - have no right to live if they will not defend themselves.

That is, if they're given a chance to defend themselves.  Because it is always better, and easier, to shoot the fellow player in the back.  Hell.  Dumb bastard should have known not to let his guard down.

Are we tired of this subject?  I'm not seeing that in my numbers.  My numbers are very high right now.  For a 'non-issue,' it is getting a lot of attention.  I'm seeing a distinct rise in toxic comments - but to be honest, nothing to compare with the comment on a previous post that described PCs dropping their gloves and helmets in order to go at it "like men."

I am flogging this horse today because it is not yet dead.  I'm quite certain that it will never be dead. I'm equally certain that my futile attempts to kill this horse will fall far short of making a meaningful change.  It is only that . . . those here rushing to the defence of player-versus-player clearly feel threatened by the discussion.

Why should they care.  I have no power to enter their campaigns and put a stop to it.  I have no influence with the game makers or with gaming stores that could be encouraged to ban the practice.  I'm just a guy with a blog.  Where is the threat?  Where does the vehemence directed towards me come from?  What is this need to insist that I am somehow challenging the freedom of anybody?

The reader can figure this out.  It isn't hard.

Well, the horse is still alive.  And I haven't anything I can think of to add.  We can probably leave the matter in the street, thinking perhaps that someone will quit a toxic game or that someone will end the toxicity in their own game.  Hope, yes?  The hope that we can find better ways to express freedom than through contests of manhood perpetrated through fictional constructs.

There is only hope when reason fails.


Barrow said...

My friend and I were brought into a campaign of experienced D&D payers by a mutual friend. We had a blast discovering D&D together. That campaign ended with nearly all of the other players trying to kill my friend's character. They set a trap to murder him so they could sacrifice his body to lake monster who ate magical beings (my friend was a warlock). In return the lake monster would open a portal. They sprung the trap without my knowledge and expected my character to follow suit. Being loyal, my character helped my friend successfully escape, but in the process my character was murdered by our mutual friend.

I was pretty upset that night and then again when I learned the different plans the players had formulated to kill my friend. The whole thing was set in motion by an NPC who didn't like my friend's character.

Shortly after that I started DMing my first campaign. After 2 years, my campaign too nearly ended with a bout of PVP that was largely the result of my actions as the DM. I tried to justify the event by championing player agency, "That's what his player would do." In the end, it was a tragic mistake and thoroughly took the wind out of me and my campaign's sails and diminished any trust I had built with my players. The campaign recovered and my player's trust eventually recovered, but for me, the winds never returned. I hated the campaign and my players' new characters that had to be created. I missed the grizzled 2 year veteran characters. These new characters disgusted me. They were reminders that I had taken something from the players, something that they had worked over two years to create. The new characters were like a culmination of 2 years of bad DMing. I eventually ended the campaign and started a new one.

The point is, I wish I had read Alexis' take on PVP, what a character is to a player, and many other things before I diluted my first campaign with PVP. I will never again entertain PVP in my campaign. So keep kicking that horse Alexis, because that is what the people need.

Shelby Urbanek said...

The first group I ran with (really an expansion of the original three) contained two guys who were very much in favor of PvP. Not that they actually attacked other players, but they made it clear through their character builds and power selections that they had one thing on their minds: being able to kill any or all of the other characters. This pattern persisted through various campaigns, and I only continued to run with them because they were literally the only game in town (I grew up in a town of less than 6000).

Looking back on it, I can clearly recognize that their characters were built as a tool to bully the other players and assert their own dominance. They achieved this through the use of subtle or indirect threats that essentially said "Our characters can easily kill your characters, so you should do what we want." The only thing that made the 'game' tolerable was the fact that these two guys were often in direct competition between each other, and thus the brunt of the abuse was levied on the challenger, and not on those other players who had no taste for such mind games.

Those two guys are the reason I despise PvP to this day. Even though none of my characters ever actually fell to another character, the poisonous environment I endured for upwards of three years is proof enough of the hatefulness of the kind of people who enjoy PvP.

Jeremiah Scott said...

Though I love pitting my wits against other people in almost any game designed for it, PvP in role-playing has always been unappealing to me. I once had a character who had another unruly player character restrained, but that is the extent of my PvP experience and it happened when I was 17.

On the other hand, I DM for a group that seems to gravitate toward PvP.

As you may remember, I have been inspired by your blog and book over the course of the past two years to radically change the way I run the game. Though there have been growing pains, I have really appreciated the results. I feel freer to "be the world" while the players write the story.

But PvP has been a point of contention. I told them I wouldn't tolerate it. For a while everything was fine, then came the first intra-party conflict.

I should preface by saying that my party is obsessed with having a "leader." I have no idea why. I don't know where they got it and I don't like it. Nevertheless, it is a pattern they fall into. Furthermore, they take refuge in the excuse of "playing my character" for every selfish decision. They seem obsessed with playing their characters, but only when acting foolishly. The rest of the time they are taken by malaise.

I know this is the fault of bad DMing, but I have been trying desperately to change that and it seems like it's just not sticking.

So, came this first conflict, and one player decides he is going to attack another from doing something he felt would endanger the group. I intervened and told them they needed to work it out out-of-character. They never did reach a compromise, but they eventually decided just to drop it. Then, after the session, they both argued that I should've let them fight it out.

Needless to say, I was at a loss. It's obvious they don't take their characters seriously. They insist on having a sort of chain of command, and they all seem to have attended the leadership school that teaches you to beat dissent into submission.

I have never felt like a worse DM. I need the game like a crackhead needs smack, and I don't have another group I can go to. And, for all their foibles, they are my friends.

I hold myself responsible for all of this, but I don't know what I can do that I haven't done already.

Alexis Smolensk said...


It is important that you do not confuse the problem that the players are causing with your inability as a DM to solve it. You may be inadvertently sending messages to the party that are encouraging their actions, but it is far more likely that they have adopted a strategy that originates entirely with them. Do not set out to attack yourself or view yourself as a bad DM; you're clearly dealing with an unusual situation and you simply don't have enough information to know what you should do about it.

It is also clear that you're tired. You need a rest. I recommend cancelling the next session immediately and all other sessions for at least a month. Remember that DMing is managing people and managers deserve vacations. Think of it as an opportunity to ground yourself and work on some things you haven't had time for.

Make sure that the party knows WHY you're taking a break. Make them understand that they are pushing you past your endurance. Make them understand that if things don't get better, you'll crash and your world will burn with you, not because you want it that way but because you're being driven.

Because I hear pain, Jeremiah, in your words. You need a rest.

I don't know what the answer to your player's issues are; if I were there, in person, I might be able to weed it out, but I haven't met them so I am as in the dark as you are. But you won't solve this problem alone. It's just making you a basket case.

Rest. Get some perspective. Then reassert your feelings about party in-fighting and express your disatisfaction with it. Make them understand that you'll continue to DM, but not if they're going to disregard your misgivings about their behaviour.

You are their friend, too, Jeremiah. You'll probably be surprised to find out they had no idea they were causing you distress.

Ozymandias said...

I will put a stop to PvP in my games.

Not that I was ever a fan of them to begin with. I operated with the understanding that in order for players to be free in the game, they must also be free to be total bastards to each other. I thought - erroneously - that it was possible and desirable (a mark of a superior player) to separate one's wants or desires from the character's. Yet even so, I was always uncomfortable with PvP. I now know why: because one player wins and the other loses, and the game suffers as that player suffers. She may put on a brave face, but in the end she knows one thing: her friends are not her friends for they do not care about her like friends should.

I am convinced. Other are as well, clearly, though not all have said as much. Let the number of site views and these few awesome comments be proof positive of the impact you're having.

Dave said...

The very idea of PCvPC astounds me. I don't recall ever having that issue in the past. We knew we had entire worlds to explore, and we knew our PCs wouldn't thrive unless they worked together. Of course, it was a very different world when I started playing in 1977, and I suspect many of the differences in players can be attributed to the differences in culture.

Not to sound curmudgeonly, but I think more people then were willing to bet that things were getting better and would continue to get better. Today's heroes are anti-heroes; today's common mindset seems best described by the last verse and chorus of Cage the Elephants' "Ain't no Rest for the Wicked."

Well now a couple hours passed
And I was sitting in my house
The day was winding down and coming to an end
So I turned to the TV
And flipped it over to the news
And what I saw I almost couldn't comprehend

I saw a preacher man in cuffs
He'd taken money from the church
He'd stuff his bank account with righteous dollar bills
But even still I can't say much
Because I know we're all the same
Oh yes we all seek out to satisfy those thrills

You know there ain't no rest for the wicked
Money don't grow on trees
We got bills to pay
We got mouths to feed
And ain't nothing in this world for free
No we can't slow down
We can't hold back
Though you know we wish we could
No there ain't no rest for the wicked
Until we close our eyes for good."

The world is no good, and I'm no better than anyone else, so I'll take what I can, and let no one stand in my way. Teams are useful until they're not, then you gotta get rid of them. TV and Movies push it, politicians demonstrate it, the media glorifies it.

I don't think I've explicitly disallowed PCvPC in my current OD&D campaign world, but my players are fully aware that my world will kill their PCs if they're not careful. Exploring an untamed, monster-filled wilderness or dungeon is dangerous but also highly rewarding, especially when your DM doesn't believe in today's holy grail of "balanced classes" having "appropriately challenging" encounters where each PC gets a "fair share" of the limelight each session.

Oops, guess I DID get all curmudgeonly, after all!

Barrow said...

If, for some reason, a player wishes to fight another player over some issue that arises in my campaign, then I will have both players roll a d10. I will say something like "the two of you had a minor scuffle resulting in player x taking 6 damage and player y taking 3 damage. You don't receive any experience from the damage. After the scuffle, the two of you realized that you are on the same team and that you couldn't be anything but friends. You begin to work out your differences now, let me know when you come to an accord."

I remember the times in football practice when 2 teammates would go at it. The fight came to little consequence and the boiling animosity always ended their.

Alexis Smolensk said...

That's an excellent mechanic, Barrow.

Ozymandias said...

I'm reminded of a story about a highschool principal who would allow fights between students in a controlled environment: basically, give the kids some gloves and let them beat themselves silly. A few students were quoted in the article as saying (effectively) that their anger subsided and they became friends.

Probably works better for teens than adults, but I think the concept is sound.

Scott Driver said...

Alexis, I'm sorry if this has come up in previous posts, but how do you handle it when player characters could reasonably be expected to come to blows over differences of opinion?

Alexis Smolensk said...


It never happens in my world. If you interviewed any of my characters individually, you would not find one that remotely supported the idea; if there was a dispute, they would discuss it, and they often do, sometimes angrily but NEVER physically. They are all people who view the resort to physicality with disgust.

I did have experience with it, when I was young - and I did write a post about physical conflicts in my gaming, as well as discussing it early in my book. If it happened now, I could count on my players to separate them or my very strong personality to stop the argument long enough to sort it out. If the would-be combatants could not be reasoned with, that might require sending one, or both, from my home. Otherwise, once settled down, we would probably all spend the rest of that session talking. The game would likely be suspended until the next week.

But this is simply impossible to imagine. My friends are all people who grew up making peace between other people; I've made peace between people all my life. The appearance of an oddly aggressive player who joined would set off so many alarm bells among my people that the question would very quickly be asked, "What are you angry about?"

I am concerned with all these people playing who seem to come to the table with an axe to grind, who then appear to be employing the game as a means to manage their own hatefulness and malevolence. I have no idea why I would allow anybody like this to play with me, or why anyone else would. Do people not have standards about the level of consideration they expect to receive?