Sunday, December 20, 2015

Avoiding Crashes

On January 1st, one of the New Year's Resolutions I made - the sort not talked about out loud - was that I would write 365 posts this year.  I was doing fairly well; I started off strong in spring and didn't feel the pinch until early summer.  Things weren't going that well for me and they didn't get better - and come September and October I completely crashed, writing only 26 posts in those two months put together.

So here I am, December 20, and I am 24 posts short.  That's a bit more than two a day - and I think I'm going to make a stab at finishing out the resolution in the time given.  This should explain why I'm writing a bunch of random posts over Christmas.

I set a rule for myself that the posts have to be over five hundred words and they have to be relevant to D&D; that means this post too, which means everything written before the below won't count towards the word count.  Here goes.

The New Guy in my campaign played his second game last night and seems to be getting comfortable with the other players and with me.  It has been some time since I've introduced a genre-savvy player to my campaign.  It is a profoundly different experience from bringing in a noobie to role-playing and the game in general.  It isn't that I haven't done this before - I drew in several very experienced, terrific players with my online campaign when that was running.

In the case of the former, experienced players will tend to approach any house rules from a position of wanting the best possible clarity in the least amount of time.  I understand this well.  The initial concern is not to make any assumptions based upon a host of rules the player has been keeping in their head since the beginning of their experience - something I used to do myself before dropping out of the community completely and dwelling exclusively in my own campaign.

The legacy that has been left behind by endless edition fragmentation over the decades is not a question of "which edition are we playing" but the more difficult, "which version of opportunity attack rules are we playing?"  This is because all games inevitably become house ruled, simply because a group of intelligent beings starting 5e are smart enough to realize that something they liked from 4e (or 3e or 2e) can absolutely be retained and not dumped.  For any player who has spent years wandering from campaign to campaign, just because they like the game, this practical approach simply piles tactical possibility upon possibility . . . to where it is almost necessary to interrogate the DM under hot lights just to get it straight what 'my' character is allowed to do and wants to do once the dice hit the table.

Of course, no new player wants to take this approach.  It's a new campaign, the DM's exact methodology is as yet undetermined and everyone wants to fit in.  Asking twenty questions to nail down some feature of combat seems . . . rude.  Most players, particularly very experienced players, can feel very uncomfortable being put into a situation where they know damn well they don't get every nuance but they don't want to press the point.  Depending on a DM's reticence, or the players reticence, this can create a communication failure that can destroy any possibility of a good relationship.

This is part of the reason why airplanes of certain cultural backgrounds crash: a total failure of pilots to get over their need to be polite and defer to the higher authority in order to communicate vital information that would keep everyone alive.  It's rather terrifying (I strongly recommend listening to the entire lecture).

Often, the DM represents that sort of 'authority' that players hesitate to address - without the threatened loss of life, obviously.  Questions don't get asked because a player, a new player, will hesitate to ask those questions thinking, perhaps, the third running or the fourth running would be a better time.  Or the player dives in and asks their host of questions and the DM gets flummoxed or perhaps a bit defensive because it feels that something in the questions suggests judgmentalism.  Or the DM and the new player are both fine, but the old players can't help noticing the exchange and feel compelled to comment on the number of questions being asked or the apparent lack of faith that the new player shows - and that can be intimidating as well.

The need to ask all these questions is, as I say, created by the edition proliferation - but it is also created by a need by some DMs or players to see the inclusion of the new player in the game as something that shouldn't disrupt the ebb and flow of the game.  "Just pay attention, don't worry about doing the right thing, go along with it and everything will become evident," is some incredibly crappy advice.  On the surface it seems to be reassuring the player but in fact it shuts the player down completely where it comes to questioning anything that is going on.  Rather than offering reassurance, it draws attention to the player being a noob and therefore "Not in a position to comment."

This is all wrong.  If need be, all play should be suspended - for the whole night, if need be - to make sure the new player understands what's going on.  If we want new players, if we want them to feel comforted and reassured, the right thing to do is stop the flow entirely.  As a DM, I can do that.  I have the sort of players who will understand and back off if I express the importance of getting it all straight in the new player's mind.

Last night, this meant about half an hour of chatting about the combat system before starting the new player's first battle.  I was perfectly fine with that.  I would have gone a lot longer if need be, since I believe the combat system really 'makes' a lot of my world a good thing.  As it happens - and the past has shown this - the combat system isn't really that hard to understand.  Careful explanation, patience in answering as many questions as are asked and confidence in knowing the system works tend to sell the game play as soon as the new player is ready to give it a try.

Everything worked out fine.  Zrog adapted quickly to the system, seeing it in play, saw some features that had been long overlooked (fresh eyes on the problem are always wonderful) and came away feeling good about it.  Success.

We can't rush rush our new players and we can't let the old crew do it either.  A new player is a fresh breeze in a campaign and that is much more important than finishing a particular piece of the adventure before the time runs out tonight.  If new players need another hour, it is our responsibility to give it to them.

That helps bring the plane in safely.

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