Thursday, December 28, 2017

Dig In; You're in Charge

So, this:

There's so much content to mine here, I'm tempted to employ the tactic popular on bulletin boards, of quoting, slamming, quoting, slamming, quoting and slamming again.

I don't like it.  Readers tend to phase out after two paragraphs and, on the whole, it makes me look like a dick.  So I quit doing it.

Still, the video above is just ... baffling.  For one thing, there's no actual moment when the players "derail" the campaign, since the actual cause for the issue was a) a die roll that should have been embraced and not resisted; b) some spectacularly poor design of the setting; c) a complete disconnect in message-giving; and d) a stubbornness on the DM's expectations that approaches idiocy.

And that's not all.  Seriously, this video highlights the worst issues with running games and role-playing ... from supposed "improvements" in DM problem-solving to player shock and awe that quite obviously blinds them to being suckered, big time, by really shitty mechanics.  This is what I mean by a 90 I.Q. DM running 65 I.Q. players.

Trying not to quote and slam, let's have a look at the first conundrum presented:
"Whenever I plan a big epic fantasy game, I give a set of quest lines which involves helping poor little Timmy find his red wagon; matching a dress that goes with the noble lady's hair; or stopping Galpadar ... [garbled] and ending all existence as we know it.  It's pretty obvious to figure out what one the players will take.  Whatever one pays the most!"

That's a joke.  I get it.  But, he follows with,
"But then again, why do you have to have multiple quests?  I've actually had players get pissed off at me because they accidentally passed content.  Players don't know ahead of time that if they talk to the general he's going to give them a boring fetch quest, or they talk to Mr. Wiggins about his missing apples ... he's going to be the guy that gives them a really cool mission where they end up fighting transdimensional Devours on the Rings of Saturn.  Even though I knew all those problems, I tried ..."

Let's cut it off right there.

Breathe, breathe ...

The way the fellow presents this, with his light and happy tone, I find myself wondering if this guy is self-aware at all.  He's like, "I do this thing, not of my own free will, but because it just happens, and boy oh boy, I sure wish something could be done about the way I dick around with the players' expectations.  Oh well.  I'm sure it's the players' fault somehow."

It's truly stunning.  He seems to be arguing that the solution for this is to get rid of multiple choices on the players' part, so that they can be sure to have that really cool Saturn fight and not be disappointed.  Yay!

But dumping all that in the circular file, for the rest of the post I'll address this: "I've actually had players get pissed off at me ..."

This seems to be a real issue for DMs and I'd like to give my take on it:

So What?  So the player got mad at you.  So the player reflexively took out their discontent or aggression issues on some point in your game that they decided to fixate upon as the hill they're prepared to die on.  So what?

The player chose poorly.  Too bad.  Tighten your upper lip, grow a spine, suck it up your cake hole and move the fuck on.  Get used to disappointment.  Choice means that occasionally, yes, players won't get all their precious mother promised them.

I am led to believe by all the content, references, stories and endless preaching on this subject that DMs have a lot of problem dealing with players who show signs of being unhappy.  Apparently, and using the context above as an example, many DMs take this "angry player" thing as evidence that we're somehow running the game in a bad way, or unfairly, or inappropriately.  It is repeatedly used, I find, as an argument for changing the way we approach problems or the way we approach the design or running of our world.  That is certainly the context above.  "I've had a player get mad, so why should there be multiple choices?"

[Not that I think this multiple choice adventure options is an example of running well, but I've discussed that elsewhere.  Let's stay focused]

People.  You have to understand that most of the time your players are mad at you because you are running the game fairly.  I'll say that again: you're doing a good job, and because of that, your players are feeling the pressure of having to live up to success and not failure.

As a DM, you've got to dig in and face that bullshit.  Do you think these guys are pissed because the game needs changing?

Some do believe that.  Those people have the same problem as your players.  They want their guys to do well, they want their team to win, because reasons.  They hate that it's a game, they hate that they can make a bad choice, they hate that they can miss the roll or not get everything they want, they hate that they're not superbeings with instant access to everything.  They hate it.  It's a cognitive bias that was never successfully socialized out of their judgement, where, like when they were little babies, they learned that mommie and daddie revolved around them, where bottles were brought when screamed for and attention received likewise.  And when these people have their subjective social reality challenged by a game, they squall and scream and expect everyone around them to change their behaviour so that baby gets bottle.

Because there are varying degrees of this cognitive bias (see the baseball video above to see some of that scale, as some players accept the judgement angrily and others just can't), we have to assess the players from session to session.  If that frustration increases to the point where they're having a temper tantrum every game, then they have to be booted.  But sometimes, and I'm more than open to this, its understandable that a player can lose it.

None of this, however, has anything to do with the rules of the game being "unfair."  This is all about the player ... who needs to be told, "Tough.  Accept it.  Move on."

Or get out.


James said...

You've discussed it elsewhere, but it is really hard in practice because most DMs are playing with their friends. And when your friends are upset because dice rolls are going against them, it is so tempting to ease up, just a little bit.

And between fear players will leave and the desire to not make a game unfun, DMs make bad decisions.

I think this circles back to D&D not feeling like a game. If we play Pandemic, we understand a bad draw could spell disaster. Yet, that understanding is missing in D&D.

Alexis Smolensk said...

OMG, they're such friends of yours you can't stand up to them?

James said...

I think a lot of people are very bad at standing up to their friends, especially when they outnumber you. I think this is one of the biggest reasons why focusing on the *game* aspect of D&D is so important.

Alexis Smolensk said...

If your "friends" are going to intimidate you as a group, I don't think the nomenclature is going to help. I think perhaps closing your game, re-evaluating your life choices and getting some help with increasing your self-esteem is in order.

Doesn't change my advice. Don't make the assumption that there is something wrong with your game because someone carps about the deal they think they're getting. Stand up for your game and boot anyone who doesn't respect you.

James said...

I think your advice is spot-on.

I was musing on the disconnect between people that think of D&D as a game versus those who see it as an activity, and how that can cause huge issues between players and DMs. Especially if neither side realizes that is what is going on.

Silberman said...

James, I recently had a revelation at the table: What I sometimes perceive as my players complaining about their misfortunes is usually, in fact, them reveling in the intensity of a situation and how real the consequences feel. On the occasions where I've "eased up" to release the pressure, I can scan the table and see at least a couple of eyes registering disappointment that they got a pass and the stakes weren't quite so high after all.

Raging against misfortune is cathartic and bonding. When I'm a player, I want to feel that I can do this freely, secure in the knowledge that I won't unintentionally change the DM's stance.

JB said...

[I actually love your quote-slam posts, because while you can be harsh, you're usually fair]

This here...about upset great "food for thought." I think I've found it easier as an adult to run games simply because I'm NOT gaming with longtime friends (those that gamed in the past have all moved on from gaming). I've developed friendships with these "pickup" gamers, but I've been able to set my own parameters as a DM, and those that like it stick around. And more often than not, they DO stick around.

Consistency as a referee is something every game player can appreciate, even when it means the call occasionally goes against you.

Fuzzy Skinner said...

I think this is what the fairer, more experienced players mean when they invoke Rule Zero: sometimes the DM makes a decision you don't agree with. But in many circles, that seems to have mutated from "the DM has the final say on a rule" to "the DM is always right, even when they're wrong". The former calls for respect; the latter makes inflexibility - as in being unwilling to change a bad rule to make it less bad, not refusing to allow a player to reroll a saving throw if they beg hard enough - seem like a virtue. (Yet another reason I prefer to call myself a Referee.)