Friday, August 19, 2011

[RPG] Are We Being Punk'd?!?

Last night was the restart of JR's Hellfrost campaign. Before game, he had emailed all the players and laid out how things were going to start and asked if we had questions. There wasn't any discussion on the list or any indication that the scenario was out of line, so he got things ready on his end and we showed up.

I had no idea what I wanted to play, and had thrown out at least 2 ideas prior to showing up at game session last night. Finally in a fit of desperation and mirth, I looked through the Savage Worlds Deluxe book and decided to alter a template.

I was quite literally JOKING when I decided "hey, a pirate sounds cool" and adapted said character template for play. I asked if boating would be helpful, and JR's reply was pretty ambivalent, so I discarded "boating" as a skill in favor of something else.

AND the scenario involves a long boat ride. Just my luck, heh.

JR's games are known for being just a little "over the top", but with serious themes and interesting plots. We're hacking away at the situation, with ridiculous jokes and laughter, when things went suddenly WEIRD.

The main NPC is hiring the party to travel from X to Y. The trip is a good solid 2 months of road time, and goes through some interesting and possibly not-so-friendly territory. We're negotiating our fee and the NPC is a right cheap bastard- so he's been tough to bargain with. Our group doesn't have a face, but we're doing our best given the situation. A member of the party decides to try to negotiate for a guide to be sent along with the group. The NPC is not interested.

NPC pretty much says "hey, I hired you guys to do this job. How you do it is up to you, but I am not giving you anything other than what we agreed on."

And here's where we get Punk'd.

The member of the party who wanted the guide just stalls. He essentially sits on his idea and won't let it go- no matter what JR or any member of the group says. He also refuses JR's offer of another character- it's all or nothing for this guy. It gets pretty heated- the rest of the group does not understand why he's doing this, and then he breaks out of character and is in essence, trying to bully JR into doing what he wants.

JR is trying to figure this out -on the fly. He genuinely and truly wants EVERYONE in his game to have a good time, and this one holdout is causing major friction on that point. JR had no intention of sending or running an NPC, and certainly doesn't want to reward this player for refusing to compromise in any way. But he also doesn't want to tell a player, "get lost". JR (and the rest of us) are kind of sputtering, trying to figure out what to do. Things come to a dead stop- which is another thing JR hates to have happen.

After a few minutes of "what the heck is going on", two members of our group sort of try to ignore it and move the plot along. I am honestly considering leaving the game because I am just not sure I want to deal with this guy's shenanigans. The other guy at our table is notoriously quiet and is typically not saying a word. JR is trying to herd the holdout back to the plot. And it's really, really awkward.

At this point, TheDude takes JR outside for a few minutes. I decide to make a different character for a variety of reasons. I make a guide- but not to placate the guy with the demanding attitude, but because the group genuinely needs someone with some road skills. One of the PC's uses party funds to "hire a man" and tada, I'm not a pirate.

JR comes back from his pow-wow with TheDude, and we are firmly shoved back to the story.

I'm playing Lannar, a plainspoken, loyal and honorable guide. Lannar is also a male, and well- I am not. I have very obvious lady parts, and there are more than a few misspoken "she" or "her" comments. So I adjust my "name tag" to say "dude" underneath my name. My "boss" adjusts HIS name tag to say "also dude" which adds some desperately needed levity to a very weird situation.

I'm going to stop here and say it. I said it to JR and I said it in front of the offending person. But not this plainly. Here it is, laid out.

I have NEVER seen anyone do that, ever. I have NEVER seen anyone break character and DEMAND something from the GM in such a petulant, disrespectful and juvenile way. 

I've seen (or heard about) some serious "dick moves", but this one takes the cake. I started playing RPGs as a bratty 12 year old that wanted to be catered to- but nothing I did even comes CLOSE to this level of insanity. I've heard of people stopping the game to tell the GM, "hey, you suck" and quitting. But I have never seen a guy basically try to bully the GM into doing what he wants like this before. 

I am firmly in the camp of "the GM is in charge" camp, so this one really broke my brain. I honestly and sincerely do not understand this guy's point of view or reasoning and it just baffles me as to why he would do this- and feel justified doing it. 

There was absolutely no remorse, no backing away from the position, no sense of hey, maybe I am wrong. He just sat there like he was perfectly in the right to expect his requirement to be met and damn the rest of us if we didn't agree. 

I'm worried about the party dynamic from here forward given that this guy has shown his hand that he is willing to derail the whole group to get what he wants. I'm hoping that we have a better handle on how to address it from here on, but I don't want to deal with that again. It was truly and honestly unsettling, and a little infuriating. 

I want to be clear that JR didn't do anything wrong in the setup, in playing the NPC, in being clear about what was happening. He was fully in charge at all times until the guy just derailed the session. 

I don't want to put JR on the spot.

I would like to hear- how would YOU have handled the "derailment"?


  1. I guess as a DM I was a bit of a dick myself, I had a similar situation once before, start of an adventure, new characters, and two of the party wanted to hire npc's left and right.

    I dealt with it in character. told the two guys who wanted to hire extra help that if they didnt feel they had the skills, then I wasnt comfortable hiring them.

    then I had the whole group rool new chars, in front of me, to be more the sort of people this guy would hire.

    My point was that the story was what we were here to serve and te characters didnt fit the story one or the other had to change.

    I've abandonded plots before to accomodate characters, but this instance was particular, it was a follow on nartrative from something we'd done before so the story was the point.

    obviously I dont know entirely of that's the way i'd have gone in the scenario above, it may have been wiser to throw it to the party, and if they were willing to add another partner to the wage pool then go ahead and on-the fly and nps, or let the party dissuade the guy on finacial basis, its hard to say when you werent there.

  2. lol, our DM probably would've pulled a gun, killed the offending PC, and then really negotiated a hard bargain as he would have already shown us his hand...

    I've heard of people playing in groups with people like the guy you describe above, and generally they break up mid campaign (if even making it that far). However the its what I want or nothing in an out of character (ir)rationale isn't role playing or even a good role player) in my opinion.

  3. I would have told the player, in no uncertain terms, that he was being a dick, and that if he wants to play with us, he'd better play nice. The only other option I would have left on the table would have been the highway. I'm way too old to cater to petulant punks acting like spoiled brats. Unless they're eight.

  4. 1) Rest of group agrees, they start on adventure. Do you want to try to catch up or keep arguing?

    2) Acquiesce, send guide with them, guide gets killed in first encounter.

    But, I don't think that's too terrible of a request. If the employer wouldn't supply one, some extra $ for the group to hire one isn't unreasonable. It felt as much like the GM was trying to railroad the PCs into a particular situation as the player was trying to get something out of the GM. Aside from the top two solutions from the GM, I think it would also have been reasonable for the PCs to walk away from a jerk of a potential employer.

  5. @ Sons: I might possibly agree with you that it isn't an unreasonable request, except JR emailed us before the game to tell us the scenario. He made it very plain we were to be an adventuring party and would have to get to X place on our own.

    If that was a problem to said player, he had PLENTY of opportunity to mention it before game; but didn't.

    I do like your solutions, though. Especially killing the guide.

  6. Hmmmmm...I think I might know who you are talking about.

    Since the scenario was sent to the players ahead of time i think it is up to them to try to work with what was sent to them.

    Build characters to fit the game, not to screw with it.

    I would have looked over each character sheet before game and had the players make any changes I felt were necessary to fit what I think the game should be. If they are not happy doing that...too bad.

    Like someone else said, I am getting too old to treat player characters like petulant teenagers when they are adults.


  7. "I do like your solutions, though. Especially killing the guide."

    After reasonable discussion produces no resolution, I tend to follow one of two paths with problem characters/players, as evidenced by those solutions.

    1) Ignore them and proceed with the group. If they don't want to be part of the group, they don't get GM time.

    2) Give them what they want but make it irrelevant.

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  9. First- it wasn't me! Really!

    I like to think that if i were DMing, i would have simply had the NPC say that he was done negotiating and walk away, leaving the PCs to work it out. At the time, i made the suggestion that jr should have the dwarf agree, but write a new letter to the temple dwarves reducing our completion pay by a like amount. It would have seemed fittingly ironic. But i totally understand jr's not wanting to deal with either npcs or giving in to what amounted to an ultimatum.


    Kudos to z for playing peacemaker. My character was ill suited to that task, having made the comment to the father that my guy would simply snack on the well cooked body of his son, should the need arise. (yea for the hindrances of outsider, illiterate, bloodthirsty, and mean!)

    Im really hoping that the entire campaign isnt going to be derailed over this. Jr is a great dm, and i truly enjoy any game he runs.

  10. Well, I wish you the best of luck.. but for a player to show their hand like that, I think the GM may want to ask them to leave. That's the benefit of tabletop.

    As far as handling it in-game, I'd've gone narrative. "The NPC walks away, guards prevent you from following."

    or, you go the payback route - *someone walks up* "I couldn't help but overhear you - for free passage, I will be your guide." And have the "guide" stab the party/player in the back somehow.

    Another option would be to fake roll an intimidation check. GMs never have to show their rolls and as far as I'm concerned can make up whatever they want to keep games progressing- so it's a roll the PC doesn't win, and you flat out tell the player that their character's been intimidated and doesn't want to keep arguing.

    Or, the NPC fires the lot of you and the GM reaches for a dungeon out of a book as a lesson.

  11. Three disassociated comments:

    Some of you guys seem a little... hard-line about this stuff, especially the role and rights of the GM. I might be a bit odd in this, but I don't see the GM chair as a sacred trust that bestows worthiness and superior status and the right to 'teach lessons' on whoever occupies it, or the adventure as something the characters have to fit. Quite the opposite, in fact. Admittedly, I'm odd in that I enjoy GMing but don't have any real hangups about what I GM as long as it's appropriate for the players at the table. If you want authority over your protagonists, be an author - clue's in the name, right?

    That said, when something like this comes up, I usually ask the single most important question a GM can ever ask: "What do you want from this situation?"

    Can't go forward without knowing that. Once the fourth wall breaks and the session sputters to a halt, it's better to have an out-of-character chat than try to barge things on without knowing what the issue is. That way lies the dead session.

    That said, I think the way it ended up looks workable (thank gods for first-session rerolls), as does the NPC saying "fine, you've obviously not got the skills for the job" and letting the players sort out where the session goes next (I figure there'd be IC words had over one PC losing the others a job). Failing that... give 'em what they want and then either turn it against 'em or take it off 'em.

    Final thought: there's a lot of GM browbeating that goes on in my current group, partly because there are four regular GMs around the table with their own distinct style, one of whom isn't particularly assertive. It does make me uncomfortable, especially when I catch myself doing it - which has happened a few times over a recurring issue that could have been avoided if we'd been wise enough to have conversations about our limitations and assumptions before characters entered play. This is relevant only in that Loq's reminded me of it and I now feel the shame again.

  12. See, I see the GM as the ruler of the game. When I roleplay, I just want to have fun and don't really care about the rules - that's why I feel a GM should have ultimate power, so they can weave a wonderful tale.

    If a GM wants to make up magic and rituals for the plot, a player shouldn't be able to say "I WANT TO KNOW WHAT SPELL THAT IS SO I CAN CHOOSE IT FOR MY MAGE." (Seen it)

    I just want to be able to put my character in trusted hands that I can enjoy a good time with. In the few games I've run, (mostly White Wolf stuff) the players who do the same end up having a great time of it. Those who stomp around muttering about how is any of this possible don't have a great time.

    Besides, knowing character backgrounds means knowing the characters wouldn't know how you're doing something anyways, so it doesn't matter if the player knows either.

  13. That, Dave, is something that I'm more on-side with - but it's not what your previous post indicated to me. When you're talking about GMs doing something 'as a lesson' I don't think you're talking about a set of trustworthy hands and rule arbitration techniques and storytelling choices any more. You're talking about punitive authority and I'm just not sure I can countenance that.

    As far as 'I WANT TO KNOW WHAT SPELL THAT IS'... GM puts something in the world that an NPC can do, it follows that it's possible for a PC to do. Players should want it - that's the ultimate test for something big, that a player wants to be able to do it themselves OR stop anyone doing it ever again.

    Personally, I wouldn't put anything in a game that players can't potentially do/learn/kill. If it's in the world, it can be killed/learned/done, and that's a good thing, because it indicates to this kind of player exactly how hard they will have to work to even learn the Summon Elemental Apocalypse spell, how many sacrifices they'll have to make in getting there, and how many other entities will need to be recruited/enslaved/placated before casting it becomes possible. Whether you do that mechanically, with stats, or narratively, through fairy-tale logic (and that's not a dismissive - fairy-tales are awesome) is up to the GM and group in question and either approach is perfectly valid.

    All that said, I do agree that players will have more fun if they trust their GM, and that the GM needs to be trustworthy - but that's a quality possessed by the player who takes up the role of GM, not by the role itself. If the GM is not establishing trust and a shared understanding of How This Game Works, they need to be called on it so that they can start doing it.

  14. Trust goes both ways though... a GM shouldn't have to resort to punitive measures to teach players a lesson... but a player such as in Loq's example shouldn't push so hard either.

    We're talking here about how to deal with problem players. Personally, if someone's that disruptive, ask them to leave the game. But with friend circles, that's not always a choice and you can't allow a single player to ruin game sessions for everyone else. (which it sounds like happened)

    Therefor, to keep things flowing, you can give the player something to shut them up, but taint it in some way.

  15. A better suggestion, I think, than "the NPC fires the lot of you and the GM reaches for a dungeon out of a book as a lesson." I'm still not a fan of punitive GMing because problem players are problematic because they have problems. Those need to be be addressed, not just punished - punishment is treating symptoms rather than curing a disease. Easier to break the game and deal with the issue than try to bull through it and lose all momentum.

    The advantage of friend circles is that it's usually possible to explain to someone you already know why this game is not for them and avoid them becoming a problem player in the first place. Sometimes you challenge their unspoken assumptions that if their friends are invited they're invited too, or that they're more open-minded than they actually are, and that causes friction. I'd rather have friction before a game than in it, though, and I haven't the time or energy to deal with unspokens and unwrittens any more. People could stand to be more explicit about what they want and don't want.

    (It ought to be noted here that I'm not always easy to be friends with, and that's partly because I'm exactly the sort of person who'd rather collaboratively devise and sign a social contract than never even discuss it. It is possible that I'm not neuro- or socio-typical, is what I'm trying to indicate here.)

  16. @Von: The "social circles" comment really hit home here. As I mentioned previously in my blog, as a rule, I don't play with people I don't know and trust. I took a HUGE risk on this game because I know and trust the *GM* very well- but the rest of the group are people that are essentially new to me.

    I know at least 2 of the group pretty well socially, but I have never played any games with them outside of Casual MtG or some such. There are 2 others I know moderately well, but they are more known to TheDude than myself.

    And then the last guy (the "problem guy") is brand new. He just "showed up" one day and really doesn't have any connections to any of us. But our particular dynamic and attitude at the FLGS is one of inclusion, and we all welcomed him based on that attitude and the shared experience of having been new somewhere once and wanting to extend friendship and community to him.

    I think it's important to note that maybe we DO need to address whatever the concern is- but we don't know him well, and we don't have any sort of baseline for an approach or method that might work. We simply have no reference point because we don't know him in our social circles- and we really don't know how to fix it, because he's pretty single minded. He shows up for a game and then leaves when it's done. He doesn't "hang out". He doesn't seem to have openings for friendship.

    Thanks for bringing that up, though.

  17. @Lo - it is awkward being totally new to a group, and I do understand wanting to include people. With something as dependent on shared assumptions and compatible styles and social dynamics as tabletop games are, though, I tend to treat 'inclusion' as 'by all means spectate but we'd like you to see how we do things and see if it's for you rather than just roll up and dive in'. I will always spend my first visit to a new club or shop watching games and talking to people, precisely because I don't like to play with total strangers whose unwritten rules I have no idea of - and I'd encourage others to do the same if they're brand new in a space. Include, but include cautiously, and by degrees - don't grab someone, pull them into the pool, and then find out that they can't swim.

    As for your particular case; I don't think there's a maybe about it. There's an issue here. It's caused a problem. It needs addressing or it will happen again. That said, he does sound like a tricky one to reach out to... which is why I'd recommend an explicit discussion during game time. If that's the only time that he's available, spend a few minutes talking about the games he's played, his favourite and least favourite, deduce his style from there, but you're going to have to treat this as a game time problem that needs solving during game time.

    "What do you want to achieve?" - it's potent, for reals. The message is sometimes lost between rules and characterisations and performances and people wanting to keep what they're thinking secret but sometimes you need to stop play and clarify before the misunderstandings escalate.

  18. That sounds like a really bad player. To dig your heals in over something you want is fine. But to try to push the DM around like that? Wow. You're better off without players like that.

    Everyone deserves a second chance, though. See if it happens again.