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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: garapata on September 18, 2003, 07:15:57 AM

Title: Your thoughts please
Post by: garapata on September 18, 2003, 07:15:57 AM
Okay, I have been gaming with a number of players for many years now.  So far, the oldest player I have has been gaming under me for 9 years.  

In almost every game session I had, since this particular player was always in my games as the spotlight character.  Or the guy who carries the story for the rest of the players.  Typically, a game session you see would have him among newbies, so this was pretty much the norm.

Now, I recently had started a few sessions with a him, some other players who also have been playing under him and a new player who unlike most players isn't quite new to rpgs, but is pretty new to the group.

Here's the thing.

The 9-year guy complains to me.  After ten or so sessions, he tells me that the games have become less and less satisfactory.  The reason, he tells me is that he and the others have noticed that I have a particular bias towards the new guy.

Funny thing is, as a Storyteller, I always make sure that every player who has his turn feels like the story is favored or biased to him.  After all, like in a movie, when the camera points at a character, it is THAT character's turn to shine.

Well, I mentioned this and they admitted that yes, they notice that. The thing is, they claim the annoying thing for them is that the new guy gets easier turns than them.  

I explained, being new, the new guy needs easier turns. Until he really get's the hang of the game and the group, its hard to expect of him the level of focus and creativity the group normally dishes out.

But still, they complained.  They believe that 7 game attempts (all of which were rudely discontinued because they felt the new guy has it easy each time) are enough time for the new guy to adjust.  

Personally, I felt that their breaking off the games was destructive to the new guy's attempts to get the feel of things.

For now, I have told them I will stop holding games for them for the time being.  Surprisingly, they are asking me not to stop.  Rather, there is the implied request from them (well, more like a demand, but since its all unspoken and just alluded to I'll choose the nicer word) that I get rid of the new guy from the group.

Adding to this is the fact the new guy, unlike them, as actually taken steps to adjust his playing style to work with them.  Noticing that one of the players feels more like a leader type, the new guy took a back seat in acting like one.  Noticing one likes drama, the new guy attempts to connect with that player in dramatic moments.

So right now, I'm frustrated. P!ssed too I must admit.
I'd love to hear your views on this.

Title: Your thoughts please
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 18, 2003, 07:40:26 AM
Hi Garapata (that's the name of a great beach, by the way),

I'm really looking forward to the collective input for this topic. Just to help us out, though, and me in particular, what game or games are we talking about? Both the previous ones for this group as well as the current one. Your use of "Storyteller" implies one of the White Wolf games, perhaps, but I don't want to assume.

At first glance, you're talking about a classic social response to the New-Guy, especially since you've identified "spotlight time" as the key variable. I'm not quite sure what you mean by this, though:

... the new guy gets easier turns than them.

Do you mean less deadly or problematic conflicts faced by the character, in-game-world? Or easier access to getting the turn in the first place, socially speaking? Or ...?


Title: Your thoughts please
Post by: garapata on September 18, 2003, 08:01:59 AM

Think of a television show or a movie.
When a new scene comes on, the character in that particular scene tends to shine.   That character in the scene is MEANT to act or do something vital to the over all story.  That's the character's turn to make something happen.  Its his time in the SPOTLIGHT.

That's what I mean by spotlight.

Now, typically, each turn a character gets the spotlight. In group turns (a game turn when more than ome player is present in the scene) the spotlight tends to be on whoever carries the scene the most.  Say three players are investigating a murder, and one of them handles most of the investigations while the two others merely keep watch. That first player gets the spotlight.

Hope that's clear so far?

So far in my game session, 9-year player has been the one who consistently gets the spotlight. Being so used to my playing style and an avid fan of my approaches to story (he claimed this! not me!) he knows how to make sure he gets the scene going well.

Now, enter new player.
Unlike most other players whom 9-year player has been with, this player is also used to making a scene rolling.  So he does actually get the spotlight when a scene is run.  Unlike the other players who seem to have been content for the five or so years of being the supporting cast in each scene (since they prefer the spotlight to happen in their more solo scenes and moments, typically either in a dramatic moment or a fight sequence.)

So from this problem, things sort of snowballed into a load of troubles.

And yes, I'm predominantly a White Wolf player.  Though I have played many other games, so far, White Wolf has the system I wanted. Fast, loose enough to fiddle with and neat enough to keep balanced.

Most of the games I've run though (shameless plug, see my site for a glimpse of them) use White Wolf systems, but are based in my own settings and themes.

Title: Your thoughts please
Post by: garapata on September 18, 2003, 08:05:13 AM
> .. the new guy gets easier turns than them.
>>>Do you mean less deadly or problematic conflicts faced by the
>>> character, in-game-world? Or easier access to getting the turn in the
>>> first place, socially speaking? Or ...?

Game world.
They claim things are always too easy for him.
Personally, the way I see it, he just get's to come up with good approaches which they didn't consider.

But I did give them the benefit of the doubt and restudy the scenes I ran.

Frankly, I realised I have been expecting more from my old players, thus the scenes are more difficult.  The new player, on the other hand, get's hints every now and then since he ain't really accustomed to my table top games.  His gaming experience prior to under me was PBEM and chat.

Title: Your thoughts please
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 18, 2003, 08:19:44 AM
Hi G,

No problem on the spotlight - that's crystal clear to me, from your first post. But many thanks for your clarifications about the issue of "easier turns," because it helps a lot.

You guys have played ten-plus sessions, right? That's a lot of play. And it seems to me like the new guy is holding his own, coming up with strong solutions, and taking the reins nicely when it's his turn.

So ... bear in mind that this is counter to my initial negative response to your veteran players' comments ... maybe they're right? To some extent? Maybe the new guy is capable of handling as wicked and problematic situations as the rest of the players, and maybe it's time to stop "introducing him nicely" and to start putting the boot in, so to speak.

As I say, this isn't what I was inclined to think after your first post, because my sympathies are a bit with the new guy and little against the entrenched players, especially the one who seems very comfortable in his Alpha status. But given your clarifications, what do you think of my current take? Maybe the new guy can handle it.

I'll also emphasize that I'm not present in your game and cannot, in any way, know about personalities, subtleties, or play-instances that might influence my thinking. If I'm way off the beam in some way, please provide any details, or especially a specific situation in-game, that might correct any interpretation of mine that needs it.


Title: Your thoughts please
Post by: garapata on September 18, 2003, 08:29:40 AM
You know, actual examples is kind of the hard thing to really give since I don't really know what to give.  And when I ask the players who are complaining, the reply I get is "I can't state a specific time but it is happening." I tell you, its frustrating.

Its like being told "Hey you have a problem. I can't tell you what it is. You have to figure it out. And you have to solve it on your own."

When I brought up the fact I am always biased to whoever's turn is being run, the response I got from Alpha was "You know, when it happens with me nobody complains." Frankly, I took that statement to be very wrong.

Title: Your thoughts please
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 18, 2003, 08:50:08 AM
Hi Tobie,

Yes, I agree about that comment seeming very wrong; it reeks of double-standard and "It's OK for me because I'm important, and this guy is getting my privileges."

But I guess I'm suggesting that issue #1 (entrenched players' sense of entitlement) is one thing, and issue #2 (are you being unnecesssarily easy on the new guy in terms of in-game conflicts) are two different things.

Like you, the #1 issue puts me right off my feed. I don't like it and wouldn't want to put up with it from a member of my role-playing group (and presumably a long-time friend of nine-plus years).

But all that just fogs up the #2 issue. Despite the aggravating context of the players' input, the question remains whether the content is valid, or at least might be addressed through upping the ante on the player a little bit while the spotlight shines on him.

What I'm thinking is to throw them a bone, you see, and to work with the possibly-substantive content of their claims in isolation. Then maybe the issue of how they raised the claims can be dealt with separately.

Anyone else want to weigh in on this one? Maybe I'm missing something important, or maybe people can speak to how particular aspects of the system might be involved, or maybe people can bring in examples of similar hassles in their own groups.


Title: Your thoughts please
Post by: Tim Alexander on September 18, 2003, 09:02:16 AM
Hey Tobie,

The way I see it there are quite possibly a bunch of things at work here:

A) The possibly legitimate claim of the new guy getting it too easy.

This one is pretty simple to address. Ratcheting things up for the new guy is something you'll probably want to do at some point anyhow, so doing it now shouldn't be too much of a deal. Additionally it gives you some leverage in addressing the other player's possible concerns.

B) The Alpha player feeling territorial

This one is tough. Obviously not knowing the guy, this certainly rubs me the wrong way as it's been presented. Unfortunately getting at this problem won't be able to be accomplished until his possibly legitimate concern is addressed. Until then, he can happily hide behind it.

C) The other players feeling grumbly

It sounds like while the Alpha is making the big stink, there may be murmurings from the other folks, on a couple of levels. On the one hand you've implied they're in line with the too easy on the new guy line, which is partly why I'm inclined to give that complaint the benefit of the doubt. Additionally though, I think I'm hearing that they may be unhappy with how things were working with the Alpha anyway, which is again an underlying issue that will probably need to be addressed after the difficulty issue is resolved.

D) It sucks when your players say you're playing favorites

It's hard sometimes to look at things objectively when people come to you with issues. It sounds like you're looking at everything with a fair amount of reason, especially since you're bringing the concerns out to try and make heads or tails of them. That said, it's always good to keep in mind our own biases that we're bringing to the table.

Does this sound about right?


Title: Your thoughts please
Post by: Marco on September 18, 2003, 09:23:11 AM
I'm ... at a loss (and I'm very sympathetic--that's a sucky situation). But I'm having trouble getting my head around this:

Unless it's a high-mortality-rate game (which I'm doubtin') who cares if the new-guy has it easier?

I mean if the big problem with your game was that everyone else was writhing in frustration then I could see favoritism--but if they're not enjoyin' the challenge why are they so stoked about the game (I mean you could agree to "go easier" on everyone). I don't see that solving the problem.

I think the Alpha-Dog thing may be part of it.

And maybe a long time friend is feeling supplanted?

You know these guys better than I do--but consider doing something special with your long-time buds to let them know you're still, y'know, tight.

Beyond that, I'm mystified.


Title: Your thoughts please
Post by: Mike Holmes on September 18, 2003, 09:51:32 AM
Marco, I think this may be a classic incoherence problem in some ways. Basically, there may be a PvP undertone that exists, but is not legitamized. That is, I'm guessing that there's an agreement that the players do not compete (it's storytelling), but that they do anyhow (it's a game). Indeed, if there's no comptetition going on, then what's the problem? I think the players are competing to have the character who is the most central protagonist.

It seems to me that Tobie is actually posting two notions of what the problem may be. One is that they players are saying that the GM is framing conflicts in such a way as to protagonize the new guy's character (spotlight is easier to grab in a scene). The problems in question can only be solved by that character or something. The other is that the character is being protagonized by being thrown meatballs to hit out of the park. Perhaps both. It would help to narrow that down a little, I think.

Have you ever considered the radical idea of altering your play-style entirely, Tobie? It seems to me that you have a lot of responsibility in play ensuring that the players all have their spotlight time, and that you are getting blamed for any time when it doesn't seem fair. Have you considered alternate means of distributing the spotlight, or just not taking on that role? There are a lot of other ways to handle play that might be seen as more equitable.


P.S. Tobie, are there any cultural ideosyncracies that are going on? That is, you write like an American, but are in the Philipines, so I'm not getting a read on whether there are any of these potential problems in understanding. Are your players Philipino, American, other? What language do you play in, English, Spanish, Tagalog, another local dialect?

Title: Your thoughts please
Post by: Marco on September 18, 2003, 10:28:03 AM
Hey Mike,

I ... y'know ... maybe. Although I'd question that things were entirely coherent previously--I mean, that everything always appeared perfectly balanced (I'd doubt that)--but who knows. In other words they might be competeing with the new guy--but not themselves--which isn't what I'd describe as 'classically functional play'--but of course it's all guesswork since I know next to nothing about what's going on.

Certainly playing to a tough and thankless crowd is no fun-so a change in style couldn't really hurt--and might shake loose some stuff that's been unsaid.

I mean, I'd try almost anything at that point.


Title: Sorry for the late reply!
Post by: garapata on September 18, 2003, 06:44:37 PM
Gah, lots of replies in such a few hours.  Sorry for the late reply.
Yes, I am based in the Philippines, so my day time is actually nightime for you North America folks.  I'm Filipino and so are all my players but we play in English since it is easier to suspend-our-disbelief when we hear and speak the game in English.  When we use Filipino, it tends to be for out-of-character discussions or for games SET in the Philippines.

Going back to the matters at hand:

1) At first I was thinking maybe its a simple case of Player - Player conflict in the sense that some people just really don't like playing with paricular people?  Maybe the new player is more used to "carrying his own weight" in the story since in PBEMs you are pretty much doing that.  A storyteller is more responsive than representive in PBEMs.  Whereas in table top, or at least in mine, players tend to get plot hooks and the like to latch on when they don't seem to be initiating anything in-game to move the story forwards.

IF this was the case, the simplest solution would be to host separate games for old group and new guy.  Which is actually the easiest to do for me.

2) Changing my playing style is going to be very tough, I will admit that.  Especially since I don't really consciously "maintain" a playing style.  Having backgrounds in film, television, theater and played loads of rpgs, I will admit that I've sort of found a niche to my approach that I prefer using when storytelling.  Now, to actively change that... I don't really know how to do so.

3) Changling my style of HANDLING the situation is a possibility.  Rather than being the meek and "i'll try to make you all happy" person I am, I could demand clarity.  Perhaps have a tiny survey for each person in the group to answer?  Probably get the real deal as to who doesn't like playing with whom and what don't you like about the game session?
I've asked this verbally but the responses are the same.  To quote Alpha,  "The game is great! The story is great! But we don't like how you are making things so easy for the new guy."

Would you believe I begged the old group to give the game a chance not to long ago.  When they first raised the problem, I was telling them I  am making sure everyone has a main scene to be happy about.  I actually begged them to stop thinking too much over who has what scene and just enjoy the feeling of enjoying the game.  I mean, if the game is as good as they tell me it is, why can't they just enjoy it and stop looking at the other side of the fence?

4)  atch... was going to respond to the earlier questions but now I've forgotten what the others were.

Hopefully this has helped clear some thoughts on this.
I will thank you all in advance for to the very least I can say this has been a good catharsis for me.

Title: Ron and Tim's ideas...
Post by: garapata on September 18, 2003, 07:04:23 PM
>>>  A) The possibly legitimate claim of the new guy getting it too easy.

This has been what I have been doing after I begged them to give the game a chance. For those familiar with White-Wolf's gaming system, this would give you an idea of what has happened: the new player has since made new major enemies, lost a permanent Will power dot and has made a deal with a demon that unless he finds a way to stop will destroy everything he has worked hard to create.

If that isn't being harder on him, I don't know what is.

The other player characters?
One has  read a demonic tome and gained loads of new powers in exchange for eternal condemnation.  He has agreed since he sees it as a martyr thing (save the world and suffer in exchange).  
The other has learned his body has begun to change, becoming more durable and having high regenerative properties, but in exchange must start consuming amounts of metals and the like to induce healing.  When he is unconscious, a strange wolf-like guardian appears to protect him.   yet to be revealed is the ability to mentally link with an alien race that is soon to come and attempt to strip the planet of its resources.  
Another has made a huge sacrifice, killing an innocent boy to save thousands and is now forced to live with that memory.  Though he is not having it as hard or easy as the others, he finds the memory of the kid hard enough as it is.  
And the last one has gained a powerful artifact ship which allows him to travel the world in less time than usual.  He has also gained very powerful weapons to use against his opponents.  

Oh, the Alpha is the second one.

>>> B) The Alpha player feeling territorial

Sometimes I sense its a territorial level beyond the game.
But that's just me.  I try not to have that in my head when I decide on matters.  Hence posting this on the forum. I need other viewpoints on this.

>>> C) The other players feeling grumbly

This is whats quite unclear for me now.
Alpha says they all complain.
But the rest, when I talk to them, say "Its okay. There does seem to be bias but we're okay with it.  Its nothing that bad."

For the record, Alpha has withdrawn from the game (complete with a letter of complaint explaining he is doing this since I'm his friend and he'd rather not mess that up too.) whereas the rest of the players aren't leaving the group.  Rather, two who now work odd hours (call center work) actually either set leave days to attend a game session or go straight to my house to play after working 12 hours straight without sleep.

So if my games have been that "terrible" for them and make them feel cheated, why do they still try to play?  

>>>  D) It sucks when your players say you're playing favorites

At the current situation, frankly, I'd rather toss them all out and find new players.
I will have to admit this, this scenario has affected me.  My self-esteem hit a low point due to this.  Roleplaying games is my most active hobby.  Though I also draw, write, and at times engage in other stuff (swimming, gym,  etc) first and foremost, roleplaying games is my choice activity.  I just love how its the closest thing to producing a movie minus all the budget and other concerns.  I love engaging with the minds of others in crafting a story that emotionally excites the group.  I love seeing the expressions, the personalities and the characters come to life.

The letter Alpha gave me contained something to this effect:
"I've been your longest player.  9 years.  And in all those nine years you've been biased towards a particular player.  Normally its okay, I can ignore it.  Or it was not a matter that needed discussion.  But now, I can't ignore it.  I feel insulted when I play in your games now.   You're just too biased towards new guy."

This was the point I mentioned I was biased to him during those 8 years he controlled the spotlight.  He went through the whole shebang: Vamprie character with lupine lover (romeo and juliet), vampire anarch vs elders, mage turning traitor joining technocracy, then betraying tech to bring it down, etc.... That's when he tells me, "Back then nobody complained."

This is realy getting me frustrated.

Title: Your thoughts please
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 18, 2003, 08:16:58 PM
Hi Tobie,

The good news is that you're managing to articulate your frustration to people who are (a) listening and (b) not going to be bent out of shape by it, unlike your immediate players. What you're saying is making sense, and the day will bring more dialogue.

I guess my question is, what are your personal goals at the strictly social level of this role-playing group? Is maintaining the good opinion of the Alpha guy more important than anything else, for you? Or is making sure that the new guy gets to play with the group more important than that? Or perhaps it's the integrity of the in-game storyline that's the top priority.

You see, "Just making everyone happy" isn't a goal. It's a wistfully hoped-for outcome, but it's not a goal for you. I know I must be sounding like the worst sort of self-help guru, but it's not too out-of-line, I think, to say that so far it's hard to tell what you want. No one can make other people happy, so we can't help you with that - no GMing advice in the world will accomplish it. But if I, at least, get a better idea of what you want from the current social combination of these exact people, then you can bet I'll have some practical role-playing-oriented advice, of whatever quality.


Title: Your thoughts please
Post by: Andrew Norris on September 19, 2003, 07:38:07 AM
I have to say I agree with Ron: This is primarily a social issue and not really a 'gaming' issue. You're not going to be able to fix it at the gaming table.

I'm sure I'm oversimplifying, but from what you've written and my own experiences I would bet any amount of money that the issue is the alpha being upset about losing their dominant role. The implied social contract for your group, prior to adding the new player, was probably along the lines of "Let Alpha have the spotlight when he wants it, and the rest of us take it when the GM gives it to us." The new player, not being aware of this, ran afoul of it. The fact that the alpha was willing to possibly foment unrest among the other players, complain to you, and finally leave the game altogether, seems to bear that out.

My personal opinion is that you are better off without the alpha, but you may feel different. I feel that you're not going to be able to fix the problem easily (especially now that the implicit social contract has become somewhat explicit, and bringing that player back will likely require an amount of accomodation to his wishes that I consider dysfunctional).

I will say that I would bet you any amount of money that this is not your fault. I can't see that you've done anything wrong. What you have here, in my opinion, is one person (alpha) making another person (you) unhappy in an attempt to get what he wants. That looks like nothing more or less than a dysfunctional relationship to me.

Title: Your thoughts please
Post by: Tim Alexander on September 19, 2003, 07:50:07 AM
Hey Tobie,

I'm pretty much with Andrew on this one, though I am curious about your answer to Ron's goals question. I'm a little confused somewhat at your desire to ditch the whole group and start anew, especially since it seems most of the strife is tied to a single player who's done you the favor of removing himself. It makes me wonder if perhaps I'm missing something, which makes knowing what you're hoping to get out of this whole thing in the end more important.


Title: Sorry for the delay, been busy.
Post by: garapata on September 21, 2003, 06:43:28 AM

Well, frankly I opted to take a hiatus from that said group because
a) Each turn I ran started to hit me with all these internal concerns. ("Will they take that scene with new guy as another biased scene?" "Will this new challenge instead seem like another harder for us than him moment?" "Was that artifact good enough or did it seem too much like a smaller benefit that the one new guy earned?")
b) I was concerned that if this continued, I might begin to relate the questions as complaints towards them than concerns I am hoping to address.
c) My self-esteem as a Storyteller who makes games others appreciate was being eaten up.  I felt the need to replenish myself and rebuild my esteem on it.

There was a mini-convention this weekend that I attended.  It was a spectacular experience. Running two demo games for strangers suddenly refilled my rush-feelings and my enthusiasm to running a game without the internal conflict-politic ongoing.

(details can be found at my blog,

Thanks for the thoughts everyone!
I think I'm managing it okay for now.