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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 75 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Preventing dysfunction  (Read 2463 times)
Damocles
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« on: June 06, 2001, 03:38:00 AM »

Most of the time, game design seems to be concerned with attempts to faciliate (or create) a certain style of play. But lately I have been wondering whether it should not be more of a priority to prevent dysfunctional styles. The success of something like Knights of the Dinner Table despite its utter mediocrity suggests that this is an issue for many, many roleplayers. In most games, this is dealt with either through appeals to 'common sense', player maturity, and GM authority or just elitist sneering ("If you want to turn this into a hackfest, go ahead, but this is not what this game is about.") In my opinion that is not good enough. There has to be something you can do at the design level.
Take the problem of munchkins, for example. Conventional wisdom has it that a) munchkins are just immature dorks who ought to grow up and that b) a good GM will just disallow those kinds of characters.
I don't buy it. Concerning a): If a player creates a character according to the rules, why should he assume that there is anything wrong about it? What exactly is the argument against it?
Concerning b): This is a bad solution. Getting a character vetoed will frustrate a player and almost certainly lower his motivation.
Some games overcompensate by having a character creation system that makes it impossible to create overly powerful characters and also makes it impossible to create reasonably capable characters _without_ optimizing. A terrible and stupid "solution".
I am rambling a bit, I notice. :/
Sorry about that. It tends to happen.
To get back to the point (if there is one), the questions I am trying to raise here are:
What are typical/frequent dysfunctions in roleplaying games?
Can they be prevented or at least marginalized at the design stage?
If so, how?
As an example, I will give an experience point distribution method that tries to motivate players and encourage cooperation:
Each player is awarded a number of points according to the quality and enthusiasm of his roleplaying. The points of all players are then added together and distributed equally.
Would this affect play in a noticable way? How?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: June 06, 2001, 05:36:00 AM »

Hi there,

It may interest people to know that I wrote Sorcerer (or its fundamentals, anyway) long before I heard of G/N/S or stance or any such thing. My priority at the time was exactly the topic of this thread. I was frustrated, after much experience with Champions, GURPS, RoleMaster, and Cyberpunk, with the fact that so many people as well as myself kept running into the same conceptual blocks when we tried to role-play.

Stop-gap measures, such as limiting the range of starting PC options by GM fiat, only went so far. Manipulative GM tactics like ignoring certain announced actions only went so far.

I wanted a game that would put all the basic decisions about character creation, action-announcement, and overall scenario design right out there on the table - laid out in a "you must decide about THIS" fashion. Humanity (highly altered from its role in Cyberpunk) became the yardstick for consequences. After reading Over the Edge and Prince Valiant, I realized that system itself can be designed to facilitate design goals as well.

So Sorcerer was written as ONE possible response to the questions raised in this thread. Its response is to expose certain role-playing issues and demand personal commitment to the answers, on the part of EVERYONE, not just as adjudicated by the GM.

There are certainly other responses. They would probably show up mainly in the following elements of design:
- the role of metagame mechanics as embedded in the Currency of character design
- the reward/punishment systems (which in the past have largely been expressed as "experience/improvement" and "damage/death," although these are sub-categories)
- flat statements in the game-text that express the reasonin behind design decisions, that go far deeper than the early-80s appeal to realism or the early-90s appeal to metagame.

Best,
Ron
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John Wick
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« Reply #2 on: June 11, 2001, 09:02:00 AM »

7th Sea was specifically designed to curb "munchkins."

During playtest, one player created (I'm not kidding or exaggerating) a one-armed, one-eyed albino bleeder with sociopathic tendencies. Oh, and he was a priest. All that to get bonus points to buff out his character.

And with that - BANG! - I dropped Disadvantages from the game entirely.

The character he made was _entirely_ within the rules. Of course, the sociopath part came from the fact he was an asshole who thought it would be cool to "break" John Wick's game.

He broke it all right. He never got invited back, and I've never seen him again. Woo-hoo! He won!

That's the whole point with most munchkins. I disagree with your statement that "not inviting them back to play" is not a good solution. It works perfectly for me. They never EVER get to screw up my games again. And if enough people stop inviting them over, they can't be munchkins, because nobody will play with them... except other munchkins, of course.

And that's the point here. There are many different kind of abusive players. Some abuse rules. More specifically, they abuse rules that were built for MATURE players to use. Amber is like that. It's got a lot of GM/Player trust built into it. Munchkins can't play Amber because they abuse rules that were built with trust in mind.

(That's also why D&D is the perfect game for munchkins. It's designed _specifically_ for their style of game play: a rule to cover _every_ contingency, so there's NO ROOM for argument.)

And that's the other thing about munchkins: they enjoy arguing. They argue about rules, they argue about GM decisions, they argue about watching a movie on TV while the game is going on, they argue about painting miniatures while the game is going on, they argue about which edition of the rules to use, they argue about cocked dice, they argue about exactly what Traits or Skills mean, they argue about what time to start, they argue about what time to end, they argue about what night we should play on, they argue "My character would do that!" even though they know he wouldn't but he just wants to be disruptive.

They bitch and moan and complain, and they can go do it somewhere else. I'm here to have fun. They're here to have fun. We obviously are here to have TWO DIFFERENT KINDS OF FUN. So they can go play somewhere else. With other munchkins. And while they all bicker and boast to each other, complaining about the new edition of their favorite game, arguing about the exact definition of the rule on page 243, paragraph 7, line 15... I'll be playing games.

(This rant was brought to you by the letter "W.")
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Carpe Deum,
John
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: June 11, 2001, 09:31:00 AM »

Hey,

I'll endorse that Rant.

It's also in line with the current discussions on the Forge about social/people aspects of role-playing.

Design theory, stance stuff, jargon and all ... ALL of that exists within the larger category of people getting together to role-play, and to have fun doing so. If someone happens along who simply doesn't share that priority ... then screw'em.

The band metaphor, the band metaphor. Someone shows up to the garage session, and he doesn't play? Wants to bug everyone while they play? Criticizes others without establishing his own respect?

No band would tolerate such behavior. It's not a matter of how good the music is, or what sort of music is being played - it's a more fundamental, more straightforward element of the human interaction going on.

In all my role-playing these days, the base-line requirement is to share the attitude: "We came to play." Munchkinism as described by John is failure on that most basic level - and as he suggests, the only solution is zero tolerance.

Best,
Ron
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joshua neff
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« Reply #4 on: June 11, 2001, 09:43:00 AM »

on the positive side, that munchkin got the disadvantages removed from 7th sea--& the game is much better for it...

but i agree (no big surprise there)--why get together w/ people if yr not all there for the same purpose, w/ the same adjectives? rpg group, music band, art collective, political group, occult cabal--if at least one person there is just there to ruin it for everyone, the whole thing can fall apart...i'm all for being inclusive, to a point--when you move from the "global" ("we're all gamers") to the "local" ("we're all narrativist who are queer for light rules & heavy authorial/directorial power for players"), you start drawing lines...it's a good thing...
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
james_west
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« Reply #5 on: June 11, 2001, 01:51:00 PM »

On the converse side, I have found that in most games in which a great deal of min/maxing of power levels is allowed, it is run by a GM for whom you're being plain stupid if you don't.
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greyorm
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« Reply #6 on: June 11, 2001, 08:08:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-06-11 13:43, joshua neff wrote:
when you move from the "global" ("we're all gamers") to the "local" ("we're all narrativist who are queer for light rules & heavy authorial/directorial power for players"), you start drawing lines...it's a good thing...

But won't that invite criticism of being elitist? [grin]

(Actually, I'm half serious...see, elitism IS a good thing!)
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: June 12, 2001, 05:54:00 AM »

Raven,

Don't joke about that elitism issue.

The ONLY thing that can result is a great big exchange of "what I meant when I was joking was ..." and "what I meant when I called you a stupid butt-head was ..."

The issue is perfectly valid for a thread of its own, if anyone wants to address it seriously.

On this thread, the topic ends HERE. If anyone has any objection, use private e-mail to me.

Back to the regularly scheduled thread.

Best,
Ron
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greyorm
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« Reply #8 on: June 12, 2001, 09:00:00 AM »

Quote

On 2001-06-12 09:54, Ron Edwards wrote:
Raven,
Don't joke about that elitism issue.

Actually, as stated, I was half-joking; I'll now do my serious bit because it is actually topical to "Preventing Dysfunction."

Some people see limiting your group to certain individuals as elitist; but it's the band metaphor, isn't it?
You wouldn't play with a drummer who wanted to solo constantly, would you (well, unless you didn't mind)?
Or a basist who was more interested in being part of the band and talking trash about the latest groups than playing?

Seriously, is that elitism?  More importantly, even if it is, is that a bad thing?

Schools do it ("You must have a GPA of X to come here."), churches do it ("You must believe X to worship as part of our group."), companies do it ("You must know X to work with us.")

This is why I've ranted about the perception of elitism in the past...it seems, in some cases, reactionary to me, based on emotion instead of thought, a desire not to see anyone "left out" instead of thinking about what is good for the specific group.

It relates back to the policy of some groups to let anyone who is a professed gamer into their group, because they don't want to be perceived negatively for not allowing some people.
But those choices to let everyone in often result in hard feelings, degraded game quality and arguments both in-game and interpersonal.

A supporting story: There was one guy I allowed into my game back in my college days.  He was a little older than the rest of the group, but he was a gamer and we were always looking for new players.

He arrived to the game, created a character.  He insisted he be allowed to create a cavalier, though we were running 2nd Ed in which no such thing existed and wouldn't take a paladin.  After some rooting, I eventually dug out my "Complete Fighter" ruleset and let him take the appropriate kit.

He argued with me about the armor he was allowed, insisting again that a cavalier was nothing without platemail.  In fact, the entire process of character creation was a headache because he argued about EVERYTHING.

After we survived this, he argued with me about play decisions, dice rules, the reasoning for rulings and pretty much anything and everything.  I tried my best to explain to him why we were doing things the way we were, but he argued about the logic of that, too!

Further, he made the women present feel uncomfortable with sexist remarks (to them, as himself...not in-character), and he quite seriously told my 14 year old cousin to go out drinking with him at the local bars.

The game that day became a joke...my well-crafted Arthurian fantasy frayed at the edges as its collectively enjoyed and supported theme was ignored and trampled upon.  The other players grumbled constantly and lost interest during the session (something I'd NEVER had happen before in that game).

Regardless, he was never, ever invited back.

Obviously, that's almost a worst case scenario, but I know groups who tolerate this sort of thing -- just to have another warm body at the table -- and then complain about it afterwards.

So, is having standards for your group "elitist" or does it prevent dysfunction?  Isn't having fun and being comfortable, achieving social and personal interaction goals more important than being inclusionary?

Would you, for example, invite a hard-core Gamist into your group of Narrativists, knowing that the styles would conflict and you would end up satisfying either one or the other?
Or turn it around, would you invite a Narrativist into your group of hard-core Gamists who hate "that purple-prose and poetry $#!%"?  Wouldn't that just be looking for aggravation and player disgruntlement?

Now, I am not saying that gamers with different styles cannot play together or should not play together, just using a possible example to support the necessity of perceived elitism in some instances to keep one's gaming enjoyable.  That having standards is not necessarily a bad thing in any activity.

To Ron, specifically: this IS about the social axis or box (or what have you) of role-playing, something you commented on yourself above, so I hope you don't find this is off-topic, or done to ignore your request that it end here.
I believe you were looking to avoid a bitch session between people over misunderstandings arising from the nature of the "joke" statement, so I've avoided making easily misinterpreted cracks and also hope I've explained my position well enough that no one is going to rant at me about it or taking anything out of context.

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Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
http://www.daegmorgan.net/">http://www.daegmorgan.net/
"Homer, your growing insanity is starting to bother me."

[ This Message was edited by: greyorm on 2001-06-12 13:16 ]
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: June 12, 2001, 09:55:00 AM »

Cool with me, Raven. That kind of presentation was what I wanted.

I want to say this, too: that no one accused my suggestion to evict or avoid non-compatible players (especially those with basic interaction problems) as being elitist. The issue has not arisen, which is why I do not think it needs to be addressed at all in this context.

ON WITH THE SHOW
So far, we all seem to be agreed regarding the "outermost" box - in order to have a functional group, everyone must share the basic intent to commit to and enjoy the act of role-playing with others. I also think that we are agreed that this is not a hypothetical concern, that there ARE people who will disrupt a role-playing group for whatever reasons or incompetence of their own.

The next step is to move inward to sub-boxes. Here is where things get sticky, for the following reasons.

1) G/N/S incompatibility, as Raven mentions. I agree with him that this is a serious cause of dysfunction as well, and I think everyone who's familiar with the theory knows that this is a "no fault, no blame" criterion. I like potatos, you like pink lemonade, have a nice game with your own group.

2) This is a bit subtler - how about a person who certainly shares the group's G/N/S goals, but is accustomed to (or desires) a different standard for Balance of Power? This would include issues of preferred stances, IC/OOC modes, notions of protagonism, the distinction between player success and character success, and many related things. In this case, dysfunction arises from (a) trying to resolve this during play itself, and (b) anyone being unwilling to compromise about the differences.

3) Here's another subtle one - all system and play issues are firing on all cylinders for everyone, but emotional tensions between people override the role-playing. This can be romance, or money issues, or who's giving whom a ride home, or any number of similar things.

My claim is that a lot of times, people get all upset at one another about GAME stuff (tactics, rules, etc) when the real problem is this PEOPLE stuff in #2-3 above. Dealing with and preventing dysfunction requires the ability to spot when someone's grousing about "this system sucks" is really about him being pissed that Michelle is banging Bob instead of him. (Pardon the crudity.)

4) Here's yet another (and this is REALLY common in my experience) - a very experienced role-player, who has a very limited repertoire of games behind him, has developed extremely defensive and turtle-like tactics about how to play. Ask for a character background - he resists, and if he gives you one, never makes use of it or responds to cues about it. Ask for actions - he hunkers down and does nothing unless there's a totally unambiguous lead or a foe to fight. His universal responses include "My guy doesn't want to," or, "I say nothing."

I see these guys a lot. I have not, in 20+ years of role-playing, EVER seen one have a good time role-playing. I have seen a lot of groups founder due to the presence of one such player. Yet they really want to play: they buy and read a million supplements, they prep characters or settings, and they are bitterly disappointed with each fizzled attempt. They are often attracted to so-called "well-supported" games with lots of supplements and full-page ads in gaming magazines.

I have decided that these role-players are basically G/N/S casualties. They are the victims of games and groups that have not focused their intentions enough, that thought "show up with a character" was sufficient prep, or that thought this new game with its new setting was going to solve all their problems forever.

And I avoid them like the plague.

Best,
Ron
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