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Author Topic: Donjon Krawl (and an unrelated concern)  (Read 2497 times)
xiombarg
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« on: June 26, 2002, 06:43:48 AM »

Played Donjon Krawl on Monday. We didn't get to finish a full game, but it went generally well. Generally. I'll get to that in a moment. We had:

Emily, who played a Pixie. Her character could fly, she was small and cute and stuff, and totally unrelated to her character abilities, she was a nymphomaniac who'd been kicked out of Pixie society, very possibly because of her love of the "big people".

Spider, who played a Swashbuckler. Derring-do, the Seduction skill, and so on. Excellent character, but not much to say about it.

James, who after being told that races don't have classes, tried to play an Elvish Bard, and then after some hemming and hawing played a "Sneaky Chaos Mage" or somesuch, basically a character with "Cast Spells" as their broad skill and various thief-type skills as narrow skills. He tried to make his narrow skills much more broad than any of the examples; we had run into a similar problem with him when we played Suzerain, which lets you make up your own skills as well. (It was particularly bad with Suerain, because the GM kept telling him that Picking Locks was a sophisticated enough skill to be seperate from other skills, and he kept proposing all sorts of skills to try to include it and something else as well. "What about Larceny?")

The game went well. The players seemed to enjoy the freedom of the success system, once they got used to it, not to mention the currency system. They found the treasure and experience system to be rather wierd (all those "GM successes are good" rather than "GM successes are bad" rolls) but they got used to it. I started them in the Village of Hommlet (yup, straight-up AD&D parody) and they were sent to destroy "the Evil" in a nearby spooky temple. Fought goblins, wolves, and bandits. James got a lot of milage out of the magic system, creating all sorts of... intestinal... spell effects.

However, I ran into what I considered to be an ongoing problem with James, and I wanted y'all's advice. I'm probably not adapting to his style of play in that I view his behavior as a "problem", so I need help in identifying the non-pejorative way of understanding his behavior. At the end of the game, Spider and Emily (who normally hates combat-heavy games) expressed a love for the system, while James seemed down on it. And I realized James was enjoying the game until his character got badly hurt by a bandit and couldn't cast spells as effectively (I applied damage successes to his Cast Spells skill). His comment (which would have gotten him roasted here on the Forge) was "too many dice".

And I realized that he was the one most upset by the "thrashing" in the version of the Pool we played, and his big complaint about Elfs was "you fail too often". I'm not sure this is simple whiff-factor either -- I tried to make failures be a complication rather than a whiff in Elfs, and the same in the Pool, as well. It seemed to me that if his character failed at all, the game was ruined for him, and he still got sort of pouty about it. This combined with his repeated attempts to get as much milage as possible out of ambiguous systems that allow you to make up your skills, even after repeated requests by the GM to stop, make me wonder if he's interested in a certain flavor of power-gaming that I'm not sure I'm capable of accodating, since I find lack of failure extremely boring.

Which, if that's the case, it seem, to me, odd. James was part of my wonderful initial playtest of Wuthering Heights, and he seems to get along just fine in my all-Childling Changeling game, so White Wolf style dice pools don't bug him. And he seems comfortable with D&D, tho that might be a "I've gamed for years" kinda factor, and I do note he seems to change characters a lot in D&D. (He's on his third character in my Sigil game. The first character he retired because he was evil and his "evil plan" didn't go the grand way James concieved of -- "failure = ruined character" again, maybe -- and the second one died in combat.)

As a general note, he tends to play very impetuous characters who don't seem to have any concern for the consequences of his actions, and loves to hog the limelight, something myself and the other players have yelled at him for in the past, which is perhaps not a functional way of dealing with it, but he seems incapable of knowing when he's supposed to give up focus to the other players. On the other hand, he claims to be aware of this and often TRIES to play calmer characters... and fails.

I like James and his characters can often be brilliant and funny, but I'm starting to worry that I don't really understand his gaming priorities, or I don't understand how to accomodate him without disadvantaging the entire group, and while running a game where failure is possible. I know this post has been sort of vague and rambly, but what can y'all glean from it?
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
Victor Gijsbers
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #1 on: June 26, 2002, 06:59:06 AM »

Well. It seems to me you already diagnosed the problem - he doesn't like his character to fail. He loves his character to be in the spotlight, heroically succeeding against impossible odds. At least, that's what I read in your story, and it's more or less what you yourself say too.

The question is: How do you handle this? It seems like you've already talked to him about it, and it didn't help. It also doesn't seem that you or your other players are interested in a 'never-failing-superheroes' kind of game. So, I guess you can do little more than letting him have success often enough to keep it fun for him, and letting him fail often enough to keep it acceptable for you and your other players.

An interesting experiment would be to let something bad happen to his character, which suddenly and unexpectedly turns into an advantage. (The too-often used example: you become temporarily blinded, then meet a medusa.) See how he reacts: if he likes it, he simply wants success. If he doesn't like it, he wants to be heroic. This might give you a greater insight in what he wants.
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Andrew Martin
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« Reply #2 on: June 26, 2002, 02:11:32 PM »

I'd suggest giving the player extremely high odds of success, allow the player to dictate what happens when the character fails, and give all players the ability to choose whether their character succeeds or fails at an action, irrespective of the dice roll. Then play a large number of games with these settings. You'll need to play around the same number of sessions as you've played games with lower chances of success. This allows players a chance to relax and lets disfunctional behaviour become better.
The above works well with my munchkin players, a power gamer and a rules lawyer, allowing the players to have fun.
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Andrew Martin
Ring Kichard
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« Reply #3 on: June 26, 2002, 03:32:52 PM »

I've found, when confronted with people that only want to win easily, it's usually best to explain why you play the way you do in addition to trying to accommodate them.

Playing with people that were only interested in winning used to frustrate me, and I'd play a slightly insulting game with them. Done with humor the sting was usually only enough to pierce their indifference, and they usually got the point.

ME: "Let's play a quick game so you can understand how I see games."
HIM: "Uh, ok...."
ME: "Pick a number"
HIM: "Uh, between what?"
ME: "Pick a number"
HIM: "All right, jerk, 1"
ME: "Congratulations, you win. Pick another number."
HIM: "Uh, 12."
ME: "You win, pick a number"
HIM: "3.14"
ME: "You win, pick a number."
HIM: "You're a loser."
ME: "You win, pick a number."
HIM: "I quit"
ME: "To me, it's sometimes the challenge that makes the game fun."

Usually, I use this with people that wanted to use cheat codes in multi player computer games, but I've brought it out occasionally for RPGs and other things.

(If you're not smiling and social when you're doing this, by the way, it's insulting. Handled in a kind of low key manner it gets your point across without becoming a Saturday morning lecture on the merits of challenging games.)

It is important, though, to recognize that he may actually enjoy a complicated and obscured version of the above game. I've found that this kind of player often enjoys heavy illusionism where he's always just barely succeeding miraculously. Things like fudging die rolls in his favor, altering tactical situations to make his hastily considered actions heroic instead of brash, and playing to that character's every strength at every turn, can contribute to his enjoyment. There's all sorts of comments about illusionism archived here, I'm sure that some will be helpful.
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Richard Daly, who asks, "What should people living in glass houses do?"
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Sand Mechanics summary, comments welcome.
hyphz
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« Reply #4 on: June 26, 2002, 03:38:57 PM »

Quote from: Ring Kichard

ME: "To me, it's sometimes the challenge that makes the game fun."

Usually, I use this with people that wanted to use cheat codes in multi player computer games, but I've brought it out occasionally for RPGs and other things.


Only problem is, it isn't a challenge to roll high on a dice.
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Ring Kichard
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« Reply #5 on: June 26, 2002, 05:40:35 PM »

Hyphz, I never said it was.

Without getting into the many different types of RPG challenge (especially in a game with gameist intent) a player could fail, I want to point out that I was not suggesting that players enjoy whiffing on dice. There are other challenges to enjoy, and other reasons to fail besides a low roll.
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Richard Daly, who asks, "What should people living in glass houses do?"
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Sand Mechanics summary, comments welcome.
Paganini
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« Reply #6 on: June 28, 2002, 01:49:24 PM »

Xiombarg, I think we need to know more about *your* preferred style of play. It almost sounds like you're running a Gamist style game where character failure is equivalent to player failure... or more accurately it sounds like James might *think* that that's what your game is about.

My suggestion is to run a bit of Zak's Shadows with him. In Shadows the player, before rolling, has to say what happens if the roll succeeds *and* what happens of the roll fails. Examining his choices might help give you some insight into the kind of game he wants.

The other suggestion is, why don't you ask him? You said you like him, so it could probably be done without seeming confrontational. Something like "Hey, James, I noticed that you didn't seem to be enjoying our game the other night. Do you think you could explain to me how you would rather it have gone?"
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xiombarg
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« Reply #7 on: June 30, 2002, 12:17:57 PM »

I talked to him about it. He admitted he's big on the "heroic" thing. I explained to him that in most games I run brash and insane will not be rewarded with success, and he needs to learn to pout less if he blows a roll...
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: June 30, 2002, 04:46:07 PM »

Hi there,

One detail in this thread completely confuses me. Why is heroic being equated with rarely/never fails? I don't see this, don't get it, don't understand it, and don't buy it. Every hero-story I am familiar with, high-brow or lowbrow, mythic/fantastic or naturalistic, past or present, includes astonishing levels of failure in the middle of the story or at the end, or both.

I am familiar with the profile of the player being discussed, or rather, I have played with a number of people who display this behavior. They don't want to play "heroic" characters. They simply hate to fail at anything, whether it's a control issue or whatever.

Best,
Ron
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hyphz
Member

Posts: 157


« Reply #9 on: July 01, 2002, 04:13:45 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
One detail in this thread completely confuses me. Why is heroic being equated with rarely/never fails? I don't see this, don't get it, don't understand it, and don't buy it.


In traditional RPGs, the most common reason is: "Because if the action is likely to fail, and potentially have disasterous consequences, then no PC will choose to do it.  If you want PCs to do heroic acts, you have to make them the best course of action at the time.  Yes, heroism is supposed to be about taking risks, but most of the heroes people want to role-play are storybook characters and the author only writes their failure knowing that they'll succeed eventually.  If the author of Conan had needed to beat 15 on a d20 whenever he wrote about a heroic act, and on a failure the author would have been forced to write about Conan's death and end the series there, he never would have written any heroic acts for Conan."

I put that lot in quotes because I'm well aware that people here will disagree with it, and that there are systems that avoid it.  In Donjon Krawl I believe you're entirely entitled to describe your hero failing but not dying, if your goal is to create a heroic story; but in traditional systems, like D20, you aren't.  Indeed, it seems to me to be a symptom of "degeneration" as described in Ron's article (narrativist intent to create heroic story degenerated by gamist requirement to play game well or lose), but I am not up to date on the present discussion status of GNS.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: July 01, 2002, 06:03:04 AM »

Hey,

Yeah, this is a serious topic, but I just realized that I'd be guilty of serious thread-hijacking if I continued it. Your statement of the usual justification (and I think you nailed it) illustrates horrible GNS confusion, as you say. I guess it belongs in RPG Theory some day, if anyone wants to pick it up.

Best,
Ron
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