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Author Topic: Stupid Player Tricks  (Read 6935 times)
greyorm
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« on: July 07, 2001, 10:04:00 AM »

Here's a doozy I ran into tonight while running my game, and something that's been bothering for a while about this specific group:
There's no protracted engagement with the campaign.
What exactly do I mean?

Over the course of game sessions, players will quickly forget about even the most important details of the game; even from the previous session.

Here's an example:  The characters have found a strange, notched rod of metal I've described at least three times as being two fingers wide.  It was also found with a piece of paper wrapped around it which said "This is the key."
Two sessions later they come back to a magically sealed door which has a round keyhole two fingers in diameter...and they can't figure out how to open it.  Keep in mind this mysterious rod was a major find, and mentioned repeatedly and the note which accompanied it.

An additional example: The magically sealed door is interesting in itself since this was the first thing the characters came across in this locale.  They knew about the keyhole's shape and width at that time, and they knew they couldn't get through it yet.

However, when they needed to find a treasure hidden in the locale they were and had been in, and they had visited every other place, they never once thought to go back to the sealed door.  Even after such dropped hints as "you are thinking about the task you promised to perform as you pass the rune-marked door."
(They even forgot about the *task, though it was a major event in the campaign, and again, referenced repeatedly, even by them...suddenly, they forget all about it though)

Now, just to make this clear, this is not about some preplotted scenario I have demanded they must complete and are refusing to.  Don't make that mistake.  This is simply about a constant lack of memory: names, places, people, events.
And the above examples are only the tip of the iceberg; every "important" detail except the most obvious -- we're being paid to get this item -- has been forgotten since the start of the campaign.
Simply, game-to-game it is as if they had never encountered or done anything before that game.

It's annoying to say the least, exasperating and frustrating at worst.  Additionally, I have the horrible, horrible feeling that this stems from too many years of railroading by other GMs...the "tell me a story" syndrome.

However, when I refuse to move the story forward myself and don't push events or NPCs to the forefront, they sort of blunder and flop about like fish on a dock while I fall asleep watching them "role-play" (ie: act and pose in character), hoping that it will move their characters or the plot somewhere.  It's like reading a bad Eddings novel: all talk, no action.

I swear, I feel like just turning it into a hackn'slash dungeon crawl with no point or purpose or any thinking required: open door, kill monster, take treasure, repeat.  Which, of course, will absolutely aggravate them since they want to role-play.

Now, the obvious answer is "drop the group", which I would if I had another group to play with.  However, also, they are good role-players -- when they engage!

I've attempted to increase that engagement by granting extra experience points for keeping a log/journal and showing it to me, by making things personal for the characters and players, but engagement hasn't happened yet.
I'm thinking of perhaps making the log a requirement, and that it is sent to me end of every session, so I know they are taking notes.

Anyone else had this problem with a group and managed to fix it?
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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james_west
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« Reply #1 on: July 07, 2001, 11:58:00 AM »

I -always- keep a very large whiteboard on an easel to the left of my chair, and I write down names and places on it, with a three-word description of who they are. At the start of a new session, I give each player a handout with a "cast list" of people they've met before and important pieces of information they've gained.

If they -still- won't engage, dump 'em.

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Mytholder
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« Reply #2 on: July 07, 2001, 01:35:00 PM »

If your players check the net fairly often, try setting up a campaign webpage. If they glance at it during their lunchbreak or something during the week between sessions, they'll refresh their memory just enough to for you to fill in the blanks.
Try http://www.blogger.com - it's a web-paged journal program. You just type in your update into a form, and blogger handles all the file transfer stuff. It's cute - I'm using it for my blue planet campaign log (www.mytholder.f2s.com/bp).
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: July 07, 2001, 04:28:00 PM »

Hello,

I don't know Raven's group, but I suspect there's more going on here than just "happening" not to remember.

One mode of play, as a player, is to suss out ways to get the GM to carry as much weight as possible. A small example of this from the old days was refusing (tacitly, via "forgetting" or "not getting around to it") to calculate any negative modifiers. If scolded, the player would coolly reply that that is the GM's job. It would then get to be such a pain in the ass for the GM to calculate all of these modifieres for every PC or NPC, that he'd bag it, and thus the players (who of course kept a close eye on their POSITIVE modifiers) came out ahead.

In terms of plot and story-content, as Raven describes, it may be that his players are using him as their "collective memory." Either they can rely on him telling them what to do, as in basically TELLING them that the key they have will get through this door, or they know that he has to endure their absolute refusal (disguised as inability) to do so. Since they know he hates this, they know they are in the catbird seat. They can basically pay NO attention to what's going on except in terms of immediate threats, and he has no choice except to comply unless he wants to endure a mode of play that he cannot stand.

Balance of Power issue, I think - and a pretty dysfunctional one. (If this is what's going on.)

Best,
Ron
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #4 on: July 07, 2001, 06:07:00 PM »

Hey Raven,

My instinct on this is that you're clearly failing to hook the players, and that there's a lot factoring into the situation. And because it's complex, and some of it's social, I'm not sure you'll be able to isolate exactly what's creating the problem and subtract it from the superset of everything that's going on with your game. I think you might have better success by putting a whole new game experience on the table for your group, something that shakes up their learned behaviors in a substantial way and also forces a reinvention of the social dynamic of the group. I think your situation might be partly driven by a game system that rewards killing things and collecting treasure, and leveling up the guy, and that even if you've created a relationship-map scenario designed to hook the players, that you might be working against an experienced player syndrome that's undermining your goals by featuring learned behaviors from player history with the game system. I suspect you probably actually have the players hooked on the killing and collecting treasure that's the game's explicit reward system. I also think it can be difficult to hook the players with campaign play, because often the drama of human relationships that is most compelling to the players is too extended to keep them consistently interested. But also, I think you probably have a counter-productive social dynamic that's reinforcing your current situation. My recommendation would be to get a game system without traditional reward mechanics and run a closed-ended, five session relationship-map scenario and blow their socks off. You want a scenario that features a turbulence of human relationships the way a James Bond movie features chase sequences. And you want it to come to a dramatic climax quickly.

Paul
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james_west
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« Reply #5 on: July 07, 2001, 11:56:00 PM »

Ron, Paul -

Boy are you guys paranoid !
(Which doesn't mean you're not right :wink:

                - James
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Damocles
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« Reply #6 on: July 08, 2001, 03:25:00 AM »

This is not a pleasant explanation, but maybe they find the story boring? Maybe they just want a different kind of story. From what you've described it seems like a questing story, maybe they want intrigue, or a mystery story.
In any case, in my opinion the best (if probably most daunting) approach is to discuss the matter with them directly. Be careful not to put them on the defensive. In other words, don't tell them to pull themselves together, but ask them for help.
For what it's worth, my suspicion is that the players are unhappy about _something_. Maybe they want a less traditional campaign. Maybe they want a more traditional one. Maybe they do want hack and slash and are only kidding themselves about wanting to roleplay. Maybe they want a sci-fi campaign. Maybe they created characters that don't fit the campaign.
There really are a lot of possibilites the situation may have come about.
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Supplanter
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« Reply #7 on: July 08, 2001, 11:41:00 AM »

Damocles is right - unpleasant as the prospect of confrontation is, the only hope for a solution to the problem lies in asking the players directly.

Best,


Jim
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: July 08, 2001, 12:33:00 PM »

Hello,

My problem with Jim and Damocles' position in the above posts is this: "communication" is a beautiful ideal but a social rarity.

Role-playing groups can easily "discuss" any current disagreements endlessly. They can go around and around, happily reinforcing whatever non-constructive social dynamic exists, each person carefully cementing a wall around whatever social role or role-playing priority that they don't want violated. Such discussions are predicated on getting nowhere.

My experience is that the all-powerful, all-resolving "communication" advice tends to be like "happiness" advice. Sure, it would be great if we all communicated (or were happy). That doesn't address the issue of HOW to do so.

The situation I describe - which may or may not be Raven's situation - is way past the "Let's work this out" phase. In many cases, it's too late. The behavior patterns, relative to that game, that group, and that social context of interaction, has been concretized, and a considerable amount of ego-protection or social conservatism will be marshaled to protect it. I suggest that one path to success in role-playing is learning when such a no-win situation is the case, and moving on to other players, or perhaps starting with one of the current players and building a new group from there.

Best,
Ron
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greyorm
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My name is Raven.


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« Reply #9 on: July 08, 2001, 10:01:00 PM »

First of all, let me thank everyone who has responded with their ideas.  They're all helpful, some of them I do, some of them I might have to implement or implement differently, some of them I need to clear up to get what I need out of the discussion (selfishness!).

On the topic of communication, thus far in my group I have explicitly opened communication with my players; however, my players have not taken to it.  Two examples, hopefully, will illustrate:

From the beginning, I have repeatedly told the group I would not be providing a plot or direction for the game, that it was open-ended and would go where they wished it to go.  In response to this, during the game session, the actual belief of how the game worked -- in response to a situation that arose -- was voiced as, "Whatever would be best for the story you're telling."

I was floored, but I repeated that there was no story being told by myself, and that they could choose to hold down regular jobs and role-play getting the baking ovens stoked every morning  (I might not GM it if they did, but they were free to do so).

The second example is that of a player flat-out not telling me that they found after playing for a while that they hated the character they made, and played him for four months longer than he wanted to.  He didn't want to wreck "my story" by changing or killing off his character.
I talked with him about this immediately when it finally came out, and stated this should have been brought up as soon as he realized it, since the game is played for enjoyment.

I write to my group every couple weeks with new ideas or things I believe we should try in order to get over rough spots I've noticed in play (such as handling time).  This included two long posts, one about "what you want out of the game as a player," and one about "enjoyment" (ie: what they found the most exciting and enjoyable thus far).

Quite notably, I have yet to recieve answers to the latter, and I recieved sketchy responses to the former, as though they had no clue how to answer what I was asking and giving me a virtual look rather like I'd posed to them an advanced question on astrophysics, complete with sound of crickets chirping in background.
("What *I want out of it?  I've never thought about that before...I don't know.")

Additionally, weekly I provide a summary of the previous session, for all the good it does in the long term.

These are my on-going attempts to engage my players in the group, as co-authors instead of passengers or readers.

Ron is right in that the social dynamic of the group is set, at least in regards to two players.  Partially this is my fault, partially it is the fault of the GMs who came before me with these same two players.

The name of the game in the group these players and I shared for four years was "tell me a story", not only my game, but the game we also all played in under a different GM.

The game would move forward towards a predetermined point, with various previously prepared scenes already set up.  The players could easily coast, perking up only to engage in in-character bickering and ceaseless dialogue (I admit there were numerous times I barely paid attention to the game, and it didn't matter).

In other words, there was an implicit contract set-up in the group which carried over to my game, and which I have now been desperately trying to rewrite.

For example, I rid myself of the player I had the most personality conflicts with by stating the part of the implicit contract about character death (that it never happened without player approval) was now explicitly defunct.
I wanted to avoid players becoming too comfortable with the challenges of the game and turning their characters into vehicles of the ego, as was commonplace in the groups described above.

Frex, one would normally not sass at an ancient dragon which is barely restraining itself from killing you and your companions, especially when you are in no position to hope to survive its attack (excepting due the implicit "no character death" contract).

This left the entire game as an exploration of the interaction of personalities (resulting mostly in head-butting, since everyone was playing to their ego (their idealized self-image)); as you can imagine, a poor substitute for good role-playing or a story.

As you can see, there are no real challenges and no real way to affect the story, leaving this as the only option for play.

Thus, on to the topic of what my players want...is it killing and gaining treasure?  Heck no.  My players are in no way hooked on this type of gaming.  From experience, doing anything of the sort bores them to death and the interest level falls.  They really are "wanna-be narrativists" trapped by years of bad gaming habits.

Looking at all that, I'm more comfortable now with my original statement about the problem stemming from the "tell me a story" syndrome.
Who needs to remember anything when the GM will just tell you what to do or point you in the right direction?..wind-up-and-go style of play.

Coupled with the expected (implicit) contract, regardless that I've attempted to alter it explicitly, it looks to me like they're still behaving the way they're used to...expecting that they are simply passengers or readers and behaving as such.

With that mouthful in mind, does anyone have any further comments or insights?  Ways to somehow break the communication barrier?  I'd like to stay with the group, and I'd hate to leave them knowing (I think) what the problem is and not helping them enjoy their games more.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: July 09, 2001, 07:13:00 AM »

Raven,

If you look at it from the perspective of the band metaphor, there comes a point when one person cannot be responsible for ALL of the following:
- identify a shared problem
- convince everyone that it IS a problem
- present the solution
- teach everyone how it is to be implemented (i.e. how THEY should change)

Without a clear indicator of "success" (e.g. profit margin or something equally external), it's going to be ... well, I think it's going to be impossible to do.

This may be intrusive on my part, but I suggest considering that you are not there to help them with a "problem," especially since you are encountering such resistance regarding whether a problem even exists. I suggest that your main task is for YOU to enjoy role-playing. And bluntly, at present, severance may be the best policy.

Best,
Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: July 09, 2001, 07:13:00 AM »

Raven,

If you look at it from the perspective of the band metaphor, there comes a point when one person cannot be responsible for ALL of the following:
- identify a shared problem
- convince everyone that it IS a problem
- present the solution
- teach everyone how it is to be implemented (i.e. how THEY should change)

Without a clear indicator of "success" (e.g. profit margin or something equally external), it's going to be ... well, I think it's going to be impossible to do.

This may be intrusive on my part, but I suggest considering that you are not there to help them with a "problem," especially since you are encountering such resistance regarding whether a problem even exists. I suggest that your main task is for YOU to enjoy role-playing. And bluntly, at present, severance may be the best policy.

Best,
Ron
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #12 on: July 09, 2001, 07:42:00 AM »

Severance may be the only solution but I do not think it's an especially happy one to consider.
Are you friends with any of these players?

If so, you may wish to consider how to deal with this while keeping your friends somehow.

You also may wish to consider how you'll find a new group and how you'll handle the new group so you don't have this same thread next month.

Starting with a fresh page can be nice, but if you're using the same leaky pen it will still wind up a big mess.
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Uncle Dark
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« Reply #13 on: July 09, 2001, 08:18:00 AM »

Raven,

Have you tried the direct approach from your point of view?  That is, just saying flat out, "This isn't turning out to be the kind of game I wanted to play.  I'm not having fun with it anymore.  Can you guys help me out?"

This reframes the question in terms of how they can help you (rather than in terms of how they aren't doing it right), which they might respond well to.

And, if it turns out that they don't want to play anymore, either, but wre afraid of hurting your creatorly feelings, it gives them a graceful out.

Lon
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Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #14 on: July 09, 2001, 09:23:00 AM »

Hey Raven,

They really are "wanna-be narrativists" trapped by years of bad gaming habits.

Okay...you've convinced me this is true for at least a few of your players, so I'm going to predicate the rest of my reply on it. But I do suspect that if you really accomplish Narrativism, you'll lose the interest of a few of your players. I thought the exact same thing as you before I ran Everway, that to a man, my group were wanna-be Narrativists. And I was pretty damn surprised that one of my friends, a guy who's failed college courses because of too many late night game sessions, suddenly lost interest in RPG's. It happened after character creation, but before we even played the game. And he has subsequently voiced some strange rationalizations for his disinterest, one of which was that he wasn't interested in games that didn't "have enough rules."

I write to my group every couple weeks...This included two long posts, one about "what you want out of the game as a player,"...

Quite notably...I recieved sketchy responses...as though they had no clue how to answer what I was asking


I think this is exactly synchronous with my friend who's GMing Theatrix emailing to ask the players what we wanted "to do" in the next game session. I wrote a little about this in the "Serial vs. Unified Campaign" thread. Like you, he was disappointed with the lack of response. And I think you're probably having the same problem as him. He was hoping for the players to tell him stuff like what NPC's we wanted to talk to. But if you truly have wanna be Narrativists in your group, that stuff is irrelevant. You don't even think about that stuff. Maybe that's what your character would be thinking about, if he was thinking, but you're an Author...you presuppose your character's protagonism and you think about Theme. And because the game's Premise is unrevealed, it's impossible for the players to be doing anything thematic. So they wait to see what the Premise is. It's only at that point that NPC interactions become important to them.

I have repeatedly told the group I would not be providing a plot or direction for the game, that it was open-ended and would go where they wished it to go. In response to this...the actual belief...was voiced as, "Whatever would be best for the story you're telling."

I was floored, but I repeated that there was no story being told by myself...


I really think the absence of a Premise is shutting you down. It's almost impossible for a player to invent a story with thematic substance from whole cloth. Know that having a Premise does not mean having a pre-scripted ending. In the Sorcerer game that Scott Knipe is kicking off this evening, the Premise is something like "demons are the evil in electronic entertainment," and every player knew it prior to character creation. As the game plays out, all the players will be riffing on that Premise. And this doesn't mean the players have a pre-scripted ending in mind either. My character is a remarkably unsavory dude. He may redeem himself. Or he may get a rude comeuppance. It's irrelevant to me as long as I'm satisfied with the resulting theme. Premise gives the Authorial efforts of the players and the GM a structure to build on.

Paul
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
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