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Metagaming - a Rule and a Side-Effect

Started by Brimshack, May 25, 2009, 06:19:03 PM

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Brimshack

Okay, so as general rule I do not allow free tactical discussion during my games. The rule says that characters may say anything irrelevant to combat they want whenever they want, but anything of significance to the battle must be stated during the character's turn, and if it's more than a simple phrase such as 'charge' or 'help me,' then they must devote an Action to the speech. The idea here is to let players add whatever flavorful banter they want as the inspiration strikes them, but to treat in-combat planning as an imoportant action with a cost of its own.

Okay, so that's the general rule.

Now for the exception, there is a Special Ability that a character with Divination and Mind Affecting schools of magic can take. It  enables players to discuss the tactical significance of known facts freely. And yes, the rule addresses the speech of players, not those of their characters. It enables players to say things like, "You know if you stand over here I'll get a flanking bonus," "Yeah, but if you position your character here, you can give him a flanking bonus and be in a position to help the mage when she finishes her spell next turn." ...and so on. The idea is that a character like that enables her companions to develop an intuitive grasp of the tactical situation, thus gaining the extra tactical advantages worked out by players without the actual dialogue between characters. It's an expensive ability, but one that players have found worth having in the group about half the time.

Problem: We now have an alpha-gamer in our midst, and we have a player that defers to him. By an alpha player, I mean someone who simply must be the center of attention at all times. I haven't dealt with an alpha player in about 3 years, and I don't miss them. But as we game and I find that him trying hog game-time in a variety of subtle ways, probably without realizing he's doing it.

One of the many and interesting ways this subtle control game played out in the last session surprised me. The other player had taken the ability in question, thus allowing for free-flowing tactical discussion. Okay, great, that will help us in a variety of ways.

We'll call the deferential player, Player B. The Alpha is of course Player A.

Player B is steering a ship during an attack on another ship. It's her turn. So, I need to know how she is maneuvering the ship. She has already dodged ours to the port side as it approaches, to pass close-by for an effective attack, she will need to correct the angle now so that we actually do pass parallel to the enemy ship. Otherwise we will shoot off to the side and the only engagement will continue to be with arrows that are mostly missing. So, I ask her how she is going to move the ship. She starts to tell me that she steers back, as in she is half way through the sentence and I am sure that's what she is saying, but she stops.

Player A has gotten her attention. He now tells her that the enemy is vastly superior (they have more numbers), and that if we come close they will have us right where they want us. He has been fiddling with a ballista for the entire game (he made it, he positioned it, he had his character firing it the minute I told him the enemy ship was in site, etc.). At the time, I didn't get his concern, but in subsequent rounds it became clear that he wanted to sail back out to a distance and just keep firing his ballista at the enemy until they gave up. At that moment though, all he really did was to suggest that having committed ourselves to a close attack, she should now refrain from bringing us too close. Her Turn drags out from the discussion and I have to rephrase the question 'what are you ding?' several times and ultimately ask Player A to let  her make a decision. She elects to continue at the angle she put us on the previous turn and thus take us at a diagonal course away from our intended victims.

Player C: Has short range missile and melee capability. He takes his characters below deck and closes his notebook.

The pattern repeats every time Player B's main character comes up. She isn't sure what to do, Player A gets her attention and mostly hints at what he wants or doesn't want (which is actually to stop the ship, not that the one steering it is capable of doing that, ...other characters would have had to take down the sails, but it's really too late to do it before we pass by the other ship). Player B hesitates, waffles, and then keeps us going away from the enemy ship. In several instances, I do have to step in and ask Player A to let Player B make her decision.

So...

I had been thinking about the rule against player discussion of tactics as a way to preserve something of the fog of war, and the special ability as a magical effect that miraculously cuts down on the fog of war. With my previous players that is how it worked; they discussed tactics as relative equals and used the ability to improve their tactics. It was an amusing case of a meta-game rule that actually had about the right intended effect in the game. ...but of course my previous group spoiled me with outstanding and highly cooperative play. ...the bastards!

Given last night's game I now think of the general rule as having one other important effect, it cuts down on player to player manipulation, or at least forces it onto the game table. From that standpoint, the Special Ability licenses socially aggressive players to step into the play time of others. Maybe I don't want to create that option. I think the majority of campaigns I have been apart of have had some sort of player on player conflict happening, or at least another alpha-gamer. If this sort of thing rises to a certain level, campaigns end or people are dis-invited. But long before it gets there, it plays out in a hundred subtle irritations, manipulations, and uninvited mind-copulations. I can now see how this ability would be used by others of this ilk to step on the fun and control other players. Maybe, I should nix this option.


Bercilac

How about time limits on turns?  Put 10 seconds on a clock for each character and NPC involved, and every 10 seconds shout TIME and go onto the next one.  There'd be no time for people to waffle.  That 10 seconds would be for resolving an action, nothing more.  Players would have to be engaged with a battle, shouting quick ideas to one another, and planning out their next move BEFORE their turn comes up.

In such circumstances, I think B would be telling A to shut up if sie interrupted hir.

Callan S.

Well, A isn't 'controlling' B. B probably thinks she is co-operating like everyone thinks is a good idea to do so, by going with A's suggestions.

It's one of the things that bugs me about strongly advocating co-operation, because if everyones supposededly co-operating, who's empowered to say say someones being controlling? No one, because that would mean stopping and accusing, rather than just going on with what they suggest/co-operating! And if no one is actually empowered to do so, then the person who is accusing someone of being controlling, is actually a controller themselves. It's just controller Vs controller.

If everyone were a bit less co-operative, they'd shut him down, and indeed as GM, shut you down if/when you start pulling social strings as well. To get rid of his influence, you'd have to get rid of your own capacity to influence in the same way. Or in other words, your seeing yourself, but from the outside.
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Brimshack

Quote from: Bercilac on May 26, 2009, 12:42:25 AM
How about time limits on turns?  Put 10 seconds on a clock for each character and NPC involved, and every 10 seconds shout TIME and go onto the next one.  There'd be no time for people to waffle.  That 10 seconds would be for resolving an action, nothing more.  Players would have to be engaged with a battle, shouting quick ideas to one another, and planning out their next move BEFORE their turn comes up.

In such circumstances, I think B would be telling A to shut up if sie interrupted hir.

That's not bad. A 10-second rule would of course also render the Special Ability pointless, thus resolving my question, but it might also help eliminate some of the other social messiness of a game session (at the expense of curbing some of the social pleasures of extended discussion as well). I have used this before when moving foreword became a problem, but I and my players weren't entirely satisfied with the gaming experience when play was on a timer, so to speak. It may be that some such mechanism would help in this case, but I would prefer to find some other options.

Vulash

I would hate to see a time limit put on each action given the outstanding tactical decisions that make this game fun.

My suggestion would be to possibly lower the prereqs of the ability, and change it so that at the beginning of each round after initiative is rolled each player has about 10 seconds to make a brief statement about what they're characters plan to do that round, and a brief rebuttal - all out of character.  "I plan to charge to the right flank"  "I was going to blast that area"  "Ok then I'll hold the left and you blast right"  - then play begins.  This would limit how much this ability could be abused by alpha players but not affect actual gameplay.  The ability was considered pretty powerful anyway I think maybe the cooperation of our old group was simply holding it in check. 

Brimshack

Quote from: Vulash on May 26, 2009, 04:25:20 AM
I would hate to see a time limit put on each action given the outstanding tactical decisions that make this game fun.

My suggestion would be to possibly lower the prereqs of the ability, and change it so that at the beginning of each round after initiative is rolled each player has about 10 seconds to make a brief statement about what they're characters plan to do that round, and a brief rebuttal - all out of character.  "I plan to charge to the right flank"  "I was going to blast that area"  "Ok then I'll hold the left and you blast right"  - then play begins.  This would limit how much this ability could be abused by alpha players but not affect actual gameplay.  The ability was considered pretty powerful anyway I think maybe the cooperation of our old group was simply holding it in check. 

Oh hi, Vulash! Welcome to the forum.

I had one other idea here, and that is that the person holding the ability might need to trigger the discussion, say by spending a point of her Spirit Reserve and going on Hold, just as with the option to Aid. It could be the GM's decision as to when the discussion has run its course, but this would have the benefit of leaving Tactical discussion under the control of the person with the ability. It would solve the current scenario, but it would do nothing to control controlling behavior if the Alpha Gamer was the one who had it. ...The rule would have one other benefit though in that it would focus attention on the use of the ability and thereby help to ensure the ability was used properly. Having the general license to talk willy-nilly about tactical options sometimes meant that discussion overstepped the boundaries of the rule's intent.

Doen-sides: 1) There is still a scenario where it doesn't stop the problem I was thinking about this morning (Alpha-Gamer with the Ability herself). 2) It weakens the ability (maybe that's good though, because it was damned powerful in its current form).

Ron Edwards

Hello,

What game are we talking about?

Also, what kind of consequences are known and have been truly observed by the group in this game? Player-character death? How many and how often? If not player-character death, what then? In other words, positing that the players end up using crappy tactics, what happens then? (and again, I don't mean hypothetically in your head, I mean entirely known and observed by them)

Best, Ron

Brimshack

Hi Ron, thanks for dropping in.

The Game is tentatively entitled 'Worlds of Hurt.' It's still in development. I've referenced it a couple times in previous threads, and described portions of the rules, but I have yet to do a thorough introduction.

Demonstrable In-Game consequences for bad play include:

1) Character Death. We had seen it before this, and we saw character death again toward the end of this session when Player C re-emerged from below deck and precipitated a PC-to-PC fight, which then became an oddly cathartic near-TPK. Everyone ended up with 1 survivor each, and we decided on a new campaign scenario. Anyway, Characters can die.

2) Loss of Experience Points and/or booty, and consequent failure to progress both in the in-game economy and in terms of character abilities. When the Characters fail to defeat an enemy, the rewards are lower (case in point, blowing by the enemy ship without defeating it meant loss of experience points and loss of badly needed treasure).

3) It can result in lost opportunities through role play. This is less tangible, but it is a serious consequence of playing mistakes. It was seen in a previous game when characters went to a shady bar in the hopes of making connections with one or both of two criminal groups, and ended up insulting one group away, scaring the other off by ignoring stipulations critical to a deal with the other group. Finally, the group got themselves permanently kicked out of the bar (thus losing another important connection to a range of odd NPCs) by picking a fight frivolously. Either one of the first two opportunities would have been a 1-3 game mini sequence with rewards for both experience and gold. The second was a more general loss of access to a valuable locus of social networks within the game. Each of these were filtered through my own play of the NPCs, but in each case the consequence was loss of a possible opportunity.

Of course the concern for the OP has less to do with bad tactics than game-time and general social dynamics.

Brimshack

Upon reflection, I think my reply to Ron's post is incomplete. So, just a little addendum.

...or to put it another way, I think everyone present could live with a lost battle and maybe even the loss of a character or two. I do think the Alpha-Gamer pulled the party in a bad direction tactically speaking, but I could live with that were it not for the social dynamics that accompanied it (and the clear unpleasantness in player-to-player interactions). While the problem clearly eclipses the issue of the rule in question and will have to be dealt with on a much more personal level in the next Game Session, what got me typing this morning was the thought that this one rule-option might have contributed to the problem in a predictable manner.

Simply put, maybe I should remove the option that allows one player to step into the turn of another player at will. Whatever the Tactical Significance of the rule in question, it does have the metagaming effect of blurring the boundaries of who is at bat, and that may well facilitate the sort of problem I am concerned about today.

Vulash

Thanks - it seems like an interesting board!

I do like the idea of making the person with the ability spend a spirit reserve.  I would say have them spend one action and one spirit reserve to allow everyone to have a brief interlude of tactical out of character discussion.  This means they can't step into someone else's turn.  Since that particular build requires divination then the player could easily take the divination ability that makes pre-empting easier - and in situations when the discussion really needs to happen earlier they would have the option for forcing it at the top of the round. 

This does make it weaker - possibly even a minor considering the prereqs on it? 

Brimshack

Ah, so don't let the player with the ability trigger on her own decision during someone else's turn. She has to do it on her own or actually pre-empt another character's Turn by the normal rules. We could lighten that restriction a little with one small proviso, a Character other than the one with the ability could spend the action in question, essentially inviting help. ...This still prevents use of the ability to intrude upon another players time. You can still go on someone else's turn, but she has to invite into it.

Vulpinoid

I've seen this sort of thing happen in numerous games I've been a part of...the 'alpha gamer' complex is just as common down here in the southern hemisphere as the northern, now that it's been positively identified I can see those patterns that I probably hadn't really noticed before.

Thinking about some options that have worked in the past, I'd posit the following suggestion...

Instead of a 10 second time limit, how about allowing the person with the telepathic power a single tactical question of each other player, which is responded in turn with a single sentence answer.

This way the player gets a good tactical opinion from the group, but still gets limited information. They also need to be careful in which order they ask their questions to other players.

Just an idea...

V
A.K.A. Michael Wenman
Vulpinoid Studios The Eighth Sea now available for as a pdf for $1.

contracycle

I'm unclear on why this is seen as a paricular problem.  Is player A being actively domineering?  Because, otherwise, surely this sort of thing is precisely what the ability is there for?

I'm generally not keen on arguing that someone is a "certain type of person".  Is it not possible that player A thinks he is being useful and helpful, or that player B appreciates the help? Player B, it seems to me, could simply say "STFU dude!" and that might be that.
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Brimshack

Yes, the individual is being domineering, and yes the other player(s) could assert themselves more. There are a variety of things I and others could try to rein the individual in. Some approaches have been tried, but more options remain. Interpersonal aggression always relies on the failure of others to hold their ground. That does not change the aggressive nature of the actions in question, nor does it change the fact that gaming ceases to be fun when questions about what I want to do as a PC are replaced with questions about how to handle the guy sitting next to you and what new curve ball is he going to throw at me today. Whether or not the behavior in question justifies use of a label, it is nevertheless a common and serious problem, one that has killed many a campaign in my experience. The resolution of this problem won't be done through in-game mechanisms, but there is one game-rule implication that I do think is worth considering in the light of this issue.

I am concerned that the special ability in question provides an unusual opportunity for socially aggressive players to dominate others by authorizing them to step uninvited into the middle of another player's Turn. That they will only be able to control others if people let them does not make the behavior less egregious or unpleasant. Whatever I do here on the rule will not solve the larger problem of what to do with interpersonal aggression, but I don't think it's a bad idea to protect a players time at bat, so to speak. So, what I am probably going to do here is revise the rule so as to ensure that any tactical discussion will be done at the initiative of the player with the ability and/or the initiative of the player whose Turn it is. I'm gong to keep the tactical discussion free flowing once it has begun, but it will be up to the player whose Turn it is to start the discussion. Of course looks and expressions and hints could still be an issue, but at least the player at bat will have the final say in whether or not her prospective actions are up to general discussion.

Brimshack

Quote from: Vulpinoid on June 05, 2009, 11:34:12 AM
I've seen this sort of thing happen in numerous games I've been a part of...the 'alpha gamer' complex is just as common down here in the southern hemisphere as the northern, now that it's been positively identified I can see those patterns that I probably hadn't really noticed before.

Thinking about some options that have worked in the past, I'd posit the following suggestion...

Instead of a 10 second time limit, how about allowing the person with the telepathic power a single tactical question of each other player, which is responded in turn with a single sentence answer.

This way the player gets a good tactical opinion from the group, but still gets limited information. They also need to be careful in which order they ask their questions to other players.

Just an idea...

V

Actually, I like that. The srtcutured series of questions to the group. I'm gonna think about it.