Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On Being a Gamemaster: Player Bickering

Last Friday, I played in John W.'s amazing Kansas City by Gaslight (powered by the Iron Kingdom RPG).  John's group has been playing together for several years.  They're an imaginative sort and have lots and lots of ideas.  He normally runs with no less than 8 players.

Part of the reason I don't play every week is that I know how tough it is to manage that many players.  But his game is so awesome that it's hard for me to sit out for too long.

His group, like so many, sometimes need some organization and I took that role upon myself about half way into the session.  I asked if anyone minded and no one seemed to.

As we were about to hit a complex combat that involved storming a heavily armed house and trying not to get potential hostages killed, I became the de facto field commander.

As an aside, one of the players, a teenager I'll call Brody often "wanders off" in an encounter.  Its not cowardice or poor planning, he just views his role in a battle...differently, I don't think he sees the need for teamwork and places his survival high on the list of goals.  Its not a bad choice, but with so many players, encounters can be very dangerous and John W. is a very SMART GM.

John W. is the type of GM who lets you earn great rewards after overcoming greater risks.  In my experiences he understands the player's resources and challenges them to use them.  So as a group, we were keen on utilizing all of our resources to not only survive the battle but free the hostages with no harm done to them.

As Brody's turn came up, I explained that another player with a lower initiative had a "knock out bomb" and he needed to hold his action and not go into the room to attack so the bomb didn't affect him, as well.  He not only didn't hold his action, but the way he answered me when I questioned him about it felt like he was disrespecting me.

Later, as we moved to the second level, instead of joining us he decided to aid a fallen player who was in no real danger.

Now, I sharply chastised him for this decision and then foolishly wounded an innocent, due to brash (fueled by my frustration) decision making.  (Thankfully, John W. allowed me to use a Feat point to change that I hit the victim with the "flat of blade".

However, we were victorious.  But I was pissed.  I moved away from the table as we broke for the night, not out of anger toward Brody now, but at myself.  My emotions were causing conflict at the table.  What's worse, the person I was conflicted with was a 17 year old kid.  Even if he was "disrespectful" to me, what would my "righteousness" achieve?  I'm 40, its my job to show maturity and lead by example.  Not argue with people about the "right way to play".

I quietly waited apart from the others and calmed myself down and then Brody approached me.  We communicated about what happened and I apologized for my behavior.  I calmly explained that in a fight, John W. accounted for all of our resources and I need his in that fight.  I explained my point of view and honestly explained that I got defensive because I felt he disrespected me.  He explained that wasn't his intention at all and we both learned something about each other that night.

Mostly though, I remembered that a game, a mission, or a PC isn't worth battling a player, who I should be using positive messages to share from my longer experience as a gamer.  And it's ok if he's got different ideas.  The worst that would have happened is that my character died.

I also took some moments to explain that my role as an organizer wasn't an attempt to "be the boss" and was happy to find out that the whole group didn't mind my tactical input.


Unknown said...

Good entry Mark. As the DM in question it was fun to see to see the group try to work together toward a challenging encounter. But, I think you're spot on with the last bit.

At the core, RPGs give us a chance to socialize in a way that no other game allows us to do. We tell stories, we grow interested in characters, we ask 'hard' questions about what it means to be human in a safe environment. But, at the end of the day, the people at the table are what matter. When we forget that... there's not much use to playing.

The great thing about the whole experience is that you realized what happened, "owned it", and moved on. I gained more respect for you as a person in that moment of weakness. I still say you're the closest thing to Callahan I've ever met.

Next week though... I be sure to kill you all.

Cross Planes said...

Thank you, John. I'm glad you challenged me to blog about it. It's not easy to face your own poor behavior, but "Do Drama at the Table" is more important.

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