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Abused Player Syndrome

Started by Bankuei, May 22, 2003, 06:49:17 AM

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Bankuei

Hi folks,

I ran an IRC/Yahoo Chat Riddle of Steel demo game* for someone recently, and wanted to talk about some abused player syndrome actions I witnessed and open it up for discussion.

So, here's the basic gist of play:  The player is playing Grey, a roguish sort, who's been seeing Aleesha on the downlow.  Aleesha has claimed secrecy was because her father was an old world tough guy and heavy handed, but she reveals that in fact she is married to Marsaille, a local smuggler and made man.  She reveals this now, because she just discovered that Marsaille has been dealing in(with, delving into?) books of forbidden magic.  Being the sorcery-fearing sort, she's decided to run to authorities(the Church) on this one.  She, of course, is bringing the Arcanus Destine as the proof.(Grey happens to be an aspiring sorcerer on the side, and has interest in this).

Ok, so you've got gangsters, a hot book and a girl, the Church, and an old world father.  Ripe for good drama and all that.

Ok, so onto actual play:  The player of Grey is a fairly proactive sort, so things are good on that part.  What was uncool, was the absolute fear that I was attempting to manipulate the situation so as to part Grey and Aleesha for her to be kidnapped.  Second, he went as far as to scope out Father Demetrius to see if he was, indeed, a trustworthy contact.

Now, certainly, the player hasn't ever met me, or played with me before, I'm sure there's need to build trust.  But, the actions were a clear sign of expectations based on previous play, the "Trust no one, trust nothing" player style.

Where this gets interesting for me, to note, is that he was completely anticipating every sort of "GM Fiat" way of me railroading events and stealing away his ability to have an input into what happens.  To use the Ball analogy, he was used to having only Character as his method of getting the Ball, and wanted to make sure I didn't seperate his character from Aleesha. In other words, he's used to having to wrestle and connive for the Ball.

I realized a couple of things during this;  

First, that the idea of kidnapping the girl without the player character present seemed boring and uninteresting to me in the same fashion declaring the player characters got hit by a meteorite in the middle of the night would be.  I mean, I could imagine other play instances where someone being kidnapped without the PCs being present could provide for some interesting play, but here, is absolutely seemed pointless and stupid.  Plus, if Marsaille is after the girl and the book, seperating Grey from both would seem to take him out of the loop.

Second, that as a GM, I found the idea of Aleesha's decision to leave her husband and turn him in to really be the crux of the conflict; the GM provided Kicker if you will.  Having her be kidnapped(while certainly a threat) would seem to be a Bang that would shift the focus of "what the conflict is about".  It seems like the style of play would move from "Grab the money, grab the girl and run!" heist/crime drama sort of thing into the classic, "Beat up bad guy for his +5 Wife" deal.  Granted, the player doesn't know that, but just the same, its kinda sad how "standardized" the roleplaying experience has become for a lot of folks.

Anyway, all in all, I realized how far from "standard" gaming I had gotten, simply because this guy's abused player syndrome reactions really felt alien to me.  It makes me think of having to check every 5' for traps and listen at each and every door, and make sure you have 2 folks awake to guard camp at night...

So, opening the floor for discussion, I'm going to venture that the Abused Player Syndrome stems directly from having the ball snatched out of their hands(along with player input via character) through abusive use of GM power and fiats.  Anyone have some comments, questions or observations about this?

Chris

*TROS is very easy to explain face to face.  It is also very fun and easy to run face to face.  IRC almost demands "dice-light" gaming.  TROS is much harder to explain and play on IRC. I would not consider using it for more than 2 players, and can't even begin to comprehend how folks play stuff like D&D or Rifts online.

Drastic

Tangent 1:  I think D&D and such online works primarily because people aren't being introduced to system with it--they tend to be familiar going in.

Tangent 2:  Even with point 1, I'd still like to see a TROS game in in the indierpgs IRC at some point.  Not a demo, but get folks who have the book, etc.

The Ball analogy is a really nice one.  I've been noticing its effects more and more in the increasingly-irregular meetings of the tabletop group I play in and sometimes GM for.  Railroading really does shape player expectations and actions.

A lot of it comes down to unspoken social contracts, I suppose, but there is some hope.  In the past couple years, the group's largely broken our D20 GM of his love of ambushes, and for the most part, I think everyone has done so unconsciously.  We'd simply chat about how the characters were arranged, and pre-established some general reaction-patterns to perform when communication started getting broken up during things.  Things like "the next town's, what, seven hours away?  All right, let's figure we budget a day for it instead.  Figure we'll need X potions to recover from the ambush along the way, so we'll get that and Y more as overhead for the ambush in the town when we reach that..."

Cruel, but ultimately effective.  It's been probably nearly a year since we really had a combat we didn't walk into intentionally.  Railroad lines are still present, unfortunately.

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

Solid stuff, in every way.

Is anyone familiar with the following?

- Player makes up character who owns a bar or other establishment.
- Major event during the first session: bar gets blown up by GM fiat.

The positive version of these events (which is practically non-existent) is that we're talking about a Bang, in Sorcerer terms.

The negative version (1) is we're talking about a GM who doesn't frigging want a bar story, he wants a find-the-wumpus story, and the first thing to do is to get that character out of the bar. Easiest solution: remove the bar from around his ears.

The negative version (2) is we're talking about a player who doesn't frigging want to find the wumpus, and has honed that preference to not wanting to do anything at all, and hence won't stir from the bar unless it gets blown up.

Combine #1 and #2, and the "My World" vs. "My Guy" struggle for control has begun.

Best,
Ron

Bankuei

Hi Drastic,

You raise a very interesting issue, part of which has to do with "what kind" of game you're playing, but to use your ambush example, let's ask the question of why its happening-

1) The GM rolls wandering monsters, and ambushes happen via that(cool)
2) The GM thinks an ambush would be fun at certain points(garbage monster in Star Wars), again, cool
3) The GM thinks it would be fun for HIM(not necessarily you) to have an ambush(not cool, possible given your group's attitude regarding ambushes)
4) The GM has ambushes, "just because"(not cool, what to call this?  Neurotic GM Syndrome?)

See the difference?  In #1, its supported by system, and really is part of the potential Social Contract of D&D("There be wandering monsters here").  In #2, it makes for exciting play(Bangs, momentum with the ball, etc.).  In #3, breakdown of the Social Contract...power tripping, etc.  The players are being subjected to the GM's power trip here for HIS or HER entertainment.  #4 is also a breakdown of the social contract, but since even the GM isn't getting kicks from this, no one's having fun.

Any thoughts?

Chris

Jack Spencer Jr

Quote from: Ron EdwardsThe negative version (1) is we're talking about a GM who doesn't frigging want a bar story, he wants a find-the-wumpus story, and the first thing to do is to get that character out of the bar. Easiest solution: remove the bar from around his ears.
Boy, this reminds me of a conversation I had with the wife a couple months ago and posted here. It's kind of funny how people play together when they have such different desires for play.

Jared A. Sorensen

Quote from: Ron EdwardsIs anyone familiar with the following?

- Player makes up character who owns a bar or other establishment.
- Major event during the first session: bar gets blown up by GM fiat.


Jesus Effing Christ, every single Vampire game I've ever played.

It got so bad that our local LARP group had a running joke -- whenever I played a character, people would make comments about my bar blowing up (even if said character had no bar). This other dude in the game (Adam Scaramella...great player, damn) had the same thing, but with his character's flashy sports cars.

Of course, one could argue that this was done by players...but as the other players needed GM (ahem, "Storyteller") permission to firebomb anything, it was really the Storyteller saying, "Heh, let's liven the game up with a "plot"*).

- J

* In Vampire LARP terms, "plot" is what you do when you're not talking about your character's background, listening to someone else talk about their background, or argue about mass combat rules.
jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com

Bankuei

Hi Ron,

Thanks for summarising and clarifying the issue so well.  

What's rather interesting for me to note, is that all forms of Bangs are a GM's fiat, but they're functional because after the Bang is set up, the ball is passed over to the players.  I suppose the difference is that the Bang is player empowering, whereas the typical railroad is completely the opposite.  The Bang opens possibilities for "What can happen next?" while the railroad closes them.

Chris

Jack Spencer Jr

Quote from: BankueiI suppose the difference is that the Bang is player empowering, whereas the typical railroad is completely the opposite.  The Bang opens possibilities for "What can happen next?" while the railroad closes them.
The difference might also be which way the player is looking. If they're like "My bar! My beautiful bar!" and sobbing while it burns and begrudgingly goes to hunt the wumpus because they have nothing better to do while they wait for the insurance check, then it's disfunctional. If the player is like "The bar blew up? Cool. er uh um Yes Now my guy is pissed and tries to find out who did this." Then it's something functional.

Matt Wilson

QuoteThe negative version (1) is we're talking about a GM who doesn't frigging want a bar story, he wants a find-the-wumpus story, and the first thing to do is to get that character out of the bar. Easiest solution: remove the bar from around his ears.

The negative version (2) is we're talking about a player who doesn't frigging want to find the wumpus, and has honed that preference to not wanting to do anything at all, and hence won't stir from the bar unless it gets blown up.

So in this case, is the solution for the GM to say up front that he/she wants a wumpus story? Then player makes character who owns a bar but has always held a grudge against wumpuses.

Then GM has bar get blown up by zealots who thought the bar was a safe haven for wumpuses, and story ensues.

Ron Edwards

Hi Matt,

Right. That's a Bang, or rather, one way to produce a Bang (lots of ways to do it).

Best,
Ron

Bankuei

(cross posted, w/Matt and Ron):

Hi Jack,

Right on, but I think the other thing is really the unstated difference between a Kicker and a Bang.  A Kicker becomes the focus of what conflict is about, and its the player's domain, hence, no problem feeling stepped on.  A Bang is a twist or complication in regards to that conflict.  

So consider this-
#1
Kicker- I woke up a different gender!
Bang- Your Mom shows up at your apartment!

#2
Kicker- My demon ran away and is eating people!
Bang- You wake up a different gender!

See how #1, the Bang plays off of what the player has established, or at least doesn't invalidate its importance or shift the focus?  #2 on the other hand, presents a very real problem at least equal to if not more problematic than the Kicker.

Here, we're really talking about "Who gets the Ball?" for what purposes.  There is a very good reason I mentioned that the ball is about "What happens next?"  The next part is all about opening or closing those possibilities of what can happen in play, and the overall theme of what play is about.  

Coming back to the bar idea, you can see how blowing up the bar can either be the GM snatching the ball away from the player, or setting up the player(with the player, "grr. Revenge" being the return set up).   Definitely a lot of social contract stuff going on here, especially walking that thin line between providing conflict and stepping on character concepts.

The other important factor is what happens after the bar blows up?  Does the GM really hand the ball over to the player?  Or does the GM then proceed to use more force to keep pushing the player to play the way he or she wants?

Chris

Jack Spencer Jr

Quote from: Bankuei(See how #1, the Bang plays off of what the player has established, or at least doesn't invalidate its importance or shift the focus?  
Shift in focus. Aha! Like you're playing soccer and suddenly someone picks up the ball and starts dribbling and goes for a lay-up. "Which frickin' game are we playing, Bob?"

ThreeGee

Hey Chris,

I would like to once more invoke the Donjon principle. How do you know your player did not want the kind of story that involves a paranoid character snooping into other people's business? Did you ask him what he wanted out of the situation, or did you ask that he look the other way while you put your plot into motion? If not, this thread is just speculation. Maybe the player has whipped-dog syndrome, and maybe he does not. We do not know.

What we do know is that you tried to run an end-around mystery plot and got caught half-way. You setup the challenge and it was met. Now fill us in on the details.

Later,
Grant

Bankuei

Hi Grant,

To tackle your points, out of order...

QuoteWhat we do know is that you tried to run an end-around mystery plot and got caught half-way. You setup the challenge and it was met. Now fill us in on the details.

Actually, I haven't any real plans for a mystery at all.  I just wanted to take the classic heist scenario as the conflict- You have the "score"(diamonds, antique guns, girl, bag of money, incriminating evidence, whatever) and folks struggle to get ahold of it.  Fighting happens back and forth, score changes hands, excitement all around.  In other words, there's no real clues to discover, no "mystery" to unveil, etc.

I've laid out the set-up, as far as "plot" goes, all I know is that Marsaille will be looking for his wife and the book.  Her father will be involved.  That's about it. At some point, "who gets the girl?" is going to have to be resolved, probably through violence, TROS style.  That's about what I have.  So your statement confuses me here, am I misreading you?

In terms of the player, the point I'm bringing to bear is that much of his efforts were "preventative measures" above and beyond normal motives.  Take the idea of checking out the priest to make sure he's not corrupt or mind-controlled, or whatever.  There were continous cues, such as questions like, "Do I feel that its safe to leave her here?" etc.  At one point he honestly said out of character that he was used to playing with a devious GM.  In fact, I can honestly say that the entire session was dominated by the theme of preventative meaures.

As far as what he wanted out of play, we had some brief emails exchanged, and I took cues from his idea of his character(roguish thief type, ladies man, looking to score big gold and learn magic) as a good idea of what he wanted play to be about.  What I picked up from his side is we're talking a the stylish thief/Bond sorts, who does things with flair, not the paranoid, double check everything Memento guy.  I could also see elements of the former coming through in play, but apparently in order to "make it happen" on his side he needed to establish sufficient clauses(in form of the latter) to "protect" his right to the ball.

Does that help, or do you need some more specific details?

Chris

ThreeGee

Hey Chris,

That is exactly what I was looking for. Now, we know his play is disfunctional because we know his goals and we can see what he is doing goes against those goals. Moreover, we have an idea where the dysfunction comes from. Hence, a classic case of whipped-dog syndrome.

Do you understand now why I would want these background details?

Later,
Grant