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Author Topic: How do you coax individualist players out of a self-centered mindset...  (Read 4349 times)
mrlost
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« on: November 21, 2008, 04:36:23 PM »

...and into a collaborative one. I'm sure this must have come up before but I haven't had luck finding it. I've started running games for some friends after a long absence (due to college) and found a lot of anger directed at collaborative play styles.

My gaming interests changed a lot when I was away at school and I think for the better but in my absence these players have been subjected to a very antagonistic everyone for themselves against everyone else (Steve Jackson board game) style of play and its tearing the fun out of games.

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: November 21, 2008, 05:42:26 PM »

Hi there, and welcome!

I'd like to learn more about the games you played before college with these folks, and what you're playing with them now, or trying to. I have some ideas about how to discuss your question, but I think more context is needed, so we can stay away from generalities.

Best, Ron
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mrlost
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« Reply #2 on: November 21, 2008, 08:49:11 PM »

I used to run White Wolf's vampire the masquerade, changeling the dreaming, and several other "noun definite article noun" games, Pinnacle's Deadlands the Weird West, WEG's Star Wars, and a few others.

While I was away at college I played a couple short games of Dogs in the Vineyard, one of Sorcerer, two of Burning Wheel, a session of Capes, and a session of Ogg, and some very collaborative campaigns of Shadowrun (of all things), Heavy Gear, Unknown Armies and a unisystem super hero high school game where almost all the NPCs were family and friends of the PCs and were all played by different players.

Upon returning from college a friend and his wife asked me to run Burning Wheel. They didn't own the book or know much other than that the Elves were very Tolkien-esque and powerful because one halloween I had come down and ran a scenario when I had first picked up the book but just before I had played the game. The game quickly lead to a lot of anger and frustration on all sides and ultimately lead to two players purchasing their own copies of the system and me picking up the Monster Burner. Issues consisted of players taking possession of story elements and being deeply angered when other players touched those elements in any way shape or form. Talks commenced to resolve the issues but nothing ever came of it.

Anyway, our first game died due to anger directed at the player who was introducing conflict into the story botched a summoning check and unleashed basically Cthulhu, half the group just gave up, believing it impossible to defeat even though it most assuredly wasn't.

When that game died the players got together and wanted to have another go at it. The next attempt was worse, with each player constructing various antagonists and getting angry with the other players when they attempted to fight those antagonists or interact with the other characters NPCs. Cries of "She's my witch queen!" were heard and eventually this game died too.

I decided to go back to running more traditional games: Deadlands, then D&D, and lately Star Trek. Each has ended or been abandoned because of player on player oneupmanship (not character on character conflicts). These are not kids, I'm the youngest person at the table at twenty five, and one player is in his late thirties. Currently, the group has been unable to decide on what to play next, and no one will compromise. Player A and B want a Changeling game, Player B would also go for a number of other games that nobody else is willing to try, Player C wants Unknown Armies but her husband player A does not, and player D wants to play D&D but nobody else is willing to have a go at it. Player E has retreated and sits at home playing Fallout 3 and texting me about how much he wants to play a solo game. I'm GMing but its all gone wrong.

I've been craving another go at collaborative player driven roleplaying but I'm scared that what happened last time will happen again. Player B has suggested that I find assistance in introducing more collaborative play.
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mrlost
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« Reply #3 on: November 21, 2008, 08:52:31 PM »

I don't know how to edit the above post otherwise I would add that player B has suggested that I try running a Changeling game wherein I ask the players to provide me with Kickers and Bangs, and connections to each other and a relationship tree of NPCs. I find the idea intriguing but I was hoping to get more advice first. Besides ditch the grognards of course.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2008, 09:44:45 PM »

Wow.

OK, I'd like to enter into a fairly in-depth dialogue with you, but it's going to be slow. OK with you?

The first thing I'd like to suggest is this notion: that to be functional, and that means base-line functional, even regardless of successful, a social creative activity has to:

1. Be composed of people who really want to play this game, with each other, at this time. In other words, it's the optimal thing to do in the face of hundreds, even thousands of other options.

2. Be conducted in the context of learning, which is to say, initial attempts at things may not be carried out right or have the results you want, but you learn from them and everyone gains better competence as we go along.

3. Be committed to the spirit of the rules as written, which at times may be a tweaky or iffy application of those same rules, but always carried out with some faith that the procedures have a power of their own, which are there to discover.

If this seems like a really high bar to set, consider that every single such activity known to human beings does in fact conform to these three points - except hobby gaming. If we were building a house together, making a movie together, constructing a volleyball league together, or anything of the sort, we'd take all three as given.

I'm getting the idea that the group you're talking about isn't meeting that bar. Am I correct about that?

Best, Ron
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mrlost
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« Reply #5 on: November 21, 2008, 10:59:56 PM »

Well first let me thank you for moving the thread to an appropriate forum, and for the response.

My current group has been playing together for several years. They often joke that they'd play every day if they could. But I have felt that the group has been dysfunctional for quite some time. Some of the hobby experiences I've had with them before I moved away have been compared to the Ab3 stories by other friends thankfully the worst offenders no longer play with us. I can see from the criteria posted above that one or more members have difficulty meeting item number two of the three.

One player certainly isn't happy trying new things, he's stopped playing with anyone since we are pretty much the only group he knows of in the area. The married couple are committed to gaming but have problem with trying to play games they might have had a bad experience with in the past. Actually every one of the players in the group has this problem to a varying degree. Trying something once was enough for many of them. We've got a newbie that recently joined. He's an old friend from way back, recently back from the military and interested in gaming.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #6 on: November 21, 2008, 11:11:04 PM »

Don't let me confuse the dialogue - focus on what Ron is saying, he's going somewhere with this. I'll just put in a small practical angle that might or might not be fruitful for you:

I've found that starting from the beginning and starting small is a good idea to get the basic relationships untangled. You might consider playing something with much less weight and texture than the average traditional game or Burning Wheel. Something that gives you some concrete payoff in the first session, during the first hour of play, and hopefully allows everybody to basically see that it's possible to have fun and communicate in a genuine manner without all that antagonism. Something like... 1001 Nights might work, if you've heard of that one: it's a simple game with a (hopefully) compelling topic, and it's somewhat difficult to turn it into a power-play. Puppetland... Basically anything with simple rules and simple purpose of play, and an innocent topic that brings people closer together in communication.

My logic in this - and practical experience backs this up pretty well - is that if you can't make play work on large scale, you might want to try something humbler, simpler and more friendly. If that works, even if it's not amazing... it's something to build upon after you've proven to each other that you can cooperate in something at least. Going back to something that is so simple that you all believe it's going to be fun, and you all basically expect to play it the same way, that might help you avoid all the crossed expectations and problems you usually have. Find the lowest common denominator, in other words, and focus on that. If you can't find even something small and simple to make work together, there's not much chance of making something complex like D&D or a Whitewolf game fly off the ground.
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mrlost
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« Reply #7 on: November 22, 2008, 04:04:10 PM »

To sum up. Yes, my current group is dysfunctional. It has been for awhile I suppose.

To Eero Tuovinen, I own a copy of Powerplay/Puppetland. I have it somewhere, its probably in box with Nobilis. I suppose I could pitch that to the group. I've never tried to play it, but I have collected a few scenarios for it.

I believe it would be best to conclude the discussion about what to do, before I go off an start running Puppetland though. I would regret my rudeness otherwise.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: November 23, 2008, 09:02:53 AM »

Hiya,

I agree that it's way, way premature to be considering game titles. Eero's right in warning against adopting some huge new buy-in for the grand solution. That is a common method, as you probably know, either with some new highly-advertised setting for the D&D edition de jour, or perhaps with a new White Wolf game guaranteed to encompass 20-plus supplements in the next year, or something like that. Anyway, it seems like you're already aware that isn't the way to go. So - yes, what to do?

Full disclosure: after four solid years of amazing and fun role-playing with a bunch of people in the mid-late 80s, I moved away from Chicago, then came back for a summer a couple of years later. We happily anticipated playing together again. We organized. We committed. We got into it. We played ! ... and it was the big donkey-dick suck of all time. Total creative, personal, social, and enjoyment breakdown, in the face of total good intentions and total buy-in to the basic content of play. Although not all cases are comparable, I did focus a lot of my attention on this phenomenon among other people too (it was happening a lot in my age group), and what follows is based on some of my conclusions. I do not have a pre-set diagnosis in mind for your group, but at least I know what questions to ask to dope it out.

I'll start with the idea that "dysfunctional" is a blanket term and although important, doesn't itself yield much insight, if insight from reflection is what we're after in this thread. Granted, the real aim as I understand it is practical, expressed by the thread title, but it should start with some examination.

Given what you've described, especially in the later post, the first thing I see that individualist, or even competitive preferences in play are not what we're seeing here. To play even the most savagely competitive, back-stabbing way and have it be fun requires a baseline of cooperation, much in the same sense that rugby does in fact have rules which must be honored by everyone. You can be the most elbow-to-the-face rugby player imaginable, and people are OK with that, but if you consistently ignore the real rules, then very quickly, no one plays with you. So this isn't about people who simply want to pursue unique character interests in play (a fancy phrase for brutal conflicts among characters); this is about people who will not, or cannot, play together in the most basic sense of the phrase.

It's up to you to consider why this is, or what this has to do with getting together to socialize for, in the first place. And that may not actually be relevant to what we can achieve here in the thread, anyway. Here's a list of things that are worth considering for practical purposes.

1. What habits or expectations of yours have played into the negative aspects of gaming so far, with this group of people? This is important because, assuming fun play for you in the future (somehow, with somebody, somewhere), it'd be a shame to see you recapitulating the same issues for no good reason. Bearing in mind as well, that sometimes the nicest, most peace-keeping member of a dysfunctional group often becomes skilled at facilitating those same negative dynamics without realizing it - after all, the primary skill for such a person is getting others to tolerate the current trouble-maker, right?

2. What's the real aim of role-playing for you, in the total absence of considering this particular group of people? Actually, let me turn that around ... it doesn't make so much sense to ask about it in the abstract, but how about, what game were you playing, and with whom, that was reliably and fully fun, both throughout a session and from session to session?

3. Are you the habitual GM/DM in the group? If not, who is? Did that person (you or otherwise) fulfill that same role back in the college days? In fact, what's the whole game-mastering history of this group? Was there someone else who started as such in the distant, original past who either left or stepped "down" at some point?

3. Finally, I'm interested in the new guy. Has he played anything with the group of you yet? If so, what happened with his character and with him personally throughout the first session? If not, what kind of things have you and he talked about regarding play? Oh, and are you his primary contact with/into the group? If not, who is?

I'm a little unsure whether barraging you with these questions is what you want, but as I said before, I'm neither fishing to fill space, nor doing a Socratic-style lead-in to something specific. I'm pretty sure your answers will yield what we need to nail some specific things down, though - especially the direct advice you're seeking.

Best, Ron
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RedFox
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« Reply #9 on: November 23, 2008, 04:02:02 PM »

Hello,

I'm the player referred to in mrlost's post as B.  I've been following this thread with interest since he started it and sent me a link.  I just wanted to say that if there's anything I can add to the discussion or otherwise do to help, I'd be more than happy to.
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mrlost
Member

Posts: 13


« Reply #10 on: November 26, 2008, 04:51:04 PM »

1. What habits or expectations of yours have played into the negative aspects of gaming so far, with this group of people? This is important because, assuming fun play for you in the future (somehow, with somebody, somewhere), it'd be a shame to see you recapitulating the same issues for no good reason. Bearing in mind as well, that sometimes the nicest, most peace-keeping member of a dysfunctional group often becomes skilled at facilitating those same negative dynamics without realizing it - after all, the primary skill for such a person is getting others to tolerate the current trouble-maker, right?

Well, I am confrontational (as well as blunt which I have trying to curb as of late) and I feel that most of the group isn't. I'd rather people express their problems rather than keeping them in, and simmering and most of the group have demonstrated its willingness to not confront problematic issues or negative habits for fear of offending the person committing them even when the action ruins their fun.

I have developed into an authoritative GM in that I hate having my spot rulings questioned during play. "Are you running the game? No? Then sit down and shut the book. I don't care what it says and I'm going to dock you XP for arguing the point." I am happy to discuss rules after the game or before the game but during the game I like things to proceed quickly and smoothly. When players doubt my calls it really pisses me off, especially when I routinely go to the trouble to memorize the rules and read the errata. This leads to yelling and bad feelings all around because for the most part my group is distinctly non-confrontational.

My other negative habit is my inability to refrain from prepping. I write dialog and catch phrases for each and every NPC, I work out their stats, and given time I find sound tracks to capture the mood that I'm trying to express for each scene. If I'm doing historical fantasy or modern occult I tend to do way too much research. When run Conspiracy X or Unknown Armies I frequent fringe conspiracy sites and comb through their mailing lists. Benefit of my aspergers syndrome, I suppose.

Quote from: Ron Edwards link
2. What's the real aim of role-playing for you, in the total absence of considering this particular group of people? Actually, let me turn that around ... it doesn't make so much sense to ask about it in the abstract, but how about, what game were you playing, and with whom, that was reliably and fully fun, both throughout a session and from session to session?

 I love difficult choices that change the character. I love when things don't come easy. My favorite fiction involves this sort of stuff. My favorite characters are those that have to crawl bleeding through broken glass to strangle their hated nemesis. I hate railroading people into doing something that they wouldn't naturally decide to do, although I appreciate when they cooperate with me to create fun situations.

Quote from: Ron Edwards link
3. Are you the habitual GM/DM in the group? If not, who is? Did that person (you or otherwise) fulfill that same role back in the college days? In fact, what's the whole game-mastering history of this group? Was there someone else who started as such in the distant, original past who either left or stepped "down" at some point?

Yes. I started running games for these people when I was sixteen, and most of them were twenty something. Back then, I just ran the game but I wasn't in charge of scheduling or anything. One of the players has a lot of experience running online rpgs/MUDS but nobody else has run much more than the occasional short lived game. Most of the players aren't happy running games which is unfortunate.

Quote from: Ron Edwards link
3. Finally, I'm interested in the new guy. Has he played anything with the group of you yet? If so, what happened with his character and with him personally throughout the first session? If not, what kind of things have you and he talked about regarding play? Oh, and are you his primary contact with/into the group? If not, who is?

He's played Star Trek with us. I built all the characters for the game with integrated back stories in (a first), he came in late and so got stuck playing what was essentially an NPC ringer (body jumping alien parasite on the TOS starship). We haven't played with him much and the first character he has made for a game was a Republic naval captain for a Star Wars game. He's a big time history buff and loves the Napoleonic Wars as well as WWII (especially Rommel and Patton) and is working on a History-degree at the moment. He just got accepted to university and will be with us for perhaps three more weeks, I plan on visiting him since we've been friends since elementary school and I only recently got in touch with him for the first time in nearly a decade after loosing touch when he joined the Army.
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mrlost
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« Reply #11 on: November 26, 2008, 04:56:16 PM »

Actually the group used to be evenly split between confrontational people and non-confrontational ones. Though at the moment one of them doesn't play with us anymore and the new guy is willing to take the path of least resistance so the majority of the players are now non-confrontational. Sorry. I don't know how helpful this is.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: December 02, 2008, 11:12:03 AM »

I apologize for the delay in reply. I hope to finish my draft later today, and wanted to let you know I've been thinking about this thread a lot.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: December 02, 2008, 11:31:18 AM »

Hey guys,

Based partly on my own experience, I think I may be seeing a case of "whose story is it anyway" plus "be my fun, oh no, you're not doing it right." GMing in the way you're describing can be a rush, sometimes. It's your story, everyone says you GM the best stories, "the group" may perceive itself as a cut above other groups, and so on. I found it quite ego-gratifying until I realized that I was exhausted and that visible individual satisfaction during play was rarer and rarer, no matter what people said afterwards.

What did you think about my comments about collaboration and competition? My claim is that without the bedrock collaboration of sharing what we imagine (speaking and listening), then no play is possible, no matter what other goals are involved.

It's probably presumptuous, and I fully admit that I'm leaping over some steps of my chain of reasoning, but my advice is to start a whole new game, including only Redfox and the new guy, period. The three of you can hang out for a while, you can put out some games you'd like to play on the table, and everyone can leaf through them and hang out, and choose one. I just posted some extensive stuff about Color and Reward in [Sorcerer] Cascadiapunk post-mortem which is pretty relevant here.

I'm not saying the other folks are bad people or that you need to reject them as friends. You can do this without disrespecting everyone else, and if anyone does have a problem with it, that's enough signal that they want to exert a controlling interest over your fun - most especially the notion that you owe them their gaming. All of you can always reconvene at a later date anyway.

Redfox, thanks for joining in and I definitely have a question for you. Looking back at the games during college, what was one of your best and most enjoyable experiences then? What game was being played, what was your character like, how did people speak and play together, and anything else. That'll help me a lot, so my thoughts here won't fall into the trap of being only relevant to me.

Best, Ron

P.S. It's not required at the Forge, and if you don't want to it's OK, but please consider letting me know your real first names. I'm merely more comfortable talking to people that way.
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mrlost
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« Reply #14 on: December 04, 2008, 06:18:28 PM »

I'm still digesting what was said over in the Cascadiapunk thread. I'm going to invite both Redfox and the new guy to play a few sessions of Greg Stolze's In Spaaace! with me because firstly its a very bare bones game that makes the GM into a player, and I think I might have fun with that. It was a ransom property that I donated $15 for, and now its free.

I'm quite relieved that the new player has decided to stay for the time being and delay entrance into university so my friend won't be leaving as next week as he'd previously planned.

Also both Redfox and the new player both like Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and space opera so it might be a good fit.

Though I'm a big fan of privacy and leering of posting personal information on the internet, I'll go ahead and share that my name is Philip because as this line of reasoning goes a first name isn't much disclosure and really I probably shouldn't use the same handle on every forum I frequent both hobby and professional even if I do need a compass or a GPS to navigate.
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