A Year of Crappy Roleplaying

Started by InkMeister, August 21, 2010, 07:52:49 PM

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Ron Edwards

I agree with Callan, and also with Chris. Also, what Chris has referenced has deep roots in both his and my long-term dedication to the topic through many, many discussions here and elsewhere.

At this point, I think that all of us should lay off posting until Nick follows up, that is, if you want to. With this many voices coming down this hard on such a fundamental issue, it's time to return to the thread author's perspective and desires.

Best, Ron


Thanks for the replies, Caldis, Chris, Aleric, and Ron.  A lot of good stuff in all of that.

From Caldis I'm getting some feedback telling me that maybe I'm on the right track with my analysis, and that my potential approach may be a good first step - a simple gamist game with tight focus to get the group "on the same page" (more on "same page" in a sec). 

Aleric, I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one.  I sure wouldn't think that I am, but it is nice, nevertheless, to hear that others have had similar problems.  I'm glad to hear your situation has improved.   Sounds like a big part of your solution was getting everyone on the same page AFTER letting the game end for awhile, and doing other things in the meanwhile.  Also cool to hear that generating characters with common background and focus seems to have helped - that's what I'm thinking too, especially for more campaign based, and story based play.

Chris, Callan, and Ron, I think you guys really hit on something important, namely that roleplaying is very unique among group activities in its nebulousness and problematic multiplicity (where most activities are clearly defined).   It's not anything new, really...  I think a lot of creative agenda theory really speaks to these kinds of issues.  But it helps me to see it put so simply, especially by Chris in his amazing blog posts (thanks so much for linking those - I recommend anyone check your links out... GREAT stuff); yes, roleplaying texts are extremely misleading and unhelpful in guiding people to an understanding of the overall hobby.  It does seem so easy - and common - to come away with radically different ideas of how a game should be played out, and to think one's own vision is "correct."   

Looking at D&D, in particular, it is clear to me that the text hints that any GNS creative agendas can (and perhaps should) be the focus of a game.   In the groups I've played in, it seems  to me that a big part of the problem is that the members of the group feel that they should be pursuing every aspect of GNS, whether they even know anything about GNS theory or not.  The texts, and perhaps a variety of our own experiences as well, give us an impression of what a good D&D game should be, and players want to take all of these good ideas and pack them into a single game.   Thus there is an emphasis on challenge and risk, but also the idea that punches should be pulled so that the precious characters don't die and screw up the important story.  We have huge emphasis on settings and versimilitude in text, but then also strong emphasis acquiring ever more wacky, gonzo bonuses and superpowers with no basis in any literature, for example.   The characters are free to do what they want, but they have to complete some important quest.   Etc.  I see this in my own groups, and the continual attempts to reconcile opposing purposes leads to weirdness and dissatisfaction.   The story aspects of games suffer when everything seems to revolve around never ending random combats and magic-item shopping and min-maxing.  The challenge aspects of games suffer when there never seems to be any risk, and no one ever gets really hurt or killed... and so on. 

I think a number of my fellow gamers would be genuinely thrilled to find themselves in very tense and difficult situations, facing the very real prospect of PC death.   I think a number of my fellow gamers would be genuinely thrilled at the idea that we could leave aside a lot of the silly mechanics and pointless battles and shopping trips and focus on interesting narrative themes and meaningful choices.   It hasn't occured to a lot of my friends, I think, that some of these goals can be at cross-purposes, and how could you blame them?   Texts lead us to believe roleplaying should be all kinds of wildly different things, accomplished with all kinds of wildly different methods, without making it very clear that many of these might be at cross-purposes. 

I'm really thankful for Chris's "same page tool" that he linked.  What an excellent idea.  Kind of obvious, and yet I've never seen anyone do anything like it in practice.  I think everyone should be writing up rules like this, or at least sitting down with all players and deciding collectively on rules like this. 

All of this makes me feel a lot more confident in my own thinking on this issue.  I guess my question becomes something like this: how do I approach my group about this stuff?  How can I make it something other than some kind of insult?   Has anyone else found it productive to raise problems like this to their RP group in a direct fashion?   Is it preferable to simply run my own game for my group, trying to take into account the ideas expressed here, so that I'm not seen to be critiquing anyone (even though it's not my purpose to critique any person, I think bringing the topic up could be seen that way)?   I'm not sure how to handle it.   If I simply tell the others what's on my mind, I might come off nit-picky or insulting, somehow.  If I run my own game, I could "show" rather than "tell."   The thing is, I haven't run a game in years, since I was a young teenager, and at 27, and without a ton of gaming experience, it seems sort of daunting in a way.  I'm not sure I'd really be doing any better. 

Anyway, thanks again for the replies.  Continued discussion is welcome, but since I feel like a lot of us who have posted are already on a similar page, I think it might be especially interesting if people post their own stories of similar experiences of unsatisfying play, and how they were resolved.   How did an unfocused, unsatisfying group end up getting it together, and finding an enjoyable focus?   Aleric already kind of posted along these lines, but more details would be cool.   


Anders Gabrielsson

The way the group I play with dealt with the kind of problems you have described was indirect rather than direct, probably because there hasn't been a conscious understanding of the cause of the problems. There was a realization that different players played in different ways, but no useful terminology for it.

The solution for this was to play shorter games with selected players. Instead of the lingering campaigns with undefined endings games became more focused with definite endings - putting up with someone who doesn't quite mesh with the group for maybe ten sessions and then start a new game with a different group is easier to deal with than booting someone from a more permanent game.

Generally, the group for a specific game is built by the GM with the advice of those already invited. The "core" of our group consists of maybe six people who are in several of the currently running games with maybe five-ten who are in one or two games. Some people don't get along with each other, some don't like particular game systems, some have more limited time than others, so though the group playing in a specific game is (usually) fixed, there are multiple subsets of people playing in different games.

What we don't have is a specific game night when we all play RPG's. For us it would be disastrous, and would definitely lead to me not playing at all for reasons similar to what's ruining the experience for you.

Whether this is an actually functional way to play or just an avoidance of earlier dysfuntionalities, I can't say. And even if it is a model that would work better for your group, making the transition could be difficult.

However, getting back to your question of how to broach this with your group. It seems the group is open to trying different types of games, so offering to run something different for a night or two seems like a possible way to do it (though if it were me, I'd probably discuss it with the current GM first to avoid any ruffled feathers - for some it's a question of prestige). Then it would be quite natural to have a discussion about the differences between the game you ran and the regular game, which could make people start to think about and state openly what they want to get out of the game sessions.

As to your worries about getting back into the GM chair, I don't think there's any need for them. You have done it before, you have played with the people involved, and from what you've described I get the impression that the bar is set pretty low. You won't need to impress them with the Best Game Session EVER; just deliver a diversion for an evening or two.

These are just thoughts off the top of my head, so take them for what they are. And if any of the more theoretically minded posters think these are bad, bad ideas for whatever reason, I certainly won't push them.


Quotehow do I approach my group about this stuff?  How can I make it something other than some kind of insult?   Has anyone else found it productive to raise problems like this to their RP group in a direct fashion?

First, it's probably good to let go of the attachment that "all these people must play together".  Odds are pretty good that there are several sub-groupings, or combinations within the current group (and probably acquaintances, casual players, etc.) who would make for functional groups.

With that in mind, you're probably best off running side games for said sub-groups.  ("Hey Al, Bill, Cherie, I'm going to run a 3 session thing of Y game, since I know you guys are into this type of play.")  The big issue is whether how much everyone has internalized the geek issue that not playing together is equivalent of rejection and personal insult.  (since you specifically mentioned, "insult", I suspect this is probably an issue). 

The side group method is a means of getting functional play AND demonstrating that, yes, it is more important to play with people who are into the specific activity, than to play with whomever happens to have the time.

It's quite possible that a sub-group game will be seen as either rejection of the rest of the group, or some kind of power play for alpha status as a GM (depending on the dynamics).  Which leads effectively to the same problems.

It's still easier than trying to get people to understand social dynamics which they may have some hand in making invisible, or overcoming geek fallacies which have been reinforced by 30 years of game texts and gamer culture. 

Most of the time, trying to approach it directly leads to people walking away with, "Game theory destroys friendships and made (friend who introduced it) crazy" instead of, "Wow, we can like different games and have fun playing those different games than trying to mash them all together."

There is ALSO the issue that some of the people you've played/are playing with, are the equivalent of "griefers" - not really there to play the game, but to act out- sibling rivalry, scoring points and trying to be the "alpha", doing that weird thing where people act jerky in the hopes of impressing someone they're crushing on, doing the class-clown thing, etc.  Those folks will be no good in any game you play, unless they choose to reframe their focus and actually buy-in to the game.

You'll probably be best off at some point, giving a detailed actual play example of a game that was fun (or as close to it) for you, and an actual play example of typical failure for your group.  Here at the Forge, threads usually work best when they focus on one topic, so you might want to do these as separate threads which will be easier (for you to write, for folks to respond to) than a huge block post like this thread.


Ron Edwards

Anders, for the record, I think your post contains powerful and useful advice. It's also consistent with the points made in the Geek Social Fallacies ideas that I linked to in my earlier post.

Nick, I don't want to imply that this thread needs closing, but it might be a good time for you to decide whether its topic has been well-served. Also, I'd like to add my vote to Chris' suggestion to start a new thread describing a specific play-experience, especially a fun one.

Best, Ron