Dysfunction at the Magic Tourney [D&D 3.5]

Started by greyorm, March 10, 2010, 06:29:34 AM

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Weirdly, this is going to tie into at least two other current threads happening right now...

For our last session we took a break from 3:16 to play in our sporadically on-going 3.5 game. Our characters were involved in a magic tourney, which took up the whole session (~two hours). It was a fun session, except I went away feeling like not-so-much fun. Some weird things happened at the table personality-wise between myself and another player (PL), first when my character and his were matched against each other in one of the rounds, then later when I had my character "cheat" to win the last round.

What happened: the second round of the contest involved getting a feather from the top of a pole and bringing it back to the judge. PL's character (a dwarven cleric polymorphed into a wind elemental) ended up grabbing the feather faster than anyone else could, but my character (half-orc wizard) spent the next four or five rounds casting spells that kept him from reaching (or even finding) the judge, then PL's character dropped the feather into a fog-bank I'd raised and I managed to find it and get it to the judge for the win.

PL can be pretty high-strung at times, but he became incensed when he dropped the feather and swore about it at me, ie: "Fuck this, I give up. So much for being on the same team!"

Note: three players were taking part in the contest as well as four NPCs, no one was on teams in the contest, we were all competing individually. So I took his meaning as because we were in the same adventuring party my trying to win the contest was somehow stabbing him in the back.

And I mean he was really, personally angry: red-face, scowl, glaring at me, clenched fists over this.

Which made it kind of weird for me, because I still don't know what the issue was beyond a kind of angry guilt-tripping for not just letting him win. Unfortunately, I'm bad at confronting social situations on my feet, especially when I don't really get why they're happening. So I didn't ask or even say, "Wait. Are you upset with me personally? I didn't know we were on teams in this contest. Why are you upset?"

So he sat and stewed and I tried to shrug it off as just frustration on his part on losing the round. Figured I'd talk to him post-game to find out what was up (as well as give him some time to cool down).

In the third round (task: find a needle in a haystack) my character came in fourth (non-placing), so I had him cast a spell to turn the 1st place NPC winner's needle into a rusty nail to disqualify her (*ahem* well, it WAS a contest of magic) so my character would come in third place for that contest, and also win the whole shebang.

The minute it left my mouth, PL threw a fit about my doing so ("You can't do that! I can't let this stand!") and despite not knowing my character had done anything of the sort (no Spot checks or similar were made, just my announcement to the GM about what my character was doing), PL said his character immediately went to the judge and accused mine of cheating.

PL kept defending it -- to me as a player, not to my character -- as, "Sorry, I'm a cleric of Law, I can't allow that to stand. You can't cheat while around me," but it came across a lot more like "a-justification-repeated-often-enough", because I wasn't repeatedly demanding an explanation. It felt more like "I'm getting you back for taking the win from me/'betraying' me in the second round."

I argued against the whole situation given the "How the fuck would he even know?" question, but the GM allowed the calling-out to stand and we sort of resolved it post-accusation (apparently, at least in our group, you can now just Detect Magic with a Wisdom roll, no skills or spells required...*). So I let it slide and just used the question above as my character's defense against the accusation.

This worked until PL's character cast a Dispel on the "nail" and it reverted back to a needle. So there was proof now of cheating having occurred, though there was still no proof of my involvement (wizard tourney, could have been anyone -- again, used as my defense). PL had his character continue to insist it was me, and the GM ruled it ended up disqualifying my character entirely since the judges had no proof of who...but since my character had been fingered...

(* This sort of weird "ignore the rules rulings" is a different on-going issue in our group that I've generally just learned to live with, despite the frustration it has caused me in not know what my character can now actually do or not do because the rules apparently only occasionally apply. This is perhaps a topic for another time. For the moment, I'm just accepting it as a major case of unwritten/unacknowledged Drift.)

Retro-actively, it might make sense my character got hosed, and so we could explain it all away as "I'm a half-orc and they are universally despised in the kingdom, so, yeah, {sarcasm} clearly I must have been cheating because I'm a half-orc" and role-played it all up. But that wasn't even remotely part of the fiction happening at the table.

I'm not upset about the losing: my character "cheated", got caught, and lost. No big deal specifically. Because that was always a possibility.

However, if I'd instead slipped a note to the GM with my sneaky tactic on it, I suspect the situation and PL's reaction, and quite probably the outcome of the whole thing, would have been completely different. There would have been no immediate proclamation that I was cheating for PL to leap on, actual skill checks would have to have been made, spells cast, etc. It wouldn't have felt like a "I'm going to so get you back!" moment.

Yet slipping notes to the GM is not something I'm really a fan of. I've been playing D&D for twenty-plus years, so I'm pretty good at separating character knowledge from player knowledge, and I'm invested in being a participant and/or audience to other character's stories. PL's been playing D&D at least as long as I have and has often, while GMing, cautioned against metagaming and (re)acting based on player knowledge.

His reaction and course of action seems pretty blatantly not in line with that at all, and very much a case of the bad kind of metagaming, as well as a seeming case of (crudely) my-character-is-also-my-penis. At least I can't figure it any other way after both the above, and given that PL continued to be completely cool towards me (ie: pointedly ignored me) at the end of the night after we had put our books and characters away and were BSing and getting ready to head out.

Problematically I now have the situation on my hands that: my character should be ready and willing to get some payback on the dwarf for throwing him to the wolves at the end of the tourney. But I am concerned that if I decide to play up this aspect of my character, PL is going to take it personally again as a player and become angry with me as a player, instead of viewing it as a conflict between characters. In fact, I'm worried that could now happen with anything.

And really, that isn't any fun. At all.

So that's the situation.

It is also confusing, as PL has bragged in the past about how his characters have hosed/betrayed the parties they've been a part of and stolen things from other characters, etc. So I'm WTF? He can do inter-party conflict and betrayal and clever-sneaky-behavior and it's a hoot, but if anyone else does he gets (passive-)aggressive and verbal with them inside and outside the game?

I'm also a bit concerned about bringing it up directly with PL -- this isn't the only issue this has happened with, there are some things I'd posted about elsewhere some folks might have seen about how passive-aggressive/furiously PL reacts when he's corrected on the rules, or the rules don't let him do exactly what he wants (ie: cast 8th level spells at 10th level; create dozens of cure potions overnight for free; etc) -- which I cut him some slack for because there are other issues at work, but I'd still prefer not to be on the potential receiving end of a mood swing.

So I'm left wondering: what I did? And: what I do now? PL and I have very different perceptions of how to play/what play "should" look like, particularly in D&D, but I figured I was at least in the same sandbox that we could play D&D together...clearly I'm still not. I don't want to need to be sneaky among the players...but now I'm not so certain. And here's the thing: we've been playing this game for a year, I think, and it's been unspoken thus far that we tell a mutual story together, being open as players even if our characters aren't. This seems to have completely reversed that, but really I'm more concerned about what the hell was going on at the table.

Also, for the record:
PL and I have been good friends for years outside gaming.
There are just the four of us (with a once-every-few-months fifth).
This is the first local gaming group I've found in ten years (yes, really).
We have never had issues like this with one another in our other campaigns (3:16, Sorcerer, Cthulhu).
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Callan S.


Just to clarify, he didn't say anything until he lost that match? Like, the very first time you cast a spell to block him getting the feather back, he didn't go "Dude, wha? Were on the same team!", he actually went through about five rounds of you casting against him, but it was when he lost that you got that responce?

Ron Edwards

Hi Raven,

At the usual risk of guessing about people I don't know ...

It doesn't confuse me at all. To PL, it's likely that the characters competing was in no way, shape, or form some version of you as players competing. Looking over your post, I similarly guess that to you, when the characters started competing, you found it perfectly reasonable and with-any-luck fun to have your guy compete fully. Whereas to him, that meant that you (the person) competed with him (the person)

To clarify: "the same team" means you as players, with the characters as instruments, and I think to PL that means no matter what - never mind that the characters think they are competing, never mind if they were (say) mind-controlled to fight one another to the death. No matter what. Violate that, and you spit on every value that holds the two of you at the table at all, and held you together from the start of play.

I mean, this is one of the main things the Big Model was constructed to deal with. The primary causes, or driving real-world actions, go from Outer to Inner - Social Contract holds Exploration, System within (and with the rest of) Exploration holds Techniques, Ephemera arise from Techniques in play. Anything Inner-to-Outer is resultant, emergent, and conditional.

Raven, in that context (and positing that I'm even 50% on the money about this), it seems to me entirely ineffective - and even perhaps perceived by PL as deceitful - to try to resolve the hassle by talking about in-fiction content. That's In-to-Out, and not causal in Big Model terms.

Does that make any sense? Please understand that I'm not talking about blame, but rather about a person's specific perspective or presumption about "how we play" which may be the single important factor at work in a situation about this.

Best, Ron


Callan: as I recall, everything seemed fine right up until he yelled what I quoted above about giving up and teamwork. It is possible I am misremembering, or missed some cues that things weren't OK prior to that.

Ron: It makes perfect sense. I'm right with you on all that and it sounds plausible (I was even thinking something along the same lines). But I really don't know. My confusion stems from WHY he would see it that way given his own reported play history of intra-party conflict/betrayal (which isn't to say he might not see it that way now).

For example, in the game just prior to the one above, he was telling us about how his "paladin" spent nearly an entire campaign undermining his own party, and they never caught on, at least not until he murdered them all. As an example, he mentioned working shards of glass into another character's dragon-form's wings while healing him, so that the next time that character polymorphed and tried to fly, its wings shredded. And various other "dick moves".

So, you can see why I'm kind of iffy on that being the explanation, even though it still could be despite that.

More importantly, what do I do with it now/how do I handle it given all the details in the above. Though I'm not certain I can do anything unless I figure out why it even happened.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Callan S.

Wow, I'm just reading it as him liking to win and being a bad loser, precisely because he didn't react after five rounds of it. Also with the history of the clever backstab bragging. Before anyone reads 'judgement from un high' into that, if I saw a dark, hunched figure at the end of an ally holding something sharp, I'd consider it a badguy - even if it was mother Terisa with a slice of cake in hand. I totally speak as someone who recognises their own perceptions may not match reality. And besides, the cake is always a lie...lol

But as you say, perhaps he did respond and you missed it - I could imagine someone trying to somehow take some rough from the team or something, until they snap...but it feels like a bit of a stretch to me. But all the same they are both possibilities.


Ron, if he felt that the characters should be competing but the players cooperating. What are they cooperating on? Because my natural answer would be "they are cooperating in producing some clever kick-ass magical duel, where intelligent people with amazing powers use them however they can within the rules". And to be honest, cooperating at that objective should produce exactly what Raven did!

I can't imagine what he thinks they should be cooperating towards, and why that violates it.

But on the second match Raven, I can see why the GM sided against you, even to the point of bending the rules; you might have hit an implausibility in his idea: It's a magic tournament that can't handle people using magic? In other words, if the tournament was supposed to be running for years, and it had such an obvious flaw (especially in a world where you have both illusionists and transmuters as specialisms!), then you flagging that up would just break the suspension of disbelief. Me or David Berg would probably handle it being going "hang on that's stupid, we'll need to retroactively add more rules to the tournament!" (see complex decisions in the link) but this GM just tried to blur over it, so it's not a viable tactic for some unclear reason.

Now that breaks suspension of disbelief too, but you can hope no-one noticed! In competitive environments, people are very likely to, and to argue it.

He could have made it a little better by going "I hate the anonymity of D&D magic, let's change the rules like this" and then sticking with the new structure where targeting is obvious and so is spell identification.


My first time posting:

Some people hate to lose.

When my brother-in-law got married, his best man treated him to a day of paintball, and I got invited along. I had met some of his friends but didn't know them very well. One of the rules was, when you're "dead," you can't help your teammates. You have to go to the sidelines and watch the rest of that round quietly. My team was pretty consistently outmatched, and we lost almost every match all day. At one point I got very frustrated and yelled some information to my teammates from the sidelines. A "dead" member of the other team pointed out--quite politely--that I was violating the rules, and I stormed off into the woods. Part of it was anger, part of it was I just didn't want to watch anymore, and part of it was I was ashamed that I had blurted out the help and violated the rules. And maybe I was just taking myself out of it so I wouldn't make that mistake again. And doubly frustrated, angry, and ashamed at myself because I was taking this way too seriously and ruining what was otherwise a good time. I was doing exactly what PL did--I let my frustration at "losing" make me do things that were "out of character."

Anyway, we spent the day running through the woods shooting each other, and at the end of the day I mooned the other group, and they all shot me in retaliation, which pretty much dispelled any bad feelings that were left. Then we all went out for beers and thai food. Second best bachelor party I've ever been to.

My advice is, look for ways you (and your character) can cooperate with this guy (and his character) rather than compete with him. He doesn't sound like he enjoys losing. I'm also wondering if he was given ANY chance to have some success in this tournament. I've been in a lot of role-playing situations where I'm the first-level hobbit thief in a group of tenth-level fighter-wizards. And I don't just mean my character--sometimes I'm the one guy at the table who doesn't know the mechanics or the style of play well enough to contribute anything to the group. That gets old fast.

If you want to see another example, watch the last quarter of a 4-0 hockey game.

That business about him bragging about undermining other characters is troubling, though.



While I agree with your logic, I think you may be overthinking it. We're talking about some subconscious/instinctual stuff of "what we do at the table/why we're at the table", so I can very much see the situation Ron suggests as a possibility, where any sort of character conflict, quite regardless of the circumstances, is a violation of that "understanding" of player camaraderie. Again, not saying that's what happening, just it is a possibility.

As to the flaw in the tournament, the GM's decision doesn't have much to do with what was happening between PL and myself at the table.

(Tangentially: that is indeed one of the things I thought of right away and even asked about openly at the table, as we'd retro-fitted other rounds when something would kind of break the game or didn't seem sportsmanlike. I was surprised, but it turned out to be a legal move in terms of the fiction. I don't think the issue is that the GM "sided against me" because the action broke the fiction; he was letting it pass until PL reacted to it and things got all weird for me. The GM's response is really not even a thing in this particular discussion as I see it.)


Greetings! Nice to meet you! I'll keep that in mind about the reactions to frustration, thanks for pointing it out.

As to your question: he had a chance...heck, his character is a higher level spell-caster than I am, so I'm not sure that was it. I didn't say it above or in-game, but in play I know that I was completely uncertain that I was even able to win because I felt it was such a close situation, and he kept more-or-less effectively countering my tactics until he gave up. Whether or not he thought he had a chance, I don't know.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Callan S.

Sorry, I was reading it that some game event made him drop the feather? He just decided to drop it?


Quote from: Callan S. on March 13, 2010, 11:07:33 PMSorry, I was reading it that some game event made him drop the feather? He just decided to drop it?
No, you read it right the first time, Cal. He gave up after the feather was dropped, but the drop wasn't a deliberate action on his part.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio


Right, he had a CHANCE to win... but he didn't. The scenario was deliberately set up to pit player against player, and it stipulated that there would be one winner, plus silver and bronze awards. Everyone else loses. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that--it actually sounds like a nice change of pace for an RPG. But it means somebody's going to be frustrated. This sounds like a guy who can't handle that kind of competition, who can't leave his failure on the arena. There wasn't anything wrong with the scenario, or the way you played it--with a different personality, it would have been, "Hey, man--nice one! You really got me with that bank of fog!"

And I've got to say, I feel a lot of empathy for the guy. I've been in a lot of RPGs where I felt like I didn't have any kind of success in the game. Either I didn't know the rules as well as the other players, or my character wasn't appropriate to the scenario, or the GM had the secret agenda "Aelwyn's a dork, I think I'll stick his character in my boring-as-hell, impossible-to-figure-out elevator for 45 minutes until he gets pissed off and goes home. Then everyone will think he's a wuss."

Another non-RPG example. When I did martial arts, there were people who were fun to spar with. If they kicked you in the head, they'd say, "Oooh. You okay?" And if you kicked them in the head, they'd say, "Damn! Nice shot!" Then there were the people with no self-control. If you kicked them in the head, they'd get pissed off and try to kick you in the balls. Or they'd just try to beat weaker members into the ground until somebody else in the class pulled them off. You sort of have two choices with those kind of people. You can spend four years sparring with them, provide them with free counseling, and cross your fingers that they change; or you can just say, "I don't feel like sparring today. You want to hit the bag instead?"