Tuesday 19 March 2013

The Antisocial Nice Player

Here is one thing I have learned since turning my hand to active DMing as an adult:

Rule number one is: fun ...

and this applies to antisocial behavior, too. Many, many bytes have flown across the internet concerning the scourge of the player who backstabs and steals from the party, or the lout with poor social skills. Many suggestions have been made about how to deal with these people. But I say rule number one is fun.

We almost never see the following situation brought up. I'm not sure how common it is, but consider it as a thought experiment.

Five people and a GM get together to play a game. Four of the five players have fun playing a freewheeling, treasure-filching, underhanded bastard. The fifth wants to play cooperatively and do great and heroic things.  This causes friction at the table.

Yes, this is a conflict of fun, too. As much so as when the numbers are the other way around. The way to resolve this is the same - alert the out-of-step player that they are out of step and give them the choice to either play differently or leave the group. Or, maybe you as GM don't think you have the skills to referee a four-way intrigue hurlyburly, so the right thing to do is confess: "I can't produce fun for you guys." And not put it on the players.

But why is this situation never recognized? Even if it never happens, even as a thought experiment, it has the value of focusing you on what is really right and wrong about the situation. Thinking about it makes you realize that a lot of this "behavior advice" is actually moralization of one kind of fun over another. A lot of this advice, consciously or not, is taking the kind of behavioral modeling you might apply to a classroom of schoolchildren and trying to apply it to adults who choose to play a game together.

To give my personal odyssey: Running my first old-school campaign, I was exaggeratedly afraid of the hazards of backstabbing, even though its players were three of the nicest and most cooperative people I've seen. I required them to swear an oath of mutual support to the folk-saint of adventurers on the skull of a dragon, which was completely unnecessary. The current campaign group flies very well without such artifice. Even more so, DMing pickup sessions for the university game club has given me a renewed appreciation for the sneaky player, how to handle them and let them contribute to the fun. It may be that I put them on best behavior (I did get addressed as "sir" a few times when I first started showing up), but at the same time I've managed to have good times DMing the high-flown as well as venal, the socially skilled and the more unfortunate.

Yes, there are hard cases and horror stories. And those, as in all things, tend to circulate because they make good campfire tales. But those situations should be judged and handled the same way you would handle any other social situations. Letting go of the need to implement some kind of maturity lesson into your rules and play, I think, is the sign of true maturity.


  1. Let the players sort it out, they will.

    I don't moralize. I tell the players I can't be fair to everyone. I let the largest group of players who are doing the same thing to roleplay, everyone else is brought to the same point in time by DM fiat, unless the group says something like, "We wait for Filcher the Thief to do his thing. Go Filcher!"

    Then I will let Filcher roleplay and everyone else waits for him to finish.

    If Filcher says, as the party walks through town, "While they do that, I will try my hand at picking pockets in the market." I will roleplay out the other players doing what they came to do, like interview mercenaries from the local fighter's guild to fill some weak points in their group.

    I will roleplay the interviews as fun as possible while relegating Filcher to rolling % dice 10 times or so, and then making him wait out what happens.

    When the group is done hiring their new "Redshirt" NPC, I say, "Filcher spent his time in the marketplace and netted 250 bits plus 200 crowns for his trouble." Or barring that, something else like, "Just as you folks stand up and shake your new NPC fighter's hand, welcoming him to the party, a runner from the town magistrate appears and asks you to come post bail or pay the fine for Filcher."

    This going with the majority rule, not only insures maximal fun for the most number of players (and hiring NPCs can be a hoot if you give your NPCs some depth and recall a number of job interviews you may have conducted or been on) but it creates a natural limit to the number of times that a party is willing to break the old adventurers adage, "DON'T SPLIT THE PARTY!"

    1. Nice technique, with attention as the biggest reward for going along.

  2. Some role-playing games were even designed to encourage player-vs.-player misbehavior. Off the top of my head I can name Paranoia, Toon, and Gangbusters. If a player has a predilection for mischief, perhaps a game tailored to meet that preferred style of play ought to offered. Perhaps a little quid pro quo is in order. If you play this game in this manner, we'll play that game in that manner.

  3. What I am talking about happened recently (see http://scrollsoferenth.blogspot.com/2013/03/cache-fallen-star-pt-3.html ) right between paragraphs 6 and 7.

    At sessions end the party still couldn't find their friend Oghren and voted to let the player roleplay it out. I brought him where I wanted him by fiat and then let him have a last go at the main bad guy (see http://scrollsoferenth.blogspot.com/2013/03/endstory-death-of-oghren-house.html )

    Everyone was happy... well not Oghren, but he blamed only himself.

  4. "Five people and a GM get together to play a game. Four of the five players have fun playing a freewheeling, treasure-filching, underhanded bastard. The fifth wants to play cooperatively and do great and heroic things. This causes friction at the table."

    This happened in my ACKS game. We went from three freewheeling bastards to four bastards and two heroes last fall. One of the heroes threatened a walkout as a result of shenanigans, and the majority ceded to his moral high ground. The campaign's flavor was irrecoverably altered, and it soon fell apart.

  5. I stand by and will continue until to stand by the idea that the GM is the consequence guy- the GM has no control over action, only outcome. Thus, when this happens in my groups, simply let whatever world I have built live and breathe in what ever the players do, and let it exhale consequences that make sense. The party of free wheelers described above with one one good guy may rope the good guy in if the good guy sees that there are consequences for associating with the others. Or the free wheelers may listen to their friend if he seems to be exempt for the consequences that happen to them, particularly if the consequences are bad. If five people end up in jail and one does not, the five may come to mimic the one just as surely as if the one ends up in jail just like the other five no matter how much of a good guy he is.