Letting It All Out Part 2: Addressing the Cons

Posted: August 12, 2011 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Roleplaying Games

Alright, well, I did promise that I’d take a look at the Cons and give my side on each one, as well as formulating any actionable solutions to address these.  It’s a long laundry list, so get ready for some reading:

Let’s start off with Hikkikomori’s feedback:

  1. Urban Tactics – I’ll agree with this one.  I’m not exactly the outdoor type, and I have issues with making wilderness adventures sound anything even remotely exciting.  Because of that, I tend to do terribly when narrating scenes that deal with Man vs. Nature conflicts, and tend to compensate by just fast forwarding to the next relevant encounter.  I think a little more reading and research on actual survival techniques might be good for me to address this issue, and lend more realism to my games when I take them out of the city.
  2. To Be Continued – This is something that has gotten pretty prevalent lately in my campaigns.  I’ve started plenty, but I tend to not push through with them to the end.  My successful ones start strong, go on for a season two or three, then just tend to peter out as opposed to ending properly.  Stress tends to kill my creative brain, but I think discipline is important too.  I don’t have strong actionable things here, but I think taking time out every week to sketch out strong notes when I have time will help keep the game running even if I can’t think of something on the fly.
  3. Flaws are Non-Existent – Flaws are an important part of any game, and my lack of attention to the flaws that players take falls squarely on my own negligence.  I should pay more attention to these, as Flaws are a voluntary handicap that players take.  It’s like they’re saying “Hey, I enjoy getting into this sort of trouble, hit me!”  I’m doing them a disservice if I don’t use it more often.
  4. GF Special Treatment – Okay, this is a big one.  First of all, let me come out and say that Silver Countess has never used the GF card on me.  Sure we kid about it, but she’s never applied that sort of influence to gain special favors or any sort of advantage in game.  That said, I can see that I tend to leverage social conflict against her characters a lot of the time.  My fault lies with not mixing things enough to make it feel like she’s accomplished much (in fact the payoff for her actions tend to manifest after two or so sessions, which is a LONG time.)  I believe that addressing the mix of challenges will achieve two things:
    1. Faster pacing, getting to achieve MORE per session, given the screen time that the players share
    2. While not coming off as giving her a free pass on Combat and Mental puzzles

Now for Silver Countess’ Cons

  1. Unable to deal with big groups – I won’t deny this, I tend to stop at 5 players, max.  Any more and my brain freezes or the game suffers pacing problems.  I’ll also admit that I don’t have an easy solution for this just yet, but I am thinking about it.
  2. Games tend to be too “heavy” – This is also true.  The Mage game was so fraught with consequences that it was nearly impossible to act without triggering something.  HERO ended up pretty heavy later on as well, so a bit of levity might be just the thing.  I’ve been trying to inject much-needed levity in my games with campaigns like the current Hollow Earth Expedition one, which seems to be working, but we’ll see how it turns out on the post-campaign interviews.

Rvelasco had a long list of Cons:

  1. Too Serious – Okay, this is true, as echoed in the point made by Silver Countess, I tend to have games that are very serious.  But being serious all the time is exhausting, so I need to mix things up now and then.  Too much of my gaming is influenced by the “24” TV series, I guess.  Need to scale back.
  2. Tropefied NPCs – I’ll have to say that at the core of any game, NPCs technically do draw a lot of their character from tropes.  The more that NPCs are used however, the more they become more three-dimensional.  It’s admittedly hard to start off with fully-fleshed out NPCs to begin with when I’m not even certain if the players will bother to interact with them  in more than just a single passing moment.  That said, I’ll see what I can do to meet this expectation halfway and try to put a little more depth to my NPCS.
  3. GM Defenses Up – I think this is a valid concern.  My personal worldview has always been slightly pessimistic, so I prefer it when players overcome challenges that really make them sweat.  Cakewalks are fine now and then when you’re up against something that is clearly outmatched, but when something is difficult, is should feel like a challenge to anyone.  I think I’m not wrong when I say that Triathlons never say that what they do gets easier even after the first few events they go to.  BUT, I think that this criticism has some merit.  In the end, if the Rules in a game say that the player blows past everything making it look like it was a walk in the park, then they deserve this.  I should probably ease up a bit and recalibrate somehow.
  4. GM Stress Level is High – Uh… yeah.  Not really sure how to address this, but this is true.  I’ve been trying to relax more, to run games that I know I will enjoy running and trying to roll with the punches more than stressing over consequences.
  5. Mistake-Consequence Grid – This is a tough one.  Personally, I tend to have interesting consequences occur in response to player actions (or words spoken) in various situations.  What might seem like a quick flub to get past a given conversation might balloon as the NPC doesn’t just magically disappear when they’re out of the scene.  More sneaky and political types will actually use any information they get to their advantage.  The resulting perception is that sh*t hits the fan over a minor thing, but in actuality, it’s not completely the fault of the player character, but the doing of an NPC who knows how to throw a spanner in the works.  Perhaps I can address this by being a little more transparent with regards to what went on, with some expository cut scenes to show what the NPC was thinking or doing behind the scenes to put things to light.
  6. Anathema to Player X – Certain players and my GMing style just don’t mix.  I tend to think in terms of social ecosystems.  Mess with one part and it’ll have an effect on the greater whole.  Certain players in my circle of gamers tend to do a fire and forget sort of game style.  Did the rent-a-cop see us take the museum piece?  Deck him and run.  Some GMs just leave it at that.  I tend to have the cops look at the security tapes and visit the perps a few days after.  I”m not sure exactly how to fix this, but again, perhaps a calibration session is just the thing for it.  There has to be a meeting of the minds where I can draw a certain level of tolerance to actions that the players are able to consider fun, all the while preserving the verisimilitude of the setting in question.

—-

Overall this is very strong feedback, and shines a light on kinks on my gaming style.  I’m very thankful to all my players for being honest about it since I can at least keep an eye out if I’m falling to bad habits.  Monday’s article will probably be a look at my strengths, and how I can balance the cons with the pros to deliver a smoother, and hopefully more satisfying gaming experience.

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Comments
  1. Joshua Macy says:

    Couple of suggestions:

    Trompe l’oiel NPCs: most of the time you don’t really need deep NPCs, you need NPCs that have the illusion of depth when not examined closely. Two quick ways to do that are 1) to “cast” certain actors or fictional characters to “play” the NPC (usually without revealing to the players who they are, to avoid distracting them), so that you can give them slightly more varied reactions and responses easily without having to think too much about their inner lives. 2) give each NPC a recognizable shtick. These can be completely blatant and still serve to help differentiate the characters in the players minds; maybe the pawn-broker is always playing chess when they encounter him, maybe the police captain is taking a cigarette out of a pack, putting it in his mouth and then putting it back unlit. Even NPCs that are encountered only once benefit from this, because it helps the illusion that they’re doing things when the players aren’t looking at them.

    Not all unforeseen consequences should be negative. If you’re going to spin out the consequences of small and large actions, make sure that you don’t create a malevolent universe where all the breaks are unlucky. Some of the time the sneaky political NPCs will do something that helps the PCs because it’s in the NPC’s interest that the PCs succeed or at least that the NPC’s rivals fail. Some of the time the police captain will give them a pass or run interference for them because the girl they saved from mugging was his niece. And so on.

  2. dbro36 says:

    I have to say, dealing with bigger groups… How can you not have issues with that? I don’t even want more than 5 people at my table were I to GM something. The more the merrier doesn’t apply with RPGs, in my eyes. The more the slower is more like it. Plus it takes away some of the intimacy you have when RPGing.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about that one. A bigger one is the Urban Tactics one. There is so much fun to be had in the wild, and this is not just forests. Wilderniss is very varied. Perhaps a tip would be to use a lot of “you hear …”. Part of what makes the wild interesting to me personally is the fact there are so many things living there and so many places for those things to hide. When the PCs hear a rustling in the bushes, it could be anything from a tiny bird to a ferocious giant snake, from a hedgehog to a vampire. Hope that helps.

  3. sonsoftaurus says:

    First of all, kudos for seeking this kind of feedback and taking it seriously. I did it with our group (with multiple GMs) a few years ago and it helped with some issues, though not all were as open-minded about it.

    As to specific points, some of them may not be terribly avoidable, like the Urban Tactics. That may be more of a feature than a bug; just recognize it and keep most games Urban, and players should know that up-front so they can play the Fireman rather than the Jolly Woodsman. To Be Continued – 90% of the campaigns I’ve ever been in tend to peter out fairly soon for one reason or another, I don’t know if I’d feel too bad about that. For every ten-year epic there are dozens of prematurely cancelled campaigns or stalled starts.

    Mistake Consequence Grid and Anathema to Player X – seem like part of the same issue. Joshua Macy’s point about some snowballs growing to the PCs advantage is a good one, and it doesn’t even have to be from the PCs own actions. The bad guys will likely make small (or even large) mistakes too, and these will snowball to the PCs advantage – while throwing a spanner into the works from the opening the PCs gave, the villain gains the notice of someone else, or one of their less-than-loyal minions tips the PCs off, enabling a trap to be laid, etc. Canny players may even start to anticipate likely reactions, and “slip up” intentionally as bait or to spread disinformation.

    Part may also stem from a common condition of GMs – assuming that the player knows as much about X as the GM does or that their character should. If PCs with appropriate skills or knowledge seem to be making an obvious mistake, it doesn’t break the scene to pause and give them more info/talk about options before you resolve it – they can still have the final choice, but make sure they have the appropriate info to make that choice properly. Maybe next time they break into a museum, a couple of leading questions about how they want to handle alarms, cameras and the like might be useful.

    GM defenses up – I admit to fudging rolls and adding to a baddie’s toughness during encounters sometimes if it’s too easy, and also to fudging it in the PCs favor if it’s too rough. I don’t try to make every encounter a nailbiter, but major encounters shouldn’t be blowouts due to dice. One-punching minor characters or incidental encounters, no problem. However, if the PCs generate a cakewalk from an excellent plan I don’t throw up new obstacles just to make it a challenge. If they do a good job and cover their bases that should pay off.

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