(Between Players and between Players and GMs)
Sometimes a GM Looks across and sees the enemy.
Players that seem to take joy in destroying the structure of the game…or
maybe they just have another agenda as players. They are not mind
readers. Sometimes Players just don’t know where the GM wants them
to go. Good GMs have no direction. Just eventual destinations.
However a player reaches that is up to them. Certain conflicts arise
whenever the motivations of GM and Players collide. Pride is deadly
in a RPG. Here is one weakness with the GM and a trait that must
die if that GM is to grow in skill. A GM must learn to swallow his/her
pride. The buck stops with the GM.
This type of authoritive conflict arose in Ivan’s game with Derrick and myself as players. At the very beginning, we were a squad of three soldiers, Derrick, myself, and a third NPC. I was given command. This level of authority did not settle with Derrick at all and right from the get go, he made it his mission from the start to buck authority, disobey orders, and pretty much do whatever he wanted. I must admit taking this a little personally and also made it my mission to bring him down. However, the GM had no problem with Derrick’s attitude and did very little to support my hurt pride. This continued for many weeks until I simply had to give up. No disciplinary action was ever taken to Derrick’s character for his action. If we had simply been created equal, I might not have complained as much.
One of the biggest problems with GM is when 90% of the all the cool items and good role-playing go to one or two members of a six-person party. Sometimes this is so obvious, soon only those members are playing. Sometimes it is subtler and the game usually requires weeks or months before this trait arises. The fault of course, lies with the GM, who must, of course, be totally objective in every aspect…or at least try. Players, on the other hand, are permitted to be subjective to an extent. The extreme version of this is when the GM punishes one player and rewards another. Playing favorites is reserved to amateur GMs only. I have yet to see an experienced GM that exhibits this trait. Sometimes this is not from friendship. A Role Playing GM with favor Role Players and not slashers. How do you resolve this conflict? Unfortunately, it’s very hard to do that. The Players feeling outcasted either should face the GM or just…quit. GM, if seeing themselves playing one or several favorites in the group, should stop for a moment, and think if ways to make it up to the other players. Something big, and do it a couple times to starve off suspicion.
Playing favorites is commonplace in almost
any game, especially ones with friends in the group. I have been
guilty of both doing it and I have been the victim of it more than once.
When I committed it, I realized the problem and tried to offset it.
With Joe the slasher in Pathfinder, I didn’t. Joe was given the bottom
end of the stick soon because of his problem with Pride. I should
have given him more chances but everyone wanted him gone. In those cases
where I was the victim, I had to leave the group…in every scenario.
THAT ONE CHARACTER / PLAYER THAT DOESN’T BELONG
What to do. There is that on Slasher in the group that insists on pulling it when he should be withholding. Fighters instead of thinkers that kill the witness instead of thinking of taking him alive. That player, whose character is such a diametric opposite to the group’s motivations, becomes outcasted. There are many reasons why one player/character falls out of favor from the rest. This is not necessarily the player’s fault despite what others might think. Whose fault is it then? Believe it or not, 90% of the time, the fault lies with the GM. Sorry to all those out there, but the buck will often always stop with the GM. If no on knows who to blame, default falls to the Games Master. If a GM can’t handle that pressure, then you can never be a really good GM. How could an excluded Character or Player be the GM’s fault? Well, if the problem is with the Character (and often if the group takes it personally, the player as well), then the GM is at fault for not recognizing these conflicting traits in the character in the first place. The GM should see that a conflict will arise and deal with it before the character is introduced. If the problem is the player, then it is everyone’s fault. The first for the GM for not seeing this ahead of time, the other players for outcasting the player and not helping the person integrate better, and the outcasted player, for having the conflicting attitude in the first place
However, the damage is done and now you either have to remove the player or find ways to the player or character to work. If the character is at fault and the group know the Player is not to blame then the solution is simply: Replace the character. Work with the group to find a PC that works. If the situation allows, perhaps (and I have tried this), allow the other “Characters” to interview this potential recruit to see if the profile is adequate. The Player should accept that their character is not working. Sometimes its not the group that decides but the PC that figured that a new character would work better. The obvious option would involve killing off the other Character, but honestly, try to avoid that unless it works to benefit the story. Simply have the PC move on other pastures.
In situations where the Player remained but a character was replaced, I often tried to avoid killing off the character. In Terminals, a game dealing with multiple realities, characters discovered soon that nothing was impossible. As per the game’s coda, every PC was created separate with no one knowing any information from other Players. The mecha in the game were also totally unique. Charles created a very powerful and unique Esper PC with a mecha that amplified the power to amazing levels. The design was simply—everything channeled through the esper lens in the mecha, so no visible weapons could be seen. The PC was a female fighter pilot betrayed by her own kind. Her psychic abilities stretched to every color in the spectrum. However, for some reason, Charles began to believe that he was pressured by the other PCS to create the esper profile, being convinced it was unique and new. Charles started becoming disillusioned about the PC and requested a new character be introduced. I created an adventure where the group fought against a telepathic and telekinetic monster on an abandoned military base on an alien planet that was frozen in time (kinda had to have been there…). The fight came down between Charles’ PC and the demonic HR Giger inspired monstrosity. The monster was killed at the expense of the PC’s life, taken in a brilliant explosion. The next week, Charles introduced a “Platoon” inspired Ground-Pounder mech design that could easily hold his own with the rest of the group. However, the PC was thin in my eyes. The first one was more geared to good role-playing but this new one was a “Slasher” concept. Soon, Charles began thinking he had made a mistake. The last adventure with his Psycher (named “Crufix”) was exciting, and Charles began having regrets even before her death. I even paused and gave Charles a chance to decide otherwise. But in Terminals, nothing is too late. A month later, the “Grunt” was killed in a blaze of glory and Crufix was-introduced from another reality. No one ever really dies in Terminals.
Now if the problem lies with the Player, it becomes a lot more uncomfortable. This is also the hardest task for a GM and group to handle and more often than not, it is handled poorly. Even the most experienced Group will often resort to an attitude usually reserved for Elementary school players. The obvious route and taken more often that people would like to admit starts with either the GM or Players turning on the outcast IN the game. Suddenly, the battles become fiercer or another PC decides to betray and turn on his comrade. Soon the shunned PC finds his hit points low with little help from the group. The PC is killed and the GM decides to not let the Player create a new character. A good warning sign for the shunned player are rules or sudden changes of heart in the GM. These don’t often happen in honest games and if they occur, get ready for a sudden shock. The example would be the never used “Players get one chance rule” where the GM explains that if a PC is killed, the Player is not allowed to make another. Make no mistake, this rule is a complete mistruth. It is created by GMs to oust players they or the rest of the group are not happy with. Trust me, if the Player was widely loved with a character they beloved, the group would be happy for the Player to join again. This rule is only the most prominent examples. There are others. The most common simply comes from other Players turning and killing the outcast. However, it falls to the GM in the end to tell the PC they are not welcome back. This is a key strength in the GM at this point—BE HONEST. Tell the PC the truth. I know it’s a far out concept, but the outcast deserved it, no matter how bad they were. Tell them that this was coming. That’s why it’s somewhat common for the PC to be forced out first before telling the Player that this was the last session for them. Telling them this is the last session before would result in a sudden disappearance of that Player. They are not going to come if they are not liked. Its best to tell them first and let the GM take control of that PC and remove them in a way that best suites the game. Don’t let the outcast be attacked verbally and physically in the game and be abused in the open, the other Players taking out their stress on the exiled Player. Tell the truth. I don’t care how much you may hate the Player, be professional. People will respect the GM if the GM treats others with respect. There is no exception here. Remove the Player and then deal with removing the character properly from the game. Just don’t have the PC magically vanish into thin air unless the PC only attended a few sessions. Work it somehow. But do it well, don’t make it feel like you are picking on one PC.
I have run the gauntlet in these scenarios.
I have been the outcast; I have been the king. I have been the better,
and I have been the worse. This, above all conflicts I talk about,
is the most common in gaming. With Joe the Slasher being put in the
brig by his own fellow PCs in Pathfinder to myself being kicked out of
Doug’s game, I have seen it all. With myself being kicked out, I
still firmly believe today that the procedure used showcases the absolute
worst possible route for kicking someone out. The GM wound the tall
tale about bylaws in the marines (we were part of a unit). I have
never been a marine, but simple and everyday common sense told me that
this GM was changing codes for his own good, including (get this), me getting
kicked out of the group for disrupting morale by “criticizing” other PCs
(It was a PC trait, not mine). However, another PC was given a slap
on the arm even though he drew a firearm and fired it in the direction
of another PC (mine). Honestly, this is the Military, not grade school.
While researching Alien-FUZION, I got to talking to some real Marines from
the US. I told them the story in greater detail. Both of them
laughed their asses off and told me that real marines treat each way worse
than my character did and the other PC that fired on me would be in jailed
and placed before a court, no matter how good a shot he was. Discipline
THE INNER CIRCLE
There is no real solution for one or several members that see a close-knit group of players getting all the action. If this also involves the GM that is only a matter of time before the GM either realizes and does better, or the Player just leaves the game to the others whom are actually having fun. The PC can attempt to talk to the GM, but it entirely depends on the attitude of the GM and if he acknowledges the fault. If the circle doesn’t involve the GM, then the GM probably recognizes it offers balance to the group.
This can be fun if within character. I have sat through many session where Characters fight and the PC love it all. However, the GM must be aware of when it goes too far and Players take it personally (see above). Characters often fight each other within the game. When a new campaign starts, its almost common place. It eventually calms down unless the game is about the PCs fighting each other. I must admit never having tried a game where the PCs are constantly at each other’s throats. I have to admit, I have been temped to create a game where another PC played the villain. Interesting concept, eh?
When all the PCs in Terminals squared off
for the first time, they were all extremely hostile. Wouldn’t you
be, after witnessing your world destroyed? It didn’t take long for
these conflicting egos to lash out (actually it was only about 10 minutes).
Derrick’s egomaniac Kael’No (my personal favorite PC) strutted and was
soon fired upon by Charles' esper mech. Not thinking Charles was
armed, Derrick attempted to intimidate. One massive blast, and Derrick’s
was thrown back a quarter mile. Martin fired on Charles and damaged
his mech, just getting through his Esper shield. Derrick struck back
but fired on Craig. Craig fired back with a massive 20-kill mega
beam, shattering Derrick’s spherical force shield. This went on for
about twenty minutes before they calmed down and started talking.
Sometimes the fight is not routed in the character. Sometimes a good Player just gets into a bad mood and takes it on the group. This might be a phase or someone taking out the stress of work on the game session. A good group—a close-knit group—might recognize this and understand. To prevent problems in the future, the game should halt…temporarily, and the conflict sorted out. Of course, this is great in theory. First of all, this fight should not INVOLVE the GM. The GM should check his rage at the door. If a player is doing something that aggravates the GM to no end (like any of these other conflicts listed here), then action must be taken. If this involves removing the PC from the group then unfortunately so be it, but make sure it is the intelligent thing to do. If it a result of rage, then the other players may believe it could happen again…and to them. The GM should NEVER be in a raised voice argument. Remain calm at all times, even though the PC may scream back. A disagreement over rules, conflicts with other PCs—anything can set off a Player, the GM must deal with it like a Court Judge--The good ones never start screaming back. They may enforce their decisions with a raised voice but never reduce to a shower room mentality. Also easier said than done. This all sounds good on paper but in the moment, a GM or even players may understandably snap and just kick someone out. Here is the possible alternative. If the group begins to grow agitated or one player that usually performs well starts to become aggressive, perhaps that session should end early. Just end it and resume another day. Perhaps take an hour break and let everything cool. If the session becomes a role-playing write-off, the GM may always just do that, just write it out. Just explain to the players that the last session did not exist and they are going to move on. Remember GMs can be aggressive and create a fight as well, especially when it comes to how the Players are responding to his/her actions. Sometimes the GM looses all sense or professionalism and goes on a rampage in the game. Best to settle the nerves and take breather. Just don’t play for a bit. Getting together for six hours or gaming doesn’t mean you need to squeeze in six hours of gaming. There are breaks and time outs and off topics. Don’t dispel or prohibit these. They are natural and help the mood of the session, especially if nerves are frayed.
I wrote off one session once. Charles
was simply in a bad mood. He arrived totally frayed from a really
really bad day at work. We could tell he was on edge. He later
proved that when his character gambled all his money away in the casino
then proceeded to light the gas tank of his bike and drive it into the
same building. His character was arrested and put in jail before
I decided enough was enough and ended the session. Charles later
apologized and we accepted. I told everyone that the last session
never occurred and we all moved on and no one mentioned that again.
DEALING WITH CHEATERS OR JERKS
Above the printed word, there are rules to
gaming—codes of conduct that must be followed. It is okay to be upset
with someone who thinks these rules do not apply to them. This falls
to the group and not the characters, which are freer to do what they want.
However, the Players and GM have more strict regulations.