Monday, August 19, 2013

Not SUETHULHU: Marty, the Player

Right. I've been horribly neglectful of the blog; sorry for that, lab's been a bit of a bear. I'm weeks behind on everything, etc. etc. I've also been meaning to do this for a while: Marty as a Player. Hooray for pitiful time management skills. Incidentally, this has spoilers concerning a fairly central aspect of Deadlands, but it doesn't really wreck the plot if you know it. If you don't know what "Harrowed" are, you will sort of by the end of this.

Honestly, he's hard to place. I've had much, much worse powergamers, albeit very respectful ones who would only ever ask to play Pun-Pun once. There was one guy who was almost scripted; every time he'd ask he'd keep explaining in this ceaseless torrent of words how theoretically optimized it was until everyone else was crying with boredom. Marty never did that.

He did, however, insist on being the best blaster -- and I mean that literally. Marty only ever played one type of character, mechanically speaking: he wants a big damn gun that never runs out of ammo, he wants to sit in one place firing it until all the bad guys die, and he wants everyone else to take care of the other combat-related tasks. Everything he does mechanically is related to being the best at that one thing, to the exclusion of basic competence.

This is not ipso facto an unforgivable problem in some campaigns. I just like to nudge my players out of their comfort zones and make them get creative, and Marty usually takes this as a personal affront and reacts by being useless. Loudly useless, with theatrical sighs, eye-rolling, and crossed arms. This isn't just when he can't do anything, mind. This is when he can't be perfectly optimal.

Now, we tried to give him versatile tools. Have an example: He played Ziggy in the Deadlands campaign MM&I is detailing, and one of his things was a magic hat that produced temporary props. (Minor spoilers: he was a Harrowed, and this was his Relic.) Thumb tips, cards (with whatever back and face you wanted), handkerchiefs, bouquets, prop swords, live doves, fireworks, guns loaded with blanks...really, as long as he made his Sleight of Hand/Spirit check he could drag out any of a huge table of things and it'd last about five minutes. I was kind of proud of having come up with it, since it wasn't really useful for combat but was as useful as the user was creative outside -- it also gave the (unknowing) Harrowed a good reason to buy up his Spirit.

(This is irrelevant, but I thought the thing's backstory was cute: young Ziggy pickpocketed the hat off a magician 'cause he was hungry and rabbit is tasty, said magician caught and took pity on him, trained him in (more) sleight of hand, and left him the slightly ratty hat as a parting gift; it only got magic once Ziggy became living-impaired.)

He almost immediately asked if he could pull nitroglycerin out of it, and that was all it was used for from then on, every turn. The same thing happened with his other abilities; the only Harrowed power he ever bought all the way was the one that had fireballs as its capstone. Marty's as monotonous as a dial tone. The other players had, even when everything else was unusable, fists and an indomitable will. Marty just had things to throw.

Now, he at least had the good sense to confine his bragging to those instances where he didn't feel useless -- unless his many immunities came into effect. The biggest mistake of the campaign, aside from including Marty, was making him Harrowed; nothing could happen without him gloating over being immune to it. Drowning? "Harrowed." Toxins? "Harrowed." Fire? "Immune." About the only time he smiled was when everyone else was suffering some hardship to which he was immune -- and then he had this stupid backpfeifengesicht smirk, every time without fail. Oh, aren't I just so clever to be immune to things from campaign start? It wouldn't have minded if he did anything, but usually he'd just sit there chuckling and mentioning how immune he was at every turn-- and no one cared, he knew that, and he kept on making useless noise in a group of ten people.

Of course, the campaign intersected churches time and again, and then Dismissive Marty would come out. See, Marty wasn't content to be a one-trick pony. He had to be the best-trick pony, but not by picking a frequently useful thing. By definition, whatever he was doing was the most important thing; anything he couldn't do, like walk on holy ground, was definitionally trivial, worthy of only a quick grunt of acknowledgement before the story got back to the important bits. Everyone else was at least curious what the rest of the world was doing; Marty couldn't see past his own fireballs.

The exception to the above was a weirdly truncated version of being the party face. Marty didn't want to interview witnesses, coordinate with NPC forces, report to superiors, or really interact with other people. That was all unimportant, non-blasty stuff. However, once someone said "reward", Marty was suddenly a very attentive "party leader".

I hate this. It's one of my biggest pet peeves; I used to troll students who did it in my labs. Launch into a big long explanation, wait until they start playing with their phones, end with "which usually appears on the test" and watch them morph into perfect, smiley little apple-polishers. Twits. They'd turn around so fast papers would flutter. Yes, if you're wondering, I was a horrible TA/high school teacher. I did something similar when I was captain of the academic team in high school. Everyone wanted to be "on the A-team" for college once we'd won so many things, and they'd rush to sit for the yearbook photo to prove it. We had thugs who couldn't spell their own names claiming to be there for "da sports partz." Somehow, only ten people actually competed, but we had fifty "members" listed on the roster come April. I also had marvelous photoshop skills and was dating the yearbook club captain. Petty, yes, but if the parents are petty enough to complain about it, I'm vindictive enough to censor out their lying bastard spawn. Point being, this was as much my fault as Marty's. I just have a massive, bottomless chasm of spite right where he tried to peddle his opportunistic tricycle of puerile greed. You're welcome for that image, by the way.

Now, as you can imagine, his efforts to "negotiate" for as much as possible for "whatever it is we did" did not go well, and he concluded everyone was prejudiced against him. If they were female, they were "misandrist" or worse. If they weren't white, it was obviously "reverse discrimination"...and nearly everyone was "undead-phobic" even after he was insistent no one could possibly tell he was undead. Ironically, he could have plausibly made a case for being discriminated against for being Italian or Catholic in parts of 1870s America, but this never occured to him. He wasn't, of course, but at least the words coming out of his mouth could concievably have made sense. So he usually ended up ignored/laughed at while extant (or, to be charitable, cooler) heads actually dealt with things -- especially since the rest of the party would be happy with someone's savings instead of demanding "whatever else they can raise before we leave wherever we are." Oh, he certainly was every bit the "best negotiator" he claimed to be.

Even this was not the worst of it. The worst of it was the his utter inability to admit weakness. I know no one likes to call themselves weak, but RPGs are based on people having varying strengths. Even so, I could have taken his refusing to admit being useless at noncombat stuff -- but not his fervent denial of what he provably was. To finish spoiling Harrowed: they're formerly dead people posessed by both the original soul and that of a demon providing the animating force in return for periodically controlling the body. They're feared among those who know of them, and rightly so -- they could theoretically fall under the control of a purely evil entity at any time, and even when they're in control of themselves they're prone to depression and existential crises.

Except Marty. He liked being Harrowed; it let him use fireballs. It also let him ghost and phase through solid matter (except ghost rock), which he argued also let him stop falling without damage since "it clearly makes me massless and therefore inertialess until I move, so I must stop moving relative to the ground." Any suggestion that something be contrived to control him when his demonic roommate took over was angrily refused. I could see that for the automated beheading device (not fatal for them), but not for, say, the remote-triggerable fire suppressant grenades. This was someone who could be presented with 3-d audiovisual evidence of him trying to burn innocents to death, refuse to believe he was doing it, and then refuse to admit out of character that Ziggy was delusional. "That's not me. That's someone else who uses my body. Restraining me because of what he does isn't fair." He would even quibble agonizingly over "possessed." It was like his hedging all over again, but defensive and even more stubborn.

Now, I admit, I could have been more selective in targeting his other self's fireballs, but come on, the incorruptible little Blessed child was cripplingly pyrophobic. It didn't help that, long after he decided he was not a loose, happy-go-lucky-con-man Moist von Lipwig expy (with magic!)but a mob boss (he re-wrote his backstory to be "more badass"), his other self insisted on being, well, an evil magician -- and I played him way too creepy. "How about a trick? [hands and eyes ignite] I'll make your skin disappear." Said Blessed even decided that the best way to resolve the conflict was to resurrect him at great personal expense/risk...and Marty threatened to burn her to death if she tried. He knew he wouldn't lose XP; I'd confirmed he'd get it back to re-spend as he liked, because I wanted this over. Nope. He wanted fire. I didn't even plan on him having fire, but here we were.

It only got worse from there. He didn't just like being useless, he gloried in it. I've seen this before, in a particularly odious television announcer who moderated some of our academic team competitions. He needed to wear a wired mic, like all of us -- only he'd make sure to make one of the actual Board of Education people run and get him something once he was "wired in" just because. He's one of the reasons I so dislike people who think they're powerful -- Marty is another. This particular trait of Marty's came to a head after the Fuel Truck Incident.

Hell on Earth, Deadlands' post-apocalyptic setting, has a wonderful fuel called spook juice that is more or less colloidal ghost rock in alcohol. A truck of this delightful substance was barreling down the road at the party. Most of them got off the road, reasoning that the truck probably couldn't stop or meaningfully alter its course on a single-lane road flanked by rocks. Marty stood his ground, and responded to the "attack" like this: "I jump up and ghost into the cabin with my claws extended to catch her in the throat." Do remember that ghosting robs you of inertia.

He took a huge amount of damage from being hit by a chair at 120 kph (and whined about that for days. Marty, a car doesn't stop being a speeding car because you're inside it), and the truck started to careen off the road. Naturally, he ghosts out, more or less motionless relative to a five-meter-long tank of rapidly moving colloidal ghost rock that he can't phase through. I found a squelching sound effect just for the occasion. He was left with his head and an arm, and thereafter would ask "who's carrying me" a hundred times a session. He didn't want to be a cyborg, and he didn't want to regrow his legs. He wanted to be carried. It didn't help that the actual driver was favorably recieved by the party, although she died shortly after.

Then, of course, he pulls another of his stupid ultimatums after he loses control. Picture it -- a visibly undead guy threatening a little girl in the middle of town. "I am in control, I am always in control, and if you suggest otherwise I'm burning you until your bones char, you little bastard." And this was him, not the demon! This after said little girl had just helped exorcise a haunted building to the elated cheers of the townsfolk and was again offering to revive him. Of course I had a takeover happen immediately after he said it; by that point he was so low on Dominion it was almost automatic, and everyone knew it but he wouldn't hear of it.

He should have died then, but they made some amazing rolls to calm down the lynch mob. The mayor and sheriff also owed them several dozen favors, and he did technically he was offered being cyborged, which would restore his body and lock down his demon, along with a full pardon. They'd even give him a disguise system so he could walk around without being lynched. For once, he was reasonable, and accepted rather than being quietly exiled.

He never did anything in the campaign again. Just wandered around on autopilot and reminded everyone how helpful he might have been if "SOMEone" hadn't "taken all his powers away." Oh, yeah, and the crapload of cyborg systems are just paperweights now, Marty? He left the campaign shortly thereafter.

There were other things, but they didn't impact the campaign much. So really, that's Marty as a player.

Don't play with Marty, folks. The stupid, it burns.


  1. Its also on an unrelated note, the rest of us didn't really trust his character in character due to his constant denial of responsibility combined with irresponsible actions. And we did take away his powers, because we wouldn't let him have the cyborg thing to let him have them back, since it also made him a risk.

    To be fair some of the fault towards the end was ours, but at that point reasoning with him in and out of character was agreed to be a lost cause so we had to take things into our own hands and every battle we had to prepare for friendly fire. (Mirrors took a page from batman and had [several] plans to kill any member of the party if it became necessary, and in some cases did so, or disabled at least).

  2. Oh I also recall I didn't trust him as a Player since he randomly killed one of my followers in another campaign to try and save his own skin, because he wasn't paying much attention and figured that a LE army would be perfectly willing to spare the Backstabbing Shit who sees my minions as disposable tools.

  3. He slightly reminds me of a player in my regular group. He tends to focus on one thing, and everything apart from that thing is "Bulls***" and totally not needed in the game. And it tends to be combat. If someone is better than him at it, it's "Bulls*** powergaming". If the group is not currently doing it, the game is "Boring". Every other person has always built their characters "wrong", and he'll spend endless time telling them how they should have done it. He also once threw a hissy fit for around two straight hours because someone had slightly more experience than he did.
    He justifies this as "I like to win".

    Incidentally, he only ever ran one game. It was a D&D 3.5 Campaign starting at first level, and he'd been talking it up and bugging us to play for months. There was no introduction to the world or anything of the sort. The PCs stood around talking for a few minues before "A huge dark shape bursts out of the wilderness". least we knew we were in the wilderness, now. It turns out to be an Ancient Black Dragon. We run. It's faster. It casts high level spells (Disintegrate/Finger of Death, IIRC), on each party member until they are all dead.
    DM has a big grin on his face because he "Won" the game.
    I got a look at his campaign outline a few months later. It was a list of monster names, all of them above CR15, up to and including the Tarrasque. Needless to say, there's a reason i'm our resident GM nowadays.

    (I know it's not related to Marty, but he kind of reminded me.)

    1. It's surprising how many people don't understand that the DM wins when the players have a good time, which usually involves a challenging yet rewarding campaign that encourages creative solutions to problems.

      Jesus, who throws a black dragon at a bunch of level 1s (especially an ancient one)? Did he expect them to even stand a chance?

    2. Well in all fairness I did that once (Although it was an adult white dragon). Never considered for one moment that they would be stupid enough to try and fight it, it was just supposed to be a way to get them all travelling together. Nice and easy cave for them to pop into which is too small for it to pursue, about 2-3 hours to complete, and with clues which tie all of their backstories together. Why did they try and fight it? Why?

  4. Slightly unnervingly, that description of Marty reminded me of certain features of my own play during some dnd sessions. I don't think I'm anywhere near as bad as that (at least no one's said anything...), but I'd hope to avoid that sort of thing completely. Do you have any advice to someone trying to avoid playing like that accidentally?

    1. Well, there's two things that I like to keep in mind about it. One is that you always keep a little flex in your characters and allow them to be talked into things. Even if I'm playing a zealot paladin/priest who is a True Believer or something I'll let them get talked into avoiding dogma "for a bit" because it's for "the greater good". Not only does it make your character richer and more realistic seeming (Because who is really an inflexible monolith of absolutes in real life?) but it helps the party get along more accurately. Second is that you find reasons to create flaws in yourself that you need other people to overcome for you.

      Never played Deadlands, but looking at the scenario? It'd be easy to do with what Marty there had to work with. Rather than just flatly going "I'll burn you for suggesting that I'm maybe not in control!!!" you just treat it more calmly like "... that doesn't sound like me. I mean sure, fireballs is something I do, but I'm skilled and respectable. It couldn't have been on purpose. Maybe I just didn't see those innocents? You say I was gloating about it? Well that doesn't sound right..." And of course the whole "A demon is making me into a monster that is going to get me killed by everyone we run into" is a good reason to look towards other PCs to help find a solution, since obviously the problem is beyond your control.

      .... it's sad because something like that is very easy to "fix". Even what he did isn't necessarily "wrong" in concept, just in delivery. I mean the idea of someone who was this orphan starving thief who suddenly one day comes back to life after a "miracle" and has powers? Decent enough concept. Particularly if he didn't really realize the price of his return to life. If he was unaware of the demon and its actions on a direct level the sort of denial and slowly having to realize what a terrible being he's become, how he handles it, using his teammates to help decide how to resolve it, etc. It can be a decent subplot. Even his "Screw you, I'll burn you if you try to take my powers!" thing could have been well RP'd as sort of a contamination of his mind by the demon eroding his sanity over time, and his own fears of being reduced to what he was when he met the street magician... a starving helpless child, powerless and at the mercy of an unforgiving world.

      Like all things of this nature, it's all in the execution. So don't feel bad if you share features with it. It's very easy to take what he was doing and make it good. Just remember to make your character flawed in a way that other people can help you with, so that you need your fellow players and don't just angst in the corner by yourself, and be willing to change your image of the character, or his normal set of actions based on what happens in game.

      ... the latter I cannot tell you how much it irks me when I run into a PC who declares that their character is always something "just because", even if you can point to evidence they're not. Sometimes comes up when I'm playing a more cerebral game where my bad guys are trying to corrupt the heroes rather than just kill them. Where I can look at it and go "... yeah, your cleric is fallen, you're evil now, and getting powers from an evil god. Look at what you've done, arson, genocide, assassinations, etc, etc, etc. All willingly, eager even at some points." just to have a player go "Nuh-uh! I'm always good because that's what the character is and despite clearly having done evil things he is still good!"

    2. "My actions are good, therefore I am good. I am good, therefore my actions my good.

      If you oppose my actions, you are opposing good, which makes you evil. It is a good thing to kill evil, so it is a good thing to kill you, so if I kill you I am good."

      Tautological Templars. Lawful Evil at its finest.

  5. ... Can I destroy Marty? I'd kill to have an item like that hat, especially with such a fun backstory, but he uses it for one single boring thing.

  6. My most recent PC is in fact the diametric opposite of Marty. He can do everything, except for fight well. Seriously, 0 DPS but with a few choice feats he's got between +5 and +8 in every skill in the game, is trained in all trained only skills except knowledge skills, which he can use untrained as a bard. In combat he's a LOT less effective, but his sheer utility outside of combat more than compensating for that.

    And yes, I happily admit that he sucks in combat and that's a serious weakness, but that doesn't mean I spend every fight scene moaning. Bardic music, intimidate checks for demoralize, tumbling into flanking positions and spamming aid another... Being a lousy combatant does not mean I have to be the load for the group.

  7. I have a powergamer friend with whom I've played several campaigns with. The first was our first ever experience with tabletop gaming (AD&D), and so his powergaming was kind of understandable. He invented his own class (ninja) and proceeded to out-combat every other player at the table. Not just in a "this character is an asset we should be thankful for" kind of way, but in a "no other character gets to do anything" kind of way.

    What is less excusable is years later when we were playing d20 3.5, and he came up with his sorcerer/dragon disciple build, and spent the majority of the game looking for a pegasus to tame so he could ride it into battle. He ended up distracting from the quest so often to look for one that it was seriously impacting our sessions, so the DM actually had one show up and fly away just to get his goat. The meltdown that ensued was pretty funny