Friday, September 27, 2013

SUETHULU: Grumpily Ever After

That was the last session we had; after the cheese foundry, the game broke down. Apparently we’d “outrun the plot” and therefore couldn’t do anything at all. We tried suggesting various ways to waste time, but apparently the existence of our characters was now incompatible with the campaign. It was heavily implied this was my fault, so I left, and Marty happily apologized for not having catered to my playstyle – which, to be fair, is a valid concern.

Much as I don’t like GSN theory, the terms are handy. I am, at my core, a gamist running under simulationist logic; I look at campaigns as a series of puzzles. Sometimes the pieces are orcs and we move them with fireballs. Sometimes they’re kings, and we move them with words (or psychoactive poisons). Sometimes they’re the laws of the universe itself, and then we get creative. Naturally, results are mixed, but over years of gaming I like to think I’ve pinned down the circumstances where this is mutually enjoyable rather than disruptive or annoying. It helps a LOT if the DM’s relatively consistent with what’s unacceptably goofy/weird in terms broad enough to let me efficiently pare down my solution set, and it helps more naturally if the campaign goal is constructive rather than destructive. That’s why I thought this campaign would be okay; I’m a lot better with “make these two groups make sweet diplomacy with each other” than “go kill this list of monsters/cultists.”

Now, Ian, Darya, and Jin’s players have their optimal environments too. Bearing in mind that this is purely from my experience, Darya’s player wants to be the Determinator; he likes his character hurt, bit by bit, because he likes his victories bittersweet and well-earned. He won’t ever give up, and he gets happier the more that means. Jin’s can deeply enjoy the same kind of campaigns I do, but his skillset is such that he needs things immune to diplomacy to feel challenged. We tend to come up with complementary solution sets. Ian tends to respond well to ethical dilemmas as opposed to tactical ones.

Marty, as might be surmised, is really good at hurting his characters, being immune to diplomacy, and putting his whole campaign in this weird Blue and Orange morality. He’s not so hot at channeling my creativity in a direction he’s comfortable with – largely, I suspect, because no such direction exists. Most of his lectures to me on how to DM focused on corralling players until you can plan ahead. He wants to run a CRPG, I think; he likes giving his players multiple-choice problems. Unfortunately, he doesn’t like telling us the choices, which runs headlong into my pathological inability to determine how weird my ideas are. Then, too, I don’t think he likes being innovated against, and he usually treats RPGs as competitive rather than collaborative.

We also don’t see eye-to-eye on solemnity; I stood far back when the gravitas was handed out, and Marty likes his NPCs to have dignity, so they have constraints on their actions that I usually don’t pretend to. I try to exploit that, and we’re back to square one, only now I’m very much in my element: about the only thing I can reliably create is a farce, because I’m so cynical I think I already live in one. Besides, they’re just so useful. Marty naturally sees this as making fun of his NPCs OOC, and he insists on stopping me in-character. This is always a bad idea. It’s a suicidal idea when it just makes the puzzles harder.

So I guess that’s the problem: my worst is irrepressible, completely undignified Xanatos Speed Calvinball, and he’s so unwilling to admit he doesn’t like that that it took way too long for me to realize I was royally pissing him off. Come on, he was smiling for most of it.

I waffle on about this in an attempt to explain how, in the morass of conversations that sprawled out after this mess, I was somehow agreed to be the villain. Apparently, without me everything would have been just peachy, which begs the question why he didn’t just eject me. Jin’s player was behind most of it. See, he thinks he’s good at talking, but all he’s really good at is talking at everyone until they “compromise” at the midpoint of everyone’s views. This is great when everyone’s sane, but the midpoint of “I like player agency” and “you defiled my cheese foundries with your damnable initiative” isn’t really useful to anyone.  Jin’s used to conflict resolution in the absence of real disagreement, insofar as that he’s used to bleeding drama off of a bunch of fundamentally stupid personality conflicts. It’s why he works so well in clubs. I’m used to material disagreements between professionals, like I said; I need solutions more than I need unanimity, and when the solutions are equivalent I don’t see why I should argue. Unfortunately, I can’t reconcile this with endless cycles of “can we at least all agree that”, especially when Marty can’t agree to anything but that mean old Zeroller broke his beautiful campaign into tiny little pieces with his nasty logic and everyone else let me do it. Without my “personal vendetta against good storytelling” we’d have been looking at roleplaying Nirvana. Oh, according to him he also never told me to do my worst, but then, according to him he never said a lot of things we have records of him saying, so take that as you will.

Then again, I was also relying on Jin to get it through his skull that he needs to at least consider the possibility that being in academic hell for years has messed him up to the point where professional help would make him a happier person, and that failed right out of the gate. Not that he didn’t agree with me that Marty needed it, mind; he just never saw an opportunity to bring it up.

Then, too, after this, it was apparently decided that they all needed to talk without me. Yeah, sure, call me a bastard, get everyone to agree that I’m a bastard, and then go convene without me. That’s not going to make me resentful at all.

So that’s how the campaign ended: an interminable snarl of arguments. All that’s left is the writeup, since Marty asked, idly, what the epilogue was for each of us. He asked me, at least, long after all this cooled off. We’ve got two: Ian’s, and mine. Darya didn’t much care, and Jin I don’t know about.
Till next time, then.


  1. You never were actually playing in the campaign that ended with the laughably one-sided katana duel with Marty, were you? So he's technically right that your presence or absence makes all the difference in whether his campaigns reach their conclusions. He'd just rather blame that on you than recognize that his railroad plot is poor design.

    You're better off out of it anyway. The only puzzling things are that you didn't walk before getting punted and that there are still people who play with him.

    1. He doesn't railroad as much in a fantasy setting, and in those we at least have access to SRDs to know what is generally available (as opposed to knowing nothing except conflicting facts about the setting). Also worth noting that in the other campaign I made a character that didn't really care what happened in the setting so long as she got where she wanted to (I made the character to support the other one so it was basically a 1.5 player game)

  2. I don't think the problem was with your playstyle. Your playstyle might be a legitimate problem in other campaigns and for other people, but here the overarching problem was so extreme that only by bending yourself into a pretzel to suit all of Marty's idiotic whims could you have kept things going. I think the problem is that Marty is deeply stupid, willfully ignorant, and also a bad person. And the second problem is that people were enabling him.

    1. That, and if my playstyle is a problem, people normally tell me to change it, and I do, and there's an end to it.

    2. What I find interesting is that it sounds like you tried to make it pretty easy on him. I mean I can relate a bit to Marty in that I am nowhere near the most educated man in the room. And I know that. I accept that. Usually if a player approaches me and starts asking technical setting questions rather than try to guess what the answers are and parse out their intentions, I just point blank ask them "What do you want to do?" "I want to make scratch built explosives." "Cool, throw me a demo check. Success gets you (1 unit) of (damage expression) stuff. By every (Some variable) you get better (damage bonuses) or (more units) or (combination)." and we hash it out. That's been the only way I can keep sane. Trying to do the nitpick science and research drives me up the wall. But it sounded like earlier you were trying to settle for just asking to do something.

      So I can understand the frustration he might have had in trying to turn the game into a Logic Puzzle and Science Fair with someone who outclasses him, and just trying to hope whatever he came up with is a match for some result he can't see coming. However he also brought that state on himself.

      Hard to have pity. But it's a sound lesson there.

  3. 1) You may have a point here. I too once played under bad DM, who railroaded everyone into following his DMPC and if I did a step to a side, he'd just stopped paying attention to me like I didn't exist until I return to the rails (I could do litterally everything I want while he wasn't watching, like make up my own NPCs and plot, but where is fun in that?). And let me not start on how that campain ended. But the kicker is: I was the only one not happy with it. DM has ten or so another players willing to play with him. And when anyone of them was DM, they did exactly the same. So if you can't play such game, there is still a chance other people would play it, no matter how bad it, and DM, is.

    2) Ctech books doesn't recomend to mix tagers with normal humans (or with mechs): they are not ballanced against each other. So the whole premise of the game suck already. Marty had a point saying that it's a miracle your chars are still alive, but why he assumed you will be ok with just laying and dying quietly is beyond me.

    3) Normally if the players find some way to became more powerful then they suppose to, DM summons bigger fish on them. But I can only assume if Marty used stronger enemies against you, his tager NPCs would be beaten too, and he didn't want it.

  4. So I guess that’s the problem: my worst is irrepressible, completely undignified Xanatos Speed Calvinball, and he’s so unwilling to admit he doesn’t like that that it took way too long for me to realize I was royally pissing him off. Come on, he was smiling for most of it.

    Having read through this whole series of posts, I think this is my conclusion also.

    A lot of the problems here seems to stem from Marty thinking that if the players went off track, he needed to use the game to force them back onto it. Which is a really bad idea, in my experience, and I really wish that so many published games actively encourages it - every time I see some advice that boils down to, "let the players do whatever they want - and then punish them for not doing what you wanted them to do," I grit my teeth. That sort of thing leads to everyone getting more and more frustrated, because the players resent the artificial barriers placed against them, and that just makes them fight against them all the harder.

    I think you were a bad fit for the campaign in the first place, playstyle-vise, but Marty's way of dealing with an unhappy player was just about the worst possible one.

  5. I don't think you're being fair to CRPGs; modern ones make an effort to let your choices matter, and even the most linear at least don't actively head off your efforts to affect anything at every turn. Maybe a closer analogy would be old adventure games, but I don't think even the worst Sierra games were this player-mendacious. (And the ones that were had a better sense of humor about it.)

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  7. Let's be honest, you'd give some GMs headaches but I think that'd only be because they're trying to keep up. They'd probably tell you to cool it a bit in private and things would definitely de-escalate and be kept to a reasonable extent.

    Marty? He's the complete antithesis of your play-style. He likes things controlled and going only the way he wants. You're flexible and like to come up with creative conclusions that he doesn't think of, leading to him backpedaling either because he realizes that what you're saying is possible but goes against his plans or he doesn't understand anything and is desperate to deny it because clearly, he should have thought of that first, right?