Author Topic: The "Bad Players" Letter  (Read 6067 times)

Viletta Vadim

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The "Bad Players" Letter
« on: January 30, 2011, 01:47:14 AM »
In the latest episode (episode 53, for those of you in Future Land), the hosts got a letter from a GM who complained about his last M&M game, about how it leaves him/her feeling drained and so on and so forth, and asking for advice on dealing with the situation.  The hosts proceeded to place all blame squarely on the shoulders of the players, which I really consider a disservice to the GM writing, and his/her group.  Y'all completely ignored the possibility that this GM might be the source of their own problem (or, more probably, it's a combination of factors, and the GM is one of them, but they all need to be addressed).

Note: There are a lot of hypotheticals and worst-case assumptions in here.  Keep that in mind.  I'm swinging in the other direction in a big way, here.

In listening to the letter, a lot of the complaints sounded like they came from a position of, "The players refuse to conform to my vision," without consideration of the players' vision, and it sounds like the GM went so far as to start limiting the system to pen the players into that vision they had no input into and have no investment in.

If the GM is thinking a street-level, gritty, toned-down teen heroes game with characters who are generally plausible like Robin, Speedy, or Bucky, where bank robbers with assault rifles are a serious threat and mundane mobsters are the main threat, but the players crave lots of freedom and cosmic-level or exotic characters on the order of Doctor Strange, Braniac 5, and the Silver Surfer, where anything short of a planet-eater is daily fare?  If the GM just tries to force the players into the street-level mold without any sort of concessions, of course the GM's gonna get burnt out, and very little of that is going to be the players' fault.

There has to be some give and take there, and in this case, it may be better to end up somewhere around a Teen Titans game.  Yeah, you have your alien princess and your extradimensional sorceress spawn of a planet-destroying uberdemon and they live in a big T on their own island, but they're still not above street-level crime, and they don't command the same respect as, say, the Justice League.  The bad guys are still the mob with a lot of the same elements, but now they have lasers and ninjas and the drugs they're dealing are juiced from a psychic alien they've captured, turning their junkies into superstrong slaves while they're on their high.  Or something.  It's a lot easier and less taxing to find common ground than it is to drag the players kicking and screaming onto your turf and constantly enforcing your will upon them.

With this particular question, of what the hosts have that this GM lacks, it really seems like one of the most important answers would be give-and-take, the ability to work with the players, rather than lord over them, because it really sounds like this GM's not giving an inch.  While there probably are some player issues at work, I just can't put it all on their shoulders.

Robot Master

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Re: The "Bad Players" Letter
« Reply #1 on: January 30, 2011, 10:45:42 AM »
Oh shit, Ross is going to have you "collected" and beaten, now. HE IS A PUBLISHED AUTHOR!!!

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I dunno man I agree with Ross and Tom. The guy wrote his letter from the point of view of getting burned out and the players need to keep in mind the scale of the game that the GM put together. Then again, Ross and Tom really don't spend the time on their podcast to turn those players' letters into an hour long discussion. I flipped iTunes on and re-listened to that email. The letter writer wrote it from the point of view of "oh damn I made the sandbox for them and then they(the players) fuck up the sandbox and I get all kinds of burnt out".

I've had that happen to me as a GM where I try to design something to entertain the gaming table, but when you want a game with costumed detectives and some asshole keeps griefing me because he wants to make a guy that can lift houses with his mind (and gets upset when I tell him no), then hell yes I get burnt out. That really happened by the way. Ryan no longer plays with us. He's the guy that kept talking to my woman about her boobs.

I've played A LOT of Mutants & Masterminds and here's another reason I agree with the GM. Mutants and masterminds is designed to go from teen BMX bandit squad to psychotically powerful cosmic entity characters. You (as a GM) have GOT to establish not only the power level of the game but what style of game it's going to be. If you want it to be a street level, costumed heroes game (characters like Batman, Robin, Rorschach) then you cannot let a player make a guy with Dr. Manhattan powers. Likewise if you're playing a game with powerful characters like Green Lantern, Silver Surfer, and Captain Marvel you've got to make sure that the guy making a Batman character know that he'll have to work extra hard to hurt the more resilient villains designed to stand up to the uberpowerful heroes.

As a long time GM for Mutants and Masterminds, my best suggestion is to make sure that all of the players are playing characters that fit the "power style" of the game. Also, since the game is basically "super power porn" you need to be ready to say no to a few things. 99% of the time when I'm saying no to my M&M group it's because one of the players has a series of powers that come from a specific origin and they want to add a power that doesn't fit. (sarcastic example: Swamp Thing doesn't suddenly develop laser blasts without a damn, damn, damn good reason).

Mutants and Masterminds is awesome but it really, really sucks in the way that unless you establish rules and stick to them the GM might always feel like he's herding kittens.

Oh, and last thing? M&M players can be assholes about their powers. I had a guy make a telepath/telekinetic who used clairvoyance to see everything from 10 miles away and use his telekinesis power to fight crime while he was sitting in a coffee shop having a bagel. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUUUUGHHH. There is no way as a GM to deal with that other than saying "uh....no fuck that. I know you think it's cute but...there's no way I can run a game with that."

The GM just needs to tell his players "hey...I'm making this for you guys and it's going to be more interesting with less powerful characters, so please don't try to make ubercharacters. Make detectives with masks like <insert examples> or else it's going to be too easy and it won't be interesting or challenging for any of us."
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Me: (slowly raise eyebrow) "Destroy the Earth? That would be...illogical"
Vortex: "Yes...that...would be...highly...illogical."
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Mckma

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Re: The "Bad Players" Letter
« Reply #2 on: January 30, 2011, 12:10:14 PM »
I definitely can see your point about it may be the GM's fault as he/she may be trying to do something that no one is interested in.  But on that same idea, looking at it from the other perspective, if he/she really wants to do something, and his/her players don't, the GM is going to have to make the decision of whether or not to keep going with it.  In this case it appears the decision would have been made to keep going, and thus Tom and Ross gave appropriate advice.  I think it would be hard not to come up with the idea on your own that if things aren't working, perhaps you should stop doing it and try something the players are interested in.  Basically I guess what I'm saying in a nutshell is, it definitely could be the GM's fault for doing something that no one cares about, and if Tom and Ross were running some sort of "RPG group counseling" bit, it would have been inappropriate not to address this, but seeing how it was just the GM asking for advice on how to deal with the players not working with his/her vision, I think it's fine that they take the quick, somewhat single minded approach and just address it from the GM perspective...

clockworkjoe

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Re: The "Bad Players" Letter
« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2011, 03:54:24 PM »
Let me post the relevant bits of the letter in question:

The last campaign I ran was a Mutants & Masterminds game with the players as teenage up-and-coming heroes. My players would continually bitch whenever something did not go their way, and chaffed at the limitations I put on the campaign both in terms of power selection and theme.
 
The M&M campaign came to an end when one of the players designed a completely overpowered robot sidekick. When I told him "no," because the idea was both ludicrously overpowered and because it did not fit into the game thematically, he had what I can only describe as a meltdown. I stopped running the game there.
 
That event was six or so months ago. I'm thinking of running a new game but the thought of having to deal with the constant compaints makes me feel exausted.


My reading of the situation was that the players had deep-rooted anger management issues, not a disagreement on visions of the game. No one should EVER react in what an observer could label a 'meltdown' to a game. That says to me that the players were unreasonable. Furthermore, running a game shouldn't exhaust the GM like it did to the listener nor should they dread the thought of starting a game up. 

People don't use the word meltdown to describe a mild disagreement or even a strident disagreement. It has a very specific connotation and that is an emotional out-of-control reaction that is out of place for the situation. I don't think many people would misuse the word meltdown and certainly not to label a rational calm disagreement or even a calm argument or debate.

I think gaming only works when all the people involved can stay in control of their emotions. A lot of gamers can't control their emotions and when they overreact to something, NO ONE HAS FUN.

I do agree that players and GMs usually have to go through some give and take but once the player has a meltdown, then the whole game breaks down. Even if the player had his vision of the player being rejected, he had no right to react in that manner.

Anyway, the listener in question emailed me after the episode:

Let me start off by saying thanks for reading my letter on-air.
 
It meant a lot that you and Tom would take the time to address my email.
 
The sad fact about my two bad players is that they are two of my best friends. Normally, they are both incredibly nice guys, but they tend to get too emotionally invested in their characters and the game as a whole. I had actually been contemplating a halt to including them in my games, but, in the interest of friendship, I reached out to you in a last-ditch effort to turn them around.
 
I have to say I'm impressed with your insight because with the relatively little information I provided you were able to exactly diagnose the issue; they are both the kind of people who get genuinely angry when playing multiplayer games.




Robot Master

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Re: The "Bad Players" Letter
« Reply #4 on: January 30, 2011, 11:29:31 PM »
Oh sure, Ross, fabricate a listener email to win a disagreement on the boards....

I CALL SHENANIGANS!

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edit: just to be clear here, I'm trying to be sarcastic in an awkward situation.
« Last Edit: January 31, 2011, 01:44:56 AM by Robot Master »
Thanos: "I am going to sacrifice the Earth to gain the love of Death"
Me: (slowly raise eyebrow) "Destroy the Earth? That would be...illogical"
Vortex: "Yes...that...would be...highly...illogical."
Thanos: "Your Star Trek references bore me."

Yoba

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Re: The "Bad Players" Letter
« Reply #5 on: January 31, 2011, 05:50:50 PM »
Oh sure, Ross, fabricate a listener email to win a disagreement on the boards....

I CALL SHENANIGANS!

---
edit: just to be clear here, I'm trying to be sarcastic in an awkward situation.
Ross wouldn't do that, he's a published author like 3 times over. He doesn't write anything that he isn't getting paid to write. I bet he doesn't even post on the forums unless hes being paid to do it. I bet when he cashes checks at the bank he gets even more money from them for writing his name. I'm sure someone else might have fabricated this letter for him though. I mean he's a published author, of course people want to show off writing skills to him.

Ezechiel357

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Re: The "Bad Players" Letter
« Reply #6 on: February 02, 2011, 09:40:18 AM »
To come back to the initial problem, I can see several points:

- First, at the start of a new campaign, during character creation, I made sure to explain the limits I am setting. And no, I don't try to find a "in-game" justification why in this world these powers dont' work. Eg.: mental powers don't work, although according to the system we are using, it should be possible to read mind and control people actions. But I forbid it, since it would spoil most of my investigation and diplomatic stories; and if I allow something that really threaten the balance the campaign, I would apologise and simply take it away, without trying to find a way "in-game" to correct it as it might frustrate the players and it would become players vs GM instead of players with GM.

- Second, sometimes, you should listen to what your players want and see if you can "exceptionnally" accomodate, or maybe just to show them that what they want is not as enjoyable as they believe (look at one of the RPPR video, showing the various GM styles  ;D ) and giving them a taste of their own medicine might be the right treatment;

- Finally, they might be your best friends, but I am concerned that if they get mad or meltdown simply because of you saying "No" to an in-game request, it might reveal a much deeper problem... Come one, let's face it, yes, everybody can have a bad day, and be a cry baby and spoil everybody's fun. But on a regular basis, it should send warning signals.

Anyway, give it another try, explaining why you are setting limits (I am not confortable in running epic level story; these powers will spoil the campaign and remove any challenge; and so on). RP should be about having fun, not being chores.

Zeriken

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Re: The "Bad Players" Letter
« Reply #7 on: February 04, 2011, 09:27:59 AM »
Ross has SPOKEN HIS PIECE.
Magadheera - Must find sub of this movie.

clockworkjoe

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Re: The "Bad Players" Letter
« Reply #8 on: February 04, 2011, 01:53:04 PM »
To come back to the initial problem, I can see several points:

- First, at the start of a new campaign, during character creation, I made sure to explain the limits I am setting. And no, I don't try to find a "in-game" justification why in this world these powers dont' work. Eg.: mental powers don't work, although according to the system we are using, it should be possible to read mind and control people actions. But I forbid it, since it would spoil most of my investigation and diplomatic stories; and if I allow something that really threaten the balance the campaign, I would apologise and simply take it away, without trying to find a way "in-game" to correct it as it might frustrate the players and it would become players vs GM instead of players with GM.

- Second, sometimes, you should listen to what your players want and see if you can "exceptionnally" accomodate, or maybe just to show them that what they want is not as enjoyable as they believe (look at one of the RPPR video, showing the various GM styles  ;D ) and giving them a taste of their own medicine might be the right treatment;

- Finally, they might be your best friends, but I am concerned that if they get mad or meltdown simply because of you saying "No" to an in-game request, it might reveal a much deeper problem... Come one, let's face it, yes, everybody can have a bad day, and be a cry baby and spoil everybody's fun. But on a regular basis, it should send warning signals.

Anyway, give it another try, explaining why you are setting limits (I am not confortable in running epic level story; these powers will spoil the campaign and remove any challenge; and so on). RP should be about having fun, not being chores.

You and Viletta Vadim both make good points and I agree with them.