Thursday, November 29, 2012

Outlying Gamers

Barking Alien asked a great question over at his blog regarding players whose actions in gameplay deliberately set them apart from the gaming group, or are particularly disruptive to the rest of the group's experience.

Am I familiar with this phenomenon?  Honestly, I married it.  My wife, the inspiration behind "Irene" over at Hard Boiled Zombies, once joined a WEG Star Wars Campaign I was running.  She then proceeded to turn over the rest of the PC's to the Empire, collect the reward, and then promised them that in the next session she would rescue them  We never had a next session.

Call them "weasel gamers," call them "outlying gamers," call them whatever you want, game long enough with enough people and you'll meet at least one.  In my experience these outlying gamers fall into three categories.

The ignorant gamer.  The least common and easiest to deal with version is the person who is so unfamiliar with roleplaying games that they don't get the idea of co-operative play, at least initially.  When I first began playing D&D as a pre-teen back in the early '80s, I asked my father to be in my gaming group (I had few friends).  It took a good chunk of that first gaming session to explain to him that he wasn't trying to kill the other members of his party in a gladiator-style deathmatch.  As I said, it hopefully doesn't take long for these kind of players to comprehend what is going on.

The Mr. Spocks.  These are the players who, for whatever reason, have to stand out from the group.  I had  one player who, in my Vampire: the Masquerade campaign, insisted on playing a werewolf.  Like the eponymous Mr. Spock in Star Trek, both rulesets and actual gameplay tends to reward the PC who stands out.  Don't believe me, look at FASA's Star Trek rules for Vulcans.  Plus, the GM has to generally work with or around the divergent PC in order to craft a story.

Usually there is some degree of need for attention, emotional immaturity, anxiety or in rare cases poor social skills at work.  Dealing with this kind of player is usually determined by how severe the cause may be.  In some fairly mild cases, occasionally throwing them a narrative bone, so to speak, will fulfill their social and emotional needs.  Sometimes you may, with our without the rest of the group, explain that their character concept just doesn't work for the campaign you're running, and that either they need to change the PC or consider whether this is the kind of campaign in which they want to play.  There is a reason why I can game with eight to ten players at EOW, and that's because all of them are mature human beings who understand the social contract of the gaming table, including the part where sometimes you sit quietly and don't participate.  At the risk of being insulting, how you respond will usually dictate what happens in the future.  As my dog obedience instructor likes to say, "if you're not training them, they are usually training you."

The Scorpions.  Most of you know the fable of the scorpion being carried across the river by the frog who stings his transport and dooms them both, citing his nature as the reason.  These players are the conflict junkies who just can't play with others.  Sometimes, they are just angry.  In the aforementioned Vampire campaign a player couple in real-life was having some serious relationship problems and the male of the pair took it out on his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend by sabotaging the campaign she loved so much.  In some severe cases, the person suffers from some form of emotional illness, like borderline personality disorder.  Despite the fact that it ruins not only the other player's experiences, but inevitably dooms their own gaming, these players continue to sabotage the experience by insisting that it is all about them.

And frankly, none of us are paid enough to deal with these people. It's a hobby, not a therapeutic profession.  Their actions are likely making gaming unpleasant for the rest of the group, and you've got just as much a responsibility to them and yourself than you do to the outlying player.  If you have someone who is consistently ruining your campaign one after another (as it appears to be the case for Barking Alien), then I'll wager they aren't that good a friend outside the gaming environs as well.  And if you're concerned that you're getting rid of one of the few gamers you know, consider this: these people will keep any prospective gamer away from your table.  You're better off taking the loss now and recouping it in the form of one or more healthy, fun gamers in the future.

Responses welcome.


  1. Interesting observations. The only thing I would note is that in all of the above examples and analysis, the loner player is depicted as immature, ignorant or disordered. Frankly, that's all too negative for me and I don't know if those are the only reasons for this kind of behaviour.

    In the case of the rebel-without-a-cause loner in my game, he is neither immature, unfamiliar with gaming, nor a sociopath. What he is is impatient. His style of play became most evident in our last game, where one or two of his team mates overthought the majority of their actions to the point where he was bored listening to them discuss who was going to fight who and how for an hour.

    Instead, his PC left the other PCs to that while his did something else. It was a barely veiled metaphor. "I don't want to hang out with you while you run through dozens of possible scenarios. I want to go get something done now."

    Now, I am not defending him for his distruptive attitude sometimes or the fact that now he feels it's more enjoyable to pre-emptively do his own thing 'just in case' the others bog things down. Also, he is definitely a glory-hound, wanting the accolades of an enemy's defeat to go under his name and not others and in that way sort of qualifies for The Mr. Spock category (funny I never thought of Spock that way and I am a huge Star Trek guy. Very eye opening).

    In the end I am not saying his actions are in and of themselves badwrong. I am suggesting that if you know you are sitting down with other people to play what is essentially a team sport, find your place on the team or go play something that doesn't require you to work with a group. If team efforts aren't your thing, put your efforts somewhere else.

    That's what Skyrim is for. ;)

    1. Sorry if I seem particularly negative, but I do think that impatience is a maturity issue. I don't think that there is anything particularly unhealthy or inappropriate when people want to have some degree of attention, the "spotlight" of the story, from time to time. Being able to negotiate that into your own gameplay is in my mind the mark of a good GM.

      Case in point, recently I began getting long, detailed backgrounds from a couple of my players about their D&D PC's. Obviously, they want the game's story to incorporate some element of their own backstory. Throwing them that bone, as I said, isn't a bad thing. Having it ALWAYS be about them, though, is.

    2. And I stand by my Mr. Spock metaphor. How many stories ended up revolving around his character? How many times did his unique Vulcan physiology save the day? (Including my least favorite plot twist, the out-of-nowhere vestigial eyelid.) I love Star Trek, but if the original series was a game, I'd wonder if Spock's player was married to the GM. ;)

    3. Did you ever check out my homebrew Galaxy Quest RPG rules? I think you'll find the 'Token Alien' Template especially entertaining.