Provocative questions and players who "block"

edited March 2012 in Play Advice
Paging Dr. Harper. I know you wrote a post somewhere, maybe here, maybe on a blog, I don't know, where you talked about how even when people give you "nothing" when you ask provocative questions, you can still get something and build on the answers without bullying them. I thought it was a really nice piece of advice but I don't remember it very well. Could you talk about that again? I'd be really grateful.

Everyone else is obviously very welcome to pitch in, too.

(What I'm talking about is the sort of conversation -in AW for example- that goes something like this:
"How much gasoline is still in your tank, Driver?"
"Oh it's full."
"Awesome, where did you fill it up?"
"I've got a cistern."
"Does anyone else know about it?"
"Nah, it's hidden."

Also, just blocking in general. I read Keith Johnstone's Impro not so long ago and I got Play Unsafe so I'm acutely aware of blocking but I guess I need help easing my players into it. I gave them Play Unsafe to read but that didn't really help. Graham, any thoughts? I suppose the easiest thing to do would be to avoid playing character-driven drama games with them.


  • Hello!

    I managed to dig up the post. It's over here. I'll repost the relevant bit.
    Posted By: John HarperLet's take this gunlugger, Duke. My internal MC reactions are in parentheses.

    I say, "So, Duke, who do you get your ammo from?" (I'm looking to make an NPC here, to start a triangle.)
    Duke: "Uh. I don't know. I just get it for myself, I guess."
    John: (Damn.) "So you scrounge for it?" (Plan B: Make a landscape instead)
    Duke: "Yeah."
    John: "Where? Out in the old city ruins?" (I'm fishing for details here, for the landscape threat.)
    Duke: "Yeah."
    John: (Damn. Didn't get any details or investment. Oh well.) "It's pretty dangerous out there. Do you ever get extra, for trading with people back at the holding?" (I'm looking to make an NPC again.)
    Duke: "No... just for me."
    John: (Damn.) "Do you know anyone who scrounges out there, too?" (Trying again.)
    Duke: "No."
    John: (Well, shit. Wait!) "So... wait. You're the only person who has the nerve to scrounge in the ruins, and the only person with access to ammo? Oh. COOL."

    That player is bringing nothing. And, in reality, I'd beveryreluctant to play with someone that limp. But hopefully that example shows that you can keep asking, keep digging, until you hit on something that sparks -- even if a player isn't providing a lot up front.
  • And a follow up:
    Posted By: John HarperAnd you can do that with any question. Either you discover an NPC or other threat, or you learn what they're in control of and therefore what stuff others might want to take from them or trade for. Like, if Duke had said the ammo stockpile was his alone and he decided who was worthy, that's gold too. You can immediately imagine some people who don't like that situation, others who support him, etc. Triangles and threats.
  • I think the phrasing of the questions is important. As in any interview, avoid any yes/no questions.

    Instead of: "So you scrounge for it?", ask "How exactly do you get it?"
    Instead of: "Where? Out in the old city ruins?", just ask "Where?"

    ...and to get the most out of it, ask things that can only be answered by feeding the fiction:

    "What's the most dangerous thing about the ruins?"
    "You've met some others scrounging out there - what were they like?"
    "Last time you brought home ammo, there was something weird about it. What was that?"
  • edited March 2012
    I'm very much thinking the same as Matthijs here;
    - to provoke answers of substance from passive players it is better to ask directed questions
    - try to avoid questions which contains their own answers; they often leads to a yes/no, and little else

    As for trying to lead a passive player, it is challenging, but you may lure some consequence out of his attitude too, as John shows so nicely in his example. Here's a little list:
    - silence may be interpreted as "I'm with you" or "I'm threatening you"
    - tight-lipped answers may be interpreted as "I'm cool" or "I'm full of repressed emotions"
    - hesitation may be interpreted as "I'm shocked" or "I'm carefully weighing my options"

    All of these interpretations depending on the situation, of course.

    - Sometimes such interpretations is necessary to keep up the game-flow, and ties in neatly with the character.
    - Sometimes such rulings from a leader make players gnash their teeth in frustration; having them feeling their character is sifted away from them. I seldom heed players protesting such treatment, but tell them to use their energy on contributions to the game, not protests. Whether players protest or not, such treatment often provoke them to open their mouth the next time you ask, in a bid for renewed character-control.

    Any way you see it, it is a question of how the leader and the player(s) communicate, and how you, as a leader, invest yourself in making the communication go both ways, helping the player(s) towards the higher purpose;
    - stronger interaction and deeper fiction!
  • John, we play in similar ways, you and I. Here's what I do with passive support cast players who clearly are not interested in positioning their characters dramatically:

    When I see a player acting like that, I'm going to get cynical and use him as a sounding board for a bit of impromptu narrative vignettizing. You scrounge the ruins regularly, let's talk about that. Let's describe (and I mean, I'll describe while you sit there) the grandeur of the lost way of life, the little tips and tricks of where to find the best stuff, the dangers and how handily your rugged outdoorsman avoids them. Then I can move onto something else, such as some other character who's got something interesting going, or whatever. You will be happy, as we have affirmed that your character is a cool and unique special snowflake. This is the threshold of enjoyable game for you, basically: I tell you that your character is cool, and I keep the game moving so new images come up, and you will be happy.

    The above has a function in the game socially, creatively and structurally:
    • A dramatically "empty beat" serves to colour in the world and establish detail we can use later on. You would be doing this stuff anyway, might as well use the opportunity the player is providing you by being passive.
    • This player does not want to be a protagonist. He wants to participate, but his mode of participation will be passive, immersive and supportive. By accepting his passivity and carrying the interaction I give him a stamp of approval. He does not need to feel like he's bringing things down, and everybody can be comfortable with him being more passive and less protagonistic than other players. As long as he's happy with the fact that the story won't be about his character, his character being teflon-plated, it's not going to be a problem. He's Wolverine, his point is to provide some loyal muscle for the characters with actual consciences.
    My special insight here is that this player is more often than not genuinely looking for you to do the creative heavy lifting: he wants to hear the GM describe the world and his character's place in it. You can do whatever you want with it, and he'll interject something minor if and when inspiration grabs him. As long as you keep the train moving and don't get stumped, he'll leave the session happy, for he got the apocalyptica he came for. As long as you've got other players in the team who are into doing the "actual game" as we think of it, there's no reason why this supporting actor couldn't be there as well. Just be ready to act like he's part of the team even if his character is not interesting and his impact on the game is mostly that his character helps kill the enemies of the other player characters (as his own character doesn't have any enemies of his own to speak of, you see).

    The more I develop my elitist theory of support players, the more I think that I should really write up some asymmetric rules for dramatic adventure in the vein of games like TSoY and Apocalypse World: there's no good reason why the game couldn't encode this strategy of two-level player participation into the rules mechanics. They key, I think, would be in maximizing a support player's ability to imagine and project his character as a teflon-plated static entity, while simultaneously enabling the other players to actually make the dramatically decisive choices with consequences.
  • Eero, hey, I like that. Players choosing to participate in different ways/on different levels.
  • I'll cast light on the opposite viewpoint, too:

    There have to be people reading this who don't get why I sound so ambivalent about this topic. You need to understand, I come from a very egalitarian social and artistic background; it's not a normal idea around here to sit there and categorize your players into cynically essentialist lists of "good" or "bad" players. I've become convinced that this is a genuine artistic weakness, we are sacrificing quality of play because the default assumptions of the practice prevent us from e.g. dropping players who are not useful to the group. For this reason I'm a bit torn on this train of thought, despite having found it useful as a practical GMing heuristic. I can't but think that I would find it somewhat offensive if somebody else was GMing for me and decided to categorize me in this way as somebody who needs kiddie wheels in their rpg experience. This is on some level foolish, of course: we constantly alter our approaches to social situations on the basis of who we're interacting with, so why not do that in roleplaying. I guess it's a methodical question for me: there's a difference between using the leeway a game provides you and actually modifying the game to provide for different types of players.

    The best solution would probably be if the game really offered the players an explicit way of self-labelling themselves. Ideally it'd be on the basis of some equal-seeming terminology, too, that didn't make it seem that some players are playing the "real" game while others are just there as ballast. In my experience players never self-label themselves as ballast, they always think that they'll definitely be playing actively and usefully and the way the game is supposed to be played.

    Considering Gregor's original question, my solution here definitely goes into the "don't play character-driven drama games with them" box. I'm basically advocating informal, semi-secret marginalization of players who you think will be happiest when dealt with as audience instead of co-creators. Let them sit there, but play the actual game with the players who get it.
  • Upthread: good stuff!

    Downthread: I'd be very wary of "equal-seeming" terminology, especially since you don't really believe them equal. Why not simply make the game have different mechanism for engaging at different levels, so that different players can use the bits that suit them?
  • Certainly. It's not like I'm nailing things down right this minute. Perhaps it's best to create bits and pieces for players to construct their own profile of participation. The downside of that is ambiguity and false signalling; it's already a massive problem in practical gamecraft that people lie (or rather misinterpret themselves and gaming tools) in signalling things. Anybody who's played something like say TSoY has surely encountered a player who's false-flagged themselves into playing a character who they actually don't want to play. I don't think I've ever met a player who'd have told me that they want to play a support character: everybody says that they want to play a "protagonist" or "dramatic lead" because that sounds cool, and then it's all "I'm happiest when my character gets to be cool and lurk in the shadows and make threatening gestures with his knife without ever taking a stance ever on anything". That's not protagonism, the poor guy just has confused expectations and communication. This is where it might help to have some more positive and affirmative language available, so I wouldn't need to call the turtling player a turtle or princess player or support cast - these are all common and funny theory terms, but none sound like something you'd want to use in self-categorizing.

    The issue of equality is real in my thinking, I don't think that it's a given that an active dramaturgical player is better. Maybe more inwards-turning players are equal to players who run the show in some gauge of quality or ethical validity as good roleplayers? I am aware of gaming cultures where quiet contemplation is considered a virtue of the serious roleplayer, for example. I personally find it dull, dull, dull, but I've met plenty of freeformers, immersionists, larpers and other gamers along those kinds of parallel orbits, who all would say that the best roleplaying is the kind that enables introspective play: the meaning of the session is ultimately in your internal world, not in what happens between the players. This is not technically the same thing as passivity, but it is related.
  • Your perspective on passive players is refreshening, Eero; let them stay passive, in a support-function. Ok!

    But I do prefer to help passive players become more active in my games.

    It might be due to me playing a lot with those between 10 and 16. They are often a bit clumsy when it comes to active participation. The ones between 13 and 16 are often fools of shyness, and need help to get over it. Grown ups caught in such shyness are, to me, people that never got out of the shy pit they dived into in those years. They need help to develop the psycho-social tools of play. And if I am to be sincere in my ambition of selling games to ordinary people, I need to take such issues seriously; I need to offer them all the help I can give, as a leader of games and a game-smith.

    My take is:
    - to challenge the passive player a bit; directed questions, in-game actions, spotlighting, and touch
    - to make the game a "safe spot"; being frank, laugh, hug, invite the player to intimacy of expression
    - to go forth being silly; show them how to fail, and to overcome failures/weaknesses with laughter
    - give them your joy; smile, enjoy, encourage

    Mind you; I'm designing games for amateurs, and will not have it any other way. Doing that is saying a big YES to whatever kind of players sits down at my table, doing my best to include ANYONE buying into my game. Only if I fail in the best of my efforts, will I give up on a player. That attitude is the fundament of my leadership at the table, and a main principle in my design.
  • We are largely in accord, Tomas. I'm a big fan of social motivations in setting up roleplaying games in the first place, as I've discussed elsewhere earlier. My player base tends to range between 14-20, and I certainly give it my best shot when we meet and I have a chance to see if they might have it in them to develop into more outgoing, literate and confident people. Experience has indicated, though, that not everybody is going to learn; this has been sort of a bitter thing to acknowledge, but nowadays I'm pretty zen about it: some people just grow into clumsy introverts, so pestering them about it would just be cruel in the long term. Not all things are fixed by correct technique, even if many are.

    (Again, I realize that I sound very cruel when I ascribe gaming maladies like passive play to intensely personal qualities like introvert nature or insufficient cultural background, etc. Usually we discuss these things with the assumption that the player-base is essentially equal in terms of talent, and any problems are caused by preferences or assumptions. Many definitely are, but the more I learn about the possibilities of game design and GMing technique in running a roleplaying game, the more clearly I see the limitations we have as imperfect human beings trying to match ourselves into a team for a complex and challenging endeavour. Better players certainly make for better play, which alone explains much of the mediocre game writing we have suffered through historically: those game texts are no doubt entirely sufficient for the authors and their particular gaming crews, you're just not going to need the same amount of clarity when everybody's dancing to the same tune to begin with.)

    As I've discussed before, the way you handle problems like e.g. turtling depends so much on your goals: are you running an ambitious artistic outfit, or a gaming outreach club, or a social pastime for friends, or what. Probably not going to be possible to combine more than two of those. These threads about the topic will obviously already presume that you want to do something about it instead of just dropping that player or whatever.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: Eero TuovinenExperience has indicated, though, that not everybody is going to learn; this has been sort of a bitter thing to acknowledge, but nowadays I'm pretty zen about it: some people just grow into clumsy introverts, so pestering them about it would just be cruel in the long term. Not all things are fixed by correct technique, even if many are.
    Yes! You are so right!

    Pestering people not living up to a set standard is not a good thing. I find being "zen" about it to be the best attitude towards those I cannot help.

    My technique for helping such people may be flawed, so I may need some time or consideration to get there.
    They may need some time too, to ready themselves for the development it takes to participate actively.
    Sometime nothing happens, and we twaddle about the game with a limited amount of fun.
    And sometimes we stop, and we never meet around the gaming-table again.
  • Re. false flagging. I know I'm prone to that myself, but I think it's somewhat inevitable.

    Different people interpret different things in different ways -- so flagging isn't a substitute for continuous communication and keeping eyes and ears open. (I know anyone isn't saying it is, just underlining.)
  • edited March 2012
    (this was crossposted, I wrote it after Thomas' post #11 but then SG stalled)

    Darn, Eero, this is really good stuff. Some serious wisdom there. I got to sit back and think a bit.

    Thomas, the sort of passivity I'm talking about isn't necessarily about shyness (The player in question is certainly outgoing and enjoys the spotlight.). It's not so much about being passive socially as actively blocking (I'm using the specific term from improv) in play. It's about people who, to paraphrase Eero, "don't know how to or aren't interested in positioning their character dramatically". Their characters are "stuck" narratively, more setpieces than protagonists, they don't tumble from engaging situation to situation and they're insulated, they don't form relationships and responsibilities. ("Never" here is really "most of the time".) Their stakes are either already resolved or nonexistent.

    Sometimes it extends beyond their character, when events impact their concept. For example, this one time (in what was to be a GMless game I was facilitating) I specifically asked the other players to come up with motivated, fallible, human characters who can be put on the line. The player in question created a wise immortal who didn't answer to anyone. It was not a bad or boring character as such, just static. Some time into the game I created a situation -through the narrative tools that we had available- where this PC indirectly placed another PC's life in danger. I thought this was dramatic gold. I saw the face of the player whose PC was threatened literally lit up. And then the first player said no, that his character would never allow such a thing to happen and we spent the next ten minutes or so arguing OOC whether he had established so in the game or not (the player whose PC was threatened was arguing that yes, her PC was put in danger) until I had to cut the game.

    I'm not saying this is bad or wrong play in any way, it's just an entirely different set of play priorities.
  • Great posts Eero, Tomas and Matthijs - and 'Doc' Harper surely knows his stuff (as I've learned ApW from his blog).

    I'm with Teataine and 'Doc' Harper, in that some players are blocking in a way that seems very much like 'turtling'. I has nothing to do with shyness, nor an ability to understand drama or story-building. It's really about having a cool character.

    I find the best remedy for these "blocking" players, is having co-players that not only embrace their own (character's) failures, but who make the whole table relish them. Sometimes it seems that some players need to see that you can be successful and 'cool' even though your character fail miserably. Tomas' 'hands on' approach to building stories is and excellent way to show that hard-fought victories are just-so-much-sweater!

    What I've done as a GM, is to have them just describe how cool they are, instead of rolling (for some reason it's often in combat the characters are designed to succeed/'be cool'). Sometimes the players will be happy to, other times they will make a 'weaker' character next time around - to experience the dice-rolling, or just loosen up because making the proverbial 'combat-monkeys' was how the game used to ble played - until now.
  • By the by, I should probably balance my account by telling about a specific "blocking" player. We have this guy in our D&D campaign who's the absolute backbone of the game. He's a smart, outgoing youngster, going to study either physics or medicine after graduating high school this spring. His character is one of the naturally emergent "protagonists" (no real protagonists in hardcore D&D in the dramatic sense - I mean the characters with the deepest setting ties and most complex fictional positioning) of our sandbox campaign, and he's usually either the leader or the second in command of the expeditions. (I should clarify, because American gamers have an abnormal amount of "nerds" among them: you wouldn't categorize this guy among nerds, he's a boy scout leader and his girlfriend plays with us now and then.)

    He's also a strong blocking player in a dramatic game. The guys played that new Marvel game yesterday, and what I observed involved him being noisy about tactical details of how they could, given their superheroic resources, solve the problems. He played like he thought that it would make some difference as to how the tactical skirmish was handled. Ask him about his character's issues, and he is prone to downplaying them; he plays fair and he plays hardball, and he respects the fiction, but give him a genuine choice about whether his character is vulnerable or teflon-plated, and he'll go for the latter every time.

    The above is definitely a product of this particular guy's gaming background: he comes to roleplaying as a younger brother of another hardcore gamer, and he's been playing MtG and Warhammer for years. He's big into computer gaming - the whole enchilada, one might say. When he started playing roleplaying games with us a few years back it was pretty clear from the start that he's big into systems, structures, problem-solving; he has the literacy to recognize and appreciate fiction, but he's not big into creating drama. I think that he hasn't quite entirely grogged the extent of differences people can have in creative agenda while roleplaying. When we play something like The Shadow of Yesterday (or Apocalypse World, I'd imagine), this is the guy who'll be big into creating a flashy, inventive combination of crunch that allows him to do amazing things in the fiction, but without particularly developing a strong moral statement with his character.

    This case study is because we've been talking about players who refuse dramatic hooking or even dramatic discussion, and I've made some pretty strong suggestions about how it could be half ignorance and half personal shortcomings with these guys. My example here is of a person who's getting along admirably socially and creatively - there's nothing wrong with him as a human being, despite the fact that I constantly see him blocking. That's entirely appropriate in D&D, you should be making sure the GM toes the line. The guy even knows he's doing it, he'll give in if you tell him to, temporarily. But it's not in his nature to enjoy the dramatic irony of having his character act against his best knowledge. It's not even entirely in his character to understand why others find drama-heavy games compelling.

    Time will tell whether this particular guy will get a deeper sense of dramatic appreciation as he matures. Young people grow fast. His elder brother did a lot of roleplaying in his time, but nowadays has grown to prefer boardgames, largely out of similar inclinations towards hard competition and strategizing. We have a grand time with these guys playing Diplomacy, but a drama game with them is procedurally perfect but rarely passionate.
  • Posted By: TeataineSome time into the game I created a situation -through the narrative tools that we had available- where this PC indirectly placed another PC's life in danger. I thought this was dramatic gold. I saw the face of the player whose PC was threatened literally lit up. And then the first player said no, that his character would never allow such a thing to happen and we spent the next ten minutes or so arguing OOC whether he had established so in the game or not (the player whose PC was threatened was arguing that yes, her PCwasput in danger) until I had to cut the game.
    Oh man, this is so familiar to me. Different games need to handle these situations in such different ways, but the basic creative goals of the players are very familiar: a teflon player never wants to have any moral encumbrances, he hates it when something his character does comes back as a consequence that carries obligation. It's like a personal failure for him, he was stupid enough to take the bait and act in a way that carries consequence. This is in fact probably a large factor in why they seem to act so deliberately and rarely: better to not do anything if you perceive that the GM is trying to entrap you. This isn't even paranoid, a GM in a standard narrativist game is trying to trap you! He's constantly on the look-out for weaknesses, questions, anything that makes your character human, anything to crack him and make him bleed emotionally. That tug-of-war is very much the basis of what makes the Sorcerer-derived advocation-based drama game. And it's going to look like a farce if both the exploitative GM and the "victim" player don't agree that this is the goal of the game, to drive the character into true-to-life problems the player can then resolve.

    What I wrote above about different and asymmetric player roles totally applies, by the way: as long as you have some players who are willing to step up and be the victims of drama, you can just have those character fuck up in every possible way. Then just let the teflon ducks ride to the rescue, they'll be happy to provide entertaining narration about how their character helps out. If they want to be Gandalf, let them be Gandalf! Give them amazing powers, but also commensurate limitations so that they need to annoyingly leave individual moments (the moments that become eventual dramatic highlights - Gandalf was not there to drop the Ring into the volcano) for the actual lead characters to solve.

    Whether this solution is possible with a functional Creative Agenda is an interesting theoretical question. I'd say that ultimately the drama-oriented players won't be that interested in what Gandalf gets up to this time. Still, for social reasons this is bearable, I believe.
  • Eero, have you seen your teflon-plated players ending up in morally interesting situations due to natural/tactical choices they've made? If so, how did they react?

    Ie. something has non-obvious but natural consequences down the line, and the character needs to deal with them? Like, they choose dungeon A instead of B because it offers a better payoff, and when they later visit B they see the town devastated by the goblin horde that emerged from the dungeon B while they were in A? (Well, maybe not quite that hamhanded, but you get the point...)
  • This is really making me think.

    I was about to write a post saying "let's not conflate 'passive' with 'blocking'" but I see you guys already covered it. So. +1.

    I also like Eero's "Let it be" attitude. +1. I can add something - Johnstone ( for storytellers.pdf) would say these people who block, are refusing to allow their character to be altered, are trying to win / not be vulnerable / play high-status / can't separate themselves from their character. SO. Even if you find a chink in their armor, a way to turn the tables on them, so there's actually a story there, that's probably not going to be what they want. They may even find it really unpleasant. (I'm kind of realizing this right now.)

    Now, I'm thinking back to a game of M<3s I played with Daniel at FabReal and I may have come off as 'blocking' - I questioned GM rulings, used the mechanics to help my character 'win', asked for takebacks - but in that particular game, really appreciated the hard moves and character-altering events that came my way (and also, whenever the GM asked me a 'yes/no' question, almost always agreed 'yes') SO. How do you tell a player like me - blocking within the bounds of the game mechanics because the game encourages a sort of theatrical swordfighting in the narrative, but who will relish it if his character has tragic shit happen to him - from a player who's blocking because they really can't take it?
  • Posted By: nikodemusEero, have you seen your teflon-plated players ending up in morally interesting situations due to natural/tactical choices they've made? If so, how did they react?
    Difficult to say, it depends a lot on the player and the game. For example, in D&D we have a lot of dramatically teflon players, but the overall spirit of the game is so hardcore that nobody even thinks of crying for mommy if their choices lead to - gasp - consequences. We play for the consequences there, just not for their dramatic value so much. They're just not dramatic choices, they're tactical. On the other hand, in TSoY these players will often avoid making choices specifically because they realize on some level that the game is rigged and the GM is out to get them. I would say that usually such a player will try to take the most obvious actions possible in a drama game - I think this feels like protective colouring, as a GM who pisses in your eye for doing "what was expected" would seem to be more morally responsible for the events, while if the player went out on a limp and took a risk it'd look more like the player himself was to blame for what happened.
  • Posted By: jdfristromHow do you tell a player like me - blocking within the bounds of the game mechanics because the game encourages a sort of theatrical swordfighting in the narrative, but who will relish it if his character has tragic shit happen to him - from a player who's blocking because they really can't take it?
    That is truly the million dollar question. It's difficult enough to phrase these theoretical distinctions in the armchair, having to perceive them on the run and being able to phrase them so you can communicate with your co-players, that's tricky. I've managed to play with people for years without truly understanding how they've reacted to things in play. Some people simply are not very expressive, so they're difficult to read, you don't know even afterwards whether they liked or hated something, and why. It's easier with players who are able to phrase for themselves what they like and why.
  • edited March 2012
    Well, that doesn't seem that hard, to me. (Although I could be very wrong: this is just me thinking out loud from behind my computer screen. It might be an entirely different story at a table with a real human being!)

    Throw out some hooks to the player, and see what they bite. For example, you, Jamie, yourself mention how you'll fight hard to avoid "losing" in certain ways, but are happy to answer "yes" to provocative questions.

    I once had an extremely shy player who engaged in the game very very little. His character was the Prince, the most important person in the group (the campaign involved him and his retinue traveling over land). He sat there quietly most of the time, and it was hard to get him to say anything more than a word or two. I found giving him authority over other characters (e.g. two people come to his tent, and one says the other has committed a crime against him--how do we resolve this, Prince?) helped. However, the moment he really jumped out of his shell was when the Prince was involved in a minor contest (a training swordfight with his mentor) and LOST. I asked him how he lost the fight, and he suddenly jumped into action, describing his character's disastrous mishandling of the fight, and how he lay on the ground, with all his men-at-arms witnessing his pathetic loss. He even threw his pen across the room in a demonstration of how his character's sword slipped out of his hand.

    Interesting? I never got to play another session with him, but I suspect there was something major there. I would have liked to find out! He was brand new to roleplaying, and I wonder what kind of player he might have become.


    My hypothesis here is that with such a player you should be able to try throwing out a variety of different hooks, until they bite at something. (Hopefully you're playing a game that makes this easier for you, too, like explicit character Flags you can point at and ask the player how they see them getting involved in various situations.)
  • I'm curious about this approach to classify a player as "passive" participant. You know the proverbial "Wolverine", the teflon-coated "cool dude", as you describe, Eero. You mention some very good ways to deal with such a player, and to give them what they might be looking for in the game.

    What happens if you approach the player and have this conversation with them, fully out in the open? Exactly the stuff we're talking about in this thread. "Hey, it sounds like your Guy is a really cool dude, he doesn't make mistakes or have vulnerabilities. Right? But he's a deadly machine (or whatever), and it sounds like he's following around the others so he can put his skills to use when he's needed. Does that sound right to you? Or do you see him more like a dramatic figure? By which I mean someone we sympathize with because they care so much about something they'll make mistakes to get it, sacrifice other things, like [insert example of a genre-relevant protagonist]."

    Once you have the person's answer, you can discuss how to make it happen in the game. "If you see Your Dude as more of a conflicted hero, that's cool. But we don't know what he's conflicted about yet. What does he care about, what would be fun for you to see threatened in the story? Spiderman has Mary Jane... [examples continue] ... someone or something that a villain would threaten in a movie or book, which creates the drama in the story. To make your character that kind of interesting hero, we need to figure what he cares about. Let's come up with something together: I'll throw out some ideas..."

    Has anyone tried this approach with such a player? How do they react? Is it something that would work at least some of the time?
  • My theory that all this comes back to Wolverine continues to be borne out.
  • edited March 2012
    What your talking about here is also a thing in literature.
    Iconic vs Dynamic heros.

    Dynamic heros are those that go through turmoil, and through change manage to win.
    Iconic ones are those that go through turmoil and troubles, and because they DONT CHANGE they manage to win.

    Dynamic examples - Michael Corleone, Frodo, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, etc
    Iconic - James Bond, Indiana Jones, Aragorn etc.

    A lot of this might be to do with the type of character they aspire to be?
  • I don't have time to reply in detail to everything right now (because I'm going to see John Carter), but I wanted to say these two bits really stuck a chord with me:
    Posted By: Eero TuovinenBut it's not in his nature to enjoy the dramatic irony of having his character act against his best knowledge.
    Posted By: Eero TuovinenWe play for the consequences there, just not for their dramatic value so much. They're just not dramatic choices, they're tactical.
    Because I share this thinking/experience, which means I'm not just waving a stick in the dark here.

    Paul: I think the passivity is contextual here. I'm pretty sure that in a game where we're all trying to be "wolverine" I would be the passive player, because I wouldn't feel like I have anything to contribute. I'll have to think about your suggested approach, it sounds good.

    Kenny: Yes, maybe!
  • My dramatic characters are often very inflexible. The GM throws out stuff as warranted by the game, and my character doesn't budge nor fail. There is an absolutely crucial creative difference, though: when I play that character who never bends, you can see how the stress works at him, how it costs him to be unyelding, how he appreciates within how awful his ideals and/or actions might be. The other players generally trust that there is a limit for my character, too - I make sure they do, by speaking out my character's inner feelings and telling them OOC how we're putting my character on the spot here even if it doesn't show in his actions yet. I like playing those sorts of characters, uncompromising nature appeals to me. I think that this works for literary characters, too, even when they're of an unyelding variety. The only exceptions are heroes that are depicted in an undramatic modality: characters like say James Bond are not dramatic, they're epic, and therein lies all the difference. Of course such an iconic character won't be dramatic in a drama game, as they do not possess the quality of drama: for a character to be dramatic, he needs to project struggle that can be appreciated by the audience. If James Bond is depicted in a dramatic mode in a dramatic medium, he certainly has his doubts and transformations - just read Casino Royale and tell me that this is not a man with hidden depths!

    The above makes perfect sense in the context of traditional literary drama theory á la Aristotle. Maybe the player with the perfect character wants to be playing an epic instead of drama? Not that far-fetched, especially when we remember that the most naturally epic genres in roleplaying today are also the ones that are commonly played in princess-play simulationistic style. Superheroes, say. Such a player could be genuinely interested in "story" and "narrative gaming", nobody just perceives that what he wants is FATE (epic) instead of TSoY (dramatic).
    Posted By: Paul T.What happens if you approach the player and have this conversation with them, fully out in the open?
    I should do this more, probably. Denial is a pretty common thing, though; the player doesn't see it himself, probably because he doesn't fully appreciate the difference I'm trying to explain to him. From his viewpoint his character is just fine. Pushing at the matter can get socially awkward, as that basically amounts to accusing the guy of stupidity or lying. "No, I know you said that your character is totally multidimensional, I just don't believe you. I think you don't understand what we're trying to do here." Not something you'd like to say - my first instinct is to rather show than tell, and lead by example. The player picks it up or not by observing how everybody else plays, and in the meantime he's contributing with his Wolverine.
  • Lots of text: I read the original posts, skimmed some of the longer replies, picked up something of Tomas' that I want to run with:

    (EDIT: Just reread a little more; Matthijs covers it in post 4, then Tomas a little further in his next reply) Basically what Matthijs and Tomas said in the initial reply. Of course, Hindsight is 20/20 and all that, so this all becomes a learning lesson for next time and not a condemnation of what happened, but:

    If John fished like some of us fish (when we're really aiming to create connections) in my weekend game (where we use this a lot, for a lot of our games... Well, imagine if these two questions:

    John: (Damn. Didn't get any details or investment. Oh well.) "It's pretty dangerous out there. Do you ever get extra, for trading with people back at the holding?" (I'm looking to make an NPC again.)
    Duke: "No... just for me."
    John: (Damn.) "Do you know anyone who scrounges out there, too?" (Trying again.)
    Duke: "No."

    Were instead rephrased to push further, the GM forcing the connections that just aren't arising independently?
    For example, these are the kinds of questions they would have been if Mark Causey would have asked them:

    Mark: "It's pretty dangerous out there. When you trade back at the holding, there's one person that pays you extra for your trouble. Who is it, and what do you normally get for them? (after initial answer) Why do they give you more compared to others?

    Mark: (points to another PC, or aludes to an NPC) "Sometimes Slag-dog tags along with you scrounging, and you two seem to get along. What does Slag-dog get out of scrounging? Slag-dog sometimes brings a third, a person you just don't like or get along with. Who is that person, and why don't you get along with them?"

    It's fishing of a sort that's beyond the normal "Questions" of A.W, but still in fitting with getting players to generate some content and context, I think.

  • Posted By: Eero TuovinenDenial is a pretty common thing, though; the player doesn't see it himself, probably because he doesn't fully appreciate the difference I'm trying to explain to him. From his viewpoint his character is just fine.
    I strongly agree. Especially if they're enjoying the game, you're really pushing them to do something they don't want to do, and talking to them about it is like trying to convince them to say they think it's better when they don't.

    There's a lot of different things that are going on here. One thing that can help is to say "well, how has your character changed or grown over the course of the game", listen, then say "how can we show that to the rest of the players"? Often times these characters have a lot of internalized stuff that you don't know about from their actions.

    Even Wolverine ends up having to protect idealistic young girls quite a lot. That kind of contrast can help.
  • edited March 2012
    I see the blocking player as being one of two:

    1 - He is instilled with a kind of shyness. That is; he is afraid of getting involved, as that would put him in danger of spilling his inner thoughts/emotions, being "naked" in the eyes of his peers. So he blocks any perceived opening into his inner sanctum, that his character may create.

    2 - He has grown up in a negative culture, and is a nay-sayer. He is prone to say nay to change, and has the reflex so ingrained in him that it's a great challenge overcoming the impulse. The "nay" slips out when others challenge his position.

    As a leader of role-playing games I treat both the same; I challenge them, to rock their boat, bring them on thin ice, blow away their comfort sone. Once they have been thrown in deep, and survived to climb aboard the raft of fellowship, they are saved for the game. Discomfort (the drowning feeling) is something they need to experience, to accept the rest of the group as their blessed boat in the churning sea of interaction.

  • Posted By: JDCorleyOften times these characters have a lot of internalized stuff that you don't know about from their actions.
  • edited March 2012
    Wow! This thread is really useful!

    That's a great catch, Dionysus. If you're creating the iconic "no name gunslinger", you will be baffled and befuddled at the GM's/Group's attempts of adding twists to your characters performance. :)

    I've two more "to do" scenarious, one of whom I've experienced and the other is a simple (kindergarten) pedagogue-'trick'. Both belong together.

    Firstly, I've twice played with players who got ridiculed and pecked on by the group. Not neccesarily maliciously, though I've heard that the 2nd players situation really resembled one (both from himself and from two of the co-players). I've played with both later, when I was the GM, and they were both players who's characters failed and sometimes the players themselves "walked into" so-called 'traps', but both not only took it in stride, but relished in the story and the fun. I'm pretty sure this is because this is what the groups enjoyed.

    So, I theorize that sometimes 'teflon players' are not protecting their characters, but themselves from (perceived) ridicule. These players are content in rolling dice and getting acknowledgement for helping the group. (Note I've not got great material, but I do think I'm onto something.) I don't think this has anything to do with GMing style, just the group's 'vibe' (acceptance and fun beeing key words).

    The second idea, which sort of explains my first, is the principle that when dealing with kids you'll get the behaviour you acknowledge/encourage. In the original example by 'Doc' Harper, (which is a great example), a comment or two after the game that ensures the player that you like cool (but sometimes dangerous/disadvantageous) things happening to the players.


    GM: "I really loved how you're character was the only one bad-ass enough to scavenge in the Ruins. I felt I got to both know your character and set you up for some 'hard time'* at once. Now, what do you think the garage you found can bring of wealth, and more importantly: Trouble?

    Co-player: "Dude, thanks for the game. At first I thought it was kinda lame that you were the only one scavenging in the ruins. I thought it was a waste of story, but it sure turned out different! I loved how we hid there from the Bikers, only for that Mutated Zombie-Bear to maul us and ruin my ride. My character got this great scar*, with a story. If you hadn't pulled out your skills we might have lost even more. See you next week, hope to see more cool stuff happening. It's a shame you're the only one who doesn't have a scar to show the ladies..."

    * and a stat-loss to boot.

    * be sure to smile amiably and inviting :)

    edit: and two posts more since I'm slow/tangentical.

    Tomas probably made my points not only more poignat, but with a simple "how to". I still think the group's response is more important than the GM's, but the OP asked for advice for GMs.
  • Thanks Euro
  • BTW, bit off topic, but I was asked about the legitimacy of that Johnstone PDF.

    I have my doubts as to its legitimacy too ... looks pretty sketchy.

    I shared it because I felt it was important to get Johnstone's word out, and because I was like, "Why not? It's only a short Google search away for everyone else."

    But maybe Johnstone would disagree with me and rather not have anyone benefiting from his wisdom who hasn't paid up front...
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