Overcoming "I don't know"

edited August 2013 in Story Games
I could use help with two different situations from a recent con:

1) Last day con burn-out
The Sunday afternoon of the con and I'm sitting across from two Whovians who'd just had their first experience of rpging the night before in a Cthulhu investigative game and had enjoyed it so much that they had come back for more. Trouble is they'd picked a ultra-freeform 'be inspired by pictures' game and it crashed and burned. Not the game's fault, in their situation they needed something with more structure and guidance. I have about 60 seconds to engage them with something else before they wander off. There's no point me just pitching them other games because they're not going to bite at them, I need to hook them into an exercise immediately that will provide structure and also support their creative thinking. What, if anything, can I do?


2) The anxious teen
A 15 year old playing Monsterhearts, largely because their friend wanted to play it. Naturally they've created a stand-offish 'loner' style character who doesn't have any real goals and creatively they're completely blocked. Every time I go to them and ask "What do you do?" they say "I don't know". This is not an aggressive "I don't know". Now, I could sit them down and take them through Keith Johnstone's chapter on spontaneity or I could sketch out all their options each time but I've got four other players to take care of. Any suggestions as to what I can do in this situation to help the player clear their block? I'm happy to accept opinions along the line that I should have done more at the start of the session (warm-up exercises etc) or required greater connection between their PC and the others.

Comments

  • I've found that the "I don't know" player is often afraid of sounding dumb, or having their idea shot down. Sometimes it helps just to ask a bunch of leading questions, or offer some ridiculous ideas for them to correct. Show them that it's fine to just say whatever comes to mind.
  • A 15 year old playing Monsterhearts, largely because their friend wanted to play it. Naturally they've created a stand-offish 'loner' style character who doesn't have any real goals and creatively they're completely blocked. Every time I go to them and ask "What do you do?" they say "I don't know".
    Could you build on it? They are indecisive, so their character is indecisive. Does their character just stand there? If so, that's an offer.

    Or be softer. What's going through your character's head at the moment? What are your options for things to do? What might someone in that situation do? Lots of open questions.

    On the Whovians: I can't see a way out. Try some soft, open questions, but if they're creatively exhausted, call time.

  • What's wrong with "I don't know"?
    Let go.
    Tell them you're sorry or whatever you're feeling at that moment, and either offer them something else if you're feeling so obligated, or let them go.
    I don't enjoy gaming conventions for much the same reason that I don't enjoy buffets. It's all just a bit too much.
    I just want one delicious meal taken with friends.

    It's hard to offer up good advice when you haven't witnessed the events.
  • You can't play a game based fully on your own inspiration when all the experience you have is one session using the roleplaying techniques (the ritual phrases to negotiate the fiction). Only thing that could be done there would be to switch into GM heavy mode and have things happen at them, but setting your phasers on stun instead of desintegrate. People can actually roleplay instinctively, but you need some more practice to became confident enough to create and negotiate the fiction with other people as a second nature.

    Its kinda the same with the anxious teen, he's still learning to dominate strong emotions and then he's asked to do so (playing with strangers in an unusual situation can make some people hiperventilate) and also come up with creative input, which he probably feels must be really good in order to impress other players and not suffer an adverse reaction from the group (being perceived as "not cool" can be a torture for a teenager, even when this doesn't bring any other consequence)

    As I said, I'd turn the game into easy automatic mode, suggest choices and get their opinion on those first, or detailing the fiction more until some choices become clearer. More than inspire the player, the idea is to built a safe space for them, show them that it's just a game and that their fedback doesn't have to be perfect nor breathtaking. They'll usually relax and go into a creative mood of their own when the pressure on them eases.
  • edited August 2013
    2) The anxious teen
    These last few months, I've been on and on about how roleplaying games are bad at teaching creativity; to address spontaneity; to release people from blocking themselves. My last convention I attended to, it was an anime convention where I could find beginners to try out my short game that was based around creative challenges. It's that kind of convention that also has a slight majority of female attenders, and when I was pitching games, one told me that she hadn't played roleplaying games before. "Sure", I told her with confidence. "That's no problem. I love beginners".

    Of course, as you can imagine. It was a problem. I was going through my usual exercise on how to communicate, and I did that with two other guys, so she could sit and watch, and in my mind learn. We had a fourth player - she didn't want to join - but during the game, she was excited and gave ideas anyway. She played, but without a character. But it was this one girl that took her time, and I could tell that she was self-censoring, trying to come up with the "best" descriptions of what her character was doing. I mean, my game is about pulp. It's about clichés. It's about having fun describing. I told her that. Contentiously. It even says so on the character sheet. And I told her to take her time, because she was a beginner, and that nothing she said could be wrong. I even asked leading questions to help her on the way on how to think. I made the others, through the initial exercise, to also ask questions (and not to give examples! Those are mind blocking!). Whenever she came up with something, I praised that (but I wonder now if I didn't praise her behavior having to think things through for 2-3 minutes). But still, a game that usual took 70 minutes to play, now took 2,5 hours. We had fun, but I'm still not satisfied with my contribution to not let her mental block go away.

    I should have stopped the game and done an exercise with her. Probably that one Keith Johnstone talks about where a person is asked to make up a story. When that seems impossible, then I will tell that person to make up a story and let the other person ask questions about my story, which I should answer "yes", "no" or "maybe" to. The thing is that I haven't made up a story, so I can randomly give any answer to the questions and by doing that, actually making the person who were asking me to make up a story. That should show that person how easy it is to make up a story. Is it right to stop the game to sort things out with just one player? Well, is it as fair to kind of ignore a player's behavior and let the other people endure that all through the session? The time it takes to do an exercise to release spontaneity can as well be regained because that person isn't breaking the flow later on.

    But one thing I learned was that even if I've been going on about how roleplaying games are bad at teaching creativity, I'm not even there yet myself. It was a refreshing experience, and I learned something about myself from it.

    And btw, if you ever want to playtest a game. Go to anime conventions. You will have the best of time.
  • Anime conventions... Very interesting idea... I wonder if there are any of those close to where I live. Maybe a good place to sell stuffed animals as well as games. I will look in to this!
  • Anime conventions... Very interesting idea... I wonder if there are any of those close to where I live. Maybe a good place to sell stuffed animals as well as games. I will look in to this!
    Hm.. yes, I think I should consider these for my games as well. I believe there's a big annual one in London. On the subject of cons tangential to roleplaying, I would also advise folks to try SF cons- if they haven't already- and not just for marketing specifically SF games either, there's a lot of crossover.
  • Everyone is skipping the first question, so I will answer it: cancel the game. You can't and will never overcome human physiology.
  • Yes, you can JD. However It requires training a mix of sensibility, techniques for a change of pace, lowering pressure on people you play with, switching the focus from that player to another and back, impro choices for that player, giving the general impression the whole game input has to be sub-par most of the time and so on without looking too condescendent so... no, perhaps you can't.
  • of topic:

    Some of the best role-playing experiences I've had have been at anime cons, without a huge gamer presence. People come without any preconceptions its great!

    When I get an: I don't know, I either ask follow up questions or throw a situation at the player. Not to torment them but to give them a chance to push against something.

    I find it hard to be creative when given a blank slate, I'd rather have my character on a reactionary footing to be able to then make choices about what kind of a person this character is.
  • Yes, you can JD. However It requires training a mix of sensibility, techniques for a change of pace, lowering pressure on people you play with, switching the focus from that player to another and back, impro choices for that player, giving the general impression the whole game input has to be sub-par most of the time and so on without looking too condescendent so... no, perhaps you can't.
    :)
  • edited August 2013
    Everyone is skipping the first question, so I will answer it: cancel the game. You can't and will never overcome human physiology.
    One point from the Jeepform dictionary comes to mind: "A game that stinks should be ended quickly, and then discussed."

    The first thing is something I think we are generally bad at: to constantly ask ourselves if this is what I wanted from the game.* The second one is the most important: to discuss the game, understand what went wrong and then learn from that.

    This is what I like about the original post. The reflection. It's too late for those whovians but I think that if the game would've stopped and a discussion took place, they would've gotten an understanding of why the game sucked and remained positive to roleplaying games, possibly trying another. I do, however, feel that Richard answered his own question in the first situation: "Not the game's fault, in their situation they needed something with more structure and guidance."

    Don't ever play weird ass games without hard structures with beginners. They have enough problem sinking in the whole concept of roleplaying games.

    ---

    * I actually think some roleplaying games should benefit of having discussion phases of what just happened, and if the group should replay the event and what should be changed in the start of the scene. In this discussion phase, questions should be asked if the group are following the games vision or their own, if the event that just happened has changed the story path (or "life") for anyone's character, and if it's a fruitful experience for everybody. In my vague experience, it's always at least one player in Fiasco who's not dragged into a story. That's a shame.
  • ERich,
    1) If you knew they were whovians and you knew that everyone was tired from a long con. Then the solution is play a system you find easy to describe and a setting/genre you know they will grok. For me, in that situation, that would have been either Wushu or ...In Spaaace! and a Doctor Who setting (maybe being falsely accused by the Jodoon or stumbling across a cyberman invasion). As far as exercises, I just try and bake that into character generation. Pick a game with easy character generation and have the newbies make the characters at the table. They can learn something about their character, a bit of the game terminology and something of the setting. It takes time and can be tenuous if the situation is already strained, but it also gives the players a lull to mull it over and back out without messing up anyone else's fun if they are just not digging it, while giving them a chance to ease into it if they are genuinely interested.
    2) I will be honest, the only time I have seen "I don't know" was a player that was afraid of "messing up." I feel like the problem is geek culture is bad at building up trust. We deride people when they say star wars when they mean star trek. Or if they don't know the difference between a android and a cyborg. Or if they don't have an opinon of which Doctor is best. Or if they don't know who Faramir is. The point is, good roleplaying needs trust. If that is not there, you will get "I don't know." So, you have to do a few things in combination. One, "if you say it, do it." In other words, "don't say I will not judge your contribution," and follow it up with a judgement. Two, be encouraging, then they do give you something besides "I don't know," praise it and use it with your contributions moving forward. Three, lead by example, be the player you want to see. If your processes are internal, make them verbal. Be transparent and accessible to all the players at the table. Four, Work through your thought process as if it were your character with the player. So, what is the first question you ask yourself? For me it would be what would my character want from this situation? Followed by how would they go about getting that? Followed by would this mess up anyone else's fun? Then go! In other words, teach them how you do it. Even if they don't like the way you do it, it gives them a foundation to build their own method off of, right?

    Anyways, it sounds like you did the best with what you had. I wouldn't kick myself over it. Just see if I can improve and move on (much like you are doing now). Good luck!
    Dave M
  • Everyone is skipping the first question, so I will answer it: cancel the game. You can't and will never overcome human physiology.
    I'm curious; do you read what anyone else has written above your comment?

  • edited August 2013

    Thanks for all the advice. Reading it all through and thinking on it, I have a better idea of what I should have done.

    1)
    With the Whovians, you're all quite right that you shouldn't game if people aren't in the mood (and an exercise is just a stripped down game). What I should have done is ask some questions about their earlier roleplay experience, ask them what about it they enjoyed, so that they end the session thinking about when they had fun rather than focused on the down experience they just had. Then, based on their answers, I can make a couple of recommendations for games that they would enjoy for _next time_. At least then, should they return, they have a bit more guidance.

    2)
    The 15 year old is a tough situation. I really liked what was said about accepting their indecisiveness being an equally viable offer that I could accept. This is not Microscope, it's not important that everyone contributes to the same degree. This is a GMed game where the GM is your biggest fan. So long as I continue to give the teen an equal opportunity to contribute then it should be okay for them to wait, watch more experienced players narrating, the plot will rumble along (MOTW style) and they can jump onboard when they like.

    Really, though, the in-game difficulties were just a symptom of my fundamental mistakes in set-up: the PC simply lacked a clear motivation or strong feelings about any of the other characters. I could see at set-up that this was going to be a problem, but I didn't do anything to address it. If I'd seen the same thing in an acting situation, I would absolutely have been fine to do additional exercises to improve the situation. I should feel equally empowered running as GM.
    I actually think some roleplaying games should benefit of having discussion phases of what just happened, and if the group should replay the event and what should be changed in the start of the scene. In this discussion phase, questions should be asked if the group are following the games vision or their own, if the event that just happened has changed the story path (or "life") for anyone's character, and if it's a fruitful experience for everybody. In my vague experience, it's always at least one player in Fiasco who's not dragged into a story. That's a shame.
    This is really interesting and we should talk about it some more (in a new thread). Stopping and going back, repeating and improving is a fundamental tenet of devised theatre, but not in GM-less roleplaying.


    Also, I wonder about warm-up exercises, again a fundamental part of theatre. There are many threads about that already though.
  • I think partly this can be a question about creating alibi. http://nordiclarp.org/wiki/Alibi

    To create a gaming space where people know what they are allowed to do, and also what it approved to do.

    One way to create a stronger alibi might be to in the beginning ask questions less open ended questions. But asking question that feels safe and okay to answer.

    "The next class is math. It is the last class after a long day. The teacher Mr Green is very strict, but also fair. He used to be in the military before he became a teachers and that shows What does [character name] think about math class?"

    By asking that question you make it clear what sort of answer what you are expecting, and what sort of thing that "allowed." It feels pretty safe to answer that question, because you can sort of figure out that both staying that you character hate it and that your character like it would be okay. Answering a question about maths class is something that don't force you to be creative, or good actor.

    Keep on asking questions that are easy to answer until the player is more confident.

    "So. You don't like math? You not alone. Typically a lot of people skip this class. Are you planning to go or are you skipping the class?"



  • One point from the Jeepform dictionary comes to mind: "A game that stinks should be ended quickly, and then discussed."

    Love this quote.
  • Going to a local anime con in December in Indianapolis. Sounds fun, and I'm certain our stuffed animal business will sell well to the cosplayers. The games will be a bonus.
    Anime conventions... Very interesting idea... I wonder if there are any of those close to where I live. Maybe a good place to sell stuffed animals as well as games. I will look in to this!
    Hm.. yes, I think I should consider these for my games as well. I believe there's a big annual one in London. On the subject of cons tangential to roleplaying, I would also advise folks to try SF cons- if they haven't already- and not just for marketing specifically SF games either, there's a lot of crossover.
    As to the original post. Lord let me count the times my games have hit the wall due to events like this. Rather than let my game off the hook though, I challenge myself to make it easier to play. Games can be made better.
  • In the "nervous teen" example, what preceded the "what do you do?" If the setup is: "it's a big world out there -- you can do anything! So, what do you do?" it'd be tough for most people to answer on the spot. If the setup is "there is a sharp axe swinging toward your face, what do you do?" it's easier to imagine options.

    In response to "I don't know," you might say: "well, if you don't do something then XYZ will happen -- do you want XYZ to happen, or do you want to prevent it?" If they let it happen, it happens.

    Say, they want to prevent the thing, and you ask "how" and they "don't know" -- it's a good teaching moment to focus them on the stuff their character is ostensibly good at doing. Ask leading questions until they do a thing. Then, roll the dice.
  • In response to "I don't know," you might say: "well, if you don't do something then XYZ will happen -- do you want XYZ to happen, or do you want to prevent it?" If they let it happen, it happens.
    This sounds great at first glance, but isn't it the same thing as "Do as I want, otherwise I will punish you"? I know it's popular to play out consequences of people's actions, and I think it's funny myself to be in those situations, but I need to be taking actions to even get to that point where standing there doing nothing will create a consequence.
  • Well, I don't think there must necessarily be a bad consequence to inaction, but there should be some consequence, or else there is no reason to ask "what do you do?" in the first place.

    GM: The man in the black coat who you have been paid to follow steps on to the subway, what do you do?

    Player: I don't know.

    GM: Well, if you don't follow him or stop him, he will get away. Do you follow him, stop him, let him leave, something else?

    Player: I don't know.

    GM: Well, if you don't do anything, the train will leave . . . and that's perfectly fine . . . do you just watch him leave?

    &c.

    Making no decision is a decision. It's not a wrong decision. But, it will have an effect on the story. I'm just suggesting that a remedy for an indecisive player is to narrow the scope of their choices to "take action or don't." Maybe the subway blows up a few seconds after the man in the black coat gets on -- so it was good the player stayed at the station.

    Another thing that might be useful is to ask what they mean by "I don't know." Are they saying they need time to think about what to do? Are they saying they don't sufficiently understand the fiction to make a decision? Are they saying their character doesn't know? Unpack the I don't know.

    If the teen in question is so nervous that they are just traumatized by the whole experience and can't give a straight answer to any question, there might not be a real solution -- there should be at least some willing participation from the players. But, if the player really is making a good faith effort to play and simply isn't sure what to do, asking questions, clarifying the fiction, and limiting the number of choices is generally helpful in my experience.


  • "I don't know" isn't something I on which I spend a lot of time. If a player says "I don't know" I'll tell them "I'll come back to you." If they still don't know, I'll say, "That's ok," and move on with the story. I try hard to throw that player some clear entrances into the scene. I don't dwell on things because I don't want to put undue pressure on a nervous or uncertain player, and I don't want to hold up the game for the others. Keep giving openings, don't pass judgement, and keep the game moving.
  • 1) The burn-outs
    It is pretty simple to engage someone- get them talking about themselves. (notice I said simple, not easy. there is a difference) Ask what their favorite moment of the game was. Listen to the story, and walk them through abstracting it out to the core of what made it a fun moment. Was it the story, or was it their actions that made it fun? Did they like listening to a cool story that they were part of, or did they like telling a story that the GM was simply adjudicating? Was their greatest victory a lucky roll of the dice, a bit of clever problem solving, or was it a sense of drama? If you are trying to give them something they would like, start with finding out what it is that they like. I have never had much trouble getting people to tell me about things they thought were fun. Once you know what they liked and didn't like, you can suggest exercises that either make the fun parts better or more frequent, or make the bad parts easier to deal with.

    2) The teen
    The most important thing: they have to care. If they do not care, then there is no problem- gloss over them, because they will never be happy in your game, and that does not reflect badly on you or them. Everyone has thought something would be fun, but it turns out that the thing is not as much fun as you thought it would be. Assuming that they do care, or can be engaged enough to start caring, you can still guide them without railroading them. To find out where someone wants to go, first you have to know where they are. Making sure they have a firm grasp on who their character is and what they want is a good place to start. Even standoffish loners have a moral framework. That framework is what all actions are based off, especially when there are no goals to fall back on. Finding out enough key points of a characters moral framework without an uncomfortable interrogation is not always easy, but it can usually be done fairly quickly. If you understand the moral framework, then you can narrow down the choices, and that makes things easier for the player.
    e.g. The characters walk into a room, and meet someone of striking qualities (bad or good), the question 'what do you do?' becomes more directed- 'You said that you are really cautious. If you want to play this one safe, you most likely want to feel this person out and make sure they are not a threat. Getting them talking would be a good way to do that. If you don't talk at all, you might appear sullen and suspicious. How cautious are you of this person?'
  • The green light improv wiki talked about the various blocks we have for truly being seen, I found it a really interesting list. Going blank ("I don't know") was one of them. Basically, it's a strategy for not being vulnerable.

    I have occasionally asked people what their worst idea is, with mixed success.

    One of Eric Berne's "Games People Play" is called 'Yes, but..', which I've seen enacted at a con game as an aggressive sort of 'I don't know.' The subtext was, "All my actions will be futile, and it's your fault." The game goes,

    "Well, how about.."
    "Yes, but I can't do that because.. "
    "Oh, well.. how about.."
    "Yes, but I can't do that because.."

    The counter-script is to stop making suggestions, and to simply be a witness to their indecision. (Maybe even add some empathy.) But definitely don't try to rescue them, that's part of the game.
  • Sorry I'm so late onto the subject...

    I'd like to build on Theophidian's great responses.

    1) Last Day Con Burn-Out

    You knew they were Whovians, you knew they loved the Lovecraftian game they played last night. (You even know about the sucky game today, I assume.)

    I'm not sure why, but the answer seems obvious to me. Engage them in a discussion about playing a Doctor Who game, perhaps even with the rules from last night. Or engage them on how those rules could be improved for a Doctor Who game. (Combined fandoms are always an easier sell.)

    2) The Anxious Teen

    Since I've had a lot of experience gaming with an highly introverted friend, I always make room for him in the games I write.

    The basic gist I give, in it's simplest form is, 'give them the macguffin'. But then my gamemastering style has always been 'Say yes' and 'Give them enough rope...'. A macguffin is something everyone wants and is required by the narrative of the game. I often also make it a very powerful macguffin, inversely relative to how empowered the player seems to feel.

    Fang Langford
  • Do you not find issues with giving a powerful thing to a player who wants to take a back seat that they either hide it, or make it insignificant by their play style, have it taken from them by a more proactive player, or worse have their character 'taken over' by more proactive players if the macguffin has to stay with their character?

    I've definitely seen games where the introverted gamer basically does what they are told, or if they aren't actively told to do something will just look for other players to suggest options and give a fairly meek 'I'll do that one'. As a fairly proactive player (although thankfully I hope an inclusive one) I _just don't get it_ but view that as my failing, not theirs. It combines with the player that does nothing at the table and when you ask how things could be improved tell you that they are having the best game ever.

    I'm interested how being made a focus of attention triggers an anxious gamer to come out and be more proactive rather than making themselves even less significant to make the attention go away.
  • edited September 2013
    The "give them the MacGuffin" concept, I think, has some potential. I don't have a huge amount of experience with this, but I can relate at least one incident which sounds similar to me. I once had a fantasy game where I had a player who, although he said he was enjoying himself, spent most of the game sitting quietly and not doing much of anything.

    I tried various things - once he came out of his shell when his character entered a contest (a sword sparring, non-lethal contest) and LOST. I asked him to describe his failure, and he suddenly came to life, delivering a surprisingly emotional and dramatic description of his character's disastrous defeat. But nothing really stuck.

    So a situation came about where some of the other player characters had a thorny problem and they needed a solution. It seemed believable that the quiet player's character could be the authority on this kind of matter, so I told them, "Ah, the [quiet player's character] is the person who has final say over this kind of problem: you'll have to go to him and consult him if you wish this to be resolved."

    This put him in a position of authority, and the other characters had to come to him for advice and decision-making. This finally completely engaged him in the game, and he seemed to really enjoy himself.

    I think this is similar to what Fang is talking about. Does anyone else have experience with this approach?
  • I think this is similar to what Fang is talking about. Does anyone else have experience with this approach?
    Twice, and it crashed and burned twice. Both players were shy, and it was in two different groups with two different GMs. What I'm doing instead is giving them a sideline in the story that they can progress as they like. Putting them in authority position creates pressure from the other players, and some people want to take things in their own pace.
  • edited September 2013
    I think giving the quiet player the MacGuffin and/or the position of authority is more likely to work well if they're already secure in their knowledge of the setting and confident that they understand what's going on.

    If you drop that stuff on a player whose "I don't know" is largely based on not knowing (or possibly not caring) about the setting and the kinds of situations that occur in that setting, you'll still get "I don't know," only this time you'll make them feel like you're trying to put a spotlight on how shitty they are at your game. That's not good.


    It's why I usually take the advice about making sure a new player's first game is in a setting/genre they already know well. For my generation, that was stuff like Star Wars, or possibly Ghostbusters or Call of Cthulhu with some people. Whatever they're really into, if it's hardboiled detective stories or James Bond movies or romance novels or superhero comics, that's what we'll do for their first game. Now they can focus on learning the rules and having fun instead of also having to learn the setting and the genre expectations and what makes sense and what doesn't make sense.
  • Hm, I remember a case of gaming where two words guaranteed one player would bring his A game. This was a home game, just friends, but there may be something one can take. Basically, he was trying to get a handle on who his character was and how the PC fit into the game world, and finally fit all the pieces together and said, "I'm Batman!"

    Technically, he was perhaps more a cross between Batman, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and Zorro, in outer space, but the point is that whenever he was at a loss for what to do, he went back to "I"m Batman!" This invariably perked him up and gave him some ideas for what to do next.
  • edited September 2013
    @Lisa: Nice. Using mantras is a powerful thing. I use it all the time in my game mastering, and games like Apocalypse World has introduced it too (Barf forth). Having the players using mantras also works well. I even got some written on the character sheet to my next game.
  • I had hoped citing Thephidian's response would send the message that I was passing on the Macguffin to get them to care enough to engage. Accounting for Taste hits it on the head; they need to feel secure first and foremost. My introvert was an anchor in our community; I would never do such a thing to a newbie. (Well, maybe I wouldn't....)

    Secondly, it wasn't so much as creating authority or making them central to the other players, but more giving them a deus ex machina so that they could become the hero when needed.

    See, I run my games on an 'environmental' premise; if something powerful pops up, the people you would expect to be wielding it show up to take it. I remember how much fun Blix was having with the unicorn horn, until Darkness came for it in Legend. This means something about the introvert begins attracting trouble for everyone. (I like to hide what that is for as long as possible.) I let them know and they feel important without necessarily feeling pressured to act. It turns them into an 'involved observer' I guess.

    Fang Langford
  • A good character sheet can help an uncertain player. This was a big advantage of World of Darkness games. When you just didn't know what to do, you could look at your sheet and say "oh!! shit, yeah, i can turn into a bat. i turn into a bat and go fly around looking for the bad guy" or whatever.
  • JD has a good point, sometimes the best reply to "I don't know" is "ok, look at your character sheet"
  • This is true, although in the case of the 15 year old in @EpistolaryRichard's example he was playing Monsterhearts - a game which has all the moves on the character sheet on it already. It depends on what skin he was using however.
  • Really, there's no magic bullet. I think it heavily depends on [I]why[/I] the player is not engaged. Are they nervous? Bored? Confused? Embarrassed? Just inexperienced? Depending on the root cause, there'll be different solutions.
  • Yeah, I'm thinking about what, "I don't know," can mean.

    Different reasons for I don't know:

    - I don't have enough details to dig into and need some more.

    - I'm overwhelmed with input and I'm not sure where to dig in.

    - I'm scared that my input will be judged as lacking.

    - I'm not plugging into the media references this game is based on.
  • My personal experience has been mostly "I'm scared that my input will be judged," and I've learned how to fix that. But my techniques wouldn't work for someone who was just uninterested in the game or setting itself- in fact they'd probably be extra annoying. So yeah, diagnosing the root of the problem is key in each case.
  • I've seen it go deeper than that; think it more like this: if you'd go into a room full of strangers who are playing with something that looks like a complicate device, they offer you to try it and give you the controls while they expect you to make something to happen, more than "I'm scared that my input will be judged", your thought will probably go around "I'm scare that whatever I try could breake it somehow and ruin the fun for these strangers (which in turn will pass a silent social judgement on me and modify their attitude)"

    So things can go into paralysis by analysis sometimes, too.
  • The "I don't know" is often because they're not sure what to do, or because they aren't comfortable. Performing is not easy. The OP's example says that the nervous teen was playing because the friend wanted to play. I've experienced making a decision or taking an action that didn't end up going well, and afterwards the gaming group just couldn't let it go, and had to constantly needle about it. RPGers are a less than forgiving or particularly welcoming crowd, in my experience. As Judd mentions, the fear of being judged as in adequate (and the risk of being harassed over it afterwards) or not getting the specialized references of the game being played. I don't have a clue what Monsterhearts is about.

    This is the problem with running obscure games at a con. If you take something that is widespread and easily recognized like what Edge of the Empire does with Star Wars, you're less likely to leave people not knowing what to do. Likely it's a combination of reasons that give the "I don't know" response. Was the premise of the game actually framed in recognizable tropes? If you play Zorcerer of Zo it's easy enough to get people to grok what it's about: "Fairy tales crossed with Shrek". As to having all the moves on the Monsterhearts character sheet, that may or may not be helpful depending on how much jargon is on the character sheet, or for that matter, the particular use of "move" in that game. If we're negotiating, then a new player may not grok that you can use a move for that as well. We're talking, not doing...
  • edited September 2013
    I've seen it go deeper than that; think it more like this: if you'd go into a room full of strangers who are playing with something that looks like a complicate device, they offer you to try it and give you the controls while they expect you to make something to happen, more than "I'm scared that my input will be judged", your thought will probably go around "I'm scare that whatever I try could breake it somehow and ruin the fun for these strangers (which in turn will pass a silent social judgement on me and modify their attitude)"

    So things can go into paralysis by analysis sometimes, too.
    Truth, here. My experiences have been with groups of friends, so my knowledge doesn't extend to roomfuls of strangers. I've got some players who are super comfortable with improv and some who aren't. I had one regular player who came from a dysfunctional group and he was palpably frightened of having input on the world. We asked him about his holy warrior's religion and he straight up said "isn't it the GM's job to make the religions? I don't want to ruin his setting."

    It's a real thing that happens. But not the only thing that might make a player hesitant, for sure.
  • Yeah, I'm thinking about what, "I don't know," can mean.

    Different reasons for I don't know:

    - I don't have enough details to dig into and need some more.

    - I'm overwhelmed with input and I'm not sure where to dig in.

    - I'm scared that my input will be judged as lacking.

    - I'm not plugging into the media references this game is based on.
    I think you can probably rank these depending on the type of player, so a newcomer to gaming is likely to be suffering worry that they will do the wrong thing (nominally 3 in that list) probably mixed with a fear that there is so much going on that they haven't got it (2). An experienced player is more likely to show 1 or 4.

    The problem at Cons is you've no idea the best buttons to push to get players out of that situation. Considering with one shots you can't really just leave them to sort it out over time (because they run the risk of 'getting it' just as you say 'game over', although I guess that means they might still come back for more) so what might be useful is an idea of the questions needed to get to the crux of where the 'don't know' is coming from.

    With option 3 potentially putting them in any position where they have to suggest a solution, and there are plenty of solutions, is the way to go. Making sure that pretty much whatever they pick has a positive reaction to it (even if it doesn't nessecarily get a positive outcome). I get the feeling this goes back to stuff suggested right near the top of the thread though :-)

    At the end of the day, with a Con one-shot you need a way to work out if the situation can be fixed or needs to be lived with. Not everyone is going to move away from 'I don't know' and sometimes it's better for the game to recognise this and stop spending spotlight time trying to fix it. (Like the guy in my recent Don't Rest Your Head game who was fixated on getting peoples testimonials over *everything else*, there's an alien invasion, he is in the alien mothership, he turns to the alien abductee and says "about that list of names of other alien abductees you have, can we go and get it now?")

  • ...whenever he was at a loss for what to do, he went back to "I"m Batman!" This invariably perked him up and gave him some ideas for what to do next.
    I've just read Jonathan Wood's No Hero and Yesterday's Hero, and the main character does something very similar to knock himself out of over-analysis and the tendency to collect details rather than take action. His mantra is, "What would Kurt Russell do?"

    Also, they're pretty darned good books.

  • Don't ever play weird ass games without hard structures with beginners. They have enough problem sinking in the whole concept of roleplaying games.
    I think this is the takeaway. I think many of us are here because trad games weren't scratching whatever itch, but the format of narrative games can be either terrifying or boring to someone who didn't seek it out. I think an earlier post had a very good point, if the players aren't reacting, give them something to react to/push against.

  • Don't ever play weird ass games without hard structures with beginners. They have enough problem sinking in the whole concept of roleplaying games.
    I think this is the takeaway. I think many of us are here because trad games weren't scratching whatever itch, but the format of narrative games can be either terrifying or boring to someone who didn't seek it out. I think an earlier post had a very good point, if the players aren't reacting, give them something to react to/push against.

    Precisely. I think Rickard pretty much summed it up.
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