Thursday, May 30, 2013

Reading Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Part 40

HANDLING TROUBLESOME PLAYERS
Ah, that issue that has cropped up at every single gaming table since the beginning of time. The issue that has every single DM rip his hair out at some point in time.


You know, the first issue I have with this section is the fact that there's no "Handling troublesome DMs" section in the PHB to correspond, because man, I've had my share of those, too.

This section offers some good advice. Unfortunately, it's just not advice that's all that simple to follow for most people. That advice is basically, kick them out of the game. That's rough, especially if the problem player in question is a friend. We'd all like to think that people can hear, "look, you're presenting problems for us and maybe this isn't the right game for you," and quietly go with no hard feelings, but let's be realistic: many times if you say something like that, the problem player is going to get pissed and rage, and friendships have, sadly, been ruined for lesser things than being effectively kicked out of a social group.

Some better advice follows, though this might lead to the DM being viewed as an obnoxious DM. This advice involves in-game punishments that affect the group. For example, the problem player who is running a fighter, yells to the wizard (who in addition is in a different room entirely) to "just cast a fireball, already!" The DM can then say that since the fighter has deemed to make decisions for the wizard, it is now no longer possible for the wizard to cast a fireball, even if that is indeed the optimal solution. Eventually, the rationale goes, other players will pressure the problem player to keep his mouth shut.

This is the old, "punish the entire class for the behavior of one student," philosophy and to be frank, it simply doesn't work. All it does is make everyone angry at the DM.

What's interesting is that this section doesn't ever address the possibility of pulling the problem player aside outside of the game and simply talking to them about their behavior. It never considers that there may be reasons for the obnoxious play that come down to incompatibilities in play style, imagined (or real) behavior by the DM or other players that has gone unnoticed, or any other number of factors that can be resolved by a simple give-and-take and some compromise. I get the feeling from this section that Gygax (Gods rest his soul) may have been something of a tyrant at the table.

INTEGRATION OF EXPERIENCED OR NEW PLAYERS INTO AN EXISTING CAMPAIGN
This section actually has some great advice in it. It points out that long-term campaigns are going to suffer attrition, as people move away, get different jobs, or simply don't have the time to commit to gaming anymore. We've all seen this happen. When it does, new players need to be brought in. It presents several pieces of advice, based on whether the new player is experienced or new to gaming.

Experienced players, it advises, can be brought in with existing characters from another campaign, provided that the DM takes the requisite time to review the characters in question to ensure they're not too strong, and fit the group dynamic. It wouldn't do, for example, to bring a 15th level assassin wielding Blackrazor into a campaign comprised of good-aligned characters averaging 6th to 9th level.  Such a character would have to be modified in terms of both alignment and power to fit into the game, and the player would have to agree to do so, or create a new character.

Experienced players who create new characters, on the other hand, the book advises should be brought in at the average experience level of the party. This seems like common sense and is really likely what most of us do when new players join.

Here's where it gets interesting: for a player that is new to roleplaying in general, the book advises to have them make a brand new character through which the DM will run several scenarios apart from the group, to "catch them up." Why not just make a higher level character as above? The book points out that part of the fun of AD&D for a new player is surviving those first few levels, the sense of accomplishment you feel when you hit third level and gain second level spells, or realize that you no longer are in danger from a single sword blow. There's a really valid point to this, and provided the neophyte and the DM have the time to do it, I'd agree with and recommend this approach. There is a lot to be said for the fun of low-level play in AD&D.

The final bit of advice ties into that above, from bringing in characters from other campaigns. The book warns against allowing magic items from other campaigns into your game without careful review, as such things--especially custom creations--can wildly throw a game out of balance. There is an implication that if a PC from another campaign has a non-standard item, that the DM could replace it with an item geared to his or her own campaign, either through having it bestowed by a patron, inherited from a relative or deceased PC, or otherwise. The main point is to ensure that the magic items in the campaign are indeed suited to the campaign.

All in all, some good advice in this section, though the advice on dealing with problem players seems exceptionally heavy-handed and quite incomplete. I'd like to think that in his legendary unseen Second Edition, Gygax may have expanded on and improved this section. 

Next up: MULTIPLE CHARACTERS FOR A SINGLE PLAYER and INTERVENTION BY DEITIES.

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