This series follows the trials, tribulations, successes, and failures of a fairly inexperienced GM who has recently picked up the hobby after a long time away. It aims to assist new GM’s by examining what worked, didn’t work, and what failed miserably as he spins up new campaigns, modules, encounters, and adventures for his friends and family in Fantasy Flight Games’ Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion/Force and Destiny system.
Ever since I picked up this amazing hobby again, my experiences have been top notch. Sure, I make plenty of mistakes as a GM, but fun is had by all. I game with friends from work and other close friends. I’m currently running two campaigns and having a ball. I have heard stories of course of players having issues with the GM, or other players, or vice versa. But I haven’t had any issues at the table. Recently however, I had my streak broken. So with this post today I wanted to examine what happened at my table, reasons for it, and what I’m doing to try and correct it. Hopefully this will assist other groups because I believe my issue can be a common one. While I am currently playing in the Star Wars RPG system by Fantasy Flight Games, this problem can occur in any system, at any table, in any RPG. So… let’s look at what happened first.
One of my campaigns I play is at work and we play on our lunch hour each week. The sessions are short, just one hour, but with weekly games it moves along. It’s a big group. Eight players. It’s typically above an optimum game size but everyone has fun, and usually one or two people have to skip due to any number of reasons. So I usually have 6 at the table. We have three women and five men so it’s quite the diverse group. A couple players have never played in an RPG before. This makes for a significant number of character concepts, which is awesome. This serves as the catalyst for the issue, however.
A couple of my players have rolled up non-combat characters, and are playing them as almost pacifist. Strange for Star Wars or any RPG but that’s the appeal for these players. I also have a player who is playing a teen-aged Zabrak Force-user, who is completely oblivious of the nature or reasons for his Force powers. As a result, the player is falling towards the Dark Side. With no mentor or Jedi order to teach him, he does as his impulses tell him, and he doesn’t even know he’s falling to the Dark Side. So, this player is rather impulsive with his character. He’s playing a character concept and he often resorts to violence early, and is known for escalating situations at times. To me, this is fantastic role-play fodder, and I quite enjoy the things that occur in games as a result. He has done some of the best background on his character as well. To me, pacifist-type characters combined with combat types can be a fun dynamic. But apparently some of the players didn’t think so, and that’s where the problem started.
When it comes time for the party to decide what to do next, there is often a lot of over-planning and discussion. The group tries to gain a unanimous decision which is often difficult. And when it’s time for each individual player to act, they often discuss it before hand. Meta-gaming at its extreme. They’re having fun so I generally let them, but it does slow things down. So, when I present events to the PCs, the Zabrak character, playing his role, often wants to rush in headstrong or react with aggression. The non-combat characters try everything to avoid conflict. So, naturally, the characters are at odds. But this time it spilled over to the players themselves.
The team is playing through Chronicles of the Gatekeeper and came across a citizen being beaten by some local, thuggish police-types. The team decided to intervene. So, playing his character concept, the Zabrak went to charge one of the police and impale him with his lightsaber. As he starts to describe things, the players of the pacifist types begin telling him not to, and that’s a bad idea, getting quite meta on me again. I kept telling the players to just do what they’d do and let the others react. They didn’t want to listen, however. The pacifist types began telling the Zabrak that he couldn’t kill one of the police if they didn’t agree. They began telling him that unless the party agreed with his actions, they would not “allow” him to act with aggression or violence. This looked at first like just inter-party roleplay fodder but I quickly realized they were serious. I had players basically telling the other player what he wasn’t allowed to do.
Luckily another player mediated and had his character take the lead to help the beaten man without craziness. But after the session, there were some arguments and discussion. I tried to tell the players that they should just stay in character and work it out. So the pacifist types took that and suggested that they stun and shoot the Zabrak when he tried to act, or perhaps roll a skill check to see if they stop him. It’s not meta-gaming, but it’s still the same issue… controlling a PC that isn’t theirs. I’d never had this happen before, complete with hurt feelings and one player threatening to leave the group. So, how did I deal with it? I hope smartly.
First I explained that the meta-gaming was partially to blame. If the players simply would stay in character, talk as their characters, and act as their characters, rather than discuss things at the table, that’s a start. I also need to help with that by narrating more than I do. Second, I made it clear that no one is to dictate what players can and can’t do when it isn’t their character. If a player can’t be allowed to play his character, then that’s not going to be fun for anyone. I also explained that the best way to handle things is to just do what your character would do, and not have players worry about what that is, but rather just react to it. If you’re concerned that a PC is doing something that might come back to haunt the party, then have your character, in the game, react to it and roleplay it out. Lastly, I tried to reassure the players that I wasn’t going to cause a single action, or single check, to cause a TPK or something horrible that can’t be undone.
That’s where I believe the problem really lies. The players, before joining my game, were playing a different RPG with a different GM. That GM had a tendency to really kill players or cause something catastrophic if a single check was missed, or a single task failed. I’m more narrative, more open, and I always try to allow multiple paths to success, and I try not to screw over my players. Many of the players are fearful of my dark side Zabrak because he does rash things that might get the party in trouble. That’s the heart of it, really. I think when you tack on the meta-gaming and things, you get where my table was at.
So, I hope I handled this correctly. I suppose I’ll see as time goes by. This was a first for me.
What might you do to correct this issue? Ever have something like this at your table? Anything worse? How did you handle it?