Friday, March 28, 2014

GM to Player - Confliction

As you've probably gleaned, I am most often the Storyteller, never the player.  Well, nearly never.  I've played in the occasional solo game but rarely with other people.  Since I've started playing in a Pathfinder game with three other people, I've started noticing the various habits I've gleaned over years of infrequent play with various tabletop group games.

(And yes, I'm well aware Confliction isn't a word but it sums up the general vibe I get.  An affliction with a vague sense of conflictedness - also not a word - and also an infection with an interest in the conflict.  It's a very ambiguous word, confliction.)

It is quite different on the other side of the screen, I must admit.  I've felt the urge to guide the storyteller, accidentally pointed out forgotten things (i.e. we're in pitch blackness), and second guessed plots (sometimes with too much rapidity).  I also tend to come up with ideas which could be awesome, which tend to annoy GMs because they're either really good ideas that put theirs to shame, really stupid ideas which make them die a little inside, or are actually the same ideas they wanted to run with.  Really I should stop voicing such ideas!

I also find it hard to be doing so little comparatively.  The player's brain sits on idle far more than the storyteller's brain, as you wait for your co-players to finish their actions, resolve their turns, and for the NPCs to do the same.  You don't need to respond to their choices (generally) and when you do, there's normally either another player who's happy to choose (social or environmental choices) or a roll the GM tells you to make (environmental or resistance).  Normally you just need to vaguely log their actions in your mind and prepare for your own, especially in games like Pathfinder or D&D where your combat options are larger at character creation than in any other games, yet feel reduced during them. 

This Pathfinder / D&D feeling of constricted choice in combat is likely an illusion due to the sheer frequency of combat and the sheer amount of choices at character generation, but it is there nonetheless.

It's just the nature of the beast for players to have an easier time of it brainpower-wise than GMs, most of the time.  There are exceptions, but generally you can go with the flow a lot more ... unless you're in a solo game where the entire direction of the game tends to rely on you.  There are *other* efforts a player must make (patience being one of them), but it's not the same *kind* of effort.

So it's been a learning experience trying to control and restrain my brain like a player rather than rushing a 1000 miles ahead like a solo gamer or juggling a dozen details, past and present and future, like a GM.

I've also learned a few other things in the current Pathfinder game I'm in and the few other party games I've played as well.  I've found that it's really easy to annoy other players (which I've always suspected).  I've learned it's way easier to give in than to negotiate, but that I'm okay with it if it gets us to the goal more quickly by requiring less OOC time, and that most other players (though not all) feel the same way.  Better an hour of unused IC time than 10 minutes of moving toward faster action.  It's logical but not something you first expect.

I've found that I can be patient and enjoy my character being taken out of the game with Dominate far more readily than I can enjoy having little to contribute yet needing to contribute anyway with something (an issue often found in World of Darkness games).  I've found that a long three-hour combat can still be entertaining by fulfilling a more board gamey instinct than I ever thought I had ... and that I might even enjoy those parts more than the generally negative (to me) player character interactions that devolve around any sources of conflict, no matter how minor.

I've learned that I get acclimatised to my crunch very quickly and that I equally quickly yearn for a new PC so that I can play with shiny new crunch.  This means that I'm happy for my PC to die.  In fact, if my PC lasts too long I look to opportunities to let the PC take the hit for another player (which may well save said PC) or ponder ways to retire my character without derailing the game.  After my years as a storyteller, it would be a gross act of negligence and hypocrisy on my part to knowingly risk derailing anyone's game.  I've also found I sometimes have to back out of putting my PC in harms way as many a GM will bend over backwards to avoid killing off a PC too readily.

I've learned that being Dominated into PvP can be a lot of fun and there's plenty of satisfaction and fulfilment to scrabbling ineffectually in an attempt to hit a PC (with the possibility of getting a *real* hit in) then was ever enjoyed against an NPC.  This is likely, in part, because it's relatively consequence-free.  It's not my fault, after all.  I'm just rolling the dice here.  I also learned that it feels really good when another PC has the choice to strike your PC, yet refuses to do so.

I've found that it's hard to make character-driven choices when you've been patchily in your character's perspective due to the rather off-again on-again nature of group roleplay (i.e. pause for die rolling, description, waiting your turn), and that while you're out of your character's mind-state it's so much easier to just select either the funniest or more strategic decision rather than try to forcibly re-immerse yourself for few minutes.  Perhaps experienced players have that skill down, but I find that my PCs are shallower than my NPCs ever were as while they were juggled between other thought processes, those thought processes were all directed to the game and not directed to that lazy state of patience and calm which allows me to float through the various waiting periods.

I've learned that my PC shallowness is also because while there may be the potential for death, the other sides of your PC may not be triggered, or tested, which leads to a flatter character.  As a GM you introduce an NPC knowing that your players or the circumstances of the game will prod them in certain ways, revealing certain traits.  As a PC you're more likely to have one set of consistent traits appear and remain everlasting.  If you get bored, those traits tend to become a little more humorous and exaggerated to compensate for a lack of depth or variety.  I've done this to players myself, so it's no judgement against GMs.  It's part of the issue of being part of an ensemble cast who generally aren't designed with the interactions in mind (unlike ensemble casts in TV) which means it can be hard to trigger any depth in more than one PC at once.

I've learned that there's a lot of waiting periods involved in being a player.  Many of them don't contain details that are of keen interest to me.  They're not often boring, but they don't arouse excitement and anticipation either.  This might be because I'm not worried about the outcomes of our actions, partly because I concede the point and therefore don't have much of a stake in things and partly because I don't mind losing in combat.

I'm not saying these are things I should learn.  In some cases, they aren't good habits.  I'm also not saying that my current GM or co-players are to blame for any negative lessons as I have been a player in several infrequent games over the years and so these have been learned over a combination of games.  I'm just saying this is what I've learned and it's been an eye-opening experience for me.

And yes, a lot of what I've learned has been rather negatively flavoured but that's likely because a) been brushing against burnout for awhile now; and b) there's a reason why I'm more often GM than player.  I think the downsides of being a player are more obvious to me than the downsides of being a GM or, potentially, my play style, expectations and perspectives lead to more negative experiences.

This isn't to say that I'm hating my time as a player.  I'm not.  I do find it enjoyable.  I just haven't found much about ensemble play that makes my heart sing the same way that watching a great movie or playing a brilliant videogame does.  I'm going to keep going because it's a fun, social way to spend the time with minimal requirements for me but I don't think playing tabletop roleplaying games are really my thing.

What about you players?  Do you find much to agree with about my experiences?  Are they minimal issues?  Am I missing the point?

And you GMs, are you the same way?  Do you find playing equally enjoyable?  Frustrating?  More fun?

Next week I'll mention some of the techniques, tactics and skills I've noted in some of my former GMs (especially my current one, really) which I would love to learn.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I think it’s a bit hard to say, because the mixture of personal experience, gaming groups and individual taste is pretty complex.

    I’m definitely with you on busywork. When we tried out Fiasco and a couple of other things, the obligation to contribute at certain points was one of the main difficulties I had.

    GMing is much more of a full-time thing, and you need to stay focused pretty much all the time. It can be exhausting if you’re not at your best mentally and physically, particularly as it’s tougher to take breaks than for players, but it keeps you in the game.

    Because 99% of player actions involve the GM but not any given player, players have less screen time at the table, which generally translates into less brainwork. It’s fine when things are really gripping, but at slower times you can get fidgety. I notice this more with VOIP play than tabletop. Round the table, watching other people is usually about as much extra as I need. On VOIP I’ve ended up taking exhaustive notes of the sessions to keep me focused; not sure if that’s because there’s less social input, or just the sheer distraction potential of being on a computer.

    Slipping back into character I generally find okay as long as I have a grip on the character. Games that are outside my familiar genres I tend to struggle with – both Dying Earth and the storygames we’ve tried were a problem in that regard because I just didn’t have a good sense of person. Unless I'm careful I have a bit of tendency to become more detective-y than my characters justify though, because I like asking questions.

    I find both sides of the screen are mostly fun but can be difficult. GMing more easily gets taxing if I’m not on top form or if something goes awry, be that plot holes surfacing or rules quibbling, or just feeling unconfident with the system. Playing needs different kinds of attention, so I try to be aware of what other people are doing, avoid hogging the limelight, and weigh my actions in terms of other people’s interests and PC skillsets. I also try to look out for the grain of the game and play into it, and generally support the GM in small ways (as you say though, it’s important to try not to step on toes).

    It may well be relevant that the games I've played in have fairly limited and rapid combat: Deathwatch (fast), AD&D (fast), various storygames. This is where most waiting time comes in and I've avoided in. I do start to drift off if combat goes on, but thankfully I'm the GM in our 4E games!