Thursday, 25 June 2009

Oh virgins, listen all virgins are liars honey

I've been thinking about playstyles today. Not that GNS nonsense. The old fashioned personality clashes that go on in a group of role players sometimes.

I suppose, generally speaking, I tend towards a certain level of intra-party conflict (as in, party disagreements, insults and bickering) in my gaming. I put this down to three things:

1. Reality, by which I mean the truism that people flung together by circumstance (as PCs in a campaign often are) aren't going to get on like a house on fire without some work and common bonding experiences which bring them together. This serves to make party unity and comraderie, when it eventually happens, all the more rewarding; the team is a team because over a period of facing common challenges they have come to trust and rely on each other. A priori unity, where everybody is friends from day dot, seems forced by comparison - unless of course there's a backstory explanation for it.

2. I've done most of my gaming - in fact almost all of my gaming - with other men. (Some men in that position worry about this; I've seen threads on expressing anxiety about the number of women in the hobby. For those of us who can meet women in our daily lives, it's less of a problem.) Now, I hate to generalise like this without a license, but it's also a truism that when a group of male friends get together the primary mode of interaction is the insult - the cruder the better. This naturally bleeds into character interactions within the game, in my experience, and though it adds a little spice and a little edge to proceedings, it's also always carried out on a shared understanding that the bickering and insults are tongue-in-cheek and not to be taken at all seriously. This is the kind of atmosphere that I, and I suspect most male gamers, are used to.

3. Some of the absolute best gaming experiences I've ever been party to revolved around some big in-character arguments which practically elevated themselves to theatre. The time when half the party secretly struck up a bargain with a dragon that had killed various friends and family members of the other half, who then found out. The time when the amoral thief character cheerfully offered up another character's pets to be eaten by a group of grell in exchange for safe passage. The time when one character shot a vital witness and took the entire campaign onto an entirely new trajectory - from investigation to fleeing the law. The time we spent the entire night arguing about whether to kill our captive worst enemy in cold blood or let him go. These episodes all stick in my mind far more than any in-game triumph - perhaps because those sort of moments get the closest (in my experience) to the oft-sought after but rarely-found genuine immersion.

Is this a rare point of view? Obviously it's impossible to know what "other gamers do", but I'm intrigued about how cooperative or not groups of PCs tend to be in other people's games. I should add the caveat that I'm not talking about PCs fighting each other, which I've always avoided, but a healthy level of trading insults and general banter.


  1. In the games I run? Tons of banter. There's usually a period of adjustment, but even once things balance out there's a lot of making fun of each other and clashing approaches to problems. Pirates in the same group as shining knight types, that sort of thing. Though with us, it's generally more about one-liners than straight up insults.

    And I'm definitely with you on point 3. Players having to make decisions based on the actions of other players? And then getting into huge in-character arguments? So long as everyone's on board--absolutely priceless.

  2. My group has pretty robust discussion, which often descends into failing-to-get-anything-done and which I ultimately have to quash if we want to make any progress. Mostly this is fine but we have one player who isn't big on yelling and arguing, and recently a girl joined the group and she really is struggling to fit in with the macho style.

    I believe it's the role of the DM to manage this sort of stuff so it doesn't interfere with gameplay, like with any meeting, but obviously the talking shit and arguing about Hitler is part of the fun, so I don't do very much management. Sometimes it's really frustrating.

    Also I don't enjoy campaigns with point 3 involved, so I house-rule some of that stuff away. Particularly, in my games I don't allow either

    a) use of charm/domination/social attacks on other PCs
    b) torture followed by murder as a general tactic

    I disallow a) because a lot of players get really upset by this sort of stuff, and because PCs are meant to be only under the control of their player; and b) because it makes my job too hard, and being able to torture info out of people and then kill them is too convenient (as well as a tad distasteful).

    This is particularly fun in my current infernal campaign because one character is a "King's Torturer", he has special powers of making people do what he wants, and making them talk; but he can't just use them amorally. It makes everyone think a little, and reduces the power of an otherwise extremely over-useful character.

  3. I would never allow people using charms etc. on other players either - though thankfully it's never come up. But that isn't what point 3 was all about, I don't think... I'm talking more about arguments that naturally arise when people are thinking like their character would think.

  4. I would say it's your group.

    My long-term group is basically the same (male, live in Japan, mock each other, etc) but basically everyone is close to 100% cooperative in game.

    And I -definitely- wouldn't say it's because they're males. I just know too many females who've tried to suddenly assassinate the person we're saving (for valid, IC reasons) to wave a "girls are all nice and like teddy bears" flag around much.

  5. TheGoof: But do the women you've played with joke-insult each other all the time? In my experience, the big difference between women and men in that area is that women say mean things, they mean it. It's not a friendship building thing.

  6. The Goof: I wasn't saying that girls are nice and like teddy bears (I am married after all) just that male banter and female banter are very different things, as Odyssey says. And the dynamic when a group of just male friends are talking is very different to when women are present.