22 October 2014

Basic expectations

How long have I been talking about gaming?  Over thirty years, at this point.  I was part of the Alarums & Excursions APA from 1979 for a few years.  The first online gaming forum in which I indulged was on the UMass computer system in 1983.  I've been in other APAs and many an online forum.

In all those places, what we expect from our fellow gamers is a matter of constant debate.  What classes they play, whether they buy into PvP or not, whether one can play evil in a good party or good in an evil party, whether people should conform their expectations or proudly dissent.  "Murderhoboing," niche protection, how "paladins" or priests ought to behave, we're vitally concerned with how the other character acts, and we drone on at startling length and persistence on the subject.

We're far less concerned with how the player acts, oddly enough.  But that's as much of a make-and-break as anything else, wouldn't you think?  What I want from my players is ...

* Regular attendance. Someone who misses as many as a quarter of my sessions is teetering on the edge. I do not run one of those drop-in games where it's okay to blow us all off if there's a baseball game you'd rather watch on TV or you just don't feel like shaving.

* Buying in. By virtue of showing up, you're telling me you're willing to play the system I play, in the milieu and genre I'm using, in my homebrew setting, and that you intend to conform to the group you're joining.

* Good behavior. We're all adults here. If you're going to be terribly late, you call. If you can't make it, you call or e-mail.  You pay attention to my game, not to your Words With Friends app on your cellphone.  You leave your cigarettes and alcohol at home, and you don't jeer at my cats, kick people in the head or spit in the snacks. (These last three were not cited at random.)

* Good neighbors. Everyone brings some kind of light snack, and everyone takes turns buying/cooking a meal, since we do eight hour sessions and that's a long time to go without a bite. Chronically arriving a half hour late so you don't have to deal with the pre-game socializing is unfriendly. (That isn't cited at random either.)

* Knowledge. After a certain point, I don't want to have to keep teaching you the rules. Learn enough of them to pull your weight, or else reconcile yourself to the fact that your tactical options are going to be limited to "I attack him with my weapon." I want people invested enough in my gameworld to learn about it, and while I don't quiz people on the handouts, I see no reason why more interested players have to keep coaching the slackers on the basics. As in any other field of human endeavor, you get out of it when you put into it.

* Trust. I am not an adversarial GM. I am here to provide the setting with which you interact, not to provide an omniscient, omnipotent, malevolent force Out To Screw You. If you can't trust me to do that, to be fair, judicious and reasonable, we ought not be playing together. Whoever did you dirt in the past, I'm not that guy.

* Motivation. Shouldn't you be here to play the game, not simply be a passive spectator for my storytelling?  That being said, adventures are -- usually -- about conflict.  Accept this.  Your backstory isn’t immune to being mined for plotlines, the people you know and meet aren’t immune to being mined for plotlines.  Someone who deliberately refuses to give me any handles concedes that adventures will never be about you; only about someone else.  I’m not terribly interested in that kind of player.

* Honesty. If you've got a problem or an issue, I'd like to know it. If you can't hack any of the rules above, I'd like to know that too. Passive-aggressive sullenness does not impress me; I believe that mature adults should be able to have open, honest and civil discussion of their grievances like, well, mature adults ought to do. Problems never go away on their own. And if any of the above is too much for you -- or isn’t the game you want to play -- I hope you're honest enough to give my campaign a miss and not waste anyone's time, your own included.  (Don’t worry.  I won’t be offended.  Should I be offended if you’re not into any of the other things I’m into, from hockey to singing classical music to walking in forests to writing nautical folk songs?)


  1. The one I'm bad at, sometimes, is buying in... mostly in regards to the other players and their assumptions/desires. Generally I think there are stronger and weaker personalities at the table and a bit of tug of war as players try to push the game toward their preferred style of play.
    For instance, in our Deadlands campaign I let one of my PCs die, refusing to use bennies to chip away the damage because I was tired of how low-consequence/low-danger the game had been.
    I rankle at the, IMO ridiculous, economy of magic items assumed in a lot of D&D games and will sometimes push to subvert it.
    I'm already sensing a bit of strife in our upcoming games of Shadowrun... because I don't want it to just be D&D with different loot lists (and I dislike the cliche dichotomy between magic and technology). Meanwhile another player is balking at the setting's assumption regarding feedback from hacker devices... so at least I'm not the only one.

  2. Well ... but the strife comes from people not being on the same page. The "Buying in" bit comes with a big presumption, which I ought to have mentioned: that I *disclose* my expectations. Telling people -- to borrow your examples -- "I'm starting up a D&D game, want to play?" and they're going to come with their own expectations and presumptions.

    Tell people, instead, "I'm starting up a D&D game; it'll be low fantasy, where magic isn't common, and my setting is a dangerous, high-risk world," and that not only gives them an insight on what you plan, but the opportunity to decline if that's not what they're looking for in a group.

    The FAQ I put out for my campaign goes into some of those things. I ought to put that up.

  3. As a player I've seen very few groups where there was any discussion beyond what rules will be used, as if any particular set of rules can only generate one style of play.
    And Just about every time the players and GM seem to have this mind-meld thing where they all hit the same assumptions... 'This is how D&D is played', 'This is what happens in Deadlands'.
    For whatever reason I'm lacking the gene for this psychic bond and usually end up being a bit of a black sheep. Not a total prick, I hope... but a bit out of the loop, mildly disruptive to the general cohesion.
    Most likely it's my own fault for not asking questions, which is what I'm doing pre-game with this Shadowrun thing... and I guess it's a good thing because even though there is friction at least it will be obvious going in... if we actually play it.

    1. I'd say that the "mind-meld" assumption is less common -- heaven knows there've been only about ten thousand threads on gaming forums around the theme of "WTH, he's not playing/GMing right!"

      But you're right: it *is* a good thing to ask questions and proffer info ahead of time. The example that comes to my own mind is PvP, which is a mortal sin in my campaign; I don't tolerate it, never have, and if you pull it, you're gone. Of course, I have to tell people this in advance.