July 1, 2011

The Logic Death Guide to Players

by Doug Lochery

There are two breeds of RPG gamer – Players and Gamemasters. There are several subtypes of the Player breed that, when faced with our glorious hobby, try to ‘break it’ in some way or other. This is not always a conscious decision on the part of the poor player. Below is a short and rather irreverent look at the most typical of the destructive breeds of players commonly encountered by hassled GMs everywhere and, most importantly, some advice as to how to deal with them.

The EverRookie

Quote: “What dice is that, then?” or “Rules are for DMs”.

Description: The Everrookie is a clueless bod who can’t grasp the basic rules even after 10 years of playing.

Good points: Can’t rules-lawyer the GM as he has no idea of what the rules are or how they work.

Bad points: Constantly has to be told what to do whenever game mechanics are used. In other words, all the time.

GM’s strategy: To effectively deal with an Everrookie, buddy him up with an experienced player so that the responsibility of looking after him is diminished. This allows you to get on with the business of running the game. Patience is helpful when dealing with Everrookies, so make sure you pick a buddy that has plenty of it.

[Comment from Johnn: another good point about playing with Everrookies is that they often bring fresh perspectives to the game. They aren't mentally bound by the rules like other player types are, so they'll often come up with innovative solutions or try things outside the scope of standard game mechanics. Be sure to embrace this creative input! Though it might sometimes be tricky to adjudicate, the flow of new ideas is a boon to most campaigns.]

The Rules Lawyer

Quote: “But you can’t do that. Paragraph 4 of page 17 of Rulebook 2 clearly states that I can…” or “I don’t care if you’re the GM! The rules say this…”

Description: Every GM’s nightmare. The rules lawyer constantly picks at the GM’s rulings and ignores the GM’s judgement, making sure to protest loudly whenever it contradicts something in print. Probably has memorized every word of every rulebook or supplement in existence, even banned or GM-only resources, and a few more besides. Can’t suspend his disbelief and is probably better suited to tabletop wargaming.

Good points: If the GM can’t remember a rule, this guy probably can.

Bad points: The GM can’t use any artistic licence with the rules in front of him, or the game will degenerate into a rules debate for about an hour. He doesn’t recognize the GMs word as law.

GM’s strategy:

  • Rules lawyers must be stopped quickly. The strategy with these people is simple – stamp your authority on your game.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of automatically dismissing everything a rules lawyer says (after all, there will be instances where you are wrong) but don’t let them dictate the flow of the game.
  • Make it clear that objections are allowed but arguments after you have made your decision are not. Remind the lawyer firmly that the GM’s word IS law!
  • Disallowing access to rulebooks during a game is a good way to limit a rules lawyer’s power.

[Two cents from Johnn: Rules Lawyers can be valuable campaign assets, though it varies from lawyer to lawyer. If you have a Rules Lawyer in your campaign, consider these ideas for enabling them to improve your game:

  • Rules Lawyer as early rules researcher, adopter, and campaign balancer. For some game systems it's hard to keep up with all the new books your players might show up with. Ask your Rules Lawyer to keep on top of these products and to assess their potential long-term campaign affects. If it suits your group, declare that all new player-introduced rules must be approved by the Rules Lawyer before being brought into play.
  • Rules Lawyer as consultant. When considering new rules, house rules, and rules interpretations, ask your Rules Lawyer about their potential implications:
    • Will these rules work to PC or NPC advantage?
    • What other rules do the new ones impact and how?
    • How will the rules impact the game at higher levels?
    • How could foes use the new rules to their advantage?
  • Rules Lawyer as teacher. Ask your rules lawyer to help the other players out. Advise them, if necessary, that the players will always respect their opinions as long as they are provided sincerely, without ego or attitude.

Also, consider increasing the amount of in-character (IC) time spent in your sessions. Perhaps ask that any out of character (OOC) discussion take place away from the game table, even so far as going to 100% IC at the table. This helps curbs Rules Lawyers' penchant for OOC discussions.]

The Powergamer

Quote: “This character is rubbish! I’ve only got three stats on maximum, the rest are only three quarters of that! How do you expect me to play with such a poor character?”

Description: Powergamers are those individuals who just have to have the best of everything in order to enjoy the game. They load their stats full of bonuses and min/max as much as they can, trying to squeeze extra character improvement points and skills out of every stage of the character creation process. They will even try to get extra attacks and bonuses during the game using flawed logic against the GM. Combat rounds mean nothing to these people, and they frequently try to fit twenty actions into a one minute combat round in order to play the advantages.

Good points: Powergamers tend to have a good grasp on the rules associated with combat and their own special abilities.

Bad points: They are constantly trying to get away with things in order to get advantages. Their sometimes criminally flawed logic cannot be reasoned with. What a normal player would consider to be a good character is dismissed as completely unplayable by a Powergamer.

GM’s strategy:

  • Contrary to popular belief, Powergamers aren’t Munchkins (see 5. Munchkins below). Remind them that the GM’s word is law and stamp your authority on your game whenever they try to play the advantages too much.
  • Be strict during character creation and try to encourage the Powergamer to think of a character concept BEFORE he rolls for his stats.
  • Indulge the Powergamer. I know it may sound a little outlandish, but to ensure the Powergamer doesn’t feel like he’s unfairly being limited all of the time, make sure his character shines once in a while by letting him have a particularly successful plan, a stupidly flashy spell, or a particularly destructive attack. Letting the Powergamer ‘win’ in this way indulges his power fantasies in a fashion under your control, without disrupting the rest of the group.
  • Remember that a Powergamer is simply a competitive person who doesn’t want to lose – each advantage gained is a way for the Powergamer to ‘win’. Teach them that ‘winning’ an RPG means simply having fun playing it.
  • [Comment from big mouth Johnn: Powergamers can be wonderfully valuable gaming resources. Consider these ideas:
    • Powergamers like to get the most out of the rules. I've met a few who tried working outside of the rules as well, but most are quite happy to play fair. Use this motivation to improve your game in a Darwinian way. The survival of the fittest mantra would indicate that a Powergamer's ideas and creations are superior to others. Embrace this attitude and study this Khan of gamers to learn what you can:
      • Clever skill uses
      • Effective skill and ability combinations
      • Combat tactics
      • Spell tactics and uses
      • Equipment selection, mods, and uses
    • Harness the Powergamer. Ask your resident Powergamer to create NPCs, monsters, and other game elements for you. Add "secret" stuff afterwards to keep the player guessing. Even if you have no pressing need, keep requesting materials from the player and build a library of tweaked and buffed game content for on-going deployment.
    • Powergamer as consultant. Ask your player to review various creations of yours (firewalling secrets from him, of course) and ask for improvement suggestions.]

The Casual Player

Quote: “It’s a laugh, innit?” or “It don’t matter, it’s only a game.”

Description: The casual player is the type of player that never immerses himself in the game. He views the game as a boredom reliever, and frequently misses sessions when something else catches his fancy. He’ll frequently do things without thinking because “after all, it’s only a game” and is often a bigger danger to the party than he is to the monsters due to his permanently lackadaisical attitude.

Good points: Character death isn’t a problem; he’ll just shrug his shoulders and create a new one.

Bad points: He wrecks the tension in carefully planned plots due to the fact that he finds it just a game.

GM’s strategy:

  • Find out what makes the Casual tick – his wants, dreams, and desires. Play on them during the game and force him to make choices for his character that play on his REAL drives and morality.
  • Don’t get ‘heavy’ with this sort of player, laugh and joke with him when the going’s slow, and apply the full consequences of his chosen actions – even if it means death for the party (see 6. Logic Death’s Apprentice below).
  • Casuals are usually good players who are too scared of becoming ‘geeky’ to throw themselves properly into the role. As always, if a Casual is ruining the game repeatedly for everyone, talk to him about it. If he doesn’t respond, ask him to leave the game. Luckily, Casuals that are asked to leave rarely care as their philosophy on the game is that it’s a small diversion.
  • [Comment from Johnn: Also consider changing a Casual Gamer's role in your campaign:
    • Plays a PC who has his own independent plot threads that occasionally tangle with the party's. The PC often comes and goes as per the player's attendance.
    • Running guest-star or short term in-party NPCs.
    • Plays the groups' henchmen, animal companions, and followers.
    • Co-GM, running NPCs and monsters.]

The Munchkin

Quote: “I’ll backstab the closest PC with my blade of infinite poison, use my globe of annihilation on the others, grab all the treasure for myself, and escape on my magic carpet!”

Description: Munchkins are greed ridden egomaniacs who play the game to win. They steal all the treasure, min/max like a Powergamer, view the other PCs as rivals, and seek the most powerful artifacts so they can rule EVERYTHING. Munchkins. Enough said.

Good points: When the party faces a powerful foe, the Munchkin usually has enough power, items, or magic to deal with it.

Bad points: The party is not safe while the Munchkin is around. Not from the danger posed by enemies, but from the danger posed by the Munchkin himself.

GM’s strategy: Don’t even hesitate – kill the Munchkin’s character in the most airtight, gruesome, and public way possible, rip up his character sheet, and eject him from your game. Munchkins cannot be reasoned with and are not worthy players.

[Comment from Johnn: I feel for Doug's frustration here. I've also gamed with players whose destructive style were campaign breakers. In addition to the option of ejection, consider these ideas:

  • Ask the player to run the bad guys. Maintain tight rules control and fairness, but let the Munchkin plan and play the villains, minions, and flunkies.
  • Switch to an evil campaign. It's every person for themselves, best Munchkin is the one left standing. Caution: suitable for friendly and mature groups where hard feelings won't be created. After everyone's blown some steam and all the evil PCs are dead, bored, or retired, resume your old campaign or start fresh.
  • Allow in-character retribution. The PCs' gods, employers, allies, friends, and families will take exception to a Munchkin's detrimental effect on the band of heroes. Actions should have consequences. Again, if hard feelings will erupt amongst players avoid this option.]

Logic Death’s Apprentice

Quote: “So, I’ve got the orb of soul draining in my hands? I’ll use it on the closest person to see what it does.”

Description: The Apprentice is a chaotic individual whose only goal is to cause as much chaos within the game as possible. He will frequently do mad things “because he can” and “because it’s a laugh”, without a thought for the party, or even for his own safety. This person is as much a danger to himself and his friends as he is to the enemy.

Good points: The Apprentice’s antics ensure that there’s never a dull moment.

Bad points: It rapidly becomes impossible to run a serious game when the apprentice is involved.

GM’s strategy: Apprentices are truly destructive players. Radical steps are needed to deal with this sort of player.

  • Let the chaos run its course and dish out the appropriate consequences for ALL the players. This may mean sacrificing a scenario to stupidity, but the other players, after the loss of something dear to them at the hands of said stupidity, will apply pressure on the Apprentice to ‘behave’ with a little more respect.
  • Talk to the Apprentice about his behaviour if it continues and be prepared to fudge dice rolls and craft events to protect the other players from the Apprentice’s unfair stupidity.
  • If after you have asked the Apprentice to stop being daft, he continues, you must protect the fun of the group and eject the player from the game. Remember: any person blocking the fun of his fellow players is not worth playing with.

The Hare

Quote: GM: “The king says to you…” Hare: “Yeah yeah, what’s he give us? Hurry up, we can clean out another dungeon tonight if we hurry up and buy supplies!”

Description: Hares are those players who are constantly chasing the next goal. These individuals rarely stop for breath as they plunge through adventures, fixated on completing scenarios. When hares meet, they argue about how best to complete missions and start comparing their conquests in a “mine’s better than yours” type mentality. Finishing difficult scenarios is what they live for, roleplaying is just window dressing around mission facts.

Good points: The hare’s enthusiasm usually prods the party into action.

Bad points: Hares don’t roleplay, they merely prompt the GM for information. Any role-intensive scenarios will be lost on the hare.

GM’s strategy:

  • Hares are generally attentive players but have a tendency to look to the raw facts only. To accommodate a hare, you need to construct your scenarios with a little more care, ensuring that each session has a distinct goal that the players need to achieve. Campaigns will become a little more like a series of linked one-session games, but don’t let this worry you.
  • Accentuate the human factor of each adventure and ensure that most goals can ONLY be accomplished through proper interaction with NPCs. Given a little time, hares will come to value the interaction with NPCs and will start to see the challenge in getting what they want out of other characters, suiting their general outlook. This will start them down the path to true roleplaying if the pace is managed properly.

The Tortoise

Quote: “My character does…errr….hang on…I do….ummmmmm.”

Description: Tortoises are normal players who suffer from chronic slowness of thought. They may be the best roleplayers in the world, but they always slow things down by deliberating over an action for half an hour. When they finally reach a decision, the game has moved on without them.

Good points: When they reach a conclusion it’s usually the right one…

Bad points: …but unfortunately it’s usually a couple of game sessions too late to save the party. It is impossible to get Tortoises to choose a combat action in less than 20 minutes.

GM’s strategy:

  • Patience and structure are key when dealing with Tortoises.
  • Put a distinct order of doing things in place for combat encounters and action taking. This will give the tortoise a recognizable prompt to help him start to think about what he has to say.
  • To give him time to think, ensure that you ask the Tortoise for his actions or opinions only after you have asked all the other players. This approach will ensure the Tortoise’s participation without having to exclude him.

The Sherlock

Quote: “So, the Duke was a bit furtive when we asked about the village, eh? Well, he must be the one doing the murders. Therefore there must be a passage in this room allowing him to leave and do his dirty deeds… A-HA! I’m right!”

Description: The Sherlock is a master of deductive logic. After a couple of minutes of careful thought, he has usually cracked the mystery wide open.

Good points: Deep, thought-provoking scenarios really get him involved.

Bad points: That convoluted plot that you’re so proud of? It will be busted in the blink of an eye if you aren’t careful.

GM’s strategy: Sherlocks make very attentive players, and there are a few things you can do to limit the damage their keen intellect can cause to your lovingly crafted scenarios.

  • Hide your notes at all times.
  • Ensure that you craft multiple endings to your scenarios.
  • Use intersecting sub-plots to keep things interesting, and to obscure the main goal’s clues.
  • Do not use linear plots.
  • Shy away from cliches whenever possible.

If all else fails and the Sherlock is still picking apart your game, you can do one of two things. Consider reversing the plot line so that everything is actually the opposite of what it seems; but beware – this needs a careful hand to pull off without the players noticing. Alternatively, split the Sherlock away from the main party for a while and send him on a wild goose chase or a sub-plot.

The Sheer-Luck

Quote: “You want me to roll a save versus death at -10 or I’m toast? Okay. Hey! I Made it!!”

Description: The sheer-luck is a completely air-headed player who stumbles through the game surviving everything that’s thrown at him. He opens secret panels by mistake, finds command words for artifacts by chance, and seems completely immune to death.

Good points: Finds secrets for the party.

Bad points: Finds secrets for the party – without effort!

GM’s strategy:

You can’t stop a sheer-luck, so use him to create the “Scooby-Doo effect”. The Scooby-Doo effect is a scene where the characters will stumble across some clue or secret purely by chance. This clue propels the plot forward, involving the party with a situation that perhaps they would never have gotten into in the first place. Sheer-lucks will find this generates a bit of a friendly ‘love-hate’ thing among the party for their luck ability, and all involved will get a buzz out of the sometimes amazing set of coincidences that leads them into danger. In this way sheer- lucks can be turned from being scenario wreckers into scenario drivers.

The Shakespearean

Quote: “Away, foul bandits. flee this place or I shall be forced to spill thy blood with thine own blade!

Description: Shakespeareans love the role. They act out EVERYTHING about their character, from the accent to the actions, and even dress up in-character. They take the roleplaying part of the game too far and absolutely abhor any “rules” or “game mechanics” that get in the way of the suspension of disbelief.

Good points: A fine example of how characters should be portrayed within the game.

Bad points: Takes the roleplaying thing too far. Slows simple combat encounters down with needless talk. “A-ha! A jelly of acidic property! I shall slay you now, you oozing fruit of an unholy union!”

GM’s strategy:

  • Dealing with the destructive nature of a Shakespearian is difficult at best – you don’t want them to stop roleplaying but you DO want them to stop roleplaying! The most effective tactic here is communication; talk to the player and explain that you’re not angry or annoyed at their excessive acting, but you do sometimes need to hurry things up a bit.
  • Agree upon a signal between yourselves (such as a code word or a gesture) that tells the Shakespearean to cut back the roleplaying when you need to move on, without the need to tell the player off in front of the group. This saves face for the Shakespearean and gives you back control, while still allowing the Shakespearean to act out his fantasy when appropriate.

The Geek

Quote: “Look, my ranger is wearing a jerkin just like his model!” or “Hang on, I have my level improvement scores on the back of my player’s screen!”

Description: Geeks. They get everywhere. They throw themselves bodily into the game, acting out the role where appropriate, knowing all the rules, involving themselves in games fully, never missing sessions, etc. The problem is that they go about it all in the way that allows them to lick as many windows as possible. They buy miniatures that resemble their characters, research characters for months before play, purchase player screens, buy all the supplements that have info on their chosen class (and bring them to the game), and download all related documents from the net. The game is everything to the Geek.

Good points: Model RPG gamer on the surface…

Bad points: …but takes every opportunity to display his knowledge on his character and tell everyone how great it is. Constantly says to players “You can’t do that! Your character wouldn’t!”

GM’s strategy:

  • Geeks simply take the game far too seriously (yes folks, it can be done). There is no in-game way of dealing with a Geek, because a Geek lives and breathes the game. Tactics here are similar to those for dealing with a Shakespearean, but with the emphasis on understanding rather than communication.
  • The best way to get a Geek to stop being one is from time to time to play other games and to do other pastimes with your gaming group instead of RPGs.
  • Don’t exclude a Geek; involve him in the social circle that is your gaming group and you’ll find that he’ll probably lighten up a little.

Logic Death

Quote: “Don’t roll a 1!”

Description: Logic Death has many forms. Whichever he takes, you can be sure that the game he’s involved in will go to pot somehow. Very quickly. Multiple fatalities and plot failure all take place around him.

Good points: You get a laugh as your game degenerates into chaos.

Bad points: Your game degenerates into chaos, taking your plots and favourite PCs with it.

GM’s strategy: There is no strategy when faced with Logic Death. Logic Death will always find a way…


James

Great Article! I think that the munchkin sounds the worst. We actually had a munchkin in our group, but as time went on (and the other players started kill/maiming him for his treachery)He mellowed out a bit and now he’s one of our best players.

PT

Crap! I think I am an Everrookie. I like to play, but I am not living the gamer lifestyle. Tough to do over 40 and not be poor LOL. I know, I just gotta read up more and maybe run some solo adventure before I play in an actual game. Thanks for exposing my flaw. Good article.

MaxCarrion

I have come to rue the definitions of power gamer and rules lawyer as I fall very close to both. Both make sense to me and it’s walking the line of making them constructive and not destructive. However I have found some GMs will automatically pigeon hole you as a rules lawyer/power gamer and that can hurt the game very quickly.

Rules Lawyer – I love the rules, they delineate the game, like the laws of physics the game rules define the universe, they describe what is possible, impossible, probable and improbable and gives us an understanding of the way things are. In the real world we have a pretty good idea of how likely we are to be able to walk across a log fallen over a ravine, in the game world this is described by rules for agility or balance or acrobatics and before my character puts one foot on that log I want to have a pretty good idea if I have any chance at all of making it across. If a GM calls a rule incorrectly I “want” to correct him because I have made my decision based on information and he is, knowingly or unknowingly, changing it, especially if it is important to my character (like a GM who doesn’t like the trip rules in D&D house ruling them away after I’ve rolled a “trip fighter”). I respect my GM’s rights to run the game his way and accept that his decision is final but I’m hesitant even to voice descent as some GMs will slap you with a rules lawyer label the moment you disagree and don’t realise that, for some of us, the rules define the world.

Power Gamer – Again this is full of shades of grey and some people disagree with my position on it but, farmers don’t crawl through dungeons. If I’m rolling a D&D rogue and get an 18 it’s going in Dex and his feat is going to be weapon finesse. Some call this min/maxing, I call it making a rogue who is well above average at what he does and therefore might go on to do some heroic stuff, maybe a whole campaign of heroic stuff. There’s such a thing as taking it too far as Pun-pun is a testament to where loopholes are exploited, but generally I will look for strong synergy and tactical advantages to improve my odds of succeeding to whatever goal I am after and if you let me get hold of a spiked chain and belt of enlarge person then I’m going to use them to batter my foes with attacks of opportunity every chance I get. For me “power gaming” is about making good choices for my character; using attacks of opportunity to control and kill my enemies is as much a good tactical choice for my character as not spitting on the king during our audience with him or not pulling the lever marked “lethal trap, do not pull”.

Richard

Warning about GMing “Tortoises”: watching them “level up” or otherwise spend XP is EXCRUCIATING. Oh the options. Oh the consideration. Oh the need to suppress the urge to throttle them, or point out to them (as if their IQ was several degrees lower than any convenitonal test might detect) that they can expect to do this several more times… so picking just one of the many good options will suffice.

No… give me the Powergamer any day–they want to win within the rules, and feel special… and know damn well how they’ll do it.

MaxCarrion

Actually I think a little creative thinking goes a long way with tortoises

Big decisions like leveling can be thought about between sessions. Hand out xp at the end of a session and give added help to your tortoise (like get him to come up with 3 options he likes and then run over pros and cons of the 3 with him over the phone or something between sessions allowing him to turn up to the next session with a decision). Make sure you are clear to your tortoise that you expect the decision made by start time next session.

In session decisions can use a system of encouraging speed and punishing indecision. In combat give players 20 seconds to declare their action, if they fail to declare move on to the next in initiative, the slow player can jump back in once they’ve made a decision and once the current player has finished resolution.

In conversations have the NPCs notice things like hesitance and coaching (“The Baron glares at you menacingly, clearly disapproving of your manners as you whisper in Sir Percy’s ear”). Also make it clear that flubbing something because it’s rushed is much more acceptable.

Along that line, make all discussions about what characters should do “in character”, requiring characters to be close to each other to communicate and also opening up possibilities for eaves dropping and appearances this can effectively cut coaching and indecision in tense situations as each player must make decisions in a more isolated manner but still allows them to meet up and discuss important party decisions.

Provide information if the players make quick decisions that will likely turn bad if the player had thought it through and asked appropriate questions (“I jump the ravine and stab the archer with my shortsword”. Bad – “ok, make a jump roll, you come up 10ft short and plunge down into the ravine breaking both your legs” Good – “The ravine is over 30ft across, you don’t think you’ll make it, short of a miracle” then give another 20 seconds for them to pick something else – or stick with the unlikely jump) – don’t make it so that you are playing their character for them but if their character would know something that the player hasn’t thought of then a prompt often helps, I especially like rolling secret checks to see if the character realises e.g. the player wants to climb a clearly dangerous cliff face, I make a easy Wisdom check, if he fails the character starts rolling, if he passes I tell him that it looks like a very difficult climb with unstable holds that could give way at any moment and then let him start his ascent. This also helps deal with power gamers as traditional dump stats may suddenly become important (like Wisdom for this fighter) and once your players know that then they may make more rounded characters.

Finally, hand out awards regularly – XP, brownie points, cash, cookies, PC FIAT (I once handed out a “isn’t that Bob from the pub” card to the player with the best character background which he could use only once to convert a minor NPC into an old drinking buddy. When the player got locked up in the villains dungeon it turned out that the guard was “Bob from the Pub” and gave them a little assistance getting away).- in a fairly early session make sure you award a “quick thinking under pressure award” for someone who made a quick decision that saved the day.

PT

Love the “Isn’t that Bob?” card. It gives the players a break and you, the DM, an opportunity to help the players if they get in trouble.

Jenette

Quick semi related side question, would there be any interest in a system neutral rpg e-book with a hundred or so of these “Is that bob” style cards to help expand on the idea for GMs?

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