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D&D General RP style Problem solver?

So it is rare the last 2 years for us to get new players. Before that we had gotten a slow trickle from con and store games... but since covid we haven't. We recently lost a player (to an out of game tragedy) in a way that well sad was not unforeseeable, so we tried to bring in a new player.

This is not the first one that didn't work out, but the reason given was a new one.

So this player (someone I still consider a friend) is leaving the group at the end of this campaign. the reason is he feels "we don't role play we problem solve"

now I have heard of plenty of issues with role playing both pro and con, but I had never heard this one. So we asked for more info and here is the example he gave.

We came to the town and of the 6 or 7 NPCs you had names for 3 or 4 of them had problems. one or two would need help that only we could solve, 2 or 3 would have issues that would lead to adventure hooks and sometimes you would have one or two out right be combat threats...

in a game 6ish months ago they came to a small town where the water had stopped flowing to the local 'wishing well' because were beavers had damned up the water. they also had a bard ensorcereing the minds of town guard and being a jerk, and I had the children of two families that didn't have any money want to get married but neither family saw any reason to help, and finally there were 2 rumors flying around 1 of a small dragon in the mountains and 1 of a roaming bit of undead seen near an old cemetary... the PCs helped the 2 kids get married (and the mount of money they threw would be like if Jeff Bazos came to help me get married) they killed the bard (getting 2 cool items) and went and talked to the were beavers restoreing the water... they ignored the dragon, the undead and spent a night at the local church meeting the local priest, and had a card game with the milita (party split that was same night) then they moved on.

what he said is that almost everyone named (and he pointed out I obviously didn't have names for the town guard and made them up on the spot when he and another PC went to ask them to play cards) had a problem. he wanted to play were there were not 'trouble everywhere we go' and then went on to say that in his old games they would go to towns, meet people buy things and not hear anything about trouble for months at a time...

so would you say that 'problem solver' is a type of roleplay? have you ever found someone that did or did not like it?

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Magic Wordsmith
Given that roleplaying is just a player deciding what their character does, certainly attempting to solve problems is part of roleplaying.

What it sounds like is the player wants low-stakes or no-stakes play where it's really more about portraying a character and exploring reasonably safe areas than overcoming challenges. This doesn't strike me as a great fit for a game billed as being about bold adventurers confronting deadly perils in a world of swords and sorcery, but people like what they like.


Tension, apprension, and dissension have begun
So, the player wanted to find people who were already established as people ("named" seems likely to correlate to this) who weren't there as the sharp ends of adventure hooks (which seems to be the "had problems" thing) and wants time to explore setting and NPCs and whatever without the feeling there's some ticking clock, or the Damoclesian metaphor of your choice, hanging over them.

This isn't IME and IMO the most common sort of player, but it seems plausible. If one was to try to adapt one's game for such a player (if the other players were amenable to such) I think one could do so by establishing places and people, and letting the player interact with them, before instigating whatever one was going to instigate. Give them time to learn and appreciate the status quo before you threaten it, and don't just frame the scene to the conflict.


He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Were beaver???

With that out of the way, the only problem I could see with "problem solving RP" (as stated) it could get a bit routine. Everywhere the PCs go there is a convenient pile of problems to solve. Rinse and repeat. Personally, Id rather have a GM that puts a lot of thought into their NPCs and towns (which looks like you have) then a lot of one horse nothing going on places.

I'm not sure that problem is what is going on here though. Sounds more like a playstyle difference. This player really liked how they did things previously and doesn't get that out of your game. It happens. All you can do to retain and recruit is focus on open communication. I'd not toss newbs into long running campaigns personally, I don't like offering up a commitment like that until I know we agree on playstyle. I'd wrap up your campaign as it seems you intend to, and then find players with one shots. Try before you buy. Disucss what they like and what you like. See if its a good fit.

Good luck.

What it sounds like is the player wants low-stakes or no-stakes play where it's really more about portraying a character and exploring reasonably safe areas than overcoming challenges. This doesn't strike me as a great fit for a game billed as being about bold adventurers confronting deadly perils in a world of swords and sorcery, but people like what they like.
that might be it... thank you that was REALLY insightful


so would you say that 'problem solver' is a type of roleplay? have you ever found someone that did or did not like it?
Yes. What he's describing is part of what Ron Edwards identified as a preference for "gamist" playstyle in his GNS theory (which is a terrible name for what's actually going on but that's another rant). Folks with a preference for that style of play are goal oriented - they like to play games where they accomplish goals, whether it's "win at combats" or "solve the town's drinking water problem" or what have you. Edwards uncharitably calls it "wanting to win" by beating the scenario but a desire to solve the problems put in front of you and getting a feeling of accomplishment out of it is a more charitable way of describing it. And IME it is probably the most common mindset that gamers tend to have - especially if they come from board or war games and all they play rpg-wise is D&D, but even with most other trad RPGs. Because it's how you approach something called a "game" usually.

What you're describing from this player sounds like he wants to feel like he's living in a virtual world rather than playing a game. The complaint that the guard didn't have a name until you made one up on the spot ties into that - it sounds like his previous RP experience involved the DM either being one of those DMs who details every single NPC in every village that the players go to OR that they were really good at convincing your friend that they were that kind of DM. To the point where they got that feeling of being an explorer in someone else's fully-realized world rather than a player in a game with goals to accomplish and that's what they're missing. IME usually players who want that also have some of the problem solver in them so I can't say that I've had one as extreme as you're describing. But from your description it sounds like trying to adapt your play style to give him more of what he wants would be difficult - I haven't had a player who was that hardcore into being in a virtual world that they get annoyed at coming up with character names on the fly for example. I'd just chalk it up to a mismatch in expectations of play.

Definitely a playstyle difference - although I do sometimes feel that some dms run worlds where there's so many problems that the whole thing gets exhausting. I play partly to relax, which sometimes means relaxing vicariously.

If you do want to add players to an ongoing campaign without pausing it, try to invite them to play a couple sessions tops as a try-out, and try to set up the narrative to add and remove them easily. If that means the character need to be found in a cell tell the potential new player that. If you all decide they're a good fit, they can keep the character or swap to another one.


Follower of the Way
I'll admit, this is a bit of a head-scratcher for me because I think of adventurers as, well, travelling problem-solvers. But perhaps this player is more motivated by discovery and exploration. Those are, after all, also part of adventure.

I guess the question for your friend becomes less "what went wrong" as "what would it look like if things were going right?" Your friend seems pretty well able to identify what they don't like, but it seems you are struggling to find a different path forward that would be more welcome to them. What would an ideal "roleplaying" session look like to them? Since they see problem-solving as disconnected from what they consider "roleplaying" to be, I mean. They put emphasis on what kinds of characters were "named" (which, as Prabe said, I suspect is a proxy for "characters you developed ahead of time as opposed to characters you improvised") and what interactions came from those characters. What mix would they prefer, in terms of developed ("named") NPCs and their interests?

I think part of my confusion here is, I feel like nearly all people have some kind of problem affecting them at any given moment. It might be a mild one ("oh, my sheep have been sick lately, nothing major, but if it keeps up too long I might have problems" or "my cat hasn't been around for a week, the rats might start being a problem again"), it might be a severe one ("my grandfather's been kidnapped and I can't afford the ransom!"), often it'll be somewhere in-between. And those problems make for excellent initial adventure hooks, to get the story rolling, to get the players naturally invested in the future of this particular location or region. I, myself, got my Dungeon World game started in Lady Safiyya's Coffehouse, where the party picked up a contract from an artifice-specialized Waziri mage, Hafsa el-Alam, kicking off the discovery of long-buried secrets and drawing the party into the web of money, magic, and politics in Al-Rakkah. And I have some players who are way more into the exploration and social interaction than they are combat or plot-coupon-trading.

Obviously the best way to approach this is with an open mind, but an earnest statement of confusion or difficulty might also be helpful. That is, "I'm not really clear on what an adventure would look like where few or no people you run into have any problems or difficulties they're trying to deal with. That doesn't mean it can't be done, I'm just struggling with fleshing out the concept and procedure here. Can you tell me more about how that experience would play out? I'm particularly interested in what you would need so that that experience would feel rich and rewarding, because I'm worried I might leave it feeling empty due to not fully grokking what you want to see play out." Obviously, adapt the response to your specific situation and needs. But that seems like the productive response here.

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