Social Encounters: Does it Matter What and How PCs Speak to NPCs?

Meech17

WotC President Runner-Up.
I am not saying that there aren't jerk DMs or that they can't have a negative impact on players. I am just (very strongly) taking issue with using the term "abuse" to describe that.
I can agree with this. I can also understand why it's a parallel. Abuse victims tend to pick up habits as defense mechanisms and some of these traits feel like defense mechanisms.

But ultimately, I agree. Using abuse to describe people who pick up bad game habits from bad games kind of feels like it's watering down the struggles of victims of genuine abuse.
 

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Committed Hero

Adventurer
I've never been in a game where increased IC roleplay (whatever this is) was worse than OOC 3rd party description. So my TL/DR answer is yes.

However, the goal of roleplaying at the table should never discourage talking about things OOC. Sometimes 30 seconds of clarification can avoid two hours of wasted play time.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
Mod Note:
Folks,

If a GM is actually what we should call abusive, that isn't about GMing. It is about an abusive interpersonal relationship, merely expressed in the RPG context. The relationship, without the gaming, would still be abusive.

So, when you call it "abusive", you are then beyond discussion of gaming, and are into another, quite serious topic. Please make sure that discussion is appropriate for the thread you are in. If it isn't, I think you should drop it.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Abuse is a triggering word that conjures up images of some of the worst of human behavior.

The sort of misuses of power that GMs are normally capable of don't rise to the level of the first things you'd think about in the context of the word "abuse". It happens. We've heard the horror stories from female gamers who encountered actual examples of abuse, but I don't think that's the sort of thing being discussed here.

None of that changes the fact that GMs are in a position of relative authority over the players and that GMs can in fact misuse their power by being a jerk or by simply not knowing better how to handle common table problems. Your pointy haired boss doesn't actually have to "abuse" you to make working for him nightmarish, and likewise your dysfunctional Game Master doesn't have to "abuse" you to create dysfunctional games that color how you perceive the GM/Player relationship.

I know as a matter of experience that there are players who come to my table from other tables where they have learned to expect GMs to mishandle their power and mistreat them as players in some fashion whether metagaming against them or robbing them of agency or deprotagonizing them or enjoying their failure and so always setting them up for failure or taking a "GM is Satan" approach where any attempt to be good and heroic is met with derision and the universe conspiring to show good is impotent and stupid or any number of other common tropes some of which have been humorously explored in the pages of "The Knights of the Dinner Table" (where B.A. is presented a relatively good hearted and functional game master despite his occasional literary pretentiousness and attempts to railroad the game and the other Muncie tables as generally but not always dysfunctional but still being a "a game is better than no game" situation).

And if you have been mistreated, even if it isn't anything we want to call "abuse", then it does tend to create mental habits and expectations that color how you play RPGs. And sometimes this leads to self-reinforcing cycles where past injustices committed against you lead you to adopt dysfunctional play as a player, creating your own problems. Again, this is humorously explored in the pages of "The Knights of the Dinner Table" or movies like "The Gamers II: Dorkness Rising", and none of this should be I think controversial but a well understood aspect of our hobby commented on by many people.

As a GM there have been times I mishandled table situations and treated players unjustly. I try to acknowledge and learn from my mistakes and not repeat them, but they happen. I don't think any GM should be defensive about the idea that they've at times misused their authority, mishandled situations, or mistreated players. If you don't think you've done that, I don't see how you can improve your game mastery.
 
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payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
I will say my old school skill play GM story didnt end badly. My core group was a bunch of 30 somethings and the old schooler was in his late 40's maybe even low 50's. There was a bit of generational gap I might say in the experiences. That said, the person was a pleasure to game with in most cases. We all enjoyed playing together a lot. After we tried a few times to course correct in game (see plan example above) we just talked it out of game. Everybody was reasonable and we adjusted well and played for a good decade through a lot of Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, and Traveller.

I dont have many stories of other instances because usually the person wasnt pleasant to play with and I simply forgot about them.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
The player characters are protagonists, and as a protagonist they drive the action. Sitting in a saloon hoping to hear a rumor isn't driving any action. It's just boring. And as a GM, I absolutely despise extreme risk aversion because it usually ends up making the game less fun for everyone. Like I said earlier, I'm usually sympathetic to the player because this is a good sign they've been hurt by the GM in the past. But if you're in a game where you're expected to investigate, you've got to talk to NPCs even if it means tipping your hand. To do otherwise means you're missing a big part of the game.
Sometimes the best course of action is the boring one; and if passively sitting listening for rumours is what makes the most sense for the characters to do, then IMO that's exactly what they should do.

The answer as GM that'll eventually get something happening is to tell them that after several days of sitting and listening, no rumours emerge. On this the odds are high they'll do one of three things:
--- become more proactive in their search here
--- give up on this town and go to a different one to see if there's any word of Miner George there
--- completely abandon the search for Miner George and go do something else instead.

And IMO the GM always has to be ready for either of the latter two options to occur, and then let them occur if they will, rather than trying to force (or taken further, railroad) the action along a desired path.

Or the GM can seed in some rumours and see what they do next.
 

MGibster

Legend
Sometimes the best course of action is the boring one; and if passively sitting listening for rumours is what makes the most sense for the characters to do, then IMO that's exactly what they should do.
You know, when it comes to games, there are such a wide variety of situations that I'm hesitant to say this isn't applicable to any situation. Certainly if there's a hot topic, and this is especially true if the patrons of a saloon have a vested interest in what's going on, it wouldn't be unreasonable for the PCs to just hang out and expect to hear people talking about it. For example, some poor homesteader might be complaining that Jacob Marley sent some goons to run him off his property and others commisserate with him because they're experiencing the same problem.

And IMO the GM always has to be ready for either of the latter two options to occur, and then let them occur if they will, rather than trying to force (or taken further, railroad) the action along a desired path.
I solved this problem with my current group a long time ago. I just spoke with them about what I expected and if they wanted specific information they were going to have to make specific inquiries. This could take the form of talking to people or searching for the same information elsewhere, but they'd have to be proactive.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Sometimes the best course of action is the boring one; and if passively sitting listening for rumours is what makes the most sense for the characters to do, then IMO that's exactly what they should do.

Every good GM no matter how committed they are to simulation of the imagined universe metagames in one important way and that is this.

Wherever the PC's are, the fun will follow them.

If we were being strictly realistic, the chances are that characters would have mostly dull and mostly boring lives. Big events would happen elsewhere. The PC's would never be at the right or the wrong place at the right or wrong time. The majority of places they'd choose to go, not a lot of exciting things would happen, and if you tried to make your own "fun" you'd find that challenging as well as most people don't want interesting things happening around them.

But GM always makes things interesting even when the players are being uninteresting. That doesn't mean you necessarily protect them from failure, but that you do definitely make unlikely and interesting things spring up all around them. If they listen for rumors, you give them rumors to listen to.

This is the Batman rule. If in reality you were The Batman, and you went to stake out some alleys in the city to try to fight crime, you might once every few years witness a mugging in progress. In reality, if you were The Batman, you'd always be at the wrong place to stop crime, arriving too late to even witness much less stop acts that take just seconds to transpire. That Bruce Wayne always is where the interesting thing happens is vastly more unrealistic than that he's a billionaire, martial artist detective with an array of high-tech gadgets, the ability to swoop from rooftop to rooftop and uncanny stealth. And yet, it's necessary for a good story so we allow it. We allow it even in stories that are less fantasy than Superhero comics.
 

This is another sign for me that the player had an abusive GM in the past. I hate it when a player tries to lead me somewhere without just telling me what they're doing. You don't have to fool me. Just tell me what you're trying to do and let's figure out how you can do it.
That comes from GMs who allow NPCs metaknowledge, which IMEO is a very bad way to run a game.

Hostile NPCs should do everything in their power to kill PCs, but they should be working off the information they can reasonably obtain, not what the GM knows.

If a player is trying to hide his cards from me, that means he doesn't trust me, and that situation needs to be fixed immediately. I loathe the 'players versus GM' mindset, and its half-brother, rules-lawyering.

But back to the core topic, I handle my PC-NPC interactions off skills and stats. That way, a player who is not a great roleplayer can still play a 'face-man' PC. And we don't waste precious table time RP'ing a discussion. Just give me the gist and skill approach, and roll. Same for gather rumors: give me your interests, skill, and roll; I'll tell you the money and time it cost, and what, if anything, it produced.

Because talking directly with NPCs leads another condition I hate: players trying accents.
 

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