Saturday, 17 March 2012

And the winner is…

This guy I’ll call Bob. Bob was a good gamer, he liked to play and he liked to adventure. The problem was, he also liked to win.

I never felt that Bob ever got away from the games of Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Dark Future we used to play, games with a sense of winning and achievement through defeating your enemy. Bob was an old school wargamer and got into roleplaying for lack of any other wargamers in the area. He was a good roleplayer, don’t get me wrong, and we had fun, but he never shook that ‘me against you’ attitude.

Bob was a good wargamer and beat me every time, but in a roleplaying game he’d get a little lost, especially outside of combat. We never used to use miniatures that much but while Bob was in the game we had to so that he knew what was going on, and he would decide actions to the smallest detail. The problem was, if anything went against him outside of combat he would argue that he had been defeated at the whim of the GM and didn’t have any control over the fate of his PC. In short, he would accuse the GM of ‘cheating’ every time he was unsuccessful with anything that didn’t involve hitting anything with a sword.

This came to a head, and effectively ended Bob’s involvement in roleplaying (with me, at any rate), with a single roll he was asked to make. He rolled, not knowing the difficulty number, and the GM declared he had failed. It wasn’t a game-breaking failure, but Bob didn’t like the fact that he had made a roll and the GM had seemingly ruled a failure regardless. He demanded to know what the difficulty number was. The GM gave him a number higher than what he had rolled. And, quite simply, Bob didn’t believe him. The game played out, Bob left, and he never attended again.

Now, you may think that Bob had a point and that the GM should have declared the difficulty number before he asked for the roll, and I’d agree with you to a certain extent, but the fact is that I don’t think it had anything to do with that. Bob, in his mind, had ‘lost’ the game. And Bob hated to lose, especially to what he saw as GM fiat. He had no direct control over every aspect of the game the way he had with boardgames and wargames, and so hated not being able to make judgements based on the rules as they were set out, clear and concise and covering just about every combat angle as in a wargaming manual. He enjoyed the games, I enjoyed playing with him, but he couldn’t get past the competitive angle. It really was Players-vs-GM to him. No matter how many times we told him this wasn’t the case, that was always at the forefront of his mind.

I remember feeling this way about the game in the 1980s when I first started but this was mainly due to the fact that we were new to tabletop roleplaying games and didn’t really know any better. By the time we got to the games with Bob we were all experienced in the hobby and knew the no-such-thing-as-winners mantra and that the enjoyment came from a cooperative experience but couldn’t convince Bob that this was how the game was played. He saw it as a detailed wargame; if it had dice, rules and miniatures then it was a wargame. That was it. And that was a massive shame.

I think the only thing I learned from this, as an observing player in the group, that all you can do is try, and keep explaining the game. You can’t change the nature of the game to suit one player, unless that’s what the group wants to try, and you can’t change a person’s unwavering perception of how the game should be played.