Monday, February 08, 2016

Shifting Mentalities of RPG Players

I've noticed over the years that the perspective of RPG Players has changed considerably from the early days to the present, and that the younger the player the less likely they are to understand the nature of the TableTop RPG experience.  I'd like to ramble on about this for a few minutes as a kind of personal brainstorming session.  None of what I am about to write should be taken as truth, but rather as speculations and conjectures on my part as I have no verifiable data.  Basically, I'm going on a set of hunches here.

First, I think I've noticed that the older players, those who have been into TableTop RPGs for more than 20 years, have an immediate grasp of what my world is geared for, and how to deal with encounters.  They tend to be somewhat cautious, exploratory, and inclined to look for answers to questions about what's really going on before taking action.  They don't assume that they can immediately understand what's happening in a given situation or locale, and that it will take time to poke around and find out.

Conversely, the younger players tend to assume that encounters in my world are designed with a standard and easily determined pattern of "Good Guys Arrive - Bad Guys Killed - Treasure Taken - Points Assigned - Next".  I think they get this from playing video games where, well, that's the modus operendi of the thing, and so I can understand that those steeped on video RPGs would kind of make that assumption as a reflex reaction.  So they tend to encounter situations and immediately barge in with questions like "How do I fix this situation as quickly as possible?" *

A good example of this was during our latest campaign when the party came across on old Reverend in a dilapidated church who told them that he was partially responsible for the curse on the town and it's being overrun by witches, and consequently ultimately doomed sometime in the near future.  The players immediately assumed that their "Task" was to save the old Reverend from the witches, and dispel the curse on the town.  I should probably add that this would have amounted to a "side quest" as their original goal at the town was to rescue some children who had been kidnapped and tracked to the town.

The town, I should also mention, was so cursed that over 60 years it literally sank under the ground and is now on an escarpment inside a cavern (in which many other things are going on that have little to do with the town, actually - it's a relative new comer there).   The last remaining vestige of the sky could be seen through a small hole in the cavern ceiling above the town.  The Reverend told them that once that hole closes (soon) the town's doom will be complete.  The Reverend, after 60 years of battling the witches and watching as one by one his fellow towns people fall to the predations of the witches, was on his last leg.  He was slurring his speech, with one drooping eye, and looking like death was close at hand.  So they player characters knew that the process of the town's demise has been ongoing for 60 years.  The town sank very slowly into the cavern, not overnight.  All of this was information that the player characters learned from the Reverend as well as other sources perhaps along the way to the town (a year long adventure).  The player's reaction when the Reverend announced, "They are coming... you must run." was to argue with him and say that they would not only protect him, but "dispel the curse on the town".  One player insisted that the Reverend tell them how to do so.

I found the idea that the players expected their characters to waltz in and unravel the curse and save the Reverend to be ... what can I say?  Well, hmm... They really seemed to think that the "Task" of saving the town requires that there has to be some "trick" to defending the Reverend and dispelling the curse.  Something that the Reverend would tell them that would unlock the secret so that they could immediately "achieve the goal".  It took the Reverend some time to convince them that this was not feasible under the circumstances.  "You'd better escape out the back door of the Church, or you are all likely to die", he told them emphatically.  Finally, they assessed that no magic answer was going to come forth and that the Reverend was probably right about their fleeing.

"Look, the old man wants to die, anyway, obviously.  Lets get out of here and leave him to his fate, or destiny, or whatever.  He'll be dead soon anyway", said one of the two Characters at that scene.  The other finally agreed and they fled out the back as the front door of the Church became overshadowed by stark figures chanting in unison.  They didn't look back.

This was a very satisfying moment for me as GM.  I finally managed to break through the standard "Computer RPG Mode" of thinking, and get them to begin to understand that sometimes, really, there is nothing that can be done.

This was in fact not so much the right answer as it was a rational course of action on the player character's parts.  Not only did they scramble out the back way, but the declined to even peep around the corner to see who was doing the chanting.  This would have told them in an instant who the wtiches were, but they did not think of that... and had they done so they ran a signifiant risk of being spotted.  And that would not have ended well.  They made a rational choice.

At that moment the granddaughter of the Reverend came out of the old stone Library next to the Church and encountered the player characters.  She wanted to go to her grandfather's side and help him, but the player characters restrained her, and then tricked her with an illusion of her grandfather in the door of the library to get her away from the scene.  She went in and they followed and locked the door so she couldn't escape.  Otherwise, they reasoned, she would be going to her death, and they convinced her afterwards that the last thing in the world the old Reverend would have wanted was her to wind up dead at the hands of the witches.

Again, a very satisfying scene from my point of view because the players encountered a situation that was not designed to be played out like a computer RPG.  There was no easy turn-key solution that required them to simply "figure out the trick".  There was, in fact, a terrible and long standing moral calamity that was playing itself out in the town of Whitewode, and at best the player characters were in a position to be witnesses to these events.  Of course, they could have tried to battle the witches and save the Reverend.  But tallying up the accumulated Mystic Energy of both Groups the ratio was 5: 1 in favor of the wtiches, and in all likelihood the result would have been "And then the Heroe's perished at the hands of the witches of Whitewode".

Anyway, I find it very interesting to note how the players at first react as though the world of Elthos should function like a computer game, and then through the course of events find out that it doesn't work that way at all... and adapt to that.  In this way I feel I was able to bring at least one or two players out of the CRPG mentality and into the TTRPG mentality for my game.

Very satisfying indeed.

Have you had experiences like this as well?  How did you GM things when that happened?  Looking for pro-tips, muckups, insights, etc.  :)

* - Note:  It occurs to me as well that some of the really very oldest players may also take the very same attitude as the younger ones, as very originally, RPGs like D&D were played pretty much the way Computer RPGs play out today.  We used to call them Monty Hall Dungeons, and they were frowned upon as being too simplistic and without substance.  We then began creating more Tolkienesque Worlds, and in my experience that transition occurred rather quickly for many of the GMs I knew.
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