Post WashingCon, The Story of My First Problem Player

I had my first problem player at WashingCon, in the Red Markets game I ran. That means I've leveled up as a GM, right?

First off, I've been very lucky. I started GMing for friends and, while that group imploded for player dynamic reasons, none of them were ‘problem’ players. Folks just wanted to have different types of fun (and one decided that RPGs weren't for them) — at the time I wasn't skilled enough as a GM yet to accommodate different types of fun styles (also, wrong system for one of those types).

I've run one-shots for the Tech. Diff. crew and again, very lucky that the random group of folks from an internet forum are as cool and compatible as we are. Sure, there was some associative sorting from our taste in podcast fandom and the original system we were all showing up to play. But that was no guarantee we'd have fun together.

I've run four games, in two different systems, at two different conventions now. And my first problem player didn't show up until the fourth game. Awesome.

Still frustrating.


So, what made this guy so problematic that I, who cop to being fairly socially oblivious, actually noticed? First, a bit of set-up: problem player (who I'm just going to call P now) was playing a character type called the Latent. In universe, Latents are folks who are infected with the zombie making virus/fungus/whatever it is, nobody actually knows/thing BUT for one of a couple reasons weren't lobotomized and killed by it. They're walking infection sources who turn into sprinting 28 Days Later style zombies (called Vectors in universe) upon death. Socially stigmatized but able to go whale on zombies at melee range without worrying about getting infected. Or rather, infected again.

So P is playing a character designed for that melee role. The party has found a job, negotiated pay, and are on the road to the job site when they come upon a toll booth. Yes, an active toll booth in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. Since the booth is setup at a low point of geography and zombies trending to take the geographic path of least resistance, it's in an area zombies would congregate. Thus the two snipers covering the booth are performing a community service, clearing out some zombies in the area. And to start with, the team had spotted only one of the snipers.

Most of the party agreed to send the negotiator forward to talk with the booth operator. P decides he's going to head through the woods to go kill the sniper they've spotted. Okay so far, this has happened before. It's why I moved the snipers to about a mile out. I should also mention that P LOOKS like a zombie, what with the black veins all over. Something the rest of the team has pointed out. He also has NO stealth skills, so he's crashing through the underbrush. At which point one of the snipers takes a shot at him.

‘What do you do?’
‘How can they be shooting at me, I'm in the woods.’
‘They picked defensible spots, and trees aren't perfect cover. You've been shot at. What do you do?’
‘I'm behind trees, I'm not stepping in openings, how could they shoot me?’
‘You have no stealth, you're crashing through the woods, they shoot at you. What do you do?’
‘Keep going.’

Meanwhile, the negotiator is talking with the booth operator and they come to an agreement. The operator messages his team that they're all good and to stand down.
‘Hang on, I've got a zombie out here.’
‘No, he's one of ours…’
‘Well, call him off then.’

Well and good, the guy with a drone sends it out to relay a message to P. Did I mention earlier that he had no means of remote communication on him? So, the drone operator sends the drone out to P's location, announced over speaker that they've negotiated passage, please come back.

P keeps going.

Snipers miss the next shot. Team lead turns to P and say he'll make a foresight roll, if he makes it, please tell him something that would convince P to stop. “There's nothing you could say.” Well shit. Everyone at the table is frustrated with him at this point. And that's just bad role-playing. Luckily for me, the next shot hits — rolls are made by the player and you only get hit if you fail your dodge roll. This was not railroading in the least, everyone at the table saw him fail the roll and get hit in the head. With enough damage to drop unconscious.

You’d think this would be the end of it. But no. No, no, there's more to come.

Team drudges out into the woods, hauls his unconscious body back, hikes down the road for a couple hours, and then applies first aid to wake P back up.

‘I go back after the snipers.’
From everybody at the table: ‘what?’
‘I'm going back after the snipers.’
Players share a look around the table. Team lead: ‘You do that and we’re not waiting. We'll take your share since you're walking off the job.’
P: ‘well how about I threaten the person you're escorting [who had to survive for them to get paid], then?’
Full minute of argument around the table before the drones guy managed to get clarification from me on what P had actually said, at which point drones piped up with “this isn't the game any of us signed up to play, can we please get on with it?” At least that got P to shut up and let the scenario continue on.

An hour later, when we’re wrapping up with the scenario only partially finished because we’ve run out of time, he feels the need to get the last word in before running off to his next game. ‘I still disagree about getting shot at in trees.’

The rest of us found an unused room and played the rest of the scenario.


So yeah, I’ve still got some work to do on figuring out how to manage players and social situations at the table better. Although I have no idea what I could have done to get this guy off that path. Possibly should have been the one to tell him that he was making the game not fun for folks. Although that might have been seen as speaking for people who didn’t necessarily agree. And GM railroading.

Anybody in the audience have stories of problem players they’d like to share and/or how you handle folks like this? Tell me in the comments, I’d love to hear your stories.

Post WashingCon, The Writing Side of the Packet

WashingCon was a lot of fun – I’m really impressed by the amount of stuff they could pull together and how well everything worked in only their second year of existence. On a more personal level, Partner, Tom, and I ask had successful play test sessions, to one degree or another. Partner and Tom both had full groups on the first day; I had two drop outs (one of whom was good enough to email me the night before) on the second day, which happens. It's the second day, folks get tired and occasionally flaky. Any rate, I still had four players which was more than enough for the scenarios to work.

I think the scenarios themselves are ready. Any further refinements to how long they take to run are going to have to come from the GM’s style in running games (in my opinion). And making sure you actually have a four hour slot to run everything in. I might want to add the stop and leg I took out of the caravan route back into that scenario, but only with a caveat to the GM to only include it if you have players familiar with the system and don't need to teach rules.

So I think the most gains we're going to make are going to come from working on the player's Quick Start rules and advice to new GMs sections. At minimum, the Quick Start needs to go through another draft. And we need to write the advice section at all. As a group we had skipped that part of the packet before Gen Con and WashingCon because all the of us have SOME experience GMing. In Red Markets even.

The Quick Start, despite needing another draft to my mind, is in pretty good shape. It helps to be able to copy/paste sections from the full text. It's just a challenge of cutting down appropriately. And not losing all of the system flavor in getting to the bones of the rules.

Since the goal is 10-15 pages of rules that simultaneously sell new folks in the setting and flavor, it's rather like trying to write 10-15 of ad copy that is ALSO technical writing. Which is bloody tricky. And why I'm so glad I just need to edit down to it, rather than build it up in writing.

Refining scenarios in preparation for WashingCon

WashingCon, where Partner, Tom, and I will each be running a game of Red Markets out of this convention packet we're putting together, is coming up this weekend. I think it's going to be the first time we'll be running it for folks who haven't played in this system yet, i.e. the actual intended target audience. Well, Partner and I will. Tom may have run it for some of his local new folks, I'm not sure.

I did run it for the Technical Difficulties crew on Sunday — we all found some extra time due to the long holiday weekend (thank you Labor movement). And it's a good thing we could play this weekend because the scenarios are definitely four hours long. That told me that I need to trim down the one I ran (a trade caravan mission) because that was all the job. Four hours is the right amount of time for a convention session, but I need to build in time upfront to teach people the basics of the system. And time to remind and reteach system stuff during.

So. Out goes the middle stop-over on the trade route. I'd initially put that stop in because the whole thing didn't feel like an actual trade route with only two stops. But that's my assumption. And it was in the job as a purely roleplaying opportunity. One I haven't figured out how to use to prompt the player debate I was looking for. So, out it goes.

I could, theoretically, leave in the random (scripted) encounter that preceded it. But honestly I think I'll be getting more time back by cutting the encounter than the stop, so out that encounter goes too.  Which is a bit of a shame for the players, since a lot of the money they could scavenge on this job is in that encounter. The players are just going to have to do a better job negotiating than the TD crew did this time – they ended up AT equilibrium. Which made for some fun banter in game. “So about that 10 bounty we're getting…”

I do still need to pull together a script for the teaching portion. Even if that doesn't end up in the final packet, I need it to remind myself of all the rules new players don't know. Because at this point I've just internalized a lot of them. Especially the basics which are all I should be getting into with new players.

Wish me luck folks...

Internet and Gaming

So the internet in our new apartment has been down for a couple days (as of starting to write this part). No worrying about celluar data now, we're already boned there. Ah well, luckily the building I'm in has a couple of computers I can use to transfer these posts from Google docs to the site. I shudder trying to think how I'd do it on my phone. I'm sure there's a way. I just don't want to have to figure it out.

Which may make gaming this Thursday (ie today by the time folks will be reading this…) challenging. Internet based voice chat gaming group. No internet. Yeah.

Continuing the whole reassessing stuff from having routine disrupted theme of my life these last couple of weeks, good grief my life is mostly on the internet. Or at least all my hobbies/projects and social life. And I am so massively privileged that that could just be in the background for me for so long.

I feel like I should be making a joke about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs right now. ... Yeah, I've got nothing.


Anyone in Washington DC Sept. 10th - 11th? Then you should come to WashingCon 2! It’s a fun, smallish convention focused on board games and RPGs - Partner and I will be there, running Red Markets and Eclipse Phase games. We’re giving away a free badge for the weekend, too! Enter by filing out this survey (so we can get it to you if you win):