The solution to many of the player-player problems I’ve described over the past few months is a simple two-part solution: (a) don’t be a jerk, and (b) talk it out. This supposes not just that your fellow players are reasonable people, but that you’re all capable of giving and receiving constructive criticism. I would love to play in a game where this is the case, but I game in the real world where everyone around the table is an actual, emotional human.
At times in our game someone will say something in a way that annoys me, or the party will reject my plans, or I have to share the spotlight with others. I can be rational enough most of the time to see the other’s point of view, respect it, and go with what maximizes everyone’s fun. But sometimes I strongly disagree with group’s decision or with one person in particular. In those situations, I usually keep my mouth shut because it’s not worth discussion, or I don’t to want to risk embarrassing someone, or it’s worth it to me for them to get their opportunity while I wait for my turn. Also there are times when I just don’t know how to say what I want in a constructive manner that will be well received. This is the balance I’ve struck, and I assume everyone else is more or less on the same page.
This week one player’s frustration boiled over on to my DM’s blog. I read his comment as being frustrated with three aspects of a skill challenge: a mismatch in expectations about how the skill challenge should be run, a sense of character uselessness in the given situation, and the group action going off in a different direction. Personally if I were him, I would have found the combat portion more frustrating as we are still adjusting to our new group and the tactics did not pan out.
When two people have incompatible gaming styles, there’s not much that can be done so that both people still have fun. If you’re all about combat and are stuck in a game where most of the adventure is devoted into sitting around a parlor reading into NPC body language, you’re not going to have a lot of fun. Both are fine ways to play D&D and if enough of the adventure fits what you want to get out it, then it’s worth your time to stay in the game, but otherwise it’s time to find a new group. But when two people at the table have different expectations about how a game should be run, this can usually be corrected. Sometimes the GM will promise one type of game and deliver another: e.g. high seas pirate adventure turns out to really be a merchant-guild intrigue. In that case, the party should either: call out the GM and adjust the adventure, agree that you’d all prefer the intrigue game, or elect a new GM. When the expectation misalignment comes from “I think skill challenges should be run like X” (which was what happened to us) or “I thought you would rule Acrobatics worked differently.” Here the player has a duty to constructively talk to the GM about the expectations, and negotiate a resolution. This is best done before or after a game, and it may not be resolved satisfactorily.
When it comes to skill challenges in 4e, I think that sense of character redundancy may be overblown. My engineering instinct is to maximize the party’s success at every point, meaning the person with the highest modifier has the best chance of making the roll. I’ve only had one failed skill challenge, so maybe it’s time to let up a bit and let everyone have a chance at making untrained skill checks. Usually the DCs are set so everyone has a reasonable shot. I think I may make a table of way out of the box uses for certain skills and rituals as a reference for myself for these situations and share it here, so people can use their main skills in off ways or off skills as primary roll.
For me, it’s difficult in a free-form situation to make sure that every player gets a chance to do something or influence the group decision. In last night’s game, I advocated for a plan that involved splitting the party to guarantee success in multiple aspects. My plan based on the rumors that the party heard and I was able to understand, which was not the entirety of the available information available. The plan we chose with was simpler and better, but until I was able to parse all the information and agree, I felt like my plan was being trampled but some of the other players. We had five people and five plans (to start) and not everyone based theirs off the correct set of assumptions (including me). It’s tough to get your voice heard in that situation. I understand from a logical point of view that everyone’s ideas should be considered before choosing a course of action, and I think we did that. I just prefer it when it’s my plan that gets chosen (which it does often enough). I also understand my fellow party members intentions and why they rejected the other proposed actions; those were either inappropriate or less appropriate for the situation.
I don’t know how to advise people to be more assertive in this group, and that’s the sticking point for me. I sucked it up loosing out on the plan, and it hurt at the time, but once we moved on to implementing it I started having fun again. Looking back on it after getting a good night’s sleep and having the beer leave my system, I know the group made the right call. When advocating a plan, acknowledge the good points in everyone else’s plan and make an impassioned argument (including sharing the assumptions) for your own; and don’t just declare “this is what we’re doing.” And once that decision is made, people can start figuring a way for their character to be useful in it.
So… assertiveness advice?