Monday, October 24, 2011

The Problem Player at the Con

     No, this short little piece is not about me.  While I am sure that there are people out there who would view me as a type of problem player – I have been accused of hijacking tables and dominating the roleplaying, but I've never bigfooted other players out of doing something they wanted to do or tried to make sure that all eyes were on me – I am of the opinion that I am more or less responsible when it comes to not mucking about with the enjoyment of the other players at the table.  The exception to this I will readily acknowledge is when a player tries to rules lawyer me as a GM/Judge (incidentally, always incorrectly) because they always want their tricks to work and how dare anything stand in the way of their character's awesomeness.  The point being, I take the idea of people getting together to game and have fun as a mildly serious responsibility, and I know it is my job not to fuck that up for anyone.
     Then there is the problem player.
This, incidentally, actually is the problem player in question.  I found this picture of him (from 2007) playing a different game system, one that apparently required him to dress up Muttley.
     This guy – and to be fair, I was warned about him before I was saddled with playing two mods (roleplaying game session or adventure if you have gotten this far and don't know RPG Gamer culture and terms) with him on Sunday – is the epitome of everything that is often thought wrong of gamers.  He is belligerent.  He has no discernible knowledge of social graces.  It was though someone had placed a sugar-addled seven year old in an old man's unwashed body and made us endure him for ten hours.
     But being a jerk isn't really enough to make one a problem player.  After all, the overbearing can sometimes stumble across the necessary solutions or save the day with a properly deployed spell or attack or negotiation.  They may want a little more credit than what is due, or restate what another player has just said with the conviction that they, just then, were the first person to make the suggestion, but they still have a sense of being a part of the group, a team member.  The problem player – and this one specifically – did not abide by the rule that RPG play is an inherently pro-social endeavor.
     This has all been so vague, and I want to vent on the actual things that set me off.  Even though I have his actual photograph here (and tomorrow's post will likely link the alias I'll use here with him), I am going to refer to him by his player character's name, Kalus.  I hope this will not lead to greater confusion.
  1.  As we were beginning our morning session (starting almost 30 minutes late), Kalus interrupted each player's description of their respective characters to tell everyone more about Kalus-the-character.  More than half of the people at the table had experience playing with Kalus and the character before the convention, but he still felt a need to make the regular practice of, 'my character's name is [insert name here], looks like or is wearing [insert description here], and generally does [insert party role, however creatively, here]' into an attempt to have everyone envy how great Kalus (and Kalus-the-character) is.
  2. As our group of seven players (six responsible people and Kalus) is trying to get information about what is happening in the adventure – or characters are called into HQ in the very early morning because of some crises, but if we don't pry for information, we won't know anything about what we are supposed to do – Kalus takes every opportunity to ask ridiculous or completely unrelated questions when the GM was trying to respond to an individual player, speaking over the only person who can give the players the information needed to get the story moving forward.  The only way to stop this conduct was to engage Kalus in a discussion of his character, which leads to the next point.
  3. Kalus may have been playing Kalus-the-character for some time (at least twelve different times, but most likely closer to twenty), he had little to no actual grasp on the rules specific to that character, and a very weak grasp on the basic rules governing the game – Pathfinder.  Within two minutes of this attempt to keep him from destroying everyone's good time (not sure why I decided to sacrifice mine so quickly, but I guess it would be ruined by him one way or the other, so why not try to jump on that grenade, such as it were), I identified four errors he had made in describing how his character did things, by the rules.  I don't like arguing rules, ever, but I like people having at least a concept of them that is related to the ones published in the books.
  4. When we reached our first point of investigation, Kalus decided to have his character go off and do something by himself (this would be a recurring theme; it is the primary area where I feel comfortable labeling him as a problem player and not a player with problems), but still insisted that he should be able to dictate our actions as well – on a different floor of the structure we were investigating.  Now, stupid me, I took him at his word when he described his Rogue – a character class that deals sneak attack damage in certain combat situations – as combat capable.  When the first combat happened, I included him in the limited group of character's I could haste (give an extra attack and a bonus to avoid being hit).  He promptly proceeded to do little damage and complain that he had to risk being hit.
  5. In this first combat, my character was targeted by a spell that made her flee in terror from the being we were fighting.  Kalus decided that this was a personal failing of mine, that I rolled a d20 and received a result so low that when added to my save (ability to reduce or negate the effect) and ended up affected.  Incidentally, as players, we fully expect the NPCs (minions and villains under the control of the Game Master or GM) to fail similar saves.  The game actually presumes that both player characters and NPCs will be affected by spells and effects.  More on this later.   
  6. At the conclusion of the first combat, our group had some spoils of war.  Kalus decided that his character was going to take possession of all but one of the captured items, even though the rest of the players decided to divide the useful items among the player characters.  Kalus kept declaring that he had everything, and loudly, to the point of the GM saying fine, your character has all those items.  This caused a problem later when the player seated to my right, Howard Black, needed a captured item to improve his character's chance to be effective in combat (and had otherwise had it except for Kalus' protests that everything had to run through him), and set him up to do nothing for a combat.  Not many players enjoy that.
  7. Kalus' disruptive, needy (he honestly wanted as much attention as anyone would give him, but thought that his character was at least half the party), and largely ineffectual play led to our first session running long.  As Howard was going to run the second session which I was playing, I made plans to go and grab some food and return so that we wouldn't be further delayed.  When we returned, Kalus came over to us and charged that we hadn't told him we were going for food (which was true).  If he had known, he would have given us an order for what he wanted (there was no mention of whether he intended to pay for that; the traditional discussion of someone you don't really know getting food for you usually starts with, 'If I gave you a few bucks, would you mind getting something for me while you are there?').  This prompted me to tell him that I assumed that as an adult, he had the ability to get food for himself.  I still think I'm right about the sentiment behind that statement, I know that I said it in a way that could leave no doubt that I didn't want to have anything to do with him except for being slotted into the same sessions at a convention.
  8. As the group of players assembled for the second session, there was some debate as to what level of difficulty we should attempt.  Knowing my character (a different one from the very effective one I ran in the first session, though the one from the second absolutely can make saves), I stated my preference for the less difficult option (which assumes character levels 5-6) and not the more difficult (assumes character levels 8-9).  At the moment the character was 8th level.  Kalus, playing the same character, insists that he is confident in taking on the harder option.  Said character was 6th level.  The other players agreed that they wanted to try the bigger challenge, so I had to apply a chronicle that added another level to my character just to give him a chance to survive (or so I thought, but it definitely helped the party).
  9. Our characters were ordered to be polite and not steal or destroy any property if we could avoid it.  Kalus decided that he thought this was stupid, and the fact that the rest of the players disagreed with him didn't matter to him.  He was caught trying to steal an item and Howard, being the word of God as far as the game at the table is concerned, told him his character had to put it back.  Kalus decided this wasn't the case and continued to try to distract everyone with talk of the item he still had and was going to steal.
  10. When we encountered the first combat, Kalus fled.  He went to what amounted to a different encounter.  Granted, I would have handled this differently than Howard did – I would have told Kalus that he was out of play until the combat was over and then his character could be addressed, but I think Howard thought he would come back to help everyone else in combat.  So, there was Kalus, insisting that he be allowed to go and do an encounter by himself and either make us wait for him or at least be given equal time as the rest of the players combined.  The irony of it all is that Kalus-the-character would have been nearly useless in combat and had no ability to avoid being hit.
  11. Our next combat encounter had a wicked Lovecraftian monster that had the ability to, for lack of a better term, turn characters into sponges (like the animal or the synthetic cleaning implement).  This monster attacked Kalus-the-character and lo and behold, he gets all sponge-ified.  There are saves he can make to get rid of this effect, but Kalus has great difficulty making them (apparently, when he can't make a save, that is not a failure of designing his character or choosing a proper level of challenge, but of the situation being unfair, which is what Kalus protested repeatedly).  Howard straight out told him that if wouldn't make the rolls for the saves, he may as well just leave.
  12. There are various other instances of Kalus metagaming (using knowledge the player has but the character would have no way of knowing), but they pale in comparison to the assault that was his personality.  It was just so off-putting.
     Now I feel better for venting.  And Kalus has made my list of people with whom I will never game with again (joining Nicole Rubins and Joel Fischoff), which is quite an accomplishment in and of itself.  But Kalus has done more than that.  He has earned the distinction of becoming either my least favorite person or most unfavorite person – I haven't settled on the terminology yet – replacing Ingrid Baksys (who I am sure has not had a single thought even remotely related to me in seventeen years, and to be fair, I don't know that I have had reason to think of her in any capacity but twice over the last decade).  She, perhaps unintentionally, made some attempts to undermine a rather dear friendship I had (with Jamie Best, who incidentally knew more about the damning evidence suggesting that I was "crazy" than Ingrid did, as Jamie was there when the incident that prompted the crazy to happen and then was informed as to what the "crazy" was, in surprising detail the very next day, which was three days before the recipient of the crazy did), and I felt – and still fell – okay about holding a grudge over that.  It is entirely possible that Ingrid is a good and decent person and that I am unfairly characterizing her from one incident close to twenty years ago.  I certainly had less interaction with her over the year she and I had a class together in high school than I did in one day with Kalus, so the responsible thing for me to do would be to vacate any and all ill feeling I have about the event that prompted me to put her atop my list.
     And, to get around to musing on a point, what is to be done with people like Kalus at a convention?  They have paid their money to get in and play, so the organizers are not going to be in a hurry to turn them away (everybody wants the money).  There are people there who know and have relationships with him (and such is often the case), and they have become used to the abusive behavior which makes him, for lack of a better term, a fun-vampire (one who sucks the fun out of a situation, not a vampire with which it is fun to interact or observe).  I know that I'm not allowed to assault them (and I don't want to, for the most part), but they can't grasp the social cues that let them know that they are not appreciated.
     It makes me long for a stable group of players I like and trust with whom I could play in a home campaign.  I'm not going to give up convention play – I like playing with new people, old acquaintances, and friends in varying mixes at each session.  But I think I have had as much as I am ever going to take from the problem players.

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