Monday, February 06, 2012

In Which The Warlock Mulls Some Problem Players...

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to throw down some ICONS for the WittKids, as part of their Friday Night one-shot series.  In the midst of working on a ton of writing for Cubicle 7 on another book for The Laundry, I managed to cobble together a new adventure.  In true Silver Age fashion, I decided to give our heroes a great Nazi-punchin' time!

Ek Balaam--the lost city of Dr. Arrington's desire!
The premise?  Famed University of Miami anthropologist Dr. Anthony Arrington has gone missing, seeking out a series of undiscovered Olmec ruins in the jungles of the Yucatan.  But, as the heroes arrive at his dig site, they find it being trashed by men in SS uniforms! 

I wanted to make this adventure really over the top, including some great challenges for the PCs.  One of the ways I did so was through vehicles--the Nazis arrived on scene in the first chapter of the adventure riding on bulldozers, crashing through the underbrush and directly into two of the PCs!  I won't spoil the adventure, as I may be running it at FOPCon this time around since their theme is superheroes, but it ended with a fantastic airboat crash in the middle of a huge swamp.  Epic stuff!

However, the game wasn't without a few nitpicks.  While I had planned on using my pre-built supers group--The Huntsmen--I ended up with 8 players at the table:  two more players than I had Huntsmen!  Not wanting to turn anyone away, The Journeyman GM and the PlatinumChick rolled up random PCs, and we rolled with 8 players at the table.

Therein lay my biggest problems. 

You see, friends and neighbors, I ended up with two players in amongst those 8 that just Did.  Not.  Get.  It.  And, while it didn't "ruin" the game by any stretch, it did make GMing fairly difficult, as I tried to keep the rest of the group on track.

ICONS--a four-color system...
...but with grim 'n gritty players?
ICONS, as you may know, is a game very much styled after the four-color action of the Silver Age of Comics.  As such, certain things hold true:  real heroes don't use guns, heroes don't kill, and villains monologue before the battle is joined.  Player one, however--let's call him Bill--just did not get this idea.  Despite the fact that he could fling sonic energy from his fingertips, he continually wanted to loot Nazi assault rifles and pass them out to the party as sidearms.  As I was narrating through Doktor Schumann's monologue, Bill continually interrupted with what he wanted to do, often talking over other players to do so.  Twice, I had to stop halfway through the narration and ask him to stop....which he actively resented, complaining loudly to the rest of the group. 

As a GM, I felt I had an obligation to act, so as I mentioned, I asked him to stop--he had been talking over one of the players at the far end of the table, who literally was raising her hand, trying to get my attention.  It wasn't fair to her--or to the rest of the table, for that matter--for him to take up the limelight.  Further, his actions were actively obstructing the advancement of the plot! 

Unfortunately, that wasn't the only issue.  Again, as you may know, ICONS is a free-form, narrative system which uses a riff on the FATE mechanics to focus on character development and over-the-top stunts.  But, a second player--let's call him Jim Bob--took some issue with this idea.  I've gamed with Jim Bob before, and his leanings definitely skew towards more tactical games.  Jim Bob complained loudly about the fact that we weren't using a battle mat for combat, instead relying on imagination and GM description.  Eventually, I relented, scratching a brief map on the room's white-board, but even that wasn't enough for him.  He wanted precise detail in a game that not only doesn't focus on it, but doesn't even have true "ranges" or the like.  He wanted something from the game that I simply couldn't give.

Jim Bob also just didn't get the idea of his character's Aspects and Qualities.  He decided to play the Huntsmens' stealth and infiltration expert, yet began the game roaming about Playa del Carmen wearing an oversized sombrero, even trying to sneak around with it on!  He claimed that the "Sarcastic Joker" on his character sheet prompted him to do this, but actively ignored every other Aspect or Quality on the sheet in doing so.  Similarly, where others attempted to use their Aspects and Qualities to refine their actions--primarily through the use of Determination, by power stunting or using determined effort--Jim Bob really didn't do so. 

I'm not posting this to rag on the WittKids by any stretch of the imagination.  While I was frustrated at the time, it seemed that most everyone at the table--these two included--had a good time with the game.  However, I raise these issues as a question:  if these two were at your table, how would you adjust your GMing for the circumstance?  I'm hesitant to say "deal with them", simply because they're people--they shouldn't just be "dealt with". 

How do you, as a GM, alter the situation to better accomodate (or censure) actions detrimental to the game?


  1. Anonymous6:50 PM

    I'd like to be optimistic and say that Bill was trying riff on that scene from The Gamers where the villain gets shot multiple times during his monologue. I think it was more likely that he was frustrated by the length of the monologue and the fact that they were doing several complex actions as well. Although that seemed perfectly reasonable to you, he might have interpreted it as railroading or NPC Mary Sue Syndrome. Clearly there was some difference in opinion.

    I had a similar issue to the gun problem in my Stargate SG-1 game at Origins when the one playing Sam Carter wanted to knife the incapacitated Jaffa and take their staff weapons. I wonder if both problems with Jim Bob might have been solved if the game started off with a quick overview of the characteristics of 4-Color Supers and how characters are expected to behave.

    As for Jim Bob, it seems that he had in mind the type of game he wanted to play, which unfortunately wasn't the same as what you wanted to run. It's hard to say what would have fixed that, but making it clear the type of game that was intended to be run probably would have helped as well.

  2. The monologue in question, I felt, wasn't over-long. It was meant to portray the time that you guys spent making your way through the temple itself, rather than "oh, you guys show up--all this stuff happens and you're paralyzed!"
    I don't think I communicated the latter portion, though, very well.

    An overview of Four-Color/Silver Age would have helped immensely. I felt like quite a few people were each playing a different supers game, all at once.

    Jim Bob...well...I've run a tactical game for him. I've run a narrative game for him. I think he may well be one of those players who isn't going to be happy with anything I run, simply because I'm running it. I might be off base with that one, though.

  3. Regardless, brother, I hope you enjoyed the game!

  4. Anonymous7:52 PM

    First off, let me say I appreciate the quality of your writing style. Very easy to follow.


    Nazis cry out silver age to you? I hear gold age and if I were fighting Nazis...I'd be passing out the guns too! Player's only mistake there was handing the guns to people with ranged powers...shoulda given them to the red-blooded American bystanders and started an anti-Nazi mob!

  5. Anonymous7:57 PM

    Maybe if they had been brainwashed super-scientists or some kind of AIM/COBRA organization....

    As far as problem players...boot 'em! Unless you are actively trying to SELL them a product associated with the demo you're running, you're only prolonging your own suffering. Even then, I'd rather risk loosing an unruly customer than a whole table of them when he ruins their expirience!

  6. Anonymous8:25 PM

    Got to agree with Nazis = Golden Age. And in those comics, the heroes DID kill the Nazis, not just take them captive or knock them out. Any time Nazis are used in a story, it's usually because nobody will feel bad when they get killed (that's the only reason Indiana Jones is set in WWII). It's like having your players fight the KKK, it sets a tone from the start that it's okay to kill these bad guys.

    If you wanted to go silver age, you shoudlve had some sort of wacky science villain trying to take over the world, all white heroes, and anti-communism undertones.

  7. Wow, thanks for the comments, guys.

    I didn't fill in some of the other details on the adventure, because I was planning on running it at a few local conventions coming up. However, I guess I can spill be the beans:

    The Nazis are in the Yucatan, because they're trying to reclaim a super-science bio-weapon they had to leave behind in 1948, when the OSS raided them. The main villain (a Nazi super-soldier) managed to escape to Argentina, then attempted to return when the archaeologist (Dr. Arrington) set off a homing beacon. While Nazis are decidedly Golden Age foes, this was certainly a Silver Age storyline.

    As for the players, the Wittenberg one-shots are "open" games. That is to say, if you show up, you get to play, as long as there's space. As a GM, I won't turn anyone away for one of these.

    For what it's worth, though, these aren't my usual players. I've run for one of them in an extended campaign before (and had similar problems--I probably would not do so again), while I would not include the other under any circumstances. Our personalities and tastes in gaming are far too different.

    On the plus side, my regular Friday night group is much more in tune with the genre!

    Thanks again!