Friday, February 8, 2008

Spotlights and Me-Too-ism

From the comments of another post:
Me: "In the past couple years I've learned that me-too-ism bugs me..."
(bla bla paradigm shift bla, roughly a paraphrase of this post from December where I say I only let one person roll and everyone else assists)

SiderisAnon: "I think they'd be disappointed with the idea that all they get to do is help on something. With some people, the idea of being the one who rolls high is important, and I think they'd be disappointed with the idea that all they get to do is help on something."
I agree. However, that disappointment is a minor one. Further, it's one gamers face every time someone else is in the spotlight:
  • Another player is interacting with the NPC: I'm disappointed.
  • Someone else is making their attack roll: I'm disappointed.
  • The cleric is casting curative spells: Unless they're casting it on me, I'm disappointed.
  • The GM is talking, and I have to quietly listen: I'm a tiny bit disappointed.
It happens all the time, so it's not a huge deal and people get used to it. If they've been gaming for over a year, they've probably already learned to deal with it.

Weigh that against the opposing disappointment: You created a character who was good at basket weaving*. You maxed your basket-weaving skill. We're fifteen sessions into the campaign, and basket-weaving has never come up. Tonight, though, Lucifer has challenged the party to a basket-weaving contest. If the party wins, the party gets a +5 golden basket, if Satan wins, the PC of his choice dies. In the real world, the party would have it's best basket-weaver tackle it, possibly with one or two assistants. In gaming, it's generally best for everyone to roll - especially in systems with a large random element. So all the players roll, and you get a critical failure, whereas someone else in the group gets a critical success. The party just won - you should be happy - but are you?

Every time I've seen something even remotely like this happen, the player who built his character to basket-weave has instead gotten all quiet and sullen**. In one case, a player told me she felt like she was being teased for her odd but flavorful skill choice (because somebody who didn't spend 20% of their skill points on goofy basket-weaving out performed them), when the truth is the GM (me) tried to give her a cool little chance to shine and make her basketry matter.

Clearly, their disappointment (of having lost the one/rare oddball spotlight that they spent precious resources on) is a deeper one than the general regular disappointment of "it's someone else's moment in the spotlight".

As an alternative, if you give everyone a die roll to boost the main persons action, they'll be happier with this. Here's suggestions for two games I know Siderisanon plays:
  • For Scion, I let every helper roll two dice (the book says one) to assist (as in, to add to the main roll that a single player makes). Lately, I've been thinking of making it dice equal to Legend, or dice equal to dots in the relevant Epic. Two dice worked great at Hero level, but it's a bit underwhelming for Demigods. That of course, assumes the assistant has the skill - if they don't, they can boost it by only a single die.
  • D&D already requires a skill check or attack roll vs DC/AC 10 to give +2. If that's not enough of a sense of participation (and it might not be at high levels where the DC 10 is a gimme), you could let them add +1d4 instead of +2. At epic levels, you could probably do +1d6 without it impacting balance too adversely.
* = This doesn't require something as kooky as basket-weaving skills. It could be your character is really good (on paper) at lifting heavy objects, or conducting occult rituals, spotting traps, brewing potions, surfing the net, administering first aid, etc. The reaction can happen from anything, though it's more true the goofier and less common the skill or specialty involved. Deep down inside, you always knew you were sacrificing character effectiveness to indulge in some flavorful sideline that distinguishes your characters personality. You put points into basket-weaving that could have been put in to sword-smithing or even sword-swinging. To have the best sword-swinger of the group rub it in your face by out-weaving you is just plain sad.

** = Most of this post I've been talking from a third-person "omniscient GM" point-of-view saying "I've seen players get all upset", but clearly it's also a personal issue for me as a player. While I have seen players get upset, I never knew how deeply it bugged them till the exact same thing happened to me - for an entire campaign. That's when this became a big issue for me.