Tuesday, 23 June 2015

When Sterotypes hurt your Game

Something I've strived for in a lot of my games is an attention to detail. You always see posts, articles and stories about how the designers added so much background, and the user barely notices, but overall the game/movie does better for it. I never expected it to backfire so badly as my last roleplay session.

When your players stereotypes clash with each other

  I started a 4 week stand alone session about Pirates, Sailors and their dealings with a strange phenomenon called magic.
  The Session started with quicker than normal character creation, we even had to skip formalized equipment and their stats (though proved humourous) so we could get started and into the basic plot quickly enough.

The basics were thus: There are two sides, Arabian Pirates, who come from a land which has outlawed magic in all forms. Consequently the majority of the pirates are actually magic users. And the European Sailors, having had their entire city wiped out by undead magic users because their race managed to invent gunpowder (magic users everywhere have banned the invention) those politics aside, the players know that they consider their 'guns' to be anti-magician guns.
  Throw in a Knights Inquisitor, whose sole reason for infiltrating the pirate ship is to root and rat out the mages to be beheaded at the next port.
  So we have two sides, with conflicting inner struggles. I expected some emotional and political conflict, as did the players.. but we didn't expect what did happen.

Arabian Indians & German Gunners

Some of my players like to put on voices.. the 'Europeans' jumped for German, and for some strange reason, the Arabians decided to be Indian (some jumping from Scottish to Iroquois mid sentence) alot of funny moments for a later blog.
  What happened was a misunderstanding of ranking.
  Some of my players are older gentlemen, they have families, kids, wives who expect their husbands home by 10pm, and the rest, Uni students, not so serious, just having fun with it all.
  The Serious players, want to get to the game, get it happening and enjoy themselves, while the younger players have yet to learn that sense of urgency and self control.. so already different tensions started in, players not respecting the game, monty python quotes, etc etc

  The Pirate 3rd Mate & the Ships cook were instructed to take this group of sailors and pirates of equivalent by slightly lower rank out to inspect the island, look for fresh water and food. The Cook can of course identify plants & poisonous varieties, and the 3rd mate bossed people around, to get stuff done..
  But The Pirate player, had previously played a D&D adventure on the high seas, and the campaign had extremely poor understanding of life aboard a ship, crew, rules, emotions and the like. Far worse than the stereotypes of the movies. The players had been press-ganged into ship slavery, whipped, beaten, half rationed, disease & seasickness, it was a brutal campaign (I never played, I just got this players impression)
Now, does that Officer look like he's going to run him through?
  Also, in games prior to 2000, I used to run many of my campaigns with a strict iron fist. Players who would encounter guards and give them flack, would likely end up in prison for unruly behavior or beaten up and left in the gutter. Players learned that they might be the heroes of the story, but they are certainly not given free reign to do as they please.

The Skirmish

So, this player, felt that his 3rd mate, was in charge, and should/would deserve the respect of his position, to the point of almost bashing the back of the head of the German gunner who was giving him a little flack, at which point, the gunner drew his flintlock pistol and told him to back off.
  This set off the 3rd mate, insisting that the rest of the crew, imprison the two germans in a discovered stone room, til he could summon up someone of higher rank to have them flogged. The germans went in the room, but not so much as punishment, but instead creating a nice walled barrier against the feral mate, so they would obviously only have to guard the one entrance with flintlocks. Strategically, a good move.
  I, at this point, honestly thought the player was playing his pirate like this on purpose.. to create angst, or disrupt the possible inquisitor from discovering that he was actually a mage.
  It turned out, he honestly thought that pirates were blood thirsty bastards who would sooner run in a scurvey prisoner than take lip. While 6 of the 9 players had other ideas.

 The Key point had been pointed out earlier in the hand out text, which I'll quote:
A Ship of European style, A Galleon, 14 Guns (Extremely rare), but a crew of only 50 (The Galleon needed 75 to operate at full ability, but sleeps 150) Lost a Battle to a Pirate known as Twin Blades McCrowly and his crew of 40 pirates. The Pirates has (rightly) never encountered guns, and thought the booms were a storm coming over the bow, while 8 of them were killed on the opening attack, the remaining 32 managed to kill the captain of the galleon and 15 crew so effectively, their scrimshaw blademanship was so deadly, the remaining crew gave in (it was fairly obvious these warriors were so deadly, they would slaughter the crew and burn the ship)
The Master Gunner, knowing that the future of his culture was at stake, pleaded with the pirate captain, to take them on as crew. McCrowly took a look at the 8 dead, holes blown through them, and looked back at the massive hole blown in the side of his own ship and realised. He had now gained some of the most powerful “magic” that existed.. but it was not actually magic, somehow, this would be perceived as “evil” and the Knights Inquisitors might be pissed, but since it was not magic, their anti-magics would not work..
So, the Crew of the Galleon was given a choice, Join the Pirates, Plunder the Seas and if they want to get off at the next safe port, they may do so, AFTER they train the replacement crew member how to operate the guns & cannons.
The Ship has been anchored off the coast of a small, uncharted island, The Captain has ordered you lot, to go investigate, gather water, see if supplies exist and buried treasure (he adds with a laugh).
Beautiful Tropical Island, filled with Deadly Creatures, Crazy Terrain and Wild-men, must be Australia.

  So, you can see The Galleon Crew are on 'probation', to prove their worth, and become pirates, as equal ranking to the rest.
  For myself, I've always thought that the idea of a Pirate Captain, treating his crew like scum, would eventually result in mutiny. The concept that any higher ranking sailor on the sea, trying to act all big and tough, better be chummy with 80% of the crew, and only try that kind of thing with the least well liked persons on the ship.. that said.. close quarters, no where to go, I don't like the odds of anyone being less than amicable on a ship, but idiots will be idiots, and that's why the quartermaster exists.
  Returning to the situation, 'the 3rd mate thinks he's top sh*t', not because the player wants the character to be played that way, but thinks that this is how higher ranked pirates are supposed to act. The Pirate Stereotype has 'forced his hand' so to speak.
  No one else agreed with him, and began to belittle the player( in and out of game) because he was playing an a**hole. The Player didn't want to be boxed in, Some of the Pirates were siding with the Germans, which the Player insisted was against the spirit of the game.
  So suddenly we're all raised voices and getting angsty about whats going on.. I blame myself, not providing enough material to the player about how pirates should be played.. because quite frankly when you have a group, it is, sorta, the responsibility of the GM to set a scenario that the group has a reason to bond & team up against the GM.

  We had to pull the session to an end, so I could write up several pages based on historical data to show the more truer version of history and why the stereotypes would destroy the ability on pirates being pirates.. but it really got me thinking..

How many sessions of roleplay are disrupted by this kind of clash, players playing the 'classic trope' which ultimately ruins everyones fun?


bblackmoor said...

That's an interesting story. I started a fantasy game many years ago with the introductory conceit that the PCs started as survivors of a shipwreck (all of them passengers, none of whom actually knew one another) who were picked up by pirates. The captain of the ship gave them a choice: join the crew until they reached the next port (at which point they could leave if they wanted), and perform the duties asked of them, or they could stay in the water, clinging to the wreckage.

That went better than I expected. However, after an encounter where the PCs defeated some enemy or other (on an island, much like your scenario), and came back to the ship with "treasure", the captain wanted to look it over and told the quartermaster to divide it among the crew. The PCs were outraged -- that was THEIR treasure. The captain said no, it was the SHIP'S treasure, and the PCs would get an equal share, just like everyone else in the crew (including the captain). The PCs capitulated, and immediately started plotting their mutiny.

That was the last session of that game, because I really did not want to preside over what would have inevitably followed.

Draconian said...

YELLOWBEARD was sort of a Monty Python pirate movie, owing to having some of the same cast.

WaltJRimmer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WaltJRimmer said...

Truthfully, there were some pirates that were a**holes and would rather murder than anything else because there are people in the world like that. I see the player choosing that personality for his character as possibly a mistake in understanding how pirates really were, but that doesn't mean his character didn't have that personality or it was wrong for his character to be like that. He shouldn't have been belittled for it. However, saying that the other pirates would not side against him was his mistake. Some pirates were sailors and some were murderers and some were thieves; if you risked the ship, its crew or getting the payout you probably would be turned against in many cases. This is, of course, from my understanding of pirates, which there were a wide variety of them and these are ones from a fictional setting so the only one to say how the generalization of the people termed pirates act is the GM.

I've been in games where someone purposefully makes their character a horrible person. Sometimes it works not only well but makes the campaign and the party roleplay so much better. Then sometimes the player just comes off as being a nuisance, it depends on how it's played and if the attitude is appropriate to the character. I would say that it would be better if everyone understood the GM's version of pirates in their game, historical or stereotypical doesn't matter unless you're running a game for a setting that relies on that, but there's always that outlier, that guy that doesn't fit into what's normal and sometimes he's too nice or too mean or a psychopath but he's always different than the average person. Most parties are made up of people who are outliers, they're different than normal people often in being more powerful but sometimes in being bigger a**holes.