2020-05-07 Cowards

Ah, cowards. Yesterday, I was talking to @TQ and mentioned that I had one player who is very risk averse. We often joke that their character having the best armour, the best weapons, the best spells, the highest level, and yet there they are in the back, sending their retainers to the front. “He’d prefer to be playing Agricola instead!” we laugh. (Agricola being a board game where you play a farmer.) But at the same time, it’s also aggravating and I’m happy there aren’t more players like him in the group. Nothing would ever happen unless I make it a railroad, I fear.

Today I read a post by Jeremy Friesen, Highlighting Posts from my RSS Feed, where he mentions a blog post by Daniel Bishop, What to Do with the Cowards. The suggestion is to do nothing as a referee, as far as I understand it. Let the players hash it out.

“They are your characters. This is your problem. Deal with it.” – Daniel Bishop

This doesn’t make me very happy. I think I know where this is coming from. I can’t make in-game changes to out-of-game problems. I don’t want players to each have a one-on-one with me because I’m the referee. There needs to be a different way to handle this.

However, if I see miscommunication in life, I don’t think that people should hash it out without me. If it’s friends, family, coworkers, I get involved. I ask both sides to explain their position. I show empathy, I help translate the positions to the other side. That’s how I am. I don’t want the people close to me fighting. And yes, adults can be adults and handle their own problems. But we’re also friends and we’re having each other’s back and not every adult is up to 100% adulting at every moment. We have times when we can’t help ourselves.

From my perspective, I need to enjoy the game and I might not enjoy the game if we have a player who’s a coward. Perhaps they want to play a different game? Perhaps they don’t like the implied lethality of my game? I might have to adapt my game, or they need to find a different game. In addition to that, I’m doing the dishes after the game and my wife is there and we talk about the game and if she’s frustrated by another player – not enough to make a fuss about it at the table but but still noticeable – I’m feeling bad about the game we just had. It didn’t go well and I feel responsible, as a referee.

You could say I shouldn’t feel responsible because my job description says that I’m an impartial referee, but that’s not how I think about it, as I said. I feel for them. I cannot sit idly by and be just an impartial referee. These are my friends; this is my family.

I used to be tougher. I used to think that tension at the table adds spice to the game. Let players deal with it. The grappling with these things is part of the game. Until I realized that I don’t enjoy that part of the game.

So now I prefer being open about the meta aspects of it all. The frustrating moments don’t disappear. The player still does not send their thief into the shark infested water to release the harbour chain. But at least we all know the player is concerned about the safety of their characters, we can joke about it, roll our eyes, and find a way to get the job done using different means, and when it comes to distributing loot I think the players can be pretty open about some of their choices, too. The cool weapons and armour are no longer going to that player’s characters because they don’t tank and we all know it.

Being able to talk about these frustrations is the first step in being able to handle them, even if we can’t solve them.

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