I agree completely with you here. I actually have the trouble of needing to retrain my players as they began by mistrusting me. Probably because they are students at the school I teach at, perhaps becausew they are only 13 and 14, maybe because they have come with a background in computer RPGs and mmorgs.
– OberonViking 2012-07-06 10:10 UTC
sadly, because I play with a mixed group from various other gaming groups, this kind of untrustworthiness seems to have been firmly established long before I got there. using an NPC as the guy who wired them’s second in command who was supposed to be very helpful indeed, even going behind his boss’s back on occasion for reasons of his own that were all in the player’s interests, and they still thought he was lying or withholding information.
– shortymonster 2012-07-06 10:18 UTC
An interesting point. On the one hand, we are trying to make the game world dangerous and full of evil. But then we avoid almost all things which are truly evil. We slaughter lots of creatures without problem and are happy when countless villagers are massacred because that is the next adventure hook. But torture, abuse, despair, we do not want to have those in the game. Why should we? If its ugly in the real world, how could it be fun in play?
There is something delusional about our hobby.
– lior 2012-07-06 11:30 UTC
It’s weird, I do this all the time and the players never really have a problem trusting anyone. I’ve never had a player do any of the things. Threaten to torture somebody? Never. Sometimes they’ll say “I don’t want to get screwed!” and I’ll say, “Well, you probably won’t” and that’s pretty much the end of it.
– -C 2012-07-06 12:28 UTC
@Lior: I think there is nothing delusional about it at all. It only seems delusional if you make broad simplifications. Let me dig a bit deeper:
We might get into real world ethics, of course (the ends justifying the means, is there a just war, human(oid) rights, war conventions) – but I think the key is how people feel at the table even if they cannot express it clearly.
There’s a line to be drawn everywhere with respect to “how much we can take”. Just as we do not experience risk in mathematical terms, we don’t experience cruelty and pain in statistically relevant terms. It matters whether we’re doing it, or it is being done to us, or we hear about other people doing it, the amount of graphic detail is important, our own sensibilities play an important role (people who enjoy watching Saw movies and I are not in the same boat).
– AlexSchroeder 2012-07-06 12:31 UTC
Alex takes a couple shortcuts to get to game content he enjoys and is interested in. That is not delusional.
It’s a question of where you draw the line in descriptions and where you lift the veil about NPCs. “His eyes dart around nervously as he tells you this” or “you have the uncanny feeling he is not telling the truth” is not the same thing as everybody always being nice, even if they’re supposed to be the bad guys.
Example: In Alex’ Wilderlands campaign there is a red dragon who got seven virgins every year; the reasons long forgotten by the humans. Yes, the dragon is going to sacrifice these innocent people in a ritual (and that is all I as a player needed to know) … but the ambiguity of real life starts beyond this; the dragon does this to seal a demon kings’ soul so he doesn’t resurrect himself in this part of the material plane.
And the goal of that subset of the campaign, chosen by the players, was to ensure the dragon doesn’t need to do that anymore. So:
– Harald 2012-07-06 12:42 UTC
@-C: If your players never suggested torture, more power to them! What about the other issues, however: When your players release prisoners, the freed prisoners go and fetch friends to chase after the player characters? If so, do the player characters continue to release prisoners? When your non-player characters lie to your player characters, will the players still trust other non-player characters? Perhaps your player characters never trust any non-player characters? Or perhaps sifting through the statements the non-player characters make is part of the game? It also seems to be what you’re saying in On Ignorance of Skill Based Play:
You present the NPC as a puzzle like any other. He has needs, traits, and desires that investigation (i.e. talking, to him, other people, or context clues) can discover. Then the players make choices about how to handle the situation – choices that if the investigation is done properly they will have a good idea about the results. You present these choices explicitly to the players.
This would be similar to me openly admitting that the non-player character seems to be lying once they player ask me “is he lying?” or “I watch his face and try to figure out whether he’s lying.” In response, I’ll provide something pretty obvious like the examples Harald provided above: “His eyes dart around nervously as he tells you this” or “you have the uncanny feeling he is not telling the truth.”
– AlexSchroeder 2012-07-06 12:45 UTC
@Alex, @Harald: Let me rephrase. We want dragons sacrificing virgins, but we do not want to think about what that would mean and how and why that is horrible. We want a road flanked by dozens of crucified criminals. But we do not want to imagine what that really means. Crucifixion → bad, human sacrifice → bad. Those are trivial conclusions. We want them in the game, but we want them to stay trivial.
Also, I did not say Alex is delusional, far be it from me. In fact I think Alex’ method is a mature way of not dealing with unfun issues.
I am deliberately saying “There is something delusional about our hobby” because I think it applies to almost all of us, myself very much included. I suspect those players who are OK with torture are so because it does not touch them emotionally as easily. In other words, it stays trivial for longer.
– lior 2012-07-06 13:30 UTC
@Lior: I suspect that this is an aspect of all sane humans and is true for almost all endeavors: too much detail makes you crazy; too much terrible detail makes you crazy. It protects you from the tedium and horror of everything, of the entirety of our human existence. The repression of horrible details and (sometimes) their sublimation into action (or adventure in the case of role-playing games) seems to be one of the most basic mechanisms allowing us to function. But then again, I’m not a psychologist and have my reservations regarding Freud. ;)
– AlexSchroeder 2012-07-06 14:07 UTC
Question: how are lying NPCs different from trapped dungeon rooms? Is it a question of context? If so, maybe NPCs encountered in a dungeon are unreliable, while those encountered in a town are trustworthy? That seems like it might be a reasonable assumption, much like how players usually don’t feel the need to probe the floor in a tavern with a 10 foot pole.
– Brendan 2012-07-06 22:43 UTC
@Brendan: I think looking at the difference between traps and lying non-player characters is a good way of considering the issue. Context is a good point. I’d say that a non-player character joining the party and moving from the tavern context to the dungeon context warrants a bit more thought: Is the non-player character now a liability or does he “stay trustworthy?” My players might be expecting the character to stay honest and I tend to agree.
Another aspect I like is how traps or liars are discovered.
Here’s how I think traps ought to be used: there must be ways of discovering traps that doesn’t involve rolling dice. I like to say: “If you need to roll dice, it’s already too late.” Thus, examining the floor might yield “a line across the floor” or “a dried puddle of blood” or something along these lines. I like -C’s traps on his Hack & Slash blog because he discusses this discoverability of traps.
What about lying non-player characters? I feel that they need the same kind of discoverability. In the original example on G+ the Philip Watson had the evil cleric drink booze instead of joining combat in the first round and similar hints out there, so as far as I’m concerned, that’s good enough.
– AlexSchroeder 2012-07-07 10:04 UTC