Angry Rants: Stupid Decisions (and Metagaming)

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Category Rants 800 x 450You what really pisses me off? When people try to justify making incredibly stupid or dangerous decisions because that’s what their characters would do. And then brag about how awesome they are at role-playing, like a dog rolling in its own s$&%. “Look how incompetent I am! Isn’t it great?” Yes, you should be very proud.

Read the entire rant at The Mad Adventurers Society…

14 thoughts on “Angry Rants: Stupid Decisions (and Metagaming)

  1. Hello again Angry!

    Completely with you on poor choices during play. But as someone on the Mad Adventurers page for the article brought up, I also think there’s a distinction to be made between sub-optimal choices during play and sub-optimal choices when creating a character. This is why I’m not totally on board when you defend min-maxing.

    The problem with going for the absolute optimal character is that it greatly, greatly, greatly limits your options in character building. A party has those four or five basic roles that need to be filled, and for each of those roles there is a finite number of possible character builds that can fill it. Some of these builds will do a better job of it than others. Forum-dwellers never get tired of discussing which ones do it best and which ones don’t do it well enough. The game’s complexity is such that there is always that room for debate, so there is always a choice to be made (between, say, a barbarian with high HP and damage resistance, or a fighter with plate armour and a shield – achieving the same thing in different ways).

    But it’s not THAT much of a choice; if you’re truly going for an optimal character then about 90% of the potential characters you could make become unavailable. Where is the place for experimentation and creativity? As you’ve said, players come to the table wanting different things from the game, and all the things are equally valid. I’m very much a gamist, but it is also about building interesting characters, ones we might not have seen before. Am I ruining everyone’s fun if I don’t pick from a list of maybe fifteen pre-determined optimal character builds? Because I played for a while with a group who had all done exactly that and I can tell you it fucking ruined my fun. It was rubbish.

    • If YOUR fun is ruined because other people don’t choose characters that interest you, that problem is on YOUR end. Sorry. And if it really does, you need to be the one to find another group. I know that seems harsh, but I honestly do feel that way. Especially because the BUILD is not what makes a character interesting. I play very effective characters. Because I’m good at building characters and I like to win. But none of that makes the character boring. The character’s values, personality, and the choices that character makes OUTSIDE of calculations (which battle tactic is the best) are what make the character interesting. You’re setting up this false dilemma between min-maxing and being interesting. And that dilemma only exists in your head.

      • So, although that group’s dwarf fighter, elf ranger and halfling rogue didn’t interest me much and yeah I probably would have had more fun if the other players had put some more thought into them, yes I do recognise it’s possible to make such optimised, bland-on-paper characters and roleplay them interestingly during play. Fair enough. But no, I maybe should have been more specific: what ruined my fun was other players looking at my character sheet and tutting, and lecturing me on what was wrong with my spell list. I did indeed just leave the group, rather than making a thing out of it by getting on my high horse about “sub-optimal roleplaying choices” or whatever. In this case it was the min-maxers obnoxiously trying to claim some kind of high ground. So it cuts both ways, I think, is my point.

        • You’re right, it does cut both ways. The problem there is a respect for the autonomy of your character. But just as you didn’t like others telling you how to handle your character, you owe the same respect to the other players.

          THAT SAID…

          The fact of the matter is different groups play the game for different reasons and no one style of play is any more or less valid than any other. If the majority of the group feels you are a liability and you’re not willing to compromise on that front, you don’t belong in that group. That’s not right or wrong. It just is. Just like when all of your friends want to sit around and watch that idiotic movie Pacific Rim and you are the only one who can see it for the schlock it is and refuse to kill off any more brain cells watching that unrepentant crap. You’re faced with the choice: sit and watch the movie OR find something else to do without your friends.

          Remember, the price of any group activity is submitting to the will of the group. That’s true of absolutely every f$%&ing thing you do with others.

          • Yep, can’t argue with that. It all comes back down to the metagame (in the other, broader sense) and all the players being on the same page about the type of game they’re playing – so important.

  2. A while back I had the pleasure of getting to check out some terrain and battlefields some table top war gamers had set up. If you dropped your eye to the level of the terrain you’d see different things from different places. Entire tanks disappeared behind hills. Looking at a 2D map from a top down perspective can be deceiving. It shows you things you might never notice from the ground. Even if you had line of sight, I know that being in a crowd can make it easy to lose sight of people or only notice larger events (anyone who has seen a school yard fight has noticed the circle form around the fighters).

    Combine this knowledge with other real life things I have experienced (ever been on a gun range without hearing protection on? Ever worn a helmet and felt like you were in a bubble and it was hard to hear?) I can say for certain that in a battlefield type scenario where you are surrounded by combatants it would be hard to focus on much beyond the person trying to murder you. Military orders were often issued with horns and drums for a reason, it wasn’t because war is a neat and orderly thing.

    All this being said, I don’t think you should decide to start murdering allies because “it was chaotic”. This is a prime reason for having the GM narrate things like, “You’re up John, Orc McAxe sees a vast battlefield stretching out in front of him. None of his friends are in sight. Before him is troll that is wading up through the enemy soldiers toward your position. What do you do?” Now, Orc McAxe is a warrior, he could d something like sound a horn to call his allies to his position. Nothing says he has to make a bad choice or face this alone. The important thing is that he didn’t make an arbitrary decision about what he does and does not know. If the GM hadn’t given him a description he could ask for clarification, “When I look around do I see my friends?” This is where I believe the happy jackers failed.

    Do hold player motivations in mind though. If I wanted my character to go into glorious battle on his own and possibly die in the attempt, then I am much more likely to take the “I don’t notice what is going on elsewhere route”. In addition, some games, characters, and cultures elevate certain things as more important than death or winning. I once had a character who had his village slaughtered by a certain orc who burned people to death trapped inside their homes. He witnessed this as a child and barely survived the blaze, being horribly scarred for life both inside and out. When I met this orc in a tavern where I was alone (I was supposed to be the lookout for the party who was elsewhere), I ripped my sword out and told him to get out in the street, because I was going to kill him. An indeed, we did battle in the mud as the rain pounded down, one on one.

    That was an encounter the GM had intended for the whole group, and I came out of it trying to stop myself from bleeding to death with my enemy laid low. My character had waited his whole life to stick three feet of steel in that orc, and he wasn’t going to let anyone else stop him from getting his just revenge. Was it good tactics? Fuck no. Was it a stupid decision? Harder to say. There is no difficulty meter in the game world that told me that this orc was supposed to be a boss monster. Would I have done it anyway had I known? Probably.

    • That orc decision is precisely what I mentioned as the difference between a choice and a calculation. That choice revealed something about your values and character. That’s not a sub-optimal choice. That’s a character driven choice. Like Batman choosing Rachel or Harvey or Eddie Valiant choosing to get drunk. I was very clear about choices driven by characters vs. choices just driven by “I don’t think my character is smart enough to make that choice.”

      Also, why do you assume I haven’t had those experiences. They don’t change the fact that the decision that “my character is incapable of using this strategy even though it is clearly the best strategy the character WOULD use if they were aware of it” is an ARBITRARY decision. You COULD just as easily justify it with a little imagination. You – THE PLAYER – choose not to. And that choice is NOT interesting and it is NOT about character. That’s the point.

      • The first part of my response was getting to the idea that stuff is crazy, but that is something the GM should be helping you determine. Further, many game systems have actions related to picking out details on a battlefield. Do you spend time sounding a horn or looking around when you could be doing something else instead? What about a character choosing to take the high ground so that he can get the lay of the land and coordinate an attack? The character who throws themselves into the thick of the battle says something very different from the guy who goes running for the top of the hill so he can figure this mess out. The simple act of putting a map and minis down makes things easier to track, but it takes away the aspect of decision making that occurs in a theater of the mind when the information you are receiving is from the ground level.

        The player was trying to leap that gap between map and description on their own, and therein lies the problem. The omniscient player who has god’s eye in the sky perspective is having to turn that into information the character should be getting. The player has things they want that aren’t what the character wants. Those wants filter the input they have into the output they are using as their characters knowledge. Unfortunately, one of those filters is often the fact that players don’t want to be ostracized for being some kind of bad player (often called meta gamers by people who don’t use the term in its correct use).

        The argument that you could find a way to make it all make sense does not get rid of the judgement of the table. You are fighting fear of being kicked out of the tribe. I find the best solution I can think of is that the GM needs to be describing what is going on at the character level. When I make a decision that looks retarded from the sky view of the players, they need to have an inkling of why it is happening. So when the GM says, “You look around for your companions but don’t see them”, the players all know why I fought the guy trying to kill me instead of running over to help them.

        Its also a much better story to be a part of when the GM describes the titanic battle of Elf Shoots’alot and Dwarf Mcbeardface decides to duck away from his enemy to go help him. Almost no one I know would accuse him of “the metagaming” (used in the wrong way on purpose), but the same series of events happened as on the 2D map that made the player act in a way contradictory to their best interests.

        Further, I don’t want to imagine all this happening in my head. I shouldn’t need to play the “how could this make sense” game, when it could actually make sense. All it needs is a dash of description from the GM! It is the GM’s job to tell me what is happening, and mine to react. Seems strange to have to ask for it, but often maps suck the narration right out of a scene.

        Second area of interest. I was getting at the point that knowing that the players are going to try and win is not something you can count on. Or rather, that they may not take an optimal route to victory. I tend to like certain GM tricks to make an encounter easier or harder depending on what is going on rather than handcuffing myself to my initial plan. Take the orc encounter I used with my character before. Maybe this orc has his underlings, but he holds them back because he wants to kill the last of “insert village name here” himself. If the whole group comes back and sees the fighting going on, they engage the group to keep them out of the one on one fight.

        Its always easier to find a way to ratchet up difficulty than to lower it. Players can tell if the enemy is being played stupid. If you want encounters that will fit a certain difficulty, you have to be able to do the dance of adjusting on the fly or the players will always muck it up. No assumption about the parties goals can be made safely, and getting mad that they go in a direction you did not intend is not conducive to good GMing. You are training your players to conform to your expectations, and not learning how to handle the situation. When you could be steering them right with narration, you are instead slamming them with the, “Play this game in your head where you makes sense out of how I want you to react”.

        Lastly, I didn’t assume anything about your experiences. I was laying the groundwork for where I was coming from. I don’t really know you, and would not assume that you did or did not do such things. For all I know you are ex-military and have a better perspective on fighting and war than I do. As I am not a soldier, cop, firefighter, etc I do not have the actual thing to compare to. These were just the closest thing I could get to the real thing.

  3. Hey Angry,

    I came here from Happy Jacks. Great shows. Very entertaining.

    Any dang way, I was surprised to find myself in exactly this situation in my last Pathfinder session. We were a low level party fighting our first incorporeal incorporeal undead enemies. I was a big dumb barbarian with a magic sword. As we all know, in Pathfinder magic weapons are able to deal half damage to incorporeal creatures, while mundane weapons can’t do diddly. So there I am swinging away and doing my job while the poor rogue, who hadn’t picked up any magic weapons yet, can’t contribute at all.

    So I have a brainstorm. “Wait!” says I. “I’ve got a couple of magic arrows in my quiver. You can use them as improvised daggers.” The rest of the table shouts down the idea, as it’s generally decided that my Int 12 barbarian wouldn’t think of the solution.

    To me, this is a better example of the issue than “you’re too dumb to know to flank.” You’re a professional warrior. Of course you set up a flank. By the same token, having a barbarian shout out, “Use my magic arrows as improvised daggers to deal half damage to the ghost,” does feel a bit off. You might argue that falls under the heading of statements that “are utterly and completely arbitrary and…usually based on stupid assumptions,” but this one seems to be within the scope of the rules. My guy doesn’t have any ranks in Knowledge (religion). According the rules, you find out about undead creatures’ strengths and weaknesses by making that a Knowledge (religion) check.

    So the question is this: Am I handicapping my character with an arbitrary assumption, or am I being a good non-metagaming player by refraining from an action that depends on a Knowledge skill that my character literally does not have?

    • I like my players to think about things and put their best foot forward. Unless it is something outrageous I barely question the validating of them knowing something. Most of my players are great in the sense that they tend to ask me, “Hey, would my character know X”, to which I liked to respond “I dont know, do they”.

      My advice would be to ask before just sitting on information that could help your fellow players.

      Also understand the META, use the META, be the META

    • Um, isn’t a 12 technically above average? I assume PF isn’t that much different from DnD, and the range is 3-18 with 10-11 being average. If so, odds are most of the people at your table aren’t any smarter than the barbarian.

    • I think this is a great example of where denying the barbarian the action can descend into pointless squabbling about metagaming – and how fun is that for anyone at the table? Personally, I would’ve applauded your quick thinking for recommending this approach. If we really want to post-hoc rationalise the suggestion, the barbarian had probably noticed that his magic weapon was affecting the undead he was fighting, whereas his party memebers’ normal weapons weren’t having any effect. Maybe he’d heard folk tales or songs from his tribal elders about such creatures. Who knows …

  4. I really enjoyed your rant. But, I am wondering if you could frame something into your view of the game for me. The moment in Acquisitions Inc. when Jim Dark Magic kisses the succubus and dies. This was tactically a very stupid choice, but so in line with his character that I see it as a defining moment … it made that session for me. Even if they had all died, to have done otherwise would have felt like cheating. Aeofel going after the dwarf is another example.

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