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    Default Protagonisting

    I don't want to dictate to anyone the "correct" way to tabletop role-play. Part of its appeal is that it has such a diversity of philosophies and approaches. I go for the "collaborative storytelling" method, myself, as I'm sure many of you do. Those of you who do have possibly encountered what I'm talking about. It's something I've experienced a number of times myself and I haven't been proud with the way I handled it those times.

    This is the one player who attempts to make everything about their character and their character's conflict. It's difficult in a tabletop RPG to have any one single protagonist like you would in a more traditionally told story, because every one at that table has brought their own egos and their own stakes to the game. Even so some people cannot be persuaded from temptation and will put the spotlight on them even if they have to contrive it.

    And so often they take criticism of this as a criticism of themselves as a person. In the past I may have been a bit pointed or overboard in my criticism of their behaviour, and I regret that, but even under polite suggestion I have known some of these people to become very prickly and defensive.

    I was wondering if there was an optimal way to deal with people who attempt to subvert the DM and artificially inflate the value of their character at the cost of the other PCs. If there had been methods which worked for you in the past.
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    Default Re: Protagonisting

    Can you provide an example where it caused a problem?

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    I tried not to because I didn't want to feel gossipy or that I was singling any one person out. But I'll try.

    This was some time in the late 2000s, as I recall. A younger gentleman (around 17-18) played a Rogue in D&D 3.5 Edition campaign that leaned on storytelling. The DM was pretty highly regarded in our city for his settings and his involved stories. This Rogue had a very good backstory, very motivated, a lot of potential for a nice personal arc to it. But our DM segmented the campaign into sections that pertained to particular characters. So one major part of the campaign would deal with on PC's plot arc and when that resolved it would transition, quite naturally, to another. This is something this young man couldn't quite grasp, and in plots that roundly had very little to do with him he attempted to insert himself and his character. It came to a head during one very dramatic scene where the island nation that one of the other PCs (the druid) came from was invaded and occupied by an opposing force. Instead of this being a major character moment for the Druid however the Rogue began a very obnoxious habit of making it about his character's failure to defeat the bad guy. Not a bad concept on its own, but he was stepping on other people's lines, turning the conversation to his character and pointedly ignoring the plot significance for the druid. The DM, during the break, politely asked him to realise that there were other players at the table and he stormed off mid-session. We didn't see him again.
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    Well, part of the problem here is that specific character arcs are kind of a bad way to run a game. It puts too much focus on one character for any given segment of the game.

    That said, personal experience says, kick these people out and the sooner the better. They're not going to improve, you're going to have more fun when they're gone, and you're going to wonder why you didn't do it sooner.

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    This is one of the reasons I cringe at the assertion that "roleplaying is storytelling" -- too many people expect a story to have a cast of characters with specific Hollywood-style roles, including "the protagonist" / "the lead".
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    Quote Originally Posted by Max_Killjoy View Post
    This is one of the reasons I cringe at the assertion that "roleplaying is storytelling" -- too many people expect a story to have a cast of characters with specific Hollywood-style roles, including "the protagonist" / "the lead".
    Well, I think there are problems inherent to most any style of play. I'm not discrediting the very real problems with "roleplaying as collaborative storytelling" but I don't feel it's any less valuable than another style.

    I'm sorry it makes you cringe. Perhaps you need to look at it differently.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mokèlé-mbèmbé View Post
    The DM, during the break, politely asked him to realise that there were other players at the table and he stormed off mid-session. We didn't see him again.
    Sounds like a positive result.

    To answer your query more broadly though - one good thing for the players to do is to provide character baclgrounds/motivations/concepts ahead of time, even if they're general. The GM can then weave them into the world, and more importantly, into each other. Every major plot scene the party goes through should involve at least two of the players at the table, and more if possible. That way, even when the other characters have less to do in a given scene, the interplay between the focus characters will serve as a source of engagement for the others. It also emphasizes the larger point that D&D is not about having one single protagonist.

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    A friend of mine - a GM, that is - works heavily with personal goals, plots and ambitions. His approach is hugely simple: The great majority of personal plots, quests, ambitions, stories and so on are handled via email, and not at the table. Everyone gets maybe 10 minutes of the GM's time pr. session, to resolve such things as are solo, without the party.

    In an old Vampire game, one character ran a night club, another lead a criminal gang, I had a spy ring/information broker - and so on.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mokèlé-mbèmbé View Post
    I was wondering if there was an optimal way to deal with people who attempt to subvert the DM and artificially inflate the value of their character at the cost of the other PCs.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mokèlé-mbèmbé View Post
    began a very obnoxious habit of making it about his character's failure to defeat the bad guy. Not a bad concept on its own,

    The DM, during the break, politely asked him to realise that there were other players at the table
    Well, of course, my first comment has to be, if the GM has anything that can be subverted, that's your problem right there.

    This isn't a play, the players haven't read the script. A GM that has "plans" that require certain behaviors from the PCs / players is wrong.

    That said, players who can't grasp the concept of sharing the spotlight... Hmmm... I'm being wrong-minded. Let me try again.

    Some players believe, in games (and sometimes in life, as well) that there is only one possible way to do things - their eyes have not been opened to the wider range of possibilities yet.

    Or maybe the player's eyes are open, and they just consider it Badwrongfun to use such a communistic / socialist / welfare* model of spotlight "sharing", firmly believing that a capitalist / anarchy / Darwinist* model of "take what spotlight you can" is the correct approach.

    Or maybe their eyes are open, and they would be fine with it, but they somehow missed that it's the druid's turn.

    Or... Well, there are lots of possibilities. Point is, your GM clearly failed his social role in figuring out what was going on and addressing it. The answer to what approach is optimal depends on the root causes. So the optimal approach is to determine the root causes.

    * I'm not really up enough on politics / social sciences / whatever* to know the right words here**.
    ** oh, look, a recursive** explanation!
    Last edited by Quertus; 2018-06-04 at 10:54 AM.

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    Default Re: Protagonisting

    Basic spotlight hogging.

    Last edited by kyoryu; 2018-06-04 at 11:12 AM.
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    Default Re: Protagonisting

    Don't ask for back-stories.

    I'm serious.

    When it was just a group of friends hanging out, and going "Let's play a game" this wasn't a problem as often, but now it's common for GM's to ask strangers to audition by submitting a "back-story" as homework, or something, and when people invest the time and toil in writing something up they want it to mean something, and since the GM picked the story, they try to play the character in that story.

    Stop it.

    Create characters together as a team instead.

    Unfortunately it's more work to pick people instead of reading some tales (or, judging by which ones of mine get accepted, counting the pages submitted and picking the longest ones as a measure of "commitment" or whatever).

    Maybe even start suggesting what kind of PC's are appropriate for the game?

    Maybe even make some pre-gens?

    It took me a while before I sussed out that this new "submit a back-story" ritual, wasn't actually for the GM to create adventures around, and not everyone has caught that yet.

    Basically, if you don't want protagonists, don't ask for a story as homework (and if you don't, you still probably have to work in tutoring someone away from habits picked up from other tables)!
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2D8HP View Post
    Don't ask for back-stories.

    I'm serious.
    The problem with backstories, especially ones done in isolation, is that they get people invested into the idea of a certain story for their character, and that may be one that's incompatible with what the rest of the group wants.

    If you want to have backstories, I'd recommend having them roughed out in session zero and writing them afterwards.

    The whole "make your character before the first game, with no idea of who everyone else is or what the game is about" thing is just such a recipe for disaster.
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2D8HP View Post
    Maybe even start suggesting what kind of PC's are appropriate for the game?

    Maybe even make some pre-gens?
    I think the second one is going too far, and could possibly lead to a dm being overly controlling. "Oh the character (that I made for you.) wouldn't do that." For an action the rest of the party has no problem with.
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    I post a premise for the game and I ask people to submit a sample character that they may or may not choose to play in the game. This has proven remarkably effective at selecting for people who:

    1) Are willing to put effort into the game. It weeds out people who can't be bothered to type more than a couple sentences. I am not interested in doing all the work for people who aren't interested in doing anything themselves.
    2) Understand the themes and premise I'm going for. It weeds out people who clearly don't understand what the game is about.
    3) Speak English fluently.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kaptin Keen View Post
    Vampire
    See, I and my friends sort of see vampire as a -serve yourself- kind of game. Go for your own agenda even when the -main quest- is rolling. Small groups and sandboxing, Too much focus and it's all very trenchcoat'n katanas.

    I find vampire works best with 1-3 players whilst DnD needs 3-5. Really helps the game in roleplaying and the sloggish combat suffers less.
    Last edited by The Jack; 2018-06-04 at 02:56 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Jack View Post
    See, I and my friends sort of see vampire as a -serve yourself- kind of game. Go for your own agenda even when the -main quest- is rolling. Small groups and sandboxing, Too much focus and it's all very trenchcoat'n katanas.

    I find vampire works best with 1-3 players whilst DnD needs 3-5. Really helps the game in roleplaying and the sloggish combat suffers less.
    Well - yes, Vampire is a fairly ego-centric RPG. Still, I mean, the example holds, even if it's the sort of system that might lend itself to the opposite type of play =)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Illven View Post
    I think the second one is going too far, and could possibly lead to a dm being overly controlling. "Oh the character (that I made for you.) wouldn't do that." For an action the rest of the party has no problem with.

    That's a good point. I do remember being told what to play for a Cyberpunk game, and it was lame.

    Quote Originally Posted by Koo Rehtorb View Post
    I post a premise for the game and I ask people to submit a sample character that they may or may not choose to play in the game. This has proven remarkably effective at selecting for people who:

    1) Are willing to put effort into the game. It weeds out people who can't be bothered to type more than a couple sentences. I am not interested in doing all the work for people who aren't interested in doing anything themselves.
    2) Understand the themes and premise I'm going for. It weeds out people who clearly don't understand what the game is about.
    3) Speak English fluently.

    Yeah that's what I ususlly see now, if you stretch the word "premise", and perhaps I'm one who just doesn't understand most premises then, as usually what I see GM's first show looks like a dimly related history ("10,000 years ago the McEldrich's settled the continent of Customlandia"), and I seldom get a clue from that, and almost always (if invited to play) have to quickly suss out what style of PC is appropriate after play starts.

    And when do these "Session 0's" that legends speak of happen?

    I remember some brief one's for games of Cyberpunk and RuneQuest years ago, and a briefer one for Pendragon, but the other 50+ games?

    Nope, I've never seen one.

    Maybe it would help if more GM's would just tell players what kind of PC's are appropriate?

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    Quote Originally Posted by 2D8HP View Post
    Yeah that's what I ususlly see now, if you stretch the word "premise", and perhaps I'm one who just doesn't understand most premises then, as usually what I see GM's first show looks like a dimly related history ("10,000 years ago the McEldrich's settled the continent of Customlandia"), and I seldom get a clue from that, and almost always (if invited to play) have to quickly suss out what style of PC is appropriate after play starts.
    It's more along the lines of if I say "This is a teen superhero game" I don't want people who show up expecting to play the Punisher. If I'm GMing Pendragon I don't want someone who shows up wanting to play a Saxon witch. I want a sample character that demonstrates someone understands what the game is about.

    Maybe it would help if more GM's would just tell players what kind of PC's are appropriate?
    I'm not interested in hand holding. I want people who can look at a premise/system and understand what is and isn't appropriate based on that all on their own. Because if they don't understand that then I'm going to have to be doing extra work during the game to keep them up to speed, and I hate doing unnecessary work to cover for people who didn't do their own research.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Koo Rehtorb View Post
    ...I don't want someone who shows up wanting to play a Saxon witch...

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    Quote Originally Posted by 2D8HP View Post
    Don't ask for back-stories.
    You've already banged on this drum extensively elsewhere. It doesn't seem to have much to do with the present topic. Just seems like axe-grinding.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Koo Rehtorb View Post
    I'm not interested in hand holding. I want people who can look at a premise/system and understand what is and isn't appropriate based on that all on their own. Because if they don't understand that then I'm going to have to be doing extra work during the game to keep them up to speed, and I hate doing unnecessary work to cover for people who didn't do their own research.
    I don't think its hand holding to tell players things like: "We're doing a dark fantasy game kind of like The Witcher but with regular D&D Rules so make morally ambiguous but not evil characters that would fit in a setting where professional monster killers are thing"; or, "We're playing superheroes, the idea is you're all new heroes on the scene, make characters that could members of the Teen Titans"; or, "This is a space pirate game in a space operate setting 2000 years into the future, science doesn't make sense just go with it."

    None of those are hand holding

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    Quote Originally Posted by Max_Killjoy View Post
    This is one of the reasons I cringe at the assertion that "roleplaying is storytelling" -- too many people expect a story to have a cast of characters with specific Hollywood-style roles, including "the protagonist" / "the lead".
    "Protagonist" is not a Hollywood style role. That's a basic literary theory term for the character focused on in the narrative, and stories with obvious protagonists trace back through known history and an unknown length of time before that. For instance the Epic Of Gilgamesh has a protagonist. Specifically, Gilgamesh.
    I would really like to see a game made by Obryn, Kurald Galain, and Knaight from these forums.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Beleriphon View Post
    I don't think its hand holding to tell players things like: "We're doing a dark fantasy game kind of like The Witcher but with regular D&D Rules so make morally ambiguous but not evil characters that would fit in a setting where professional monster killers are thing"; or, "We're playing superheroes, the idea is you're all new heroes on the scene, make characters that could members of the Teen Titans"; or, "This is a space pirate game in a space operate setting 2000 years into the future, science doesn't make sense just go with it."

    None of those are hand holding
    I didn't suggest telling them literally nothing. I suggest telling them enough that a reasonably competent player can understand the premise of the game, and then ask them to prove that they're a reasonably competent player. It's probably elitist of me, yes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    "Protagonist" is not a Hollywood style role. That's a basic literary theory term for the character focused on in the narrative, and stories with obvious protagonists trace back through known history and an unknown length of time before that. For instance the Epic Of Gilgamesh has a protagonist. Specifically, Gilgamesh.
    ...

    True, and completely beside the point.

    Note the quote-unquote around the word "protagonist". Note "/ the lead" part. Note the "the" in front of "protagonist".

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    Last edited by Max_Killjoy; 2018-06-04 at 06:59 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Koo Rehtorb View Post
    Well, part of the problem here is that specific character arcs are kind of a bad way to run a game. It puts too much focus on one character for any given segment of the game.

    That said, personal experience says, kick these people out and the sooner the better. They're not going to improve, you're going to have more fun when they're gone, and you're going to wonder why you didn't do it sooner.
    Not focusing on the characters is a bad way to run a game. Ruins immersion and you feel that your character isn't part of the world. The sooner you start to focus on your character goals, ambitions and backstories the less time you have to focus on boring stuff that is irrelevant to the characters
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    Quote Originally Posted by RazorChain View Post
    Not focusing on the characters is a bad way to run a game. Ruins immersion and you feel that your character isn't part of the world. The sooner you start to focus on your character goals, ambitions and backstories the less time you have to focus on boring stuff that is irrelevant to the characters
    What was proposed wasn't "not focusing on the characters". What was proposed was not using the specific narrative structures of focusing heavily on one character at a time. That doesn't mean that you aren't focusing on the characters. Things like A-plot B-plot structures, on top of anything that lets the PCs play off each other heavily would also fit that.
    I would really like to see a game made by Obryn, Kurald Galain, and Knaight from these forums.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RazorChain View Post
    Not focusing on the characters is a bad way to run a game. Ruins immersion and you feel that your character isn't part of the world. The sooner you start to focus on your character goals, ambitions and backstories the less time you have to focus on boring stuff that is irrelevant to the characters
    There's a huge difference between:

    A) Focusing on the characters

    B) "Okay, this is the story I want for my character, and we've got to have it in the game, and I've chosen this in a way that doesn't really fit in with the premise and in fact will make fitting in with the premise more difficult, but this is the story I want."
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    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    What was proposed wasn't "not focusing on the characters". What was proposed was not using the specific narrative structures of focusing heavily on one character at a time. That doesn't mean that you aren't focusing on the characters. Things like A-plot B-plot structures, on top of anything that lets the PCs play off each other heavily would also fit that.
    Quote Originally Posted by kyoryu View Post
    There's a huge difference between:

    A) Focusing on the characters

    I see nothing wrong with focusing on a narrative structure that puts one character in the limelight through some sessions. In fact I've played through whole campaigns where one players took the part of the "protagonist" as the campaign revolved around him reclaiming his homeland and rightful inheritance. I often run games in an episodic fashion where the focus shifts on one or two PC's for couple of sessions, this doesn't mean that the others just sit there twiddling their thumbs, watching the others play.



    Quote Originally Posted by kyoryu View Post
    B) "Okay, this is the story I want for my character, and we've got to have it in the game, and I've chosen this in a way that doesn't really fit in with the premise and in fact will make fitting in with the premise more difficult, but this is the story I want."

    This is something completely different, this is a player demanding a story arc that doesn't fit the premise of the game. I was responding to Koo Rehtorb's post about specific character arcs not the OP about a player trying to hijack the campaign and demanding that the game focuses solely on him.
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    Default Re: Protagonisting

    There are whole RPGs built around assumption that each arc or story has a specific focus character who gets the spotlight. Chuubo's being an example.

    I've run games where players were explicitly told to provide personal story arcs with as much or little detail as they wanted, and these arcs would be put into the game - with changes if they don't fit the overarching plot, but these changes were discussed with the players in question and concessions were made to make sure everyone is satisfied.

    It worked great, but just like in OP's situation, it created scenarios where some players were hellbent on hogging the spotlight and making it all about themselves, even when it was supposed to be other players' time to shine.

    The solution? It's an OOC problem, and OOC problems have OOC solutions. Mainly, being told to cut that out, and if they refuse to change their behaviour, removal from the group.

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    Default Re: Protagonisting

    Quote Originally Posted by tensai_oni View Post
    There are whole RPGs built around assumption that each arc or story has a specific focus character who gets the spotlight. Chuubo's being an example.

    I've run games where players were explicitly told to provide personal story arcs with as much or little detail as they wanted, and these arcs would be put into the game - with changes if they don't fit the overarching plot, but these changes were discussed with the players in question and concessions were made to make sure everyone is satisfied.

    It worked great, but just like in OP's situation, it created scenarios where some players were hellbent on hogging the spotlight and making it all about themselves, even when it was supposed to be other players' time to shine.

    The solution? It's an OOC problem, and OOC problems have OOC solutions. Mainly, being told to cut that out, and if they refuse to change their behaviour, removal from the group.
    I agree, I've run personal story arcs with great success. But then I've had players that don't want personal story arcs, just to quote one player I played with "I'm perfectly fine with playing a supporting role". He just wanted Hulk smash and that was fine with me because then I could just focus more on the other players.
    Optimizing vs Roleplay
    If the worlds greatest optimizer makes a character and hands it to the worlds greatest roleplayer who roleplays the character. What will happen? Will the Universe implode?

    Roleplaying vs Fun
    If roleplaying is no fun then stop doing it. Unless of course you are roleplaying at gunpoint then you should roleplay like your life depended on it.

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