Recently on twitter I posted about one of my gaming bugbears (not the furry kind) – players avoiding risk when the rest of the group is embracing it. This generated a lot of responses about similar play that can come up in one-shots, and make it harder as a GM to produce an enjoyable session for everyone. So, looking at some of these behaviours, I decided to think about what we, as GMs and fellow players, can do to discourage – or avoid – them. I’m going to look at my top three Bad Player Habits (BPH) – Risk Avoidance, Revisiting, and Un-Roleplaying. In this post, we’ll look at Risk Avoidance – one of the most common, and most problematic – particularly in one-shots.
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First, though, so you know I’m not a monster:
But maybe the players don’t know any better!
This was a response I got from several commenters – that I was unfairly victimising poor players who just preferred to play in a different way to me. To this, I say two things – firstly, in one-shots you really need to be explicit about expectations, and in almost all of the games I play at conventions, people are. And in any case, “This game is deadly and survival is more important than pace. So play carefully and check every room for traps,” is weak-sauce GMing – don’t do that..
Every time I’ve played and these have come up, of the n players at the table, n – 1 of them have had a very clear understanding of the game premise and the kinds of behaviours encouraged – it’s been clearly explained and understood by everyone except the player performing these things.
But what about new players? – I can categorically say that these are not behaviours that I see in gamers who are new to the hobby, but exclusively by old hands who really should know better. In all cases they’ve been oblivious to the annoyance that this has caused to the rest of the table, even when other players have directly challenged them about it.
This is my top BPH. To be fair, I can see how it develops, sort of, if you’re used to an adversarial GM style where you need to check every door for traps and search every room in case you miss something. Careful play is fine – in some one-shot games that I run, it’s encouraged to an extent – in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, you want the players to see combat as dangerous and to avoid, say, fights with the city watch. But it’s when one player is doing this and the rest of the group are playing normally that it’s irritating.
“I’ll stay in the van while you explore the warehouse”
“I’ll stay in the control room and monitor the cameras”
“I’m not very good at combat, so I run away when the monsters attack”
All of this is poor because you’re caught as a GM between including them in the game – when they’ve opted out of the action – and letting them have the satisfaction of avoiding the danger that they clearly crave. They’re also leaving the rest of the group at higher risk from any danger that emerges – which is the real problem with this. When that player runs away, they make it harder for the other players who now have to fight with one fewer combatant. Add to this that very often these same players will back-seat drive the play from their position of safety, despite very clearly not being there.
So how to avoid this?
Well, first of all – and this goes for all of these – be explicit. Both at the start of the game, and during, make the level of risk-taking clear. If you’re running Mork Borg, it might just be to say:
“Look, this is a deadly game and the dice are going to fall where they may – some PCs might die, and that’s just fine – I’ve got a bunch of extra pregens and we’ll bring them in immediately. It’ll be more fun if we all just embrace this, rather than avoiding doing anything.”
Sometimes, you’ll find the whole group gets distracted by a perceived danger – sometimes what they perceive is even actually dangerous, but they can’t get past it and wind up in circular discussions about it. Here, it helps to have a friendly NPC who can drop in some clues as to the most fruitful route – having a local guide to point out that, while the deserts of Ja’darr are very dangerous, he’s pretty sure that heroes of the PC’s stature will be able to cope with them.
The other way is to demonstrate competence early. Begin with an action scene (often, although not always, a fight) where the PCs can win. An easy early scene lets the players learn the rules if they need to without too much peril, and also demonstrates that they can triumph in similar scenes.
Another prep technique is to have multiple options at each stage – if they are really hung up over the Deserts of Ja’darr, maybe there’s another way to cross them to the temple – they could try and hitch a ride on a passing roc to get them there. These alternative options are still dangerous, of course, but letting the players choose the one with less perceived risk satisfies some of the careful players’ needs.
So, there’s some techniques to counter risk avoidance and encourage all players to be on the same page about their approach to play – next time we’ll look at the other two.