Gamemaster’s Guidepost: No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Free lunches? I don’t believe in them, well, when it comes to free stuff in a roleplaying game anyways. Now, I’m not talking about one woe for every weal – I’m talking about taking disadvantages and then weaseling out of actually playing them or suffering for them in some way. First, it’s just bad roleplaying and second it’s cheating. That’s right. Cheating. They took those points and used them to increase their capabilities in some way, but don’t want deal with how they were disadvantages in play.

There are a couple of ways you can handle this and I’ve thankfully only had to use them sparingly in my own campaigns.

“You Fall Onto Five Death Checks”
I think the idea of the antagonistic GM is awful. I’m a firm proponent of GMs and players working together. But sometimes when you play with antagonistic players (and I definitely don’t think you should) you have to take action. I’ve a very simple rule: if a player isn’t playing his disadvantages and refuse to take cues from the GM then I simply give him a -1 to his rolls per -5-points his disadvantages would be worth in a given situation. Bam! The points suddenly matter.

Sneaking Disadvantageous Effects Into NPC Interaction
Say you’ve got a player who took Bad Temper, but isn’t playing it out – what do you do? Well, make NPCs react to them as if they were playing it out. Since they didn’t do their job as a gamer do it for them and don’t give them a choice on how the interaction plays out. Seems a bit harsh, but it does two things: 1) it lets the player “earn” those points for disadvantages and 2) it can create a feedback loop of reinforcement. Eventually, the player will get the idea or he’ll just not take disadvantages for his character.

Picking Over the Bones
Now, you’re reading this and thinking “Man! Those are terrible to do players!” And you’re right. You never get hostile with a player if it’s possible and if they get antagonistic I suggest you dump them and try to play without them.

Sometimes this isn’t possible or you want to give them a chance. In the long run, players that you can rehabilitate will be rehabilitated and players that Want To Watch Your World Burn will still start the fire every time. I’ve long since lost patience for hostile players so my automatic reaction is just to kick them from the game – but not everyone can do that for various reasons.

How do you handle things like this in your game? What tricks and tips do you have? What sort of situations have you dealt with before in such circumstances.?

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  1. An issue I see with disadvantages in general is balancing simple mechanical disadvantages (reaction penalties, physical disadvantages, et cetera) with role playing ones (Curious, Sense of Duty). It strikes me that there needs to be more guidance and game mechanical help for GMs with these, since unlike a simple penalty to a skill these place a burden on the GM to enforce.

    It influenced my thinking when I wrote this:

  2. Fortunately, I currently have a group of players who are either very good at playing their disadvantages (they understand that playing disads is much of the fun), or, with the couple of newbies, good at peer policing. "Isn't your character supposed to be afraid of the dark?" It helps that I have very good, very experienced players.

    But if I do have someone who's not playing disads/quirks, I give them a gentle reminder first. If they continue, when I give out points (which I do in a private note to each player) I let them know they were docked a point and why. That almost always works.

    But I will consider these methods as options. Although, as above, I'd let the player know.

  3. Like I said above – I don't have time for petty players. I simply eject them from my games. NOW – my current set of players over 3 gaming groups are lat out amazing. The best group of people I've ever had or ran for. But I choose them from many. And because of my past experience with bad players I was able to select what I thought would be good players – and I was right. So there is htat.

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