A Brief Guide to Sanity Maintenance at the Table (Meta)

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*Succeeds Will save.*

Sometimes it’s difficult not to get upset by differences in opinion in tabletop gaming. Sometimes we are surprised be the vehemence of reactions to new content, errata or FAQ. Take a breath before lighting the flame-war canon or feeding the trolls. There are a lot of contributing factors to these and other gaming related emotive reactions, here are a few favorites:

1) Scarcity of Resource Reactions – Many gamers (though perhaps less now) went through (or are still in) a period of difficulty finding, maintaining or scheduling a regular gaming group. This in turn leads to scarcity based mentality. Like any other limited desirable commodity this causes things like possessiveness, greed and competition to bubble up. To make matters more complicated varied levels of interest and the unstability of emotional requirements making managing these behaviors in ourselves or others extremely hard. Your social gamer friend who rarely requires much “screen time” might have had an impossible crappy week off table and MAY “need” the game more than your most diehard group member during that time.

2) Extinguishing of Dreams – Psychologists have known for years that among the fastest ways to drive people to emotional extremes including violence is to threaten or extinguish their fantasies (delusions). While most gamers are probably not near unhealthy levels of investment in our hobby, many will still experience degrees of extreme and sudden negative emotion when challenges or rulings threaten their characters successes or function. That is a natural thing and one to prepare for not outlaw.

3) Internal Filters – A GM can only control things to the point of figs on the map, the rules she allows or the limits of a characters senses which she informs. Once that information hits a player it still has to go through the lens of the players personal experience.  Spend an hour writing up a description of the Lich King’s scepter? Awesome, too bad the player doesn’t like gold aesthetically and he stopped listening after the first sentence only to mutter, “Cool. What does it do mechanically?”

4) Outside Forces –  Stuff happens. People get sick, bills mount up, relationships grow tense and it WILL impact your table. Have other options if outside breaks a planned game (pickup sessions pre-prepped, card or board games people like, or just grab something to eat and be social).

With so the many forces impacting game tables, it can be a surprise how often things go great (most of the time in our experience) but it never hurts to have a few things in mind when sitting down to play:

1) No One Owns the Hobby – As often as we hear “My Game” or “My Group” in dialogues, the whole of the tabletop RPG gaming hobby is big, big animal and it has room for everyone. Despite years of experience, professional credits, or academic training no one gets to claim RPG gaming as “theirs.” Personal opinions regarding game system, edition, and additional content (3pp or House Rules) are going to vary. No singular owner means no “right” or “best” way.

2) We Are Not All Playing the Same Game (Even If We Are) – Even if you are both playing the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, you probably aren’t playing the same game as another gamer. Between Core Campaign PFS scenarios, third party options and house rules its is very likely they have a differing game by game experience than you do. Most importantly, GM style can radically alter game experience. Even simple choices of communication can radically alter play experiences with the exact same end results. A GM that interrogates a player over a feat from the APG is very different from someone who blanket approves all Paizo sources – even with the exact same “build” for a player character. Even the player next to you might be having a totally different experience due to their own internal workings.

3) Language Doesn’t Always Carry Intention – English meanings can lead to simple word choices opening chasms of interpretation. Don’t be surprised when the realist reads the language to enforce perceived verisimilitude. Don’t be surprised when the optimizer exploits “RAW (Rules as Written)” as that it is after all “as written.”  So many needless arguments spring up online or at tables because written words lack of inflection or clarifying follow-ups. Don’t pour gas on the fire by reacting emotionally to emotional reactions. Appeal (or be) the GM for a quick decisive ruling to get the game back on track.

4) Know Your Group – If you are having repeat emotive issues at the table, it probably isn’t about the game or characters. More often it is one of the above situations impacting a player and their choices to fuel game-related conflict. Stop being surprised when the power-gamer loopholes something or the method-actor grinds the game to two hour standstill of wine vintages with an NPC. Steve always plays Lawful Good that way? Then stop being upset by what you knew would happen. Address the player or accept the player and move on. Sometimes, moving on might me excusing yourself from the table (or the campaign).

5) Know Your Self – Do you love complexity? Piles of third-party options? Make sure your GM (and group) are aware of that. Do you only want basic rules, kept simple? Push for a Core Campaign PFS group or go to local gaming events with controlled rules environments. Do you want an elaborate backstory and complex persona? Great, be aware if your GM just plans on rolling random encounters and treasures. Try to realize when your emotions have you and take measures to prevent overreaction.

6)Games are (Supposed to be) Fun – This is the simplest diagnostic there is. If you are not having fun, then something is probably is going wrong. Your GM may be disengaged, your play-style might be at odds with the group or people are refusing to address a problem player. Whatever the cause, value your time and respect others time too. Take steps to fix the situation and get the fun back on tap.

Emotion is a sign of a successfully engaged gamer. Don’t let it ruin what it can enhance at the table, prepare for and welcome the tidal surges…

In honor of the intention of this article we offer up:

Cooperative Difference (Teamwork)

Your beneficial effects interact well with other similar effects, your individual efforts pushing the best to better.

Prerequisite: Cha 13.
Benefit: If you and another ally that possesses this feat both bestow an effect, spell or power that grants a beneficial bonus (morale, insight, circumstance, etc.) to any ally that would normally overlap due to being the same bonus type but generated by a different source, the highest of those bonuses is instead increased by a +1.
Special: The benefit provided by this feat increases to a +2 at 10th level. Spells with greater and lesser versions count as different sources for this effect. Class abilities that refer to a single class ability (bardic performance for example) are considered different sources if they are granted by a different class (skald or sifu increasing a bard’s morale bonus for example).

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This entry was posted in 3rd Party Options, Bonus Content, Game Mastering, Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Player Advice and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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