Dexcon 2015 Recap Part 2: Shared Vision

Like many of the gamers I know and love, I started playing games with Dungeons & Dragons. My brother and I found an old copy of it in our basement growing up. We pulled out the rules and the dice and decided that we were going to fight a dragon that afternoon.

With our level one characters that we had just created.

We… did not do well.

Years later, in high school, I would become part of the crowd so many gamers know all too well. I was the only girl at the table eating Cheetos and drinking Jolt cola. I played healers and priestesses and rogues. I dungeon dived and fought gods and kings and rolled natural 1s and fell on my goddamn sword with the best of them.

The thing that always bugged me about D&D and the groups that I played with was that we did very little role playing. Mostly we just dungeon dove and rolled to fight things. I had other issues with the system, but wanting more roleplay in my role playing game was chief among my issues.

With my last gaming group, I played D&D for many years. Through college and beyond. And then, one day, I discovered other types of RPGs. I brought home the rules for Dread from a con and tried to run it for them. They never really bought into the mood of the game. They cracked jokes. The weight of what I was trying to do didn’t come through. I was a new GM, so I didn’t really know how to bring that home to them. As I have grown as a GM and a player, I have experienced numerous times the sinking feeling of sitting down at a table with a problem player. In both roles I have dealt with these players. And in both roles I have alternately failed and succeeded based mostly on how experienced I was as either a player or a GM.

So I want to talk about that. What happens at the table when not all of the players follow along with the theme of the game? It happens a lot at cons when you don’t know who will be sitting at your table. And it’s really hard to deal with as a player and a GM. In gaming groups this is a whole other issue, obviously, but at a con the issue is complicated and intensified by the fact that you are trying to get the most out of a four hour slot (and out of your weekend) and having someone at the table who is not on the same page as the other players can be really frustrating and ruin your day.

It should be said that all of this is predicated on you feeling safe and comfortable enough with yourself and the mood at the table to express your feelings to the GM and the other players.

First I’d like to address the players.

  1. The first tip that I would give you is to push your own vision a little harder in contrast to what the player in question is doing. Sometimes that is enough to let the person know that their behavior is not appropriate to the theme or setting that you have sat down together to create.
  2. If that doesn’t work, find a way to take a little break and pull the GM aside and express your concerns. Remember that the GM is there to facilitate the game for everyone so that all of the players have a good time. If you aren’t having fun or feeling safe, then they aren’t doing their job properly. Usually telling a GM is the best way to go and will result in some kind of action on their part.
  3. If, for some reason, the GM does not take any action and things do not improve, you have two options. You can continue to play and try to ignore the problematic player, or you can leave the table if the problems are too overwhelming for you. Remember that it is always within your rights as a player to leave the table. You can even go so far as to report on your experience to the convention staff if you feel like things have been badly mishandled.

Now for my GMs. Because we’ve all had this happen. You can sometimes even see it in a player’s face when someone at the table has gone too far or is making them uncomfortable. Here’s what I’ve found works.

  1. Sometimes all it takes is a word or a gesture indicating that the player should wait their turn to speak. The majority of my conflicts at the table with players have been resolved this way without moving forward at all.
  2. If the first thing doesn’t work, verbally addressing the problem is the next step. It shouldn’t be a big conversation. You don’t want to upset the player who is causing the problem by spotlighting their behavior. An example of what to say is something like “I understand that you want to have input, but it is this player’s turn to speak right now, so let’s give them their time.”
  3. I will usually give the player two strikes with #2 before a bigger conversation is needed. Remember that you don’t want to let crappy behavior drag on too long at the table before addressing it. If strike three happens, I recommend calling a break and quietly speaking with the player in question. Again, the conversation shouldn’t be long and drawn out, but should be firm and to the point. Make it clear that the comfort and fun of the other players is important to you as the GM and get them to promise to behave appropriately for the rest of the session.
  4. If you try all of those things and the player is still a problem, do not be afraid to remove them from the table. I have been GMing at cons for 6 years and have only had to do this once. It’s rare that someone does not get the hint after being talked to directly.

Those are just the tools that I have used that have proved effective. If you have other ideas, let me know about them in the comments!

DexCon 2015 Recap Part 1: Inclusion

I spent my July 4th weekend locked in a hotel with a bunch of nerds. It was glorious.

As per what has become usual, I ran a Dresden Files RPG KristaCon event with three other fabulous GMs, the fabulous Krista White (of KristaCon fame), Brennan Taylor, and Matthew Aaron. We prepped for weeks for that game, taking into account comments that we received during roses and thorns expressed after our last Dresden KristaCon event.

We used the Paranet Papers, which just came out very recently. The nature of the Paranet lent itself really well to the use of the three tables, and we were really excited to see a lot of movement between tables for the first two sessions, not to mention the number of “text messages” that were sent between players to keep each other up on what was happening at each table. The sessions were filled with highlights for me.

But this, by far, was the best one from the entire weekend of Dresden games for me:

This was said to me after the first session of Dresden on Thursday night by a player who I had never met before this weekend. And it meant so much to me. Gaming is a space that is dominated in a lot of ways by a straight white cis male narrative. The landscape can be pretty bleak when you look out at it as a person who isn’t those four things all wrapped up in one. I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten bored with a game simply because I was forced to play a male character. I mean, it happened to me just last night with Batman: Arkham Knight!

Inclusion is important. More than that, inclusion isn’t hard. When we worked on the Dresden game last year, we made sure that our characters were representative of more than one narrative (i.e. the overwhelming straight white one). We created characters that covered a wide spectrum of backgrounds. And you know what? It was just as difficult to make those characters as it was to make any other characters that I have created for the Dresdenverse. You use the same stats. The same mechanics for deciding aspects. It’s all, shockingly, the same! The only real, concrete difference is some of the background work. For example, when we decided to make a native American character, we had to look into the groups that lived in a certain area and make sure that the things we created for that character rang true for those groups.

When you are working to make a game inclusive and friendly to people other than your generic EveryWhiteMan, there are some things to consider. And it should be noted that you are going to make mistakes. Here’s a great example. There was a moment during planning this year when we realized that all of our sites for the game were in the United States. We quickly scrambled and decided that South America would be a third site and scrapped Indianapolis as a city. The South American site turned out to work really well in a lot of ways, and we felt pretty good about the decision to not be yet another game that takes place only in the USA.

Here’s some cliff notes on how to work inclusion into your game while still being sensitive to the groups that you are trying to represent. And remember as you are going through this process: these are not obstacles, they are opportunities! So many new avenues appear for you and your players when you open up your game to new ideas.

  1. Setting. Consider setting your game in an area that you are not as familiar with. This might take a little research on your part. But you will find that some games (like DFRPG, for example) have settings fleshed out for you already. Honestly, you can get a pretty good idea of a lot of areas by looking at Wikipedia and then following the reference links for deeper knowledge.
  2. Gender & Sexuality. If you are building characters for your characters to play at a con or writing questionnaires for your gaming group, try defaulting to they/them pronouns. Leave out specifying the gender identity and sex of any romantic entanglements. Let your players build their characters into the sexual identity and gender expression that they are the most comfortable with. Leave out names and let your players create those for themselves.
  3. Racial Identity. I like to include photos with character sheets when I’m doing a con. If this is something you like to do, try to make sure that the characters you are representing are diverse. If you are including characters from a background with which you are not familiar, do a little digging and make sure that the details you include are authentic and do not read as a cartoon parody of the culture that you are referencing. (i.e. do not make Japanese ninjas) This is an important element of creating characters that ring true and that are not going to be insulting to the culture that you are trying to represent.

The most important thing that you can do when you are trying to be inclusive in your games is to listen to your players. If they tell you that something seems off or express discomfort, hear them out. Make changes where appropriate. Be an accessible and fierce ally for the people who are trusting you with authority over them.

Have any other ideas on how to make games more inclusive? Let me know in the comments!