“Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably they are both disappointed.” In a lot of ways, pop culture has this one right. What you can change about someone else, even with love and persistence, is limited.

What does that have to do with roleplaying? Not much, even though we often make the mistake of thinking that we can change anything with persistence, friendly pressure, and a well placed XP penalty. We recently talked about gaming charters/social contracts. Gaming charters are so broad that it sometimes seems like you can solve everything with them. Spoiler alert: gaming charters can’t solve everything. (The charter’s limitations prove similar to the other commonly recommended solution for every problem: just talk.)

A Gamer’s Group

I love roleplaying, and I like to attribute a lot of the good in my life to the friendships I’ve made through gaming. Despite that, there are a number of ways I vary from many members of my group–and, much as I like them, I wouldn’t seriously consider changing my ways just to remain a part of the game. Too often, we talk as if a GM can change deeply embedded behaviors.

I’ve tried and I’ve witnessed members of my group try to change each other–and drive themselves and their friends crazy in trying. Many of the examples from last week’s post are from personal experience: I have been in groups where paying for the pizza grows from an annoyance to bitter put downs. I’ve had games explode when people stop suppressing their loathing and let violence break out between their characters–campaign and fellow players be damned.

RPG Design seems to go through cycles of struggling with the same issues. Recently, Quinn wrote a post titled Stop Designing For Fun that included an interesting digression.

I want to play games and run games where we are excited about the actions that everyone is taking.

I think often we push this to table culture when we could look at the structure and/or rules of our games instead.  I’m not saying table culture is not responsible, but when the table culture is flawed, so much other stuff is not working.  I’d rather look at what we can design instead of trying to fix people and relationships.

Fixing people and relationships is hard, and often doomed to frustrate everyone, even if it doesn’t fail outright. Even low hanging fruit, like improving the food at the game table can upset the rituals that we’ve built.

Know Your Limits

When people want change, they often look for the GM to lead the discussion or address the problem. Sometimes it’s the rulebook that instructs the GM to punish problem players, shut down rules lawyers, or reform munchkins. Teaching someone “the right way to behave” or even “the right way to roleplay” is fraught with peril.

Game charters work best when they’re about the game. Small, specific issues: dice sit on the table after a roll, floor dice are rerolled, no psychers in this scenario–in most games, these are all clearly part of the GM’s authority. When you get a little further from the “rules”, into the social situation, group consensus is required, even if the GM leads the discussion. Rules like “when the game starts, cell phones are turned off” and “no kids at the table–we don’t want to censor ourselves” require everyone’s agreement. If you go further… being the GM is no help if you’re trying to help someone quit smoking or cajole them into paying their fair share.

If things do go wrong–if one player is destroying the fun of everyone else–it is usually the GM who has to intervene. Martin got a lot of good advice about how to kick a player out if the problems can’t be resolved. Notice that Step 2 from his article is to make sure that everyone’s on the same page–while it’s your game, you might be misreading the situation.

No Panacea, but Better Than a Sharp Stick

Game charters can’t solve all your problems–they won’t even fold your laundry. Still, getting everyone agree to play the same game is invaluable, as is coordinating expectations, defining boundaries, and clarifying rules.

Has anyone brought up game charters with their group recently? I’d love to hear what you discussed–and how it went. Or if you’re thinking about trying to address a problem in your group, but now you’re worried about how pushy you’ll seem–bring it up in comments and we’ll help you work through the issue.