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Hot Button: Who’s Down with OPC?

Posted By Walt Ciechanowski On August 15, 2011 @ 8:40 am In Hot Buttons | 21 Comments

I’ve seen it a thousand times. Two PCs are facing a problem and some variation of the following exchange occurs:

GM (looking at Player 1): What do you do?

Player 1: I’m going to do X.

Player 2 (glancing at Player 1’s character sheet): X? Are you kidding. You have Y, why wouldn’t you use that?

Player 1: Fine, I’ll use Y then.

This is a classic example of a player using OPC (other player’s character (sheet)). Sometimes, OPC is used to help teach a newbie the ropes (“Did you know that your character can do X?”). On the other end of the scale, there are players that use OPC to further their own ends or ensure optimal play at the expense of discretionary play.

For example, I’ve seen OPC at a table where experience is not a factor. For whatever reason a player has not shared all of her abilities with the rest of the group, yet Player 2 scans her sheet and wonders aloud why that player isn’t using X, when there’s no reason in-game for Player 2’s character to know about X. This is particularly onerous when Player 1 refuses to use power X because she doesn’t think her character would use it in that particular situation.

I’ve also seen cases where OPC gets really obnoxious. I’ve seen players demand to know why other players aren’t spending XP (usually with several suggestions on how to spend it) or players starting vendettas against other players because power X wasn’t used and it screwed over a player.

There are occasions when OPC can be a boon. Besides the aforementioned inexperienced player, there are players that simply can’t be bothered with remembering things outside of a session (they’re lucky if they remember what character they are playing when they arrive). This is especially an issue for one-shots or irregularly-scheduled campaigns. In these cases I find that OPC eases my burden as a GM.

So how about you? Do you regularly slap down OPC in regular campaigns when all of the players are experienced, or do you let it slide? Have you seen any especially good or bad uses of OPC in your campaigns?

Walt Ciechanowski

About  Walt Ciechanowski

Walt’s been a game master ever since he accidentally picked up the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set in 1982. He became a freelance RPG writer in 2005 and is currently the Victoriana Line Developer for Cubicle 7. Walt lives in Springfield, PA with his wife Helena and their three children, Leianna, Stephen, and Zoe.




21 Comments (Open | Close)

21 Comments To "Hot Button: Who’s Down with OPC?"

#1 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On August 15, 2011 @ 9:08 am

I always suggest OPCers get a cohort … if they have a secondary character they have more to manage and they’re less inclined to play this game.

#2 Comment By Chris On August 15, 2011 @ 9:24 am

Honestly, I haven’t had this become a problem. Perhaps this has just been the groups I’ve gamed with, but this kind of thing usually either ends with a “Hey, that’s a good idea; I had forgotten that worked that way” or “No, my character wouldn’t do that here because…” sort of discussion. Either way, the gaming gets better because of it. I could definitely see it becoming obnoxious with different personalities or styles of play clashing though.

#3 Comment By hattymchappy On August 15, 2011 @ 9:54 am

As a GM, OPC has never bothered me. I’ve seen it bother other players, being told what to do. Most of the time it’s not a problem, though.

As long as the player being told what to do is fine with it, I’m down with OPC.

#4 Comment By Svafa On August 15, 2011 @ 10:01 am

I’ve stopped it occasionally when I’ve seen it start to get out of hand, but that always seems to be between sessions or away from the table, not during play.

Our regular group is a little odd in that they work together when creating and progressing characters. Usually they help each other choose feats and spells and things, rather than doing it separately. I think it gives a little more cohesiveness to the group as a whole, as each player is invested in the whole party. It also gives the power-gamers and number-crunchers a way to meaningfully help the other players- so long as they don’t take over the development of the other characters.

#5 Comment By vvincent1 On August 15, 2011 @ 10:10 am

I’ve seen it a lot in organized play events, usually when some player was trying to get another player to do something that would help out his/her character or when people are trying to power through scenarios. On the whole it irritates me because, given a particular personality, it can reduce other players to cohorts of the controlling player. It can also create animosity at the table. In home games, it’s not so much of an issue because we all know each other and know the personalities involved.

#6 Comment By DireBadger On August 15, 2011 @ 11:26 am

It happens quite a lot actually in my group. We play oWoD Vampire, and we remind each other often to use Willpower on important rolls (Willpower guarantees at least a marginal success, but a character can spend only a limited number of Willpower points during an adventure). This form of OPC is almost always considered a friendly act, because you have to remember to announce your use of Willpower before you make the roll; so other players ask “are you using Willpower?” a lot, just in case.

Of course, there’s the more grievous form, in case someone is trying to keep secret that he has some power. But we don’t often show character sheets to fellow players, so this doesn’t really happen.

And then there’s the “running his character for him” aspect which pops up from time to time, particularly when a player needs to decide what to do in combat, and can’t make up his mind. Other players will be clamoring for him to do X or Y.

In that case as a GM I tend to tell them to shut up; if needed I describe the situation again to the hesitant player, and ask him what he *wants* to do; I’ll handle the rules for him. I’ll tell him the success estimates for the options he’s considering, too (because sometimes this decision paralysis is based on the player not having a clear idea of his odds and possible consequences).

#7 Comment By Sarlax On August 15, 2011 @ 12:45 pm

I don’t think my groups have ever used OPC as a proxy for their own PC’s goals – they weren’t trying to hijack another PC – but there is often a lot of “friendly reminding” about optimal choices, which I think bogs down a game.

I’d really rather not see it at the table. Sure, sometimes a player has forgotten about a power that his PC wouldn’t have forgotten, or the player miscalculates, failing to note that he can do +1 damage with a different option, but I don’t think it’s worth the aggregate time sink that OPC creates. Too much OPC puts every character action into committee.

#8 Comment By Razjah On August 15, 2011 @ 12:58 pm

I agree with Sarlax that too much OPC makes the game a committee. However, with new players learning the ropes OPC is helpful. Often learning players forget to use key actions for their character (flank for sneak attack, activate your rage before running into combat, don’t cast a spell next to the ogre with a big mace).

I haven’t seen to much true OPC, more just reminders from other players that doing certain actions will have bad consequences the player would probably like to avoid. I have also seen the new player ask to do something really cool because he or she ignored the more experienced player.

I think this can be handled like any other probelm- communication. If a player is taking over the game talk to him or her, aside. Also, some players may like having the guy (or girl) doing all the OPC as a sounding board. Make sure that you check that the OPCed player is unhappy with the situation first.

#9 Comment By Clawfoot On August 15, 2011 @ 1:10 pm

It only happens occasionally in my games, and I don’t mind it, because the majority of the time, it’s meant as a friendly reminder. As a GM, the only time I’ve ever stepped in and actually stopped it was when I sensed it was starting to irritate someone.

#10 Comment By Svafa On August 15, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

Razjah’s last comment is very important. I’d come down on my players for using OPC if my players thought it a problem. As it is, they don’t complain and from what I’ve seen prefer the interaction. As Razjah put it, the OPC is used as a sounding board.

Although, when a player starts asking for party input, I think it may cease to count as OPC, since they initiate the other players looking at their own character options. From what I understood of the post, OPC was the reverse, where the input was uninvited (though possibly welcome).

#11 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On August 15, 2011 @ 1:36 pm

I think there is a clear difference between a player, esp. a novice, ASKING for help; and another player at the table trying to run someone else’s PC with optimal, unrequested suggestions.

#12 Comment By Necrognomicon On August 15, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

One problem in the game in which I currently play has been ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’, where one of the players unfamiliar with 3.5e has been bombarded with “remember you get a +1 for this or that” from multiple players, to point where it became confusing.

#13 Comment By Gaming Tonic On August 15, 2011 @ 4:24 pm

I think we all know when OPC is because a player is inexperienced and when it is because some rules esquire is just not happy to sit and wait his turn. I try to can this as you learn just as much from mistakes if not more than you do from successes and I am not a harsh DM. The same kind of player is one who typically memorizes the Monster Manual and then plays his 8 Intelligence fighter as if they have all that knowledge. Which by the way isn’t much fun for beginning players either.

#14 Comment By ongoingworlds On August 15, 2011 @ 5:34 pm

Isn’t this all part of working together? In real life wouldn’t our friends help us out by pointing out things we might have neglected to spot ourselves?

#15 Comment By Gaming Tonic On August 15, 2011 @ 7:18 pm

As long as it is pointing out pluses it really isn’t a problem it is when it is strategy and persists over time then it kind be somewhat tedious. Although I guess if the group works best that way then have at it. Every group is different and we all work together to tell a story and combat is really just one piece of the story.

#16 Comment By scruffylad On August 15, 2011 @ 7:27 pm

To the extent the group engages in teamwork, and it doesn’t bog down the game, I don’t mind. It moves things along, especially when some players know a certain system better than others.

If it bogs down into player bickering, I shut it down. Each player needs to run their own character, and not all fighters have to be built or played exactly the same, etc.

#17 Comment By black campbell On August 15, 2011 @ 11:04 pm

Hasn’t been an issue for my group in a long time.

#18 Comment By Volcarthe On August 16, 2011 @ 12:08 am

Not really an issue for us. About half my group are a step up from novice, and about a quarter are forgetful.

We wind up reminding each other of things a lot (bardsong) and making sure everyone is aware of their options.

For me it’s the difference between “don’t forget you have X” and “Use X, it works better.” We avoid the latter.

#19 Comment By Necrognomicon On August 16, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

@Gaming Tonic – I wasn’t saying that pointing out pluses is a problem in and of itself, it’s when a number of people, each trying to talk over the other, are just reeling off numbers to the point that other players (often including the ones pointing out pluses) becomes so confused as to what the actual total is that the whole calculation process must begin anew. This is not helpful, it’s just wasted time.

#20 Comment By FreeRangeGamer On August 16, 2011 @ 4:12 pm

It’s usually not a problem in our gaming group. Our GM is a firm believer in the idea that the rules in sourcebooks are very much guidelines rather than law, whereas one of the player’s is a longstanding powergamer / rule’s lawyer, so I guess it all balances out in the end.

Good roleplaying and having fun are the top priorities around our gaming tables.

http://freerangegamer.wordpress.com/

#21 Comment By rabalias On August 21, 2011 @ 2:26 am

Most of my players are big enough and singleminded enough to ignore people trying to OOC-dominate their character in this way. So when people do make a suggestion it’s usually that – a friendly suggestion that they can take or leave. I have had the occasional newbie player where they maybe weren’t so confident and could presumably have been browbeaten into doing what the others tell them. Fortunately most of my players are also sensitive enough to realise a new player needs a mix of hand-holding, suggestions but definitely not pressure of this type.

I guess I’m pretty lucky to have such good players!


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