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Screw You and Your Facts!

Posted By Patrick Benson On June 5, 2008 @ 1:45 am In Tools for GMs | 24 Comments

If there is one thing that I can’t stand in a game it is players criticizing the verisimilitude of a game in the little details. The act of trying to define a virtual reality is one thing, but to insist that your game world uses the physics of the real world in every way is pointless. You have elves, you have laser handguns, and you have psionic abilities, but some idiot wants to argue with you over whether or not the bad guys can continue their car chase after their SUV takes a few slugs from a pistol because the PC missed the driver that he was aiming for? Because you as the GM described those bullet holes in the grill as a way to intensify the scene? Please…

Don’t get me wrong. If a player says “I want to take the SUV out of commision.” I can roll with that. In fact, I like and encourage that kind of play. It is when I describe a scene or an event and someone pipes up with “It can’t happen. Fords have a very thin engine block due to the new casting process. I read about it in Popular Mechanics. That car should be totaled.” that I start twitching. You want to get on my bad side as a GM? Pull something like that. Tell me how it works in the real world, and then insist that it work that way in the game world. If we are playing in a gritty and realistic game world I will tighten things up as a GM, but most games aren’t like that.

Why does this bother me so much? Because it goes against the kind of game experience that I promise my players before the game begins. I like to run cinematic over the top games. I want my players to try crazy stunts with the risk being supplied by the dice, not the theory of gravity. I make this clear to my players form the beginning, and I want the players to work with that approach in the game. To point out how the game world is different from the real world in the name of verisimilitude goes against the very definition of verisimilitude: similar to reality. That doesn’t mean equal to reality.

Now if a player questions why I chose to employ GM fiat in this way after the game, and this is GM fiat by far, that is great! I now have the chance to explore what the player wants from the game. I can find out why the player questions my decision, and how to tweak my game accordingly to provide a better experience for the player based on that discussion. But too often I run a con game or a one shot at my the local gaming shop and have to deal with some player bringing up his “extensive knowledge” of something that is so minor to the game that it is nothing more than an interruption to the game play.

For example, I once ran a game where the PCs wanted to swing from one rooftop to another using a clothesline and I said “Go for it.” Immediately a player piped up about how an average clothesline would snap with that much weight and force being applied to it in such a manner. Do we have to be that detailed in order to enjoy the game? And how do I as a GM verify that statement to be true (even though I believe that it is)? The clincher is that we were playing a super heroes game! The genre already justified the attempt as being plausible.

These kinds of players are game killers. They are more concerned with appearing to be “smart” than they are with how much fun the group is having. And good players and GMs put the group first and compromise accordingly. If such a player or GM is compromising too much and not having any fun something is wrong, but most players and GMs will find that sweet spot and work with it.

So how do you deal with this kind of player? The kind who wants to impress the table with their knowledge instead of compromising for the sake of fun? One word – verisimilitude. Go by the very definition of the word. You aren’t trying to recreate reality when you evoke verisimilitude. You are trying to simulate it with accepted differences. Tell the player that they are correct, or that they may be correct, but that the game world’s physics are not the same as the real world. Then ask the question that they dread – “Do you really want this game to emulate the real world exactly?”

There is no point to running a game exactly like the real world, because we pretty much know what is going to happen in the real world. Shoot an arrow to split the one already in the bullseye? It can’t be done due to the design of the arrow shaft and how it will shatter and deflect the second arrow from its course. Go into a deep dark ancient dungeon? Hate to break it to you, but underground structures like mines often collapse given time. Have your character survive a stab wound and keep adventuring without immediate medical attention and/or without the wound becoming infected or worse? You get the point.

There is a reason why you won’t see Accountants of the Carribean on the big screen any time soon, or why you don’t play RPGs titled Corporate Workforce: The Daily Grind. Reality can get pretty boring at times. That is why our popular media employs suspension of disbelief so much. Why? Because that is more entertaining. It makes the game more fun too when we let the little details slide and just roll with it.

The only way to deal with these game killing players is to give them a big whopping dose of the current reality. You and your group are playing a game, and Science class is out of session. Now let’s get back to enjoying the verisimilitude of the game.

That is my opinion on the matter, so what is yours? Leave your comments for others to read and share your own experiences with me and other members of the GnomeStew community. And no matter what happens, don’t forget that the GM is a player too! Have fun with it!

About  Patrick Benson

Patrick was born in 1975, and is more or less your typical American male for someone of his age. Except he is a tabletop RPG gamer and a damn fine game master! What else matters?




24 Comments (Open | Close)

24 Comments To "Screw You and Your Facts!"

#1 Comment By ChattyDM On June 5, 2008 @ 2:25 am

You are entirely right that this behavior, if repeated is annoying, but I would try to understand why those players do it. To say ‘well the are just game-killing selfish bastards’ doesn’t cut it with me.

I feel that those players may be Detail Oriented people playing with a ‘big Picture’ GM. (I may be wrong, but I’ve seen such reality-debates in such groups). I think that the detail oriented people pipe up because they were pushed passed their comfort level on something and need to lash out on something.

For the same reason that a big picture player will cutoff a detail oriented DM because he keeps describing the intricate etiquette of 2 knights meeting on a road, detail oriented players can get derailed by GMs who hand waves what they feel is important in a game (and reality isin’t what they seek I’m willing to bet).

Verisimilitude/realism is easy to latch to and criticize from a detailed point of view… I just happen to believe it’s a symptom for something else, not the root cause of the problem.

#2 Comment By greywulf On June 5, 2008 @ 4:49 am

With you on this one, with one healthy side-order of caveat.

The action has to fit with the genre/style of play. That defines the physics and “reality” of the game.

For example, if you’re playing a cinematic action game then it’s likely that if a car is hit with a bullets then no matter where it’s hit, it’s gonna explode, because that’s what cars do. In the real work, that’s unlikely to happen, but the physics of the setting, that’s fine. The setting defines the “reality”.

Likewise, in a superhero game, a clothesline makes a darned fine swinger. You’re spot on there.

However, if the cinematic action hero tried to do the same thing, it’s likely that the line would break, with suitably comedic results. Clothesline swinging doesn’t fit the style of the game as it’s being played, so physics sits up and takes notice.

So I’d say yes, there is reality. Just a different kind of reality :)

#3 Comment By Puck On June 5, 2008 @ 8:02 am

“These kinds of players are game killers. They are more concerned with appearing to be “smart” than they are with how much fun the group is having.”

Oh, man. You’ve said it perfectly. I’ve been in college the past few years and (aside from the fact that the longest-lasting gaming groups have a lifespan of only 9 months) people like this are my biggest bane! And, I don’t know if it’s the university environment or what but, every group has at least 2 of them!
I could go on with examples, but I can already feel my blood pressure rising…

#4 Comment By Martin Ralya On June 5, 2008 @ 9:20 am

Back in college, there was a stretch where a friend and I played BattleTech in the student union every week, and our matches coincided with a gaming group’s regular D&D campaign in the same room. Every week without fail, the stereotypical overweight beardo/Comic Book Guy in the group dominated not just all of the action in the session, but all of everyone else’s action, too, nitpicking shit like this.

The GM had no idea how to handle it, so when beardo went on and on at great length about how his healing spell should be able to kill people because blah blah blah, the GM let him blather, then politely asked to move on, then let him blather, then moved on, then got interrupted again.

Not being in the game, it was funny to watch. If I’d been in the game, I would snapped and strangled beardo, then offed myself, after one session. ;)

#5 Comment By Taliesin On June 5, 2008 @ 10:19 am

Totally with you on this as well. Hackmaster has a table called the Hackmaster Smartass Smackdown Table (HSST). I’ve only rolled on it once. The threat is usually enough.

I’ll usually start, however, with reminding the players that trying to rules lawyer me too much might win them this battle, but will definitely hurt them in the long run. :)

#6 Comment By Patrick Benson On June 5, 2008 @ 11:12 am

ChattyDM – Excellent counter point. I agree with you that you have to know what it is that the player is seeking from the game. But at the same time, if you join a group that up front says “We aren’t detail oriented. We want hand waving.” as a player you should accept that and adjust your play style. You can always ask for a change in play style before or after the game, but during the middle of the game leave it be.

Still, a good GM should be very clear as to what kind of game they are running before the players agree to join the group. If I fail to do that as a GM the situation is different and the player is not at fault. The GM is at fault for “false-advertising” or failing to address the play style that the scenario is intended for.

Also, I should be clear that I am addressing how to deal with the repeat offender here as you noted.

GreyWulf – You are dead on about how the genre influences the physics of the game. I have no problem with a player saying “Dude, we’re playing a spy game. That just doesn’t fit with our game.” and I as a GM need to adjust the scene then to get back on track. Good call!

Puck – Oddly enough, I think that the university environment may contribute to this kind of player behavior based on personal experience as well. Hmm… Coincidence?

Martin – I’ve never met a gamer like that. Ever. Really. ;)

Taliesin – A GM I played with once had a “Cow From Space” rule. If you were taking the game off track for a stupid reason (and this could be anything that caused the group’s fun level to drop significantly) he would say “In the distance you hear a hollowing ‘moooooooo…”. That was the warning. If the player continued the PC would be hit by a cow falling out of space and crushing the PC. Now I wouldn’t endorse that tactic, but with this particular GM it worked just fine!

#7 Comment By Swordgleam On June 5, 2008 @ 11:26 am

While I’m not one to doubt the cathartic value of complaining, how about some solutions? :)

As a player, I sometimes have to struggle with the urge to correct a particular DM on facts – specifically, one of the PCs has a horse, and our DM has no idea how horses behave. He picked up on my constant twitching after the first couple absurd equine reactions, and started asking me, “What would a horse do in X situation?”

I’m not going to complain about the realism when a horse is charging into battle against ogres and dealing separate damage with both its front hooves – that’s cool, and I appreciate it. Likewise, the player who pointed out the impossibility of swinging on a clothesline should shut up. But the player who mentioned that a car taking bullets in a certain place would be totaled may just be a car buff who’s tired of all the misperceptions surrounding his hobby.

If a player points out nitpicky details no matter the subject, there’s not much hope. But if it’s one particular area that keeps triggering a player’s desire to, for lack of a better term, ‘reality-lawyer,’ consider asking them for input. “Okay, if the car would blow up from a bullet there, where should a bullet hit to get the effect you’re looking for?” “What kind of car would a villain looking for a fast getaway but a low-profile vehicle drive?”

The player will be happy, you won’t have to deal with them derailing things, and the game will have a little more realism. Everyone wins.

#8 Comment By Patrick Benson On June 5, 2008 @ 1:35 pm

Swordgleam – I offered a solution in the article, but I’d like to hear more suggestions from readers on how they handle these kinds of situations.That is one of the reasons I post the kinds of articles that I do – to learn something from other’s responses.

Your point about the car example and the car buff player is a valid one. I like your solution to that particular example as well, but when should the car buff player point out the issue? In mid-game, or at another time? I prefer that the players do such things at another time. Before the next session or during the post game discussion. That is just my preference as a GM, and I see that as carrying more weight. Noting something like that and having the patience to wait and mention it at a more appropriate time shows that the matter is important to the player. The player is showing a level of respect for me as the GM in allowing me to run the scenario as I see fit, so I should at the very least match that and give the player’s input serious consideration (and often I tweak my style significantly for such players). But to interrupt the game with a minor issue and to press it is like an audience member interrupting a musician for playing a single sour note. Or giving a fellow teammate grief over a minor botch during a game. That’s just uncool.

And while the car buff may have a valid point, what if I planned the scenario to include a reinforced and armored SUV and I don’t want to give that information out at that time to the players? Where do we draw the line with how realistic the scenario should be for a player?

You also state that catering to a player’s taste will bring a little more realism to the story. I disagree here. It may make the realism more complete for that player, but what if it doesn’t register at all for the rest of the group and even possibly hinders their enjoyment as a whole?

Also, why is more realism a good thing? Personally I find highly realistic games to be boring in most situations. They just aren’t my cup of tea. Others may enjoy them, but again it comes back to letting the group know what kind of game you are running before the game begins. I’ve played in good games ruined by players who have done the reverse (agreeing to play a realistic game, and then role playing in an unrealistic fashion).

Again, like the article itself, this is just the way that I see it. What about others?

#9 Comment By Elora On June 5, 2008 @ 2:45 pm

Wow, spot-on. Try DMing for 4 physics grad students (one of whom is a self-professed grade A smart-ass), a physics professor, and a lawyer. Sometimes I want to pull my hair out. I basically use the “cow from space” approach to keep them in line, or just head out of the room for a food break while they hash out their complicated theories.

#10 Comment By Scott Martin On June 5, 2008 @ 5:01 pm

While I’m mostly on board with the post’s idea, it’s good to understand your players and what they need to establish their own versimilitude. If you’d like a look at someone eager to dispute your point, you’d do well to look at NiTessine’s Argumentum ad fireballum.

My objections are much tamer– though I think that Dog’s in the Vineyard has one of the best rules for setting the threshold of believability: “At any given moment in play, the most demanding player at the table has the power to decide if a proposed element becomes a part of the fiction or not”. It’s a high bar that requires that the whole group is on-board… but can be subject to hijacking.

#11 Comment By DarthKrzysztof On June 5, 2008 @ 6:38 pm

I just wanted to say that “Screw you and your facts!” sounds best to me in DeForest Kelley’s voice…

#12 Comment By Swordgleam On June 5, 2008 @ 7:38 pm

Patrick – I’d rather my players bring up issues during the game, as long as it’s not in the middle of something intense (combat or high drama), but I run pretty informal games. Arguing it vehemently should probably be saved for later (if ever), but I don’t see the harm in just pointing it out.

If the SUV were armored, I guess I’d say something like, “Make a [relevant skill] roll to see if your character notices that a shot there should have totaled the car.” It does give them a hint that something’s up, whether they make the roll or not, but it also reminds them that what they’re doing could easily turn into meta-gaming.

I guess, based on the examples, that I assumed we were talking about minor details – stuff that isn’t going to majorly change/ruin the story if it gets ‘corrected.’ I don’t like my games to be all about realism, but as said, I get a little twitchy when I see things that are obviously wrong for no good reason.

I just feel like “tell the player to stop it” isn’t really a solution. It works for some issues, but the more you do it, the less it works, and this seems like something that’s easy enough to find a compromise on.

Of course, you could go with something one of my old DMs did: give extra XP for not mentioning physics during the course of a session. :)

#13 Comment By age On June 6, 2008 @ 5:30 am

Geez. This brings back funny (only in reflection!) memories of player-reality-lawyers arguing the internal design structure of lift shafts (Modern) and the range limitations of arrows firing upwards (Fantasy). to name a few. Could’ve done with the Cow then….

#14 Pingback By Recommended Reading | life in the garden of eden. On June 6, 2008 @ 5:38 am

[...] Screw You and Your Facts! Keep this from Gnome Stew in mind the next time you’re whinging at your GM and/or fellow roleplayers about how some nit-picky bit of trivia shouldn’t be allowed in the game because it wouldn’t work in real life. If we wanted perfect reality, we’d walk away from the game and just live our oh-so-mundane and realistic lives! [...]

#15 Comment By Adrian On June 6, 2008 @ 6:01 am

Also for a counterpoint on discussions involving realism and magic.

Särkijärvi’s Law – As a discussion about realism in a fantasy setting grows longer, the probability of someone claiming the irrelevancy of realism in the presence of magic approaches one

http://nitessine.wordpress.com/2008/05/19/argumentum-ad-fireballum/

#16 Comment By Patrick Benson On June 6, 2008 @ 6:09 am

“Of course, you could go with something one of my old DMs did: give extra XP for not mentioning physics during the course of a session.”

Swordgleam – Now that is an awesome alternative solution.

#17 Comment By suudo On June 6, 2008 @ 6:56 am

I am with you 110%.

#18 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On June 6, 2008 @ 7:55 am

I was doing exactly this to my DM last night.

You see, she made this new landmass to hold our upcoming 4E game, and I was looking at the map, pointed to a nook in the mountains, and said “There’s a desert there”. She told me in a no-nonsense voice that it was a forrest. I told her that if the landmass was in the northern hemesphere, the wind currents and mountain range wouldn’t allow any rainfall there. Hence, a desert. She quickly told me the landmass was in the SOUTHERN hemisphere. So I grinned at here and said “So it’s a swamp?”

End of story, just bullshitting around, we ended up with a pretty awesome concept of an underground swamp which may or may not end up there.

My whole beef had nothing to do with whether there was a forrest, a desert, a swamp, or an artic ice flow there. It had to do with both the fact that it’s fun to tease someone about something like that, and that I was a little upset with her for trumping player input like the group had specifly discussed she wouldn’t.

Now, I wasn’t THAT upset, but a little good natured ribbing about her failure to consider airflow seemed about right.

#19 Comment By zacharythefirst On June 7, 2008 @ 5:11 am

I agree, generally being more of a “big picture” GM, but I really think it comes down to a matter of focus. Its like in my modern games, so guys are really into the gun porn, ensuring the stats for those items match up with reality. Other people want more of an action movie, with endless clips and revolvers that never need to be reloaded. :)

Fun is different for different people, and its really an expectation game you’re playing. Beforehand, I’ve been messing with assigning a rating to my games so the players know the relative level going in. (A 4 on the Gritty scale, a 2 on the Historical Accuracy O’ Meter–whatever’s fitting and relevant for that game). That can always change, as the group’s feel, composition, and attitude might change over the course of a game, but its a good starting baseline.

#20 Comment By DarthKrzysztof On June 8, 2008 @ 6:27 pm

“…with endless clips and revolvers that never need to be reloaded.”

And revolvers that can be silenced, and C4 that blows up when you shoot it. ; )

#21 Comment By merb101 On June 9, 2008 @ 8:21 am

I once had a player who would, as his “character,” berate my NPCs on mistakes I as the GM had made. It was his passive agressive way of being critical of the game while still playing the game. Drove me crazy, and he and I don’t play together any more.

ME

#22 Comment By Omnus On June 9, 2008 @ 11:02 pm

One fallback a DM always has is to say, “It’s a game, and this is a convention of the game.” Not all rules make sense, obviously, with reality. The whole idea of Hit Points is patently ludicrous, for instance. But we play within these rules because of uniformity (if everyone uses the same rules, it works!) and ease of play. If you want painful reality, play GURPS with all the optional rules in place (yikes). There’s a reason why games like D&D that aren’t realistic and never pretend to be are so popular.

About the player above in the OP that claimed a clothesline shouldn’t be able to hold up a character, I would let the clothesline work…until it can to his character’s turn. >:)>

#23 Comment By Aegon On June 12, 2008 @ 9:08 am

WASH: Psychic, though? That sounds like something out of science fiction.
ZOE: We live in a spaceship, dear.
WASH: So?
- an attitude toward verisimilitude in game

I wanted to comment as a player. For me, I would mention the clothesline thing but I respect the GM as decsionmaker and so would not argue with their decision once they made it. I would remember it (these things stick in my craw), though and be annoyed by it. It would not be because I needed to be the center of attention at the moment but because of my simulationist/rules lawyering tendencies (I hope I am using this correctly). My character would probably want to go back after the scene and pick up this super strong line and use it in the future, just to illustrate the consequences of making a non-physical decision. And yes, I was a physics major in college.
I guess my point is that there are players that care about these things for reasons outside of the pathologies in the OP.

#24 Comment By Target On June 12, 2008 @ 10:07 am

I’d like to back Aegon up on that. I’m an engineer so I often have immersion problems during tv/movies/rpgs and what not. I try to let things go, but am not always able to make the leap depending on how bad physics have been abused.

Also on a side note, I play with a GM who is a historian. When he gets nitpicky about historical details it encourages me to become nitpicky about physics.

I guess in short, I’d say one should be careful about the signs you give out in terms of nitpickiness as a GM, as well.

And I’ll try to refrain from being too nitpicky in the future.


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