The System-Allergic Player

He talks about his character all the time. He draws portraits and tells little stories about the things that happened offscreen. He's always early to the game and has the grace to bring snacks. He loves the game.

Yet, somehow, it's been two months and he still has to borrow a book to look up Magic Missile every time. He asks, "How far can I move this turn?" The same distance as every turn, Sam. "Can I cast Spell X?" No, Sam, you ran out of spells today. Remember? You said it yourself ten minutes ago.

You know this player. I know this player. It's System-Allergic Sam, who somehow cannot wrap his head around the rules of the game. He spends combat rounds in D&D paging through books. In Polaris, he needs to carry a conflict cheat sheet - that's conspicuously blank of notes and not really of any help to him. In Exalted, he forgets how to calculate his dice pools and Charms are hopelessly intimidating.

How can we help Sam? Can we? Should we play with him?


Blogger Bankuei said...

This is a really interesting question, since I've played with these folks before...

And not having them "not get" stuff like abilities or spells, but say, a basic core dice mechanic over the course of months of play. ("See, this is the '10's' die, and this is the '1's' die, so you read it like percents...")

Though, I have found a common trait with the folks who I have played with is a general inattentiveness in life- so I don't know if that's all around, or just the 3 I've met.

2:07 pm  
Anonymous Josh said...

Yes, we should play with Sam. We should not, however, play D&D. Polaris is a better step, but really we should be playing very narrative games, like SOAP or very simple system games, like Shadows.

Alternatively, something diceless with a lot of weight on the GM for system. It seems a shame to lose someone so interested in the game merely because they cannot parse rules. Still, if the frustration of Sam's faults outweighs the enjoyment of the game I would suggest not playing with him. If your group tends towards crunch and he jsut can't handle it, what else are you to do? Play his character for him?

9:10 pm  
Blogger Citizen Chimp said...

I played D&D with Sam all through highschool. It was easy - I always suggested Sam play the fighter. Since there wasn't a skill system for diplomacy or the like, the only mechanical action Sam could take was attack or drink potion. Most games don't (shouldn't?) have a corner to sweep Sam into, but it was a nice bug/feature of old D&D.

2:05 am  
Blogger ecboss said...

The fix I've mostly seen is to put a die in Sam's hand & say "roll this", then have the GM do the computations etc.

I know a lot of folks who want good cues that are narrative or non-quantified in nature. But if Polaris isn't enough for Sam, then that probably isn't the issue.

What is it like to play with Sam? Does he collaborate well? Is he looking at & listening to what the other players are doing with their creations? Or is his resistance to the structure of the rules really an expression of his lack of desire to have his ideas messed with, and thus a lack of interest in other peoples' ideas all together?

12:11 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

Polaris may be worse for Sam than GURPS. The Sams I've played with are mostly afraid to make a meaningful decision. They avoid rules, because rules involve making meaningful decisions at times.


7:33 am  
Anonymous Matthijs said...

Hey, I'm Sam. When I play Exalted, I have to look up the effects for the charms every time. And I can never get my head around the combat rules.

Is it so hard to understand why? They're rules that, for me, bring no fun to the game; they just slow stuff down, and even though I might be able to learn them, I really wish we could ditch them and find some fun rules.

However, I'm not always Sam. I GM Dogs pretty well, I'm re-reading Capes to grok it better, I can discuss finicky bits of Universalis in and out of play. Rules that I care about, I'm going to learn.

What to do with Sam? Find out what rules he doesn't like, see if there's other rules he likes, try them out. Pay attention to what he actually does in play - when is he active? What gets him going? Try to give him more of that.

If he doesn't like the same stuff as your group, hey, you've got a decision to make.

2:34 pm  
Blogger DevP said...

Things I've seen that could be going on here:

* making challenging decisions on the fly is hard for the player. I think this can be overcome with practice.

* the player might be more interested in either the fiction he has in his head or the ritual of coming to the table (or both) rather than creating some fiction as a group. Possibly since he doesn't need a system to create fiction in his mind, it doesn't seem as necessary to them. This is tougher, since there's some misunderstanding about what's important in the game.

* the player may really apathetic about system mattering, and want to focus on the other fun parts of the game. Even focused and clueful rules might not excute this person.

* Or, most likely: he's simply a player who is not geared to rules with any higher points of contact, as a matter of pure preference. (And this I relate to in somewhat reverse; when I'm a GM, I quickly get overwhelmed by managing a very crunchy system.)

I'm assuming case 4, and for that we most certainly should play with Sam. It simply means that the GM/group have to pick up the mechanical slack (examples above suggest ways the GM can basically do the mechanics for the player), or you have to pick a system that's very lightweight and low-impact. Perhaps also, select a ruleset whose rules are not crunchy (spell sheets and a combat system requiring multiple pages both count) and not requiring much memorization/internalization (I suppose Polaris might be this?).

I do think that some rules *might* be easier for a System-Allergic Player than others. For example, I think it's easier to get that when you write down "Instincts" on your character sheet, they're facts about your character that will always be true if you want them to be.

11:00 am  
Anonymous Rubber Duckie, I'm the One said...

I am also Sam, at least when playing D&D. And I mean, I know the rules backwards and forwards, I just don't give a shit.

Yes, you should play with Sam. You should give him room to do something cool, and try to play a game where the rules are going to be handwaived away anyway.

4:50 pm  
Blogger Shreyas said...

Uh, okay. I don't think that's Sam.

That's like...Hostile Pete.

6:17 pm  

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