Sunday 12 April 2015

Hissy Fits and Discordant Groups

In our last Pathfinder session, we ended up in combat with a bounty hunter-turned-assassin who was causing problems in Pitax. My character couldn't land a blow - her blades are both keen with the intention of increasing the number of criticals she does, but when only a natural 20 will hit, it feels redundant. That quickly becomes frustrating and it didn't take long before I'd slipped off into the other room trying to find a way to explain that I was bored of the combat.

I felt embarassed and guilty for being cross: I know my GM puts in an awful lot of effort and I don't want to hurt his feelings or ever discourage him because usually he's brilliant, but I was fed up. My guilt came out as petty anger which my GM dealt with very well, calmly sitting there and saying he'd take it all on board as I whined about how unfair it was to have been left to make a combat character (which I didn't want to do), to have tried to create a decent fighter through powergaming tactics (which I didn't want to do), and yet still to have been unable to hit anything. I sat out the rest of the combat; Husbit joined me to make sure I was ok. We rejoined the party once the guy was downed and our GM accepted my cues to continue as if I hadn't just had a toddler's tantrum.

I think he handled my petulance very well, but I've been trying to work out what could have been done to prevent it reaching a point where I boiled over the way I did.

First of all, there are pressures in my life right now that are beyond my control (and actually part of the stress is the fact they are beyond my control: I've always been something of a control freak). There's very little I can do about this; I just have to ride it out and accept that some days it is all going to get on top of me. Fortunately, I have very patient, very forgiving friends.

Second, sadly, is the current group. Since my brother left and a new player joined, there has been a noticeable power-creep among certain players that isn't to my taste. I can't keep up with it, and I don't enjoying playing with it.

Third, I ended up playing a character by role rather than concept, and got stuck with the role I least wanted. I'd created several characters as suitable for the game, avoiding rogues and sorcerors (because I nearly always play a rogue and Svetlana was a sorceror before a rogue). I couldn't play the ranged ranger because Husbit was playing a gunslinger, the cleric position was covered by a druid and a ninja meant my lack of rogue was not a problem. I was going to have to be the frontline fighter.

I wanted to play the skald. Skalds are a third-party (I think) character class for Pathfinder available on Herolab: they combine bard with barbarian, something I've long wanted to try. The rest of the group disagreed, on the basis that the 'raging song' ability wouldn't benefit them because it restricted cha, dex and int skills (except acrobatics, ride, fly and intimidate). That was fair enough, but as the game progressed I realised it would have been useful to have had a character with the knowledges and ease of speaking that Ylva was created with - and no one has yet used any skills beyond acrobatics and fly in combat.

That left me with Jvala, the spell-less ranger. I created her not expecting to play her, and used the third-party class only out of interest. When I realised I would be playing her, I'd forgotten she was't a traditional ranger until everyone started teasing me about her, referring to her as 'pointless' instead of 'spell-less'. This was building on previous teasing about Svetlana being pointless because she wasn't any good in combat and twice in quick succession botched trap-disarm rolls and is a half-elf (full elves having two points for their ears).

And this is where I needed to take some action because I should have explained this was hurting my feelings, rather than pretending I didn't mind whilst it scratched away at my self-esteem and self-control.

I'd also geared Jvala towards very mobile combat - I pictured her dancing around a battlefield with her leopard and wolf leaping to flank. Whilst building her, I discovered that the pets couldn't take team feats, which unbalanced my plan a little, but it wasn't until we were playing that I discovered she can only use both weapons if she doesn't have to move to reach combat, which completely defeated my purposes. That was frustrating, but the GM has let me re-jig things a bit. Unfortunately, she still can't hit anything.

The GM has been having great fun creating NPC's in Herolab. I don't blame him for this in the least (he says he finally understands why I'm so keen to play a bard), but it's meant we've had a spate of bad guys with very high AC. The other players (excluding the druid, who in many ways is having as poor a run of it as I am - another of my frustrations) explicitly stated I had to be the fighter, but I was the only one who couldn't hit.

So I got bored and stomped off.

A lot of it was cumulative petty frustrations that I'm not very good at vocalising because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, so the biggest thing I need to do is work on speaking out when something bothers me. At least some of the other players need to work on listening when someone has an issue.

I've spoken to Husbit about the ways he tends to dominate games and he's taken it on board with the character he's currently playing, and I'm optimistic will continue to take it on board with Alexei when we return to our main characters. The same conversation would not, I fear, be understood were I to try to have it with our new player, so I need to find a way to express my concerns without him feeling as though I'm being petty. I'm worried he'll think I should just shout louder if I want more game time, but I don't think it should be a competition and it's not just me who's missing out. 

For me, roleplay is a co-operative story-telling. Inevitably, some characters will get more attention at some stages, but the only time I have felt like I've been that character was the relationship with Noleski and that was rushed through. The GM has promised I will get more showtime when we come back from the Abyss, but I worry that the louder voices will overwhelm his promise.

I try to give time to the quietest member of our party. I'm not always successful and I sometimes pass the way I feel treated on to him and that is very unfair of me and something I'm working on. A good group, I think, should try to give all its members space to speak and opportunities to shine. The more confident players have a responsibility to help with this, otherwise it just becomes a shouting match where no one is having fun.

To echo what I said at the top, I feel a bit guilty writing this. I don't want it to sound like our group is a bad group or falling apart. Most of the time it has been great fun, but there are a few issues at the moment and we need to work together to resolve them.


  1. That is a really brave post. I have trouble at times with group dynamics and every time I have expressed this in a blog my players have been less than receptive. However, I can see that you have done this honestly and with a great deal of humility too.

    Talk to the GM (or get them to read this) about it is the only advice I can give. Not as part of the game but outside it so they can understand how you are affected.

  2. It was very hard to write, because I didn't want to be unfair to anyone but I did want to get the frustration out - I'm much better at writing things down than saying them out loud, and find it cathartic to do so.

    I will make sure my GM sees this: I know he wants everyone to be enjoying the game and works very hard behind the scenes, so I'm sure he'll take it in the manner intended.

    It's a shame your players haven't been receptive - I think this is something most groups go through at some stage so it's worth talking about within the community as a whole, if only so people feeling a bit stuck can see they're not alone, and can see how other people have combatted issues.