How hard should staff enforce theme?


  • Pitcrew

    As per my usual, I will primarily focus on Chronicles of Darkness (formerly nWoD) in this, but I believe this can be applied to many games.

    So you have a game. You put a lot of work into it. You build a theme you feel is awesome, and reflects how the game world should be.

    Then you have a player who fucks it all up. Maybe they are just reckless, a Vampire who is shitting all over the masquerade. Or a Mage who is just cruising through life in an invisible car. Or a werewolf who is betraying his pack to every dick slinging stud they meet. WHATEVER.

    So there are various ways this could be dealt with, and I am sure there are people who would bitch about whatever.

    Ignoring it may or may not be feasible, depending on how private the behavior is. This is especially easy if it is kept so secretive that no one finds out. And probably the best choice there.

    Another option is to try and discuss it with the player rationally and maturely OOC. Maybe offer an alternative.

    The other extreme is to have the IC world react, via NPCs and/or encouraged PCs. If someone is being blatantly stupid, maybe they are spoken to or given a punishment for their actions.

    What is fair? Is fair important?



  • One discussion, asking if they expect the setting to react. Next time, the setting reacts.

    I have zero interest in providing a generic do what you want place (unless that is exactly what I am providing). Why would I put any work into it then shirk when someone brought in Helper-Bot Elsa to my medieval brutality wargame?



  • The one concern with that -- which I'll elaborate on more when I have a keyboard that isn't wonky -- is that you could run into the 'brat' mentality.

    What I mean is this: "When I do undesired thing, staff provides me with lots of stuff to do!"

    That can add up to a lot of work on staff's part providing for someone who is enjoying the consequences of doing what you really didn't want them to be doing in the first place, and it can drag you even further off-theme.

    It's something to be mindful of in the realm of unintended consequences.



  • If people are blatantly ignoring theme in over the top fashion, banish them to a side sandbox grid and let them have their fun. I've played on a few mushes where I didn't care about theme, but greatly enjoyed the company of other theme ignoring players and the rp we had. I think being stuck in a 5 room mini grid would have been awesome.

    If, later on, they wish to interact with your story, then let them make new theme characters without their sandbox xp bloat. Or, when you banish them, copy their sheets so when they wake up from their crazy dream, it's like they never left.


  • Pitcrew

    @surreality I don't want leashed Uratha in Elysium, k!



  • Agreed. Staff should ask first and then if the person fails to acknowledge theme, the theme will acknowledge them.

    This is going to sound bitter (it's really not), but I don't like it when a mu* becomes a sandbox playspace for two OOC players who use it as some kind of thematic TS arena and never add value to a game.

    In a World of Darkness, for example, no one is immune to horror.


  • Pitcrew

    I think enforcing theme in instances like this; what you describe seem to be pretty major examples of ignoring theme and realism, not just kind of obnoxious skirting around stuff. It's pretty much guaranteed that a player who is doing stuff like that is, in addition to diluting the theme you've structured, totally annoying and frustrating other players. What you've described are also behaviors that seem like it'd be pretty reasonable to have IC consequences for, which is a way to deal with this. I think @Misadventure's simple solution -- discuss first, then have the setting react -- is a good one.

    If someone is taking advantage of this and enjoying the crazy reactions, as @surreality warns, sit them down again and tell them to knock it off.



  • I'd be good with locking them from the grid and into RP rooms. People can choose to be exposed then.

    I'm also fine with flat out removing them immediately and then applying the consequences if a straight retcon write out isn't the best choice. I imagine that most theme issues will not be on the ridiculous scale. For instance: due to my personal attitudes, racism, sexism, sexuality-ism, and "caste"-ism are in most of my settings. You can play the hero in any of those social conflicts, but be prepared. The world needs to change, and it will usually take generations. I still encourage fighting for your beliefs, and that means whatever will fight back.

    Except Veganism. No Vegans in my settings, too powerful.



  • On one BSG-themed game, a player made a special snowflake character whose skills (aside from being the best fighter pilot ever) included Zorbing (Australian/New Zealand human ball bouncing) and LEGOing.

    A player tried to explain to her (SPOILERS) that Battlestar Galactica took place hundreds of thousands of years before Earth culture discovered/invented LEGO and/or ZORB. She promptly reported this person to staff for harassing her.

    Fact is this: if one out of ten players ignores theme, then the fourth wall gets broken and the thematic feel of the game gets spoiled. Theme really is important for making people feel like they're RPing in the chosen universe. Be it Pirates of the Carribean "Arr" space pirates in Serenity or people drinking Coca-Cola in ancient Rome, theme helps hold the players to the game's fabric.

    And to take it a step further, if a player joins a game with a theme with no interest in upholding the theme, then is the game really important to them at all, or is it just providing them an outlet for their play space?



  • How sandboxy is the game, really? The more it is, the less thematic purity matters. A lot of WoD games I feel like most of the characters have absolutely no impact on any of my characters whatsoever and vice versa. That's fine, it's not a criticism, just a design choice. But in those games even a character that's drastically out of step with the theme of the game might not be very noticeable to the player base at large.

    On a game that's not sandboxy at all, you just can't allow it and would have to immediately remove it, since their existence would disrupt all existing rp.



  • That book folks were reading talks all about creating a structured play space via among things constraints. So yeah, violating that structure and constraints is saying they don't want to play your game.

    The nasty bit comes when you meet people who don't want to just play their own game, but their game consists of wrecking yours.



  • @Apos said:

    How sandboxy is the game, really? The more it is, the less thematic purity matters. A lot of WoD games I feel like most of the characters have absolutely no impact on any of my characters whatsoever and vice versa. That's fine, it's not a criticism, just a design choice. But in those games even a character that's drastically out of step with the theme of the game might not be very noticeable to the player base at large.

    On a game that's not sandboxy at all, you just can't allow it and would have to immediately remove it, since their existence would disrupt all existing rp.

    Right. If the game is purely sandboxxy, then fuck it.

    But if the game has a theme, then agreeing to uphold the theme to the best of your knowledge (and being willing to take some artistic direction on how to uphold the theme) should be a part of your +I Agree



  • If the game focuses on keeping to a specific theme, then by all means stick to it as best you can if that's important to the running of the game. There's absolutely nothing wrong with trying to do that.

    If it's branching off into other directions by design, getting sandboxy already, that makes things murkier and you have to start considering what's okay and what's not. How far are things allowed to go off the beaten path? How much does a thing threaten to break immersion?

    When and if it comes to The Talk, be open and honest with whoever's not keeping to theme. Simply explain to them why what they're doing is breaking theme, why keeping to theme matters, list some possible repercussions of it, and give them the option to either knock it off or deal with some or all of those consequences.

    You should quickly find out how mature and/or interested in keeping to theme that person is afterward. If they're determined to knowingly do something that's not thematic, they COULD do it in private places with the understanding that it doesn't affect anything IC, but that still takes anyone involved in it knowing that going in. If they expect it to count, then assuming IC=IC, you get to put the Deal With It glasses on.



  • @tragedyjones said:

    As per my usual, I will primarily focus on Chronicles of Darkness (formerly nWoD) in this, but I believe this can be applied to many games.

    So you have a game. You put a lot of work into it. You build a theme you feel is awesome, and reflects how the game world should be.

    Then you have a player who fucks it all up. Maybe they are just reckless, a Vampire who is shitting all over the masquerade. Or a Mage who is just cruising through life in an invisible car. Or a werewolf who is betraying his pack to every dick slinging stud they meet. WHATEVER.

    So there are various ways this could be dealt with, and I am sure there are people who would bitch about whatever.

    Ignoring it may or may not be feasible, depending on how private the behavior is. This is especially easy if it is kept so secretive that no one finds out. And probably the best choice there.

    Another option is to try and discuss it with the player rationally and maturely OOC. Maybe offer an alternative.

    The other extreme is to have the IC world react, via NPCs and/or encouraged PCs. If someone is being blatantly stupid, maybe they are spoken to or given a punishment for their actions.

    What is fair? Is fair important?

    If someone IC breaks IC rules then they get IC consequences. Seems pretty simple to answer.

    If I act a fool and smack a cop, would I be shocked to wake up in jail? Not really nor should anyone in game assume they can do something that is against the rules/society norms and not be punished.

    I will say I love these people btw, cause then I get to kill them.


  • Admin

    If it's utterly stupid (you're apping aT800 Terminator for a Harry Potter game) then just say no. Point them at the wiki about what kinds of concepts are appropriate and just be ready to answer questions - newbies make mistakes, maybe they aren't trolling intentionally.

    If it's somewhat plausible but still wrong say no but offer ways to run something similar. If it's Shadowrun for example they can't play an evil robot from the future but maybe enough cybernetic parts will do the trick?

    If it's plausible but you are kinda getting butthurt because it's not exactly what you'd play, stay the hell away from it and let them play what they will. People won't invest creatively in your game if you interfere too much.

    That's about it, in my book.


  • Pitcrew

    So how about Marauder Gaian pooka? Those are okay, right? Or Pentex nockers? Kinain Malkavians? Kinain Malkavians who somehow managed to keep their connection to the Dreaming, even?



  • The conversation needs to happen. Theme is there for a reason. I agree with whats been said before but bears repeating. If they don't give a shit about your theme, they won't give a shit about your game.

    If it's being broken in something that maybe not plausable, but a "No, But.." compromise can be reached, on one hand that's not bad. But the problem is this, now you're entering the realm of 'case by case' basis. The second issue, is how much work you have to put into the idea conversion versus they contribute to it.

    I'm more willing to help out someone going 'Gotcha, what if I did X,Y, and Z with it instead?" especially if it's an honest attempt not just asking me the same thing rephrased differently tactic.



  • The gotcha really is interpretation of theme.

    Let's use WoD as an example. Vampires are dead. Even the books state (IIRC) that the rush from blood is better than sex and to make certain things happen that make sex possible (like BONERS and WETNESS) a vampire needs to spend blood. Logically, I would interpret this in theme to mean that not every vampire would use sex as a hunting mechanism, or the idea of spending precious blood to obtain precious blood might seem beneath certain vampire mentalities.

    I think most WoD players are aware of this concept. However, a lot of WoD players want their smutty scenes, too. IMO the better players will constantly keep these blood expenditures in mind, as well as that for the vampire, the blood might be more the goal than the hookup. Does this mean vampire PCs should never have sex? Naw. But I think when it comes to playing a vampire, the psychology, or practice of blood spends, behind this should be recognized.

    But if someone just wants to RP "sexy vampire vixen/maven number 2453" and gives zero fucks about overcoming their undead state, even if to not appear like a walking corpse in "Coffee House Scene #4376", are they breaking theme?

    This is where the staff/player slapboxing starts every time.


  • Admin

    @Ghost said:

    The gotcha really is interpretation of theme.

    Let's use WoD as an example. Vampires are dead. Even the books state (IIRC) that the rush from blood is better than sex and to make certain things happen that make sex possible (like BONERS and WETNESS) a vampire needs to spend blood. Logically, I would interpret this in theme to mean that not every vampire would use sex as a hunting mechanism, or the idea of spending precious blood to obtain precious blood might seem beneath certain vampire mentalities.

    You are right in that it's all about interpretation of theme. The correlation between vampirism and sexuality isn't cut and dried, there's been a lot of debate on this.

    But yes, what it comes down to is people want to roleplay sexual themes, and unless it can be demonstrated convincingly overriding that preference serves games I don't see why it ought to be enforced otherwise in any particular way.



  • Thus, it is important that all of the staff agree in the range of what is or is not important to the theme, make a synopsis of that available for incoming players to read, and then require players agree to roleplay within theme.


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