Throughout this post, I'm going to refer to the Mystery Figure as "M-Fig" and the episode inside the nacelle as "The Encounter".
I've spent the past couple days reading, analyzing, and thinking over everything that's been said and done - a lot more than usual.
To start this off, I'm going to address what I'm sensing as a feeling of defensiveness among you (not from everyone of course). There seems to be some feeling that I might be attacking you, or perhaps scolding, or perhaps complaining about you, and I'd like to assure you all: that's not the case. I'm merely looking for feedback, and wasn't intending to complain or upset anyone:
I don't say this to offend or upset anyone, merely as an observational, utilitarian statement.
The fact that there has been so little roleplay recently (especially in a sequence that invited rich roleplay) leaves me "blind" in a sense, and leads me to suspect that - potentially - something is very wrong.
I'd like to hear what you have to say about that. That's the whole point of asking for feedback.
If possible, I would like to restart the process, but I can't without first knowing the reason. I need feedback. Can you guys help me out here?
I'm going to reiterate in what I hope will be a little bit clearer of a manner: I'm not here to judge or point fingers. I'm simply looking for answers, feedback, and opportunities to learn.
It's a learning experience for me. If possible, I'd like you guys to be able to learn from what I write here as well. Even if you don't, I'm sure someone out there will be able to learn from it anyway.
So, let's approach this anew. Everyone seemed to focus on one part of my post: "Nobody 'interacted' with M-Fig." This was not actually the focal point of the post: the point is an overall
lack of roleplaying. I'm going to split this up into three parts: my intentions
, the problems
, and the takeaway
. In each segment I'll give a condensed version of my thoughts and explain the important pieces of each. In some places I may draw back the GMing veil just a bit so it will be easier for me to put it into words, but I'm not killing the campaign by any stretch of the imagination, so I can't do it too much. Afterwards you guys can continue to ask questions if you'd like, and we can continue on with the campaign when everyone's ready.
So, let's begin! I'm going to start at what seems like a rather odd tangent, and we'll work our way to the main concepts from there.
A Little Background
To start with,
it is important to note that the skill ceiling for a GM is deceptively high - enough so that it is, quite honestly, mind-boggling - particularly for me, as a GM. After GMing for REKT for the past three years (yes, it's been three years!), we can say my skill as a GM is about... say... level 5. I'm a level 5 GM, in a system where each level costs 1000XP. Someone with the experience that Naed has is probably around, say, level 150 by this metric (actually a semi-realistic estimate: some advanced things he figures out in under a minute can take me half an hour to reason out myself). According to him, there are people out there so good at GMing that they may go up to level 2000, and possibly even higher. I am only just barely
scratching the surface of what is possible to learn, and it's taken me three years to get this far. I am not a good GM. I will say that plainly. I am a "decent" one, but not by any means an "excellent" one. (To be fair, you probably learn to react quite a bit faster in an in-person tabletop RPG setting than over the Internet.)
The difficulty of GMing increases with skill and knowledge; this means it never actually gets any easier unless you downsize. This is actually optimal and expected. Part of being a GM is constantly challenging yourself with new things so that you're able to learn. If you stop learning - if you cease trying new things - you grow stagnant and essentially "rot". You become "stale". You start making assumptions. Nothing new comes your way, so you begin to think you understand everything, because everything you're dealing with are things you fully understand; this gives the illusion that there's nothing new to learn. This is the path to becoming a bad
GM, because it means you stop listening to your players. As of writing this, I don't think I'm a bad GM. I hope I don't become one, either.
When you combine the previous two paragraphs, it becomes obvious: There is always
something new to learn. There is always
a new way to challenge yourself as a GM.
Just like for a GM, a player must constantly learn new things or he, too, grows stagnant and begins believing "I'm a great roleplayer! I can handle anything!" The skill ceiling for roleplaying is deceptively high for players - a lot like it is for GMs. There is always something new to learn - however, whereas for the GM it is almost entirely upon the GM to learn to improve, the player can both improve under their own power (trying new things, thinking about things) or with the GM's guidance - such as when the GM puts them in a new situation that challenges them. A decent GM sees it as their responsibility to guide players to new experiences - because, after all, learning and discovery is fun!
The history of "The Encounter"
According to the timestamps on my files, The Encounter has been in the works since December of 2016. (This is not a typo. 2016 is the right year.) I knew it would be tricky to roleplay, even right from the beginning. It's not something I'm used to doing, and it's a very different sort of situation than anything I've ever thrown at you guys. It was intended to be a challenge - as stated above, putting you in new situations (tuned to your ability of course) is part of my responsibility. It was also a challenge for me as well - M-Fig is a very logical character, as you noted, and not an emotional one; this kind of character does not come naturally to me. Neither does writing mysterious elements. There were more ways this challenged me, but I probably won't get into that here; I can only draw back the "GM veil" so far before spoiling things.
Previously in REKT, I usually give you the answers to things. You know exactly where your character stands in relation to his or her world. Any puzzles have been constrained to the "mechanical" variety - for instance, "How do I get from A to B without being spotted", "What's the best way to take down a Megaturret", "How do I draw out the enemy," "How do we protect the Science Vessel while our troops are on it without getting killed". These puzzles are based on gameplay mechanics
, and I must say, you guys have gotten very good at solving them. However, The Encounter was a puzzle based on roleplay
. I knew it would be something new for my players because I've not given you this sort of puzzle before. It would be a completely new experience, and probably require some more "experienced" players to "solve it".
This is why I gave it to squad Beta, rather than Alpha. If we count GTD Mission 3 as a half-completed mission, and the auditions as a quarter-mission, then the amount of in-mission REKT playtime is roughly as follows:
- Squad Alpha: 8 completed missions total, or 1.45 on average
- Squad Beta: 14.75 completed missions total, or 3.05 on average
That's why I gave the Encounter to Squad Beta: I expected 3 of my very oldest players to be there. (I won't name which ones.)
For those of you that are a bit incredulous right now:
"Wait, what?" a couple of you have said. "How can you know exactly where my character will be so far before the campaign even started? I thought I chose what squad my character would be in." Well, you did. That's very true, you did. I didn't have any control over that at all.
(Please understand the following is not meant to be condescending. I'm simply stating facts.)
As the GM, I spend more time thinking about and planning REKT than any one of you. I have to, honestly. That's part of my job. In order to keep a step (or more) ahead of you and keep things fun, immersive and challenging, I have to spend enough time that I can counter any gap in intelligence between myself and any one of my players - and I have no qualms about admitting that some of you are more intelligent than I am.
So as a GM, you get used to analyzing everything. You analyze players, you analyze characters. You plan for every possible outcome, even the unlikely ones. Your game-related intuition gets honed to a sharpness that seems, honestly, impossible (Naed, for instance, still regularly surprises me). Some players are still "wild cards" (Silverware for instance) but others take a more logical approach, or one more oriented at having fun, or learning, or trying new things, or goofing off, or whatever it may be depending on the player and situation. With enough thought, I can reason things out a little distance into the future and make semi-accurate predictions about who will go where.
As you can see, Beta has roughly twice the "gameplay time" that Alpha does. I was hoping that Beta's increased experience would permit them to handle the challenge a lot better than Alpha would. Some things didn't turn out exactly as I expected, but for the most part, everything fell into place as I'd planned it.
This was my first mistake, I think. I'll explain why in the next segment. My intentions should be completely clear now, though, at least in regards to "playability". I wanted to try something new and work an experiment into the plot. It was handled as well as I could handle it - and I in fact spent many
hours trying to make sure everything was "just right". (That was actually the cause of some of the delays over the past several turns.) Unfortunately, I ran into a series of problems, many of my own making.
I'll start with the problems that were my fault first.
First off, the fact that I gave The Encounter to Beta's players rather than Alpha's players was a mistake to begin with. The challenge would've sat better with Alpha, who had less experience.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I am not saying Beta is any "worse" than Alpha by any means! I am simply saying that they have more prior experience with playing REKT, and in this case, that's a bad thing. This seems highly counterintuitive, and it is, which is how I made the mistake in the first place. Also note that I'm not getting on to anyone: everything any of you did was reasonable if viewed from your perspective.
As mentioned above, The Encounter should've been given to Alpha, who had less experience. The reason for this is assumptions
. I'm going to put that down as its own part here:
The increased "play experience" had permitted players to make more assumptions on how REKT was "meant" to be played. I'm going to pick out five example sentences from the previous five posts. This is not to point fingers!
I simply need examples of what I'm talking about so that it's easier for me to explain.
- So, the answer to "why didn't you interact with him more" would be "he never responded to anything, so we didn't assume he would respond to anything at all". ((That's an assumption - both that he never responded in a useful manner, and that he wouldn't respond to anything at all.))
- The second time, Bob had calmed down but by then the guy looked pretty non-threatening. Bob also heard a hissing sound and decided that the hissing sound was more interesting than listening to a random guy who is saying stuff that Bob has difficulties with to understand. ((Not available to underline: I didn't actually know that Bob thought the guy looked non-threatening. I had no way of knowing as nothing was ever said to that effect, which was another assumption: that I knew what Bob was thinking.))
- I tried interacting and got nothing but vague, utterly unhelpful and uninformative statements, if he bothered to respond at all. ((This is actually also an assumption. Even when M-Fig didn't respond, it was actually still helpful, and helped shape your perception of him.))
- As to the role-play, I was positively terrified of the mystery man, and had a strong feeling that poking him would produce a disastrous result. I tried interacting with him, but got a mathematician's answer to my question, so I thought we won't be able to get absolutely anything out of him anyway. ((It was an assumption that poking him would be disastrous, and an assumption that you wouldn't get anything out of him. It was also an assumption that you tried interacting with him, but that's complicated and I'll get into that soon.))
- G-Man seemed like the crazy rambling version of a random NPC who spouts stuff when talked to but isnt going to do much of value. ((M-Fig "seemed like" - he may not actually have been, but it was assumed he was. It was also assumed he wouldn't do anything of value.))
Each of you made assumptions of your own variety largely fueled by your past experiences with REKT
. This is no fault of your own, honestly, and merely a side effect of having played REKT for so long. It's also part of being human: we make assumptions about our environment so that we can interact with it. With these assumptions, you've formed a "picture" in your mind of what REKT "should be". M-Fig did not
fit in that picture. To point out some of the assumptions you've made, as a group:
- You assumed that, when he did answer, he was not giving any information
- You assumed M-Fig wouldn't give you any information at all
- You assumed M-Fig was non-hostile
- You assumed that attacking him would cause him to hurt you
- You assumed M-Fig was not human
- You assumed that he didn't answer because he didn't "want" to answer
- You assumed M-Fig was planning to kill you
- You assumed that attacking him would get you killed
- You assumed I would "give you the answers" to your questions, much as if I'd presented you with a new gameplay mechanic
- You assumed M-Fig was unable to be harmed by human weapons
- You assumed that it was a "cutscene" and nothing you did would have any effect
- You assumed M-Fig was either omnipotent, omniscient, or otherwise supernatural
Some of the above assumptions were correct, and others, incorrect. These are just a few of the main ones, but they should get the idea across.
This is where I failed.
I failed to help you adjust, and I made assumptions of my own: I assumed it wouldn't be that difficult to acclimate to such a new situation. I was wrong there. I also failed to pull you guys aside from the start, as I should have, to say,
This is going to be something new. You haven't come across anything like this before, and events may not transpire as you expect them to. Try to approach it with fresh eyes.
I should have said that, yes. I realize that now. At the time, I didn't realize it was necessary.
I am sorry for not keying you guys in to the fact that things would be rather "different" for the encounter. The fault of that is entirely on me, and I apologize.
Now, rewinding a bit to the list above: "You assumed that, when M-Fig did
answer, he was not giving you any information." In actuality, every time I answered with him, you learned something from it. It wasn't a straightforward answer, of course. For instance, when Ishmael asked, "So, do we know you?" M-Fig answered with "You do not." This, at face value, doesn't seem like it imparts any information, when in fact it does: it conveys that (for whatever reason) he doesn't want to give his name, does not feel that he has to, or did not understand that it was a question. This is something that isn't gained directly, but every one of you picked up on it subconsciously - such as how everyone assumed he was well above your level without me even having to say so. However, some part of your group mistakenly attributed it to me
, rather than M-Fig: "Tal doesn't want us to know who he is." That's an assumption: I might have wanted you to know who he is, but he
did not want you to, or perhaps he didn't want to tell you, or didn't care to, or didn't understand the question, or any number of things depending on context.
I failed to point this out. I should have, in hindsight, but with M-Fig I tread a dangerously narrow path because of how the puzzle is roleplay based
: Too little info, and you're in the dark. However, even the slightest slip on my part (even, as in a few instances, even the choice of a single word
) had the potential for you to suddenly figure him out, ruining the long-term plot I'd laid out. As I've said before, you are all highly intelligent people. Some of you are smarter than I am. It's all too easy for you to figure things out if you put your minds to it. I had to be careful.
...however, I was too
The reason all this occurred in the first place is largely on my shoulders. Over the past few days, I've realized that: I've gone back through your posts in this thread and carefully analyzed them, and back over the past month of posts in the mission thread. Now I understand it all a lot more clearly, and I can keep it from happening again. In short, I've learned from it.
Next, I'm going to go over the main issues that led me to realize that there was a problem in the first place.
Beta, as a group, did not properly roleplay during the Encounter. I say this to every member, no exceptions. I don't say it to scold or be mean. What happened was a natural reaction, as I'll later explain. It's not surprising and it's something I should have expected.
Before we go any further, stop here.
Think back and remember all the times your characters shared their thoughts with each other on M-Fig. Try to find what all these instances have in common. I'm not going anywhere - I can wait. Stop reading, lean back, try to figure it out.
Did you do it yet?
You done? If yes, continue reading.
The answer is: It never happened.
Your characters did not discuss M-Fig with each other during the encounter even once. The only time anyone came close is Caleb, when he was refuting something Gearhead said (without actually saying what he
cuisinart8 wrote: ↑
Sat Apr 07, 2018 12:09 pm
"If you'd been here a couple of minutes ago, you'd see this isn't some ordinary 'pro-xeno traitor,' Gearhead."
I'll explain this in just a moment, but in short: This left me blind to what your characters were thinking about M-Fig and The Encounter at large. Not only that, it's also not in the spirit of an RPG, which is about roleplay and inter-character interaction. There was no inter-character interaction except regarding Bob, and only when he either scared himself, or got hurt.
Speaking of Bob getting hurt...
After the fact, I consulted four different people (who will remain nameless) about their thoughts on the explosion that hurt Bob. All of them said they assumed it was M-Fig's doing, Those of them that were also in Beta said they assumed their characters thought so as well. One of you even yelled, "What did you do to him?!"
At least one of your characters has the personality of defending their allies no matter the cost. Not only that, more than one of you originally told me it would be in-character for your character to attack him if he started attacking anyone in Squad Beta. Thus, when this happened, you were acting out of character.
When M-Fig disappeared and everybody shrugged and left, this was also acting out of character. You would've given more reaction to a strange noise I happened to mention, and yet you said absolutely nothing about an apparently omniscient being (by your own assumptions)? Regardless of whether you had the mission to think about, your characters would have at least
said, "Oh guys, that noise! What do you think it is?" "No idea, it sounds nasty! Something's probably up ahead!" "Yeah, we'd probably better be careful!" Except... there was nothing said at all other than "Well, that was weird, but whatever."
Let me outline the main tenets of RPG roleplay:
- Do not harm the other members of your party, even if you're evil. Even evil has allies.
- Never metagame. What you as a player know, your character may not know. Even "leaning on the fourth wall" is qualified as metagaming and is bad. To avoid metagaming, have a reasonable reason for doing everything you do. This "roleplaying away" of metagaming can work, but keep in mind that the GM has the final say in such a situation.
- When you roleplay, behave as your character might act, even if it's not in your character's best interests. If you ever say or imply that your character would act a certain way in a specific situation, I will expect you to follow through.
- Do not behave as your character would probably not act, even if it's something you would do, yourself, in the situation.
- If you do something "odd" you must explain or "interpret" your actions: you explain the reasoning behind it. This is especially true in a tabletop setting: in a tabletop game, the player is fully in charge of interpreting their actions. However, in a non-tabletop RPG like REKT, the GM (me) needs to have enough info to interpret the actions himself, because I'm writing things out like a story or novel. I have to be able to "interpret" your action so that I can write it out in a story format and have it "make sense". This can take some of the work off of your shoulders, but it is still necessary either way. If I, the GM, cannot find sufficient "foundation" for one of your actions, and I don't think to get ahold of you (I'm not required to), I'll do one of three things:
Those are my only real options.
- I'll pretend it didn't happen
- I'll make something happen that interrupts it or keeps it from happening
- I'll make your character look stupid to put it in a different light
- Interact with other characters. Out-of-character interaction "does not happen" in the game world. At a tabletop RPG, you are typically not allowed to talk at the table out-of-character except for asking questions about mechanics. In REKT, you can still do that. This makes it even more imperative that your characters discuss things in view of the GM, even if it echoes a conversation that's already been held, because while you can talk elsewhere (IRC, PMs), inter-character interaction is feedback, and feedback is absolutely essential for the GM to be able to plan, execute, direct, control, balance, manipulate, tweak, scale, and everything else regarding the players. As mentioned before: If there is no inter-character interaction, the GM is effectively blind. Sometimes you may feel like it's a weird time for your characters to talk to each other, such as when you're facing down an enemy or "short on time". If you ever think you need to keep from discussing things between characters because of this, you are wrong. That's all there is to it. Comic-book rules apply: Talking is a free action, and enemies cannot hear you when you discuss plans (at least when your GM is at all decent or needs it to tell a story). (NOTE: If there are no other characters present to interact with, thinking to yourself will work fine in REKT. There are other ways that this can work in a tabletop RPG, usually by holding some sort of "doodad" to signify they are thinking.)
There is more, of course, to good roleplaying, but these are the most important rules to follow.
It's particularly important to note that roleplaying here differs significantly from a tabletop, in both the ways I've mentioned before, and most importantly: the lack of body language. A tabletop GM is able to monitor the reactions, expressions, motions, and general mood of those around him even if they are completely silent
. I, as an online GM, am not. I rely on what you post. If what all you post are for the most part actions and non-roleplay phrases, I might as well be sitting at a table of mirrors. Another important thing to remember - and this one is so important that I'm going to put it in a larger font:
Actions alone do not constitute roleplaying.
In the past four turns, members of Beta have broken (of the tenets above) all of them except for #1. What was originally intended as a fun-but-challenging experience became a very difficult slog
for me, because, honestly, Beta's roleplaying went wild. Even if you guys didn't, it most certainly did. I'll explain later why this isn't necessarily unexpected. However...
During the past four turns, I felt completely blind and felt as though I was stumbling through a pitch-black room.
I hope you guys are still with me so far. I'm not trying to point fingers, and I would like to re-iterate just to be clear: I am the main cause of this problem.
I'm not blaming you guys.
Why you felt lost
It's quite simple, really, if you look at it from a particular perspective.
REKT has always been about "answers" and never much about finding
those answers. If there was a puzzle, it was typically fairly simple to figure out, or figuring it out was a straightforward process that required, at most, a bit of creativity. Sometimes you even went to me to ask and I straight out told you the answers (which is undoubtedly what some of you expected me to do this time). I have never before put you in a situation where there was no answer.
That has always been a core part of REKT.
Thus, when you, the older, more experienced players, were put in such a situation: you had no idea what to do. You shut down. You stopped talking to each other. You stopped roleplaying.
Your roleplaying became broken, disjointed, and filled with flaws. You stumbled around in the dark just as I later did because you were so sure
there was an "answer" to it: "M-Fig must
be here for a purpose, but I don't understand that purpose! Perhaps Tal will tell us what his purpose is." And then you all sat down and waited patiently for me to explain his purpose: just like the good players you are. At any point in the past, when I confronted you with something new, I had always explained its purpose for you. As you saw it, why would this be any different?
Except, this time around, there was
no clearly-defined "purpose" - such that I was going to reveal. M-Fig will show up later, as I'm sure some of the more genre-savvy players here could surmise. He is merely here as foreshadowing.
I still would've let you interact with him in many ways, but there were no particular ways that I "wanted you" to interact with him. For instance, a lot of you wondered about attacking him. I would have allowed you to attack him, and I probably wouldn't have killed or even maimed any of you for that. Slight spoilers I suppose? But it doesn't matter, what's done is done. I'm not disappointed with how things turned out. I really just lack feedback, that's all.
How could you have avoided feeling lost?
Keep an open mind. There will always
be a reason anything happens in the REKT setting. Everything has a meaning. Everything has a purpose - perhaps not always one you'll immediately understand, but if you stay sharp and keep your wits about you, you'll be an excellent player. Being a player has a very
high skill ceiling, as I mentioned near the start of this post, and the best way to grow is to always be open to learning anything you can.
Although I've apologized for not doing so, I didn't necessarily "have to" tell you that things would be "different" during the encounter. Had you been open-minded enough, you could've come to the conclusion that M-Fig was a plot character being foreshadowed. You might also have come to the conclusion that I probably
wouldn't have killed you unfairly for attacking him - wouldn't that just discourage you from interacting with strange NPCs in the future?
What I'm saying is: This isn't the core place that I was at fault. Although it certainly would've helped if I'd pulled you aside beforehand, you as players could have overcome it, had you had a more open mind (as Alpha probably would have, because they are still too "new" to have firm "expectations" or "assumptions" for REKT.
What can you do in the future if you're unsure of how to handle a situation such as this one?
Exactly what you did
do: come to me and tell me what's wrong. Say you don't understand how to proceed. Don't ask for answers. Don't ask questions. Simply state that you're confused and feel you need a little nudge in the right direction. Some of you did this. Some of you implied it. Others said that you wanted answers to M-Fig's questions and said it was a requirement to proceed. I mistakenly assumed (there's that word again!) that if I said nothing, you could change what you were doing, open your mind, and try new things. Obviously, I was wrong. Perhaps you might have if I'd allowed The Encounter to continue for longer, but as I stated previously: without inter-character interaction and an absence of "real" roleplaying, I was fully in the dark.
I didn't know if you were growing tired of the encounter. I didn't know if you were irritated, or bored, or anything like that. When stumbling around in the dark in a situation like that, the only option I have is to try to wrap things up and bring things "back to normal". However, in this instance, it was a major plot point, so I was hoping
I could get some feedback after wrapping it up. I did not receive said feedback.
In short: Some of you guys came to me and said you were confused. I should have listened instead of expecting you to figure things out on your own. I failed you guys, and I'm sorry.
This is the core part of where I failed you as a GM. I am very, very intensely sorry.
I'm still learning. I'm doing the absolute best by you guys that I can, though! I took the past several days off to study everything that has happened from the mission thread to this one (in excruciating, mind-numbing detail that you wouldn't believe), and analyze everything very thoroughly
. I'm learning as much from this incident as I can to try to help keep anything like this from happening again. Maybe you guys can learn something from it too? Perhaps, and that would be great! As I've said, that's part of my responsibility, especially to "newer" players.
In the future, I will pull you aside and tell you something like, "This is going to be very
different. Keep an open mind, and be ready to try new things." I think that would (hopefully) be enough to let you manage in a "new" situation like The Encounter.
"The Encounter" certainly won't become the norm. I never intended it to. There will probably be other "new" situations like this one in the future, but to this extent? I cannot say. At any rate, REKT will continue being the same old REKT you know and love (hopefully love, at least) - aside from me constantly trying to push you into new situations, of course. I do like making you guys uncomfortable.