A role-playing game like 5e D&D is at its core a game of turns.
Invited by a co-worker, I was one of two new players introduced to his weekly game. Instead of making new characters both Hank and I picked a pre-rolled Hero.
Being a player with thirty plus years of experience, I was ready to go! In a quick reading of the sheet, even though I haven’t played this version before, I was okay. I figured any mechanical questions I had during play would get answered as they come up.
It turns out the Hank was new gaming. I have played with many new players over the years. However, it didn’t take too long to realize that Hank was different. Sure he had lots of questions about the game and his character. Immediately he had issues with what I find as unimportant notes on the character sheet. Hank said that “The sheet says his eyes are green, but I want to have blue eyes.” He had lots of these points.
“Fine, not a problem,” the GM kept responding wanting to play.
After an explaining of the story and setting, we were finally playing. Our mission, to track down the thieves of a rare scroll. We were on the case!
After our Heroes ran around town for a bit, we discovered the scrounges. There is a chase, and it is a trap! Roll initiative. The thieves attack. Dices are being rolled. It is now my turn to act. Before I can speak, Hank asks, “Hey what is more powerful a Sword or a Mace? My sheet here says I have a Sword but I am thinking I want a Mace. So which is more powerful?”
Hank’s problem is typical of some new players. These players lose their social norms and start blurting out every random thought they have. They are not really listening to the GM or other players. They are involve with themselves. I call this Newbie Narcissism.
Although it isn’t that common, I have seen it several times to different degrees. It is my hope that once we as a community recognize this issue, we can work together to find ways to help address it.
Unlike true Narcissism, Newbie Narcissism often goes away with time. But it can be unpleasant. I am hoping to find strategies on how to help them out of this tunnel vision on themselves. In this way they can quickly adapt to the game without causing too many issues.
The following tale gives my suggestion. But I am open to other’s observation on how to address this issue.
Later that evening, when Hank’s Hero was unconscious, he kept telling us what he would do in each situation if he weren’t unconscious. When it was other player’s turns, before we could speak, Hank would be telling us what his character would want to do if he wasn’t unconscious. Every moment had to be about him.
Hank had issues to say the least. But there is something about the format of D&D that brings these issue out in some newer gamers. It is a recurring theme I have seen as a GM that has introduced a lot of players to the game.
Here is my theory.
At the heart of this problem is not recognizing that an RPG is a turn-based game. While we are free to talk and tell the GM our actions, we are taking informal turns. And we need to respect other people’s turns. When it is our turn, we need to be considerate and not linger.
In combat, the turn base design of the game is apparent. Unlike when problem-solving, exploration, or doing dialogue.
If you wouldn’t interrupt your boss at work, why would you interrupt your game mates? In life, we have social norms of not talking over each other and interruptions. These do not go away in the game. We take turns in real life speaking.
These social norms of communication do not go away in the game. For some reason, a lot of new players need to be reminded of this fact. In reality, even some experienced players could use this to be pointed out to them.
Another issue Hank had was a desire to make everything about himself. While we all have some narcissistic tendencies, I think the nature of new players getting “lost” in the game brings this issue to bear.
When I say lost in the game, I believe that experience players take for granted that they can visualize the story the GM paints for them. When the GM describes a setting, an NPC, or situation, we forget that for the new players it isn’t as easy for them to understand what is happening.
Since the new player has a harder time following the story, they focus on their character instead. For them, they have a more unobstructed view of their Hero. So this brings their thoughts always to themselves.
As a GM, a player like Hank will ruin the game for everyone. Unless Hank is a Narcissus in real life, it will destroy the game for himself as well. Everyone will lose.
In my case, I never found out how good of a GM my co-worker. I was not patience with Hank. His case was so extreme it is what started me to notice these tendencies. By the second session, I dropped out. Hank was too much for me.
Since that night, I have come to the conclusion that as GM this behavior needs to be immediately addressed. Right away, point out how they are ignoring social norms of taking turns. Once I have explained it as directly and clearly as possible, I would make sure they understood the correct time to ask me these questions.
I will work on getting them to focus on the story, by recapping recent events when it is their turn. I would ask how they are reacting to what is happening now.
Now it is possible that they will clam up, get offended, or leave. It could come to Hank getting defensive or even lashing out. Regardless, I would directly confront this behavior.
I do not think this gets resolved immediately or in one session. I do believe the outburst will become less frequent. Especially once Hank starts to follow the story better, has a better idea where others are in relationship to them, and has a better idea of how the game mechanics work.
But I still expect the occasional statement from Hank. If in the middle of the fight he blurts out, “I am thinking of changing alignment, (He did this while the GM was describing the effects of a spell)” I would not let that pass. I would address it by pointing out how it is appropriate at this time.
But if this continues, I would uninvite him to the game. A guy like Hank is going to ruin the game. Other players will not be having fun. They will lose interest. Hank will lose interest. The GM will lose interest. Newbie Narcissism kills games.
Finding players can be hard. I want to encourage more playing into the RPG world. But there is a sliver of society that doesn’t get it. Work with them, try to help them, but ultimately do not let them bring down your game. Kick them out if they cannot get it.
It is better to have a good game that brings in more players into the community that let a Narcissist ruin it.