Monday, January 26, 2015

Constant Communication

I recently encountered a situation which, to be honest, through me for a loop.

Yes, the unflappable me.

A player in a game I was running, who is himself a fellow GM (and an excellent one at that), had an issue with splitting the party in our adventure. It rubbed him the wrong way for a reason I'd yet to have heard before.

He didn't like the idea that PCs in separate areas kept an open communications channel so that they could just talk to each other all the time. Simultaneously however, he was totally OK with player shouting ideas across the table, while their characters were no where near each other.

Call me a grognard (how often does THAT happen?), but the latter rubs me the wrong way, in a big way. Players in most of my previous groups would never go for that, as it breaks the verisimilitude.

As a player, it would take me out of the game. If my PC is in the engineering section of a starship facing off against an alien intruder, sure I want to tell the captain and the security officer what's going on. Of course I want some back up! But they don't know until they know, regardless of whether, or not their players are sitting right in front of me.

Likewise, if my best buddy's character is in trouble, or my character's best buddy is in trouble, Adam the player wants desperately to do something, but if my character can't get there in time, or doesn't even know what's going on, there is little I can do.

To me, this is metagaming of the worst kind. In my opinion, it makes all the work to create a living, breathing milieu lack legitimacy.

On the other hand, I find the idea of the PCs keeping in constant contact via communications gear completely understandable. Be it headsets inside their space suits, open channel communicators, or superhero telepathic networks, if they have a way of staying in touch, let them stay in touch. What's the big deal?

Instead, you end up having to create some forced contrivance for why the whole party must always move together at all times.

Player: "We can't split into team A on the surface, and team back on the ship, because we need to be able to have a huge conversation at a moments notice."

GM: "So use your communicators."

Player: "No, that's not cool."

GM: "Wha...?"

I think there are a number of minor difficulties in getting the split party technique to work, but as I've stated before, it can be done. Quite effectively I might add. It isn't always easy, but it isn't nearly hard as GMs and players make it out to be.

Moreover, as least for me, it needs a less arbitrary reason why it isn't feasible.

I get that my buddy doesn't like the open 'comm' thing stylistically, I can respect that, but the other three or four guys seemed to think it was reasonable.

A happy compromise would be that PCs can use an open channel, but only for a limited time, or only a certain number of times per adventure. Perhaps they have to spend a Drama or Hero Point. I sort of hate that, as it sounds like game mechanic-y, D&D crap, but it might be the way to go.

The thing I will say that is a major positive, is that my friend, the rest of the group, and myself were all able to do a debriefing session as the end of the game. We all aired our preferences, and differences, and we are more likely to see improvement as a team going forward than this one session reflected.

Sometimes a campaign with a new group (or any group for that matter) is smooth sailing, sometimes it's choppy seas. However, as long as player and gamemaster alike are willing to talk about thing out, the trip should get better, and better.

The key...constant communication.

Barking Alien


  1. I have to agree with you on this one. His rationale seems strange.

    My personal experience is that my players' interest in splitting the party is directly related to the level of communication they can maintain. If the players can maintain constant contact, they will split the party; If they can't they won't.

  2. "He didn't like the idea that PCs in separate areas kept an open communications channel so that they could just talk to each other all the time. Simultaneously however, he was totally OK with player shouting ideas across the table, while their characters were no where near each other. "

    That would have been a first for me too. What a strange way of thinking about things.

    1. I attribute his dislike of the open comm idea to be a combination of seeing it from a GMs perspective, and the fact that in TV Shows, and comic books that just don't normally do that even though they explicitly show that they have the technology to do so.

      The second half comes from still wanting a free exchange of ideas, from a player's viewpoint. If he has a great idea for something that could help his teammate, the guy across the table checking out an alien artifact, he wants to just be able to say it out loud with no issue.

      To me that's wanting your cake, eating it too, but being upset I say it's OK for everyone to carry around little packs of hostess cakes so that can have some anything they want.

      Yes, it is strange. He is a very particular fellow. That said, he's a great guy don't get me wrong. One of my best pals lately. It's a matter of getting used to each person's idiosyncrasies.

  3. I'm always getting on my players about reacting to events in the game to which their players are not privy. At its core, it is often players with dominant personalities trying to run noviate or passive players' PC's, or to put it another way, a control issue.

  4. Replies
    1. On the contrary!

      See, the overall game went well. We hit some snags, and we addressed them right away. Then at the end of the session we talked about how to do it better next time.

      This one fellow had this one issue, but it wasn't only this one guy, nor was it strictly the players that made this one go less than perfectly. I am at fault too. There was one bit of information that was key to the plot that I didn't make nearly as clear as I could have. The after talk was for everyone, and benefitted everyone.

      The final word from the group was that everyone had a good time, and they're looking forward to the next one. It takes more than a few bumps, and bruises to ruin a good game with great people.