Sunday, August 4, 2013

Remedying Action Hero Syndrome Part 2

Last time I looked at possible causes for why the newer crop of players have wildly different mindsets than the grey bearded crowd.  A lot of it conjecture and anecdotal but if you get a chance take a look and see if any of it rings true.  This time I'd like to take a look at what I call remedying action hero syndrome.  What I often read on other OSR blogs is that the best way to show someone the way to play and old school game is to let them fall, let them die and eventually they'll learn their lesson.  Sure we instruct them to read Matt Finch's Primer first but for the most part we're letting them jump out the nest before their feathers have even come in so its not surprising when they fail miserably and often quit with negative perceptions of that style of play.  I'd like to explain how I try to handle things, through a much more gradual acclimation.

In my most recent game one of my players created a character to emulate Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series of games, which can be best described as an interactive action movie.  So it's no surprise that a character modeled after an action hero behaves like one.

One of the ways I like to address this problem is to put things into context.  Drake is quite formidable at ducking bullets and going mano-e-mano with special forces but even Drake can come to an early death if he gets too reckless.  There are times where he needs to take cover, times when he needs to abandon position and run for a new one, times when a quick batch of fisticuffs needs to be avoided because doing so would put you into an inevitable crossfire or demolished by a tank.

In Drake's introductory Vignette part of the scenery as he was heading over the bone hills was a visual of a bear in the not too far distance eating what was once an elven adventurer.  The bear was satisfied with what it had and would not be hostile so in effect it was merely a set piece, to show that the wildlife around here is more than enough for even a modest adventurer.

Drake: I want to  take down that bear!
DM: Are you sure?  This thing seemed to have made short work of this elf and the pair of arrows sticking out of its side don't seem to bother it at all.
Drake: Eh, I've got Nigel here to back me up.
DM: You know from experience that there is nothing Nigel loves more than leaving you high and dry.
Drake: Yeah well, what would Teddy Roosevelt do?
DM: Your funeral.

After trying to dissuade him it was best to just let him have it.  Rather than having him killing within the first few minutes of the session I had the bear play with him, it was a good way to allow new people to get a hang of the system.  After Drake was sufficiently wounded I let another player (who was not there) take over for the bear while Drake tried to scurry away.  It's easy to be objective when you hand the murderous reigns to someone else.  The enraged bear chased Drake into a tree where at the higher vantage point he got  a glimpse of what he and Nigel were looking for to begin with.  An ancient silver staff planted in the ground about 50 yards northeast in a valley of bone.  The remains of a great battle many years ago.  Nigel who refused to help so far went after the staff after Drake blurted it out so now it was time for some quick thinking.

Drake: Well, I can't defeat the bear.
DM: I thought that was obvious from the get go.
Drake: Yeah well I'm no wimpy elf so I had a shot.
DM: How do you plan on getting out of your current predicament.  In another round or two Max here is going to have the bear topple over your tree and then hes going to devour you with a side of honey.
Drake: Wait is there a beehive in this tree?
DM: (Rolling) Sure
Drake: Alright I want to use my whip to grab the bee hive and throw it at the bee.
DM: You think that the whip might crush the beehive before it even gets to the bear sending angry bees every which direction.
Drake: That's a risk I'm willing to take.
DM: You've already taken enough risks, do you really want to die before you even make it past the introduction.
Drake: Errr, well.  I guess I can just climb over and toss it down.
DM: Well you did make a character focused on climbing after all.

With a bit of a nod and a push it wasn't too hard to show Drake's player that this sort of behavior will at worst get you a fool's death and at the very least he would lose out on his primary quest objective.  Rather than letting him die off the bat with a handwave I gave him the time to slowly be whittled down, realize he needs to escape and then give him time and feedback on how to get out of this mess he bumbled his way into.

It Got Worse vs death by stupidity.  In later sessions whenever players would get stupid reckless rather than off them right then and there I would have them get captured, debilitated or rendered useless such that they became a liability or an additional burden on the rest of their party.  The social pressures here works wonders by reminding people this is a cooperative game and the more they grandstand and steal the spotlight the more likely they are to not only hurt themselves but their group as well.  Unless you're playing with complete jerks (which I often do mind you) they should realize this pretty easily.  Next up I'm going to talk about how I've remedying this with the party's intentionally moronic Barbarian.


  1. Sounds like the player of Drake is playing in the wrong game. I suspect he will become frustrated and leave.

    1. Actually all of this took place during Drake's intro-vignette about a year ago and I'm happy to report he's still playing and coming back for more. It's been his favorite fantasy campaign so far.

      You do bring up a good point though. This group has played through a whole gamut of different systems, genres and publishers and it's not always easy to transition from the mindset of a Star Wars game to an OSR one. If anything it falls to me to remind them of that more often.