I’ve noticed something about my own players and several others that I’ve shared a table with over the last two years, a phenomenon that I’ve not been able to deduce the whys and wherefores of. It might be a strictly local trend, one that doesn’t occur elsewhere, but it could also be indicative of the way the game has changed after the release of the 3rd edition. Maybe you’ve seen this happen too.
My players don’t ask a lot of questions in-game. This is completely alien to me because that’s all I ever do when I’m playing. Maybe it’s because I’m a referee or a designer or simply because I play these games to temporarily lose myself in the fantasy we create and becoming invested in the shared world makes it easier to do so. Most of my players, however, and others that I’ve gamed with are seemingly content to lay back and assume a completely submissive role in the play experience. Unfortunately, this can be fatal to their characters.
Here’s a recent example: I was running a quick filler game using the material I created for my Out of the Box campaign. It got off to a good start with the players going to the tavern and one making an inquiry about any recent goings on in the area. The barkeep revealed that some settlers had been attacked on the road recently, and had been kidnapped by forces unknown. I was happy. The guys were interacting with the campaign world at large, which was a big step forward for some of them. But then old habits kicked in.
They learned that the local temple couldn’t provide any healing potions, but heard a rumor that a witch in the woods might be able to. Rather than ask any more questions, they figured they’d just stumble around in the woods for a while and run into her. Things got worse after they decided to leave the safety of the keep and go dungeon-crawling. There were three options on a map that a local had, all of which were merely names on a paper. The party picked one at random and headed for it, not even pausing to see if anyone knew anything about the site they had chosen. As it turned out, the dungeon they picked was scaled for 3rd level characters and the expedition resulted in a massacre.
The same tendency occurs during the actual adventure. In my Stonehell game, the PCs occasionally encountered phenomenon or items that they didn’t recognize. Occasionally a player might ask something like, “Does my magic-user know anything about this?” or “As a dwarf do I recognize that?” When I answer “No,” they seem to take that as “No and you never will.” The thought of seeking out an NPC expert doesn’t even occur to them.
Compare this to my approach in the Labyrinth Lord game I’m participating it. We were running through the Village of Hommlet and the party, after learning of the Moathouse, decided to head out there and loot it. Immediately. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I cried. “Let’s see if we can’t learn a thing or two before we go out there.” My magic-user asked around town and learned of the backstory behind the Battle of the Moathouse and talked to a few soldiers who had been there that day. In doing so, he got a rough sketch of the exterior and learned that there was a single known dungeon level underneath the fort. He also got Rufus to kick in some troops and offer up a bounty for exploring the place. Sometimes knowing these little facts and whether you’re bound to run into goblins instead of orcs can save lives, especially fragile, 1st level lives.
After a bad run in with the frogs, my magic-user consulted with the local druid, thinking that if anyone could offer some advice about giant frogs, he’d be the guy. This lead to us getting a magic orb that created a cloud of monstrous flies and helped draw off some of the big batrachians in our path.
Maybe I’m just an exemplary player or perhaps reading all those “advice to the players” articles in Dragon back in the day stuck in my brain. Whatever the case, I’m just not seeing this trend in the gamers I’ve been playing with and I’m wondering why. Is it merely because they are “poor” players or is this symptomatic of a larger cause? Have video games that feed the players tidbits of information at predetermined points made gamers more passive? Did including a “Gather Information” skill make players think that the only way to get important information was to make a skill check and when that skill is missing from their plate of options they believe that information is unavailable? Am I a sucky referee who runs a game that provides no impetus for the players to peer beyond the surface? I really don’t know.
This had been on my mind a lot lately, mostly because I’m re-examining what types of games I enjoy running and because of some changes in my regular group. I look at Jeff Rient’s Twenty Questions and part of me wonders if it’s even worth answering them if nobody’s going to make those inquiries in the first place. This also explains my request that folks interested in play testing not “lay back and think of England” but get excited and get involved. A great deal of my lack of enthusiasm for continuing to run Labyrinth Lord comes from this absence of investment in the shared world we’re supposed to be creating around the table.
I’m not trying to be harsh or rude to my players, but it’s something that I have noticed in the year and a half we’ve been together. Not from all of them, but enough that it affects me and my own interest in running a game. And with my plan to introduce a new setting/game that I consider to be my most personal and immersive campaign ever, these concerns make me think that this is not the right time or group to do so.
Am I alone in noticing this trend in gamers, especially younger ones? Is this a singular phenomenon or has this affected your own games as well? I’d really like to diagnose this affliction and see what might be done to address it.