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In our group (specifically Pathfinder), we have a player who's playing a master summoner (a very squishy class), and doesn't understand that his character can't solve every problem like the rest, especially the rogue. IRL, he's not the brightest bulb in the shed (we believe him to have a mild form of Asperger's), but since he's family, we can't exactly bar him from playing. Every encounter we expect him to die, and our GM has all but given up on trying to teach him how to play properly.

For example, every time the party rogue sneaks out to scout, he immediately tries to follow, and almost immediately fails his stealth check, causing the rogue to take hits and hate the player and his character for it (thanks to a plot element set by the GM, the rogue is especially ill-disposed to taking hits [he transforms into Wrath incarnate until the attacking target is killed]). When the party's Cleric (the tank of the 3-man group), heads into combat, he tries to ride his eidolon alongside for a few rounds until he's knocked out.

When told why this behavior is a problem he shrugs and acts like he understands, but then continues this pattern at the next opportunity, as if he's completely forgotten or deliberately disregarded the conversation. When asked why he keeps making these choices, he says something like, "It's what I want to do", gives us a blank stare, or insists that he can be a jack-of-all-trades.

Does anyone have any experience dealing with a player like this, or have any solutions to effectively teach him how either his class, or the game as a whole, should be tactically approached?

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4 Answers 4

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Roles Can Be A Bummer

Making actions/options not available to people can force people out of the magic circle pretty quickly. Sure, roles can help people feel special, but it can go overboard. This does not mean that the rogue shouldn't be stealthy, or that the cleric can't be tank-y, but not being able to use or do something because of an arbitrary class restriction breaks the circle, which means less fun for everyone.

Sometimes, multiple people actually can do the same thing, and that should happen sometimes. If every task you throw at the player characters cannot be accomplished except for 1 person's specialization, it may be a harder adventure than these players (as a group) are fit for. Not that there can't be a situation where you need a particular player to do a something, but that it shouldn't happen all the time.

Perhaps It is a Matter of Perception

So maybe this player is simply just does not imagine the same thing you do. You can try to re-enforce what you envision by describing what is going on. Is she/he making informed choices? Does she/he realize what the gravity of the situation, or how her/his character has certain strengths?

Does this player realize the cleric is running around in thick armor, while that player's character is running around in normal clothes? For example, if I think the cleric is running around in normal clothes, and goes into combat and comes out unscathed, I could run in my normal clothes, and also come out unscathed.

If this is the problem, you simply need to be more descriptive! Describe how the cleric is wearing armor, or how the rogue is especially cat-like, and how this player's character is not.

For Games Which Depend On Roles

It may be time to have your other players step up. Have the cleric yell at the other character to stay back, or that the cleric "has this." Alternatively, the cleric may ask "PEASE SUMMON THIS TO HELP ME!" as he charges in.

If the rogue attempts to sneak around, the rogue can give specific instructions; "Can you make a distraction over there?" "Wait here, and if I'm not back in 15 minutes, go get the others to rescue me." Or even: "this looks super dangerous. I don't think you'll make it. We don't want to get ourselves killed, yeah?"

In short, give him tasks, or have the other players give him tasks to help with things. Talking is a free action in combat; use it. This is especially good for players who may be experiencing some mental handicap; it gives them something concrete to act on. It allows them to contribute (which feels great and is fun) without going through negative experiences.

Finally, a player or the DM can specifically highlight when certain actions will require a specific specialization, and who has that training. If it becomes obvious that a task is dangerous and requires training, then most people leave it to the person with the training. The DM can further forbid people without specialization from trying, stating that it's obviously too hard. This is more "hand-holdy" than some people like it, but sometimes people just need their hands held.

Talk About It

Talk with the player about the roles. What is her/his character good at? What should she/he focus on? These other characters have something special about them, what is she/he special at?

Talk about how their character is so good at magic/whatever else, and how they should try to make their magic/whatever else be the solution for the current situation. (After all, we're solving these situations using our strengths, use your strengths to help solve it!)

Tough Love

Finally, you may have to resort to letting the consequences of this player's action happen. Let the events, despite other character's best efforts, happen. Talk about how that character was not focusing on what they were good at, or how their play-style does not match up well with the class they chose. Make a new character that does okay at everything, such as most games' version of a "bard." Note: this does not mean make a character who is rule-breaking and superior to all the others, but one that stands a decent chance at performing many things, and isn't a large risk to the success of most tasks.

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What makes you think this is a suspension of disbelief issue at all? Nothing in the OP even mildly hints at that. This is someone playing a guy with no combat training trying to hurl himself into melee battles, someone with no stealth training dicking the heels of a master spy and blowing his cover. It's actually 'outside the magic circle' (i.e. 'suspension of disbelief') that this person would a) exist b) do those things repeatedly. It's unrealistic. –  Jack Lesnie Jun 18 at 17:42
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It's about what is going on the problematic person's head. That's part of the magic circle. Is the master spy stealthy in their head? Is the cleric a warrior in their head? It's about getting these fictional characters in their head, or getting the player into the magic circle. Once there, your points become obvious; I wouldn't sneak about with a master spy, but I would sneak about with the player fat joe, because fat joe isn't stealthy! (No offense to OP) People outside the magic circle make bad choices as viewed by those within it. –  PipperChip Jun 18 at 17:53
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If someone wants to be a master wizard, a master warrior, and a master spy, as good as other people in the group at those tasks that those people are specialized in, they want to be the hero and for everyone else to be the supporting cast. That's a dick move. Knowing that you are bad at these things and doing them anyway is a dick move. Unless the character he is playing is literally insane (does not view reality correctly), in which case he should have cleared that with the GM, these actions are outside the scope of the game being played. –  Jack Lesnie Jun 18 at 18:03
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+1 for getting the characters to do something about it. It completely makes sense that the rogue would be pissed off with someone clattering around behind him, as well as the rogue player. –  starsplusplus Jun 18 at 23:08
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Why is everybody focusing on the Roles and not the Character ? Since when a role defines a characters RP actions ? Maybe his character wants to help so hard, that he acts without consideration of his skills ? In that case it's the other players who are wrong about telling him how to role play his OWN character. I think these players should begin playing their characters instead of pre-determined stereotypes, and take advice from that 'mentally handicapped' who is doing thing right... –  Saffron Jun 20 at 14:20
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“This isn't fun anymore.”

Stop the game. Put it on pause. Say "I'm stopping the game. Let's pause here. We need to talk."

You have a player who is unable or refusing to play according to the general agreement of how the group will play. Put that on the table without accusation. "We're trying to play a game together here, and that means we all need to cooperate. This isn't fun anymore, because we're not cooperating." You don't need to accuse him, you don't need to say that he is making the game un-fun. Just that the game isn't fun anymore.

“How can we start having fun again?”

Put this out there as an honest question. How can you all work together to have a game that everyone can have fun with? You have one player who seems to be saying that they need to be in the spotlight all the time to have fun. Enjoying the spotlight is a legitimate motivation for playing roleplaying games, called "Expression" in one taxonomy of game motivations. To solve this with this player's cooperation, you have to go into the conversation knowing that their underlying, fundamental reason for doing these things is, on its own, perfectly OK.

You need that, because to figure out how to fit them into the game hinges on figuring out how to satisfy their creative motivation without it taking the game away from the other players. Right now, the player is trying to figure this out on his own, and failing to do it. Your job, and the job of the other players, is to help him figure out how to get what he wants out of the game in a way that also gives the other players and you what they want out of the game.

At this point, it should be obvious to everyone that the game is not continuing until this puzzle is sorted out. If it's not obvious to everyone, this is the time to say it in so many words: "This is a puzzle we need to solve as a group. We can't play again until we do."


I don't know what you're conversation will turn up, so at this point I'm speculating, but if my guesses are near the target, they might be useful to you. So, continuing...

Sharing the spotlight

You've got a bunch of neurotypical players and one player who might be on the Asperger's-Autism spectrum. Okay, that just means you need to change how you communicate. You can't leave it to him to know when he's crossing a social boundary, because you're all communicating the transgression with a mix of words, body language, voice tone, implication, and the majority of that stuff just doesn't register with him—to pick up on the social dimensions of your communication that This Is Not Okay he probably needs to use super-focused concentration. That's not something he's going to be doing at all while he's also focused on the shared imaginary space that you're all creating together. You need to put all of the relevant information you need to communicate into the actual words you use, and only into the words.

You need a Batsignal. You need a codified signal that you can use to indicate that now is not his spotlight time—so that it can shine on another player, so that everyone has their turn. To get that Batsignal, you have to have a conversation about how everyone needs spotlight time, and spotlight time will often be alone time. He wants to be in the spotlight—make it clear that he can only get spotlight time if the game is happening, and the game will only restart and continue if everyone's turn to stand alone in the spotlight will be respected by everyone else who is taking their turn out of the spotlight.

Your Batsignal can be as straightforward as saying that it's not his spotlight time: "John," (I'm going to call him John for a minute) "this isn't your spotlight moment, it's Mary's. Her thief is going to do her cool thing right now, and we'll get back to you in a minute. OK?" If he acts like he understands, continue with the action with whatever he said his character was doing to jump into the spotlight didn't happen. He might jump in with another declaration, at which point you repeat that "this isn't your spotlight moment, we'll get back to what Johnivisus the Shining is doing after this," and continue with Mary's spotlight moment.

Whatever your Batsignal is, it has to be something that is completely contained within the words you use. It has to be something he agrees to. It has to be short and unambiguous. And you have to enforce it by ignoring the contribution he made that resulted in you turning on the Batsignal.

Blocking

This is a Block, to use a term from improv. Lots of people instinctively recoil from the idea of so bluntly denying someone's contribution to a creative endeavor. You probably will. It's not something you'd normally do... and that's why his choices are causing problems, because he's not operating how the group normally does, and your normal response rests on the assumption that he's playing the same way y'all are. Predictably, your inappropriate response to his actions produces an outcome that is undesirable.

So, the block is necessary: you have to gatekeep the shared imaginary space a little bit more than you otherwise would like to, in order to manage a table-level communication mismatch. This is necessary, because communicating effectively is the only way to functionally share the imaginary space, to play nice with each other's toys. Fixing the table-level communication before implementing the communications into the game is necessary.

Let him be awesome

The flipside is that, to get him to be OK releasing the spotlight, you have to make sure to shine the spotlight on his character too. You have to hold up your end of the social contract you're making, by showing him that he can have spotlight time without grabbing it away from another player.

But maybe it's not Asperger's? Batsignal anyway!

This is all written in the context of taking your guess about his neurology and communication style at face value, but the advice is actually the same without that assumption: fix the communication at the table-level before trying to continue to play the imaginary game. The very fabric of the game is accurate communication, and for it to exist and for you to play it, fixing the communication is necessary. It doesn't really matter why the breakdown is occurring, and these conversations I'm advising you to have are a necessary process to fix it.

Stopping the game, solving the puzzle of not-fun, and implementing that solution will help regardless of why this player is making these choices. It might not be the complete solution, it might uncover other issues, but then it's even more a necessary first step. And, it will give you all some useful practice in solving group-level problems as a group, outside of the game, so that you can tackle the next puzzle effectively, together.

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As someone with awkward neurology, I thank you for submitting this approach. RPGs allow wide open approaches to solving problems, and it has caused many problems for me in the games I've played. Implementing some clear but artificial limits can help make it fun for everyone. "The person with the highest X should do this." Let it fall to the math (or whatever objective standard the group chooses). –  schroeder Jun 19 at 23:27
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I'm seconding this approach as someone else with 'awkward neurology'. If someone is neuro-atypical, then it's entirely possible that they simply do not completely process and/or comprehend the situation and its ramifications in the same manner as everyone else does. It can be frustrating to deal with, but opening up the communication wide like SevenSidedDie suggested may very well help address this. Yes, it can take away from the 'imagination' part of the game, but if your player is neuro-atypical, then subleties are very likely a weak point for them. –  Aith Jun 20 at 7:03
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It sounds like the player isn't happy with his character.

Oh yes, he probably wanted to create a summoner. But it turns out that the things he wants to be able to do don't align with the things his character is statted out to do.

What I would do is keep track of what things that player does frequently. You've already mentioned:

  • every time the party rogue sneaks out to scout, he immediately tries to follow
  • when the party's Cleric heads into combat, he tries to ride alongside

It sounds like your player would actually like to play a character who can sneak around and be on the front lines. These things don't necessarily exclude a summoner. But your player probably needs help tailoring his character to fit those roles.

Specifically about Pathfinder, I would help the player retrain several of their skills and feats to match what the character actually does. Make sure the player has enough skill points put into Stealth and take feats like "Skill Focus". Help them have feats like "Toughness" and get armor/magic items that increase AC without incurring a spell failure rate. (I once had a wizard who had the highest AC in my group. And that was even comparing to the fighter.)

Pathfinder is flexible enough to bend any class (perhaps not optimally, of course) to fit a lot of playstyles.

Once the player's character is statted out to handle what he wants the character to do, then help that player fill the role that the other players need him to fill. As PipperChip said, this is often best handled in-game by a player saying, "PLEASE SUMMON THIS TO HELP ME!" as he charges in.

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I think he doesn't really understand how to play the summoner. He is only taking his cues from what the other characters are doing. I think a little "instruction" from the other players would help. As in "wait here while I go scout and figure out what spells you have ready." –  Arluin Jun 19 at 23:32
    
@Arluin I think that's extremely likely. Either way, if he keeps making tactical errors like the above, I'd still stat him out like this. I don't think it's unfathomable to maximize stealth and AC while still being a good summoner. This player has also exhibited difficulty learning his party role despite teaching attempts, so staying alive no matter what he does do is pretty important. –  Thane Brimhall Jun 20 at 1:53
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Kill Him

If his character is suicidally brave, well, let nature take it's course.

If he will have out of game problems with that, you can do some things in game - have one or all of the other players lecture him/take him in hand/treat him like an idiot in game, have the party ditch him as a liability and then he can try to earn their respect back in some manner (or die trying, but that's fine, as story is briefly focused on him).

Or you can do some things out of game - talk to him about party roles, show him the fighter's AC and his own AC and how he's always going to get hit, etc.

Finally, you can challenge your own assumptions - you think he's just being an idiot - perhaps in his head he's PLAYING an idiot, he has this idea of a character and is trying to do it but the mechanics don't reinforce that. Some people's only exposure to Fantasy is Saturday Morning Cartoon Heroes, where nothing can seriously go wrong for the characters. Shattering that ideal by doing some nasty stuff to players and friend npcs will fix that.

Or maybe he's playing a character who he thinks is super dumb and charges in every time due to obnoxious bravery? Kill the character, kill the problem. Or find a way to teach the character a lesson, like someone getting killed due to his actions. For extra pathos, someone gets killed due to his actions, and then the party strings him up for getting their friend killed.

Then, after he's dead, force him to make a new character. Not the same character with a different name. An entirely new person. If that person acts the same way, then he will also die. Eventually, the player will create a new character that either has enough personality to not mindlessly attack, or, will actually learn the lesson out of game and not try to zerg everything.

Suspension of Disbelief

Some people here seem to have the belief that because the player believes it's reasonable for his character to charge into melee combat and not get ganked, then you should be running with that as a concept - I cannot stress enough that this is not true.

The entire point of a collective imagination game is that it seems plausible enough. Plausible enough that people can imagine it. If it's absurd or obviously unrealistic, then it kills the fun for everyone involved. So stupid actions taken by characters in the game, that kill the story, that make the characters seem unrealistic, erode suspension of disbelief, and 'ruin the game for everyone'.

The entire point of the mechanics is to provide what it is plausible for a character to succeed at or fail at. If a guy with no combat training runs into combat repeatedly, despite nearly dying every time, it strains belief. Especially if he takes no steps towards actually learning how to fight (taking a level of Fighter or the like), and if he does it in situations where it's not necessary. The only way to rationalize it is that the character is mad, but in the metagame of 'dealing with the player at the table' everyone is forced to treat him like a rational, equal member of the group.

That murders suspension of disbelief, it crucifies plausible enough, and it strains or breaks any roleplaying that is occurring involving that player. It's exactly the same as someone intentionally doing stupid things in the game to make it not fun. Refusal to play the same game everyone else is playing is not something that should be respected or rewarded. It should not even be tolerated. If someone has found a way to be a huge dick and troll everyone else in a computer game, or a board game, people wouldn't put up with it - if they did it repeatedly after being told not to and that people didn't like it, no-one would play games with them.

You've said that not playing with them isn't an option - fine. But you don't need to fudge the rules to keep them alive. You don't need to metagame to keep their character in the group. And you don't need to have your characters be forced to be nice to them.

If they're going to do a dummy spit over those things, and you can't piss them off for social reasons, and you can't kick them out of the game, then there's nothing you can do - but what they are doing is not reasonable - it's not the game they agreed to play - and it's hurting or ruining other people's fun.

So,

Kill Him.

'Teach him, don't punish him'

My reading of the question is that they have tried this. Comments on question further underline this. If someone refuses to learn, it is because they have no REASON to learn. In this case, it's because there are no negative consequences for their actions - and they either don't know or don't care about the negative consequences of their actions on others.

Currently the GM/players are intentionally metagaming and fudging the rules to keep him alive. Simply stopping, and letting the results come as they will, solves that problem completely. Now there is an incentive for the player to actually pay attention. If they spit the dummy and lose their cool, it's just further proof - you were appeasing someone without the ability to play well with others. You should not game with that person. They are being unreasonable - and until they learn to BE reasonable, it is not worth playing voluntary games with them.

Keeping someone alive against the rules for out of game reasons is cheating - and cheating often makes a game unfun.

So,

Kill Him.

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Killing the PC as a first step is not only unhelpful, it will only serve to drive the guy away from the hobby. I'm getting this kid is new to gaming. TEACH him before throwing the book at him. –  Pulsehead Jun 18 at 19:03
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@Pulsehead - does the last section address your concern? –  Jack Lesnie Jun 18 at 19:08
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+1 while this is a good answer, I think @PipperChip's "give him explicitly some task to do" advice is something they likely haven't tried and might be more helpful. If that doesn't work either, then kill him. –  Lohoris Jun 18 at 20:34
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I like the idea of combining this with @PipperChip's answer - start off with "This looks super dangerous. I don't think you'll make it. We don't want to get ourselves killed, yeah?" and then if he comes along anyway... well, you can't say he wasn't warned. –  starsplusplus Jun 18 at 23:10
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