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So, IMO a player of mine seems to have not-so-clear ideas about what he wants. We are playing Pathfinder 2e, and he doesn't like it. That's fair, everyone has their own preferences. But from what he says he likes, it sounds like he doesn't know what he really wants.

First of all, he says that he wants something easy to play after hours of work, and he doesn't want to "study" the rulebook. But he chose to play a "controller wizard", probably the most difficult thing to play. He got frustrated because enemies, and I quote: "pass their saves too often" or "have too high ability scores", ignoring the fact that, in PF2e, it's essential to target enemies' weak points. He also says he dislikes the "incapacitation" trait on spells and effects. When I suggested he switch to a fighter, he basically said he doesn't want to examine all the things he could do with an action.

Then he says he much prefers for things to be way more dice-dependant, instead of building a character that has a strong focus on something that they would likely succeed at. Also he does not appreciate level scaling. He gave a (wrong) example that: "a level 20 PF2e character with no training in a skill will always beat a level 3 who is expert in the same skill" - comparing it with D&D 5e. As we know, only characters taking the appropriate feat will do that, and it does not mean they will be allowed to try everything that a properly trained character could.

In any case, I explained that PF2 is an heroic game and yes, characters' experience will make them succeed on trivial tasks. I said that it's something that the characters could have done for years, it's normal for them to succeed. He then made another example saying: "Hey, a cook could have years of experience but could still accidentally cut their finger!" I explained that that's what natural 1s are for, a mistake made by someone experienced.

It sounds to me like he doesn't really know if he wants a realistic system (maybe a crunchy one like GURPS) or a super-light one (a PBTA, for example). He wants to play complicated stuff, but does not want to "study" the system. I could really use some advice, it's the first time a player has such issues. What could I do about it?

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    \$\begingroup\$ It sounds like you and your player have very clashing expectations (in this case, mismatch between the system you're using versus the system they want). Have you had a session zero or similar discussion, to find common ground in the type of game you and your players are hoping for? \$\endgroup\$
    – MikeQ
    Mar 24 at 4:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you clarify if you've literally asked, "what game would you like to play?" \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Mar 24 at 10:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ What, if anything, is your goal? IE what are you hoping the answer will allow you to accomplish/do better? While some answers are going to be valid regardless of your goal, others may benefit by knowing if you're trying to sell the system better, convince the player to keep their complaints to themselves, consider different systems, or something else entirely. If you're not sure and you're just looking for general help, that can be fine too. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Mar 24 at 12:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt Well, the complaints are a problem to me for 2 reasons: the first is that I think that a game can not be enjoyed if you don't understand it, which is happening here IMO. The second reason is purely personal: if people keep not wanting to focus a little while playing, they will keep playing relatively simple systems (5e). While that it's not a problem per se, it bugs me that other good systems are overshadowed by D&D not because of the quality of the latter but because D&D is backed by immense advertisement, merch, and general financial power. \$\endgroup\$
    – Snakehelm
    Mar 24 at 17:40

2 Answers 2

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Difficult Situation

This kind of fundamental clash between stated expectations and reactions to game play can be very frustrating (for everyone at the table), difficult to resolve, and nearly impossible to resolve in a way that satisfies everyone.

Stated Desires

You've indicated that this player wants:

  • Rules that require little study or preparation between sessions.
  • A potent spell caster that controls the battlefield.
  • Not having to learn, out of character, about his foes.
  • Predictable effects and reactions, that are reasonably intuitive to a modern human.
  • Highly variable resolution.
  • No levels.

Which sounds like he wants an entirely different game system. (For my tables, I would recommend FATE. Dungeon World or Savage Worlds would be my backup choices.)

What's Going On?

In my experience, repetition of similar behavior is indicative of an unhappy player trying to disrupt and / or terminate the current campaign.
One or two instances is consistent with a player expressing a problem, unsure what specifically the problem is and unsure how to solve it. Repetition indicates a player trying to disrupt the campaign.

We can speculate about why they want to end the campaign, but that would not be productive.

Possible Solutions

I have had, or have seen, some success with the following techniques. They may not work in your situation, but short of dissolving the group* they are my best suggestions.

  1. A long and open dialogue with the player. Set aside an afternoon to just hang out with the player and talk about the game. Listen to what is said, try to put it all together, and determine what changes to story, tone, pacing, or characterization may solve the problems. Sometimes players complain about game mechanics when the issue is actually story-related. Or a part of their real life.
  2. Rebuild the character for the player. Get permission from the player and rebuild the character for the best mix of effectiveness and easy-of-play that you can manage. Make sure to have several "good for nearly all situations" options heavily featured.
  3. Point the player to character building / playing resources for their own rebuild. Some players are not okay with other people building their characters. These people have to accept some work and research when making a character, so if your player is one of these people then point them at a good list of resources to optimize for what the player thinks they want.

*I have seen groups be dissolved over such issues. It wasn't a satisfactory solution but it did solve the issue.

Good Luck!

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Considering the opposing desires of this player, have you considered a more rules-lite, narrative-based system?

The conflict between their stated desires seems insurmountable in a D20 system. You can absolutely play with only the GM having a grasp of the rules...but you're going to be massively and mechanically disadvantaged trying to do what this player is doing.

The deceit of all good GMs is that the rules even matter...they are just a framework to allow us to tell a story with the illusion of being a neutral arbiter.

Usually everyone buys into this. But when they don't -- or that affectation is just getting in the way -- you are fortunate in that there's a bit of a renaissance in narrative games, these days...

...if you can't find one that would make this player happy, maybe they just aren't going to be happy?

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