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I'm running a play-by-post homebrew game. The game is narrative-driven, so naturally I allow players to make up their own races, backstories, abilities etc., as long as they "don't overdo it" (as I put it).

The problem is one player who doesn't seem to get what "overdoing it" means. At first he wanted to make his player an all-out superhero, and I had to talk him down from it. This was no easy task. This guy is well-meaning, but he doesn't seem to realize that this isn't a single-player power fantasy.

I tried explaining to him that he would outshine the other players, and completely derail my plots, not to mention that the theme of my world is being tossed out the window.

My reasoning seemed to help at first, but now he want his character to be a god.
Literally. In a gritty, post-apocalyptic cyberpunk setting.

Part of the problem is that he's not even asking; he's building his own world, and just keeping me updated.

This puts me in an uncomfortable situation where I have to either bluntly veto his posts (and there sure are a lot of those...) or start negotiating with him.

He really means well, and I don't want to hurt his feelings, but I can't let him keep this up.

So... any elegant way to put him in place?


Update:

I'm the sole GM.
There are 5 other players.
We are not part of another community.
It's a forum, with major updates about once every two weeks with smaller updates in between.
I'm basically in command, but I announced from the start that players have freedom even to determine minor outcomes of their actions.

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As GM, you should be prepared to have some flexibility, of course. But ultimately, you are one of the players, and your fun matters, too. There are a number of reasons a player plays like you've described. Some are more easily addressed than others.

You're going to have to talk to the player. Hopefully (with suggestions below) he'll get on board and everything will be fine. Some players just play for their own fun and there's nothing you can do. But if you have a reasonable player who perhaps just doesn't understand some of this, just talking to him about it can fix a lot of problems.

If not, your responsibility to the larger group will force you to decide: adjust your premise or boot the player. But that's end of the process. Before that, try talking to him, and raise a few of these points.

Are We On the Same Page?

Use the wonderful and useful Same Page Tool to make sure the player (and really, all the players) understands your goals and expectations. The author at that link will explain better than I might, but the purpose of the tool is to tell players the sort of play style you're inviting them to play. This is best done before a game begins, but it can be done after a game has started. Somewhere there's a nice PDF version and I seem to recall a google doc version somewhere, too, though it'd be easy to make one.

Do You Understand & Accept the Premise?

The premise you set forth for a game is an invitation to play that game. But for some reason, many players (especially but not exclusively younger or newer players) seem to view the game's premise as a special sort of challenge. They approach it asking how they might best subvert it, or skirt the edges of it, or thwart it entirely. In my experience, it's not even something players usually do with ill intent. There's an unspoken expectation that my character will be the exception that proves the rule of the premise.

In this case, you should explain that your premise is a guideline to be followed, not a challenge to overcome. To play your game, the player must buy into the premise, find a way to make a character which exists within the world represented by your premise. And yes, in some cases, that means a player won't want to play. It might even mean an entire group wants to do something different, which is okay.

Some GMs have a "my way or the highway" attitude. Some GMs will alter a premise to match the cool stuff players think up. But you should never have to accept a player who agrees to play and then ignores or subverts the premise.

Freeform is NOT (necessarily) "Kitchen Sink"

Freeform doesn't usually mean players are free to do anything they want. Explain to the player that his freedom must still obey the laws of the universe as defined in your premise. "Narrative Freedom" doesn't mean your character can fly if we're playing a gritty game of cops and robbers. It doesn't mean your character gets a lightsaber if we're playing Tolkeinesque fantasy, and it doesn't mean you can be a god in a cyberpunk world.

(Unless it DOES. That's up to the GM, too.)

Shared Narrative Responsibility

I don't like the phrase "Narrative Freedom." Instead, I use "Shared Narrative Responsibility." Each player is permitted and expected to take some liberties with narrative, but ultimately each player is answerable to the group as a whole. Your narrative has to weave and flow with the others, not against it, not in spite of it. With.

I'm not saying there is a "right" and "wrong" way to play. Only that every player is responsible for ensuring fun is had by all the other players. "Right" is what the group agrees to and thinks is fun. A party of six cutthroat bandits each trying to screw over the other five at every turn? Not my thing, but if you have a GM and six players who are into it, then go for it.


If you do this and he doesn't change his posting style, then you will, as said above, have to decide how much change to your premise you're willing to accept - knowing that by doing so you are inviting others to begin making these changes. And really, that sort of thing can be a lot of fun if the GM is into it, too.

Or you might have to consider dis-inviting the individual. Just explain you and he can't seem to get on the same page and perhaps he'd be better served by finding a game more to his style of play.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If the downvoter is willing to share, I'd love to know how I might improve my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Longspeak May 15 '17 at 15:29
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He is probably new to it. This happens.

This is a core limitation of the medium

You are running into a core limitation of RP via text: you cannot police their writing as they are writing it and can only do so after the fact. Since they have the ability to resolve their own actions, and given they -- as the player, not the character -- are able to manipulate the world, their enthusiasm can lead to the situation you describe: what appears to be a godlike character, as the player is discovering the incredible amount of freedom this medium offers.

Give him time

With guidance and patience, this player will calm down. I know I was brimming with enthusiasm until about two months in when I first started. If he is new to this, then this might just be a "honeymoon phase" and it will pass.

Give him one power

There is a reason why the government legitimizes the lottery and casinos while holding gambling in general illegal: because it provides the would-be gamblers, who would gamble anyway and only try to find ways to skirt the law in this regard, a safer venue to play, and with government regulation. Otherwise, they would push gambling activities completely into the criminal territory and completely lose the ability to oversee and regulate it.

Learning from this wisdom, give your player's character one power, like X-Men. Let him know it's OK for him to do this one thing. This automatically carries the implication that other powers are not OK, and it constrains him in a way where he is still generally free. It legitimizes him playing god, but in a way you decide it's OK.

For example: he can turn invisible. Yes, but then what if he tries to push the boundaries? Can he make others invisible? Can he make things invisible? How many invisible things can he make and sustain at once? The great thing about this is it's all still the same trick (you can counter all of it with heatvision, radar, etc), but it encourages player creativity.

Lay down core rules that everyone can access

Games usually need a Session 0 to align everybody with what type of game you are all willing to play. Unfortunately, Session 0 doesn't work for your case. Instead, give everyone a link to a post with the core rules that everyone should follow. These are things like:

  • No powergaming/controlling or forcing other people's characters without their consent

  • No metagaming allowed

  • Minimum word count

Once you have a "rule thread" then you can direct everyone to this, so everyone knows what is allowed and what is not. The rules should restrict the players' narrative freedom, but instead address meta concerns: things that, as players, they should or should not do.


Optional: Challenge him to improve his writing

The advice below is presented to you as a way of directly addressing the root of the problem (that I can perceive). However, doing the below is a lot of effort, requires a certain amount of group buy-in, and may be more trouble than it's worth.

The Gist

Your player's issue is not simply that he is new, but that he doesn't get storytelling yet. Since he isn't intentionally trolling you, then this is the root cause of it. He has too much freedom and he is drowning in it, and he doesn't have a framework in which to move in. Help him understand storytelling by encouraging everybody to step up their game -- even you, as the GM. Sadly, only time and experience will truly solve this.

Elaboration: Challenge everyone to write up to a certain standard

Imagine if George R. R. Martin was one of your players. Would he create a god character? Or imagine J.K. Rowling, or Tolkien, or Suzanne Collins, or any other mainstream published author (too many to list!) playing in play-by-post together. Would any of them create god characters?

I can say confidently: no, they would not. This is because they are advanced writers and understand what it takes to write a good story. Your new player is not at that level where he understands this yet. If he did -- if his level of writing improved -- then he would not be writing godlike characters.

Consider a character literally dodging a bullet. This is pretty impossible for a human to do (almost as if the act was godlike). See how it runs if you do it plainly:

No writing knowledge

The mafioso shot him, but he saw it coming and dodged the bullet.

The above shows you a simple statement of what happened. Someone shot him and he dodged the bullet. In one sentence? That easily? He's superhuman!

Now watch what happens when you apply a bit of knowledge about writing elements into it:

Beginner

The mafioso pulled out a gun and aimed it at him. Click went the gun's hammer as the bullet comes racing out of the chamber. There was almost no time to react. He closed his eyes and saw memories of his life. If there was only time to say goodbye.

And then he heard a ping! and opened his eyes. He was alive. Did the bullet miss him? No... he wasn't standing where he used to. He dodged!

In the above, you can see the dramatic structure applied. Exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, the whole deal. And it doesn't read like a god character dodging a bullet anymore. In fact, it sets up a mystery (how did he dodge?) which is actually more thrilling to read that the first one.

Let us crank that quality a little higher.

Intermediate

The mafioso shot him. In that instant, he saw his life before his eyes. The warmth of his wife's kiss, the smile on his son's face, the laughter of his jovial father turning to tears. Was this it for him? Had he fucked up so badly that he had to die for it?

No.

Hell. No.

When he heard the bullet's lound ping!, he wasn't standing where he used to. He had dodged the bullet.

A bit more advanced that the Beginner one, but the differences are subtle. One of the big changes is summarization: the first paragraph was summarized into one sentence, but retaining the same impact. Meanwhile, we insert character motivation into the scene, which allows us to empathize with the character. Finally, a shift in voice (notice the curse words?) as well as change in pacing, which signals that we are not in the third-person omniscient perspective anymore, but in the third-person limited, and it shows us who the character is. Keep in mind it still follows the dramatic structure.

Now, I hesitate to show an "advanced sample" without editing it for days... but I've been training myself to write since I was nine, and at some point in my life, I think I did reach that level. But despite the fact I haven't written anything for a few years now, if for nothing else, here is an "advanced" sample of the same scene which demonstrates the benefits of improving your quality of writing, to address your issue of a player creating a god:

Advanced

The mafioso shot him. In that moment, he was dead. He felt pain in his chest. He felt his wife's kisses turning cold, he heard his father's laughter turn to crying, he saw his son's smile fading into darkness.

Ping!

For a moment, there was silence. And then, the gunman broke it: "What... it can't be! You... you're not human!"

He was breathing heavily, on all fours, a cold sweat beading down his forehead. He had moved out of the bullet's way. Grimacing, he said: "It's going to take more than that to kill me, bitch."

What has improved: Writer voice, organization of sentences, dialogue, nowhere are thought verbs used (as suggested in a very good essay by Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club), thoughtful use of the word "said," etc etc.

Now imagine your play-by-post only having "advanced" levels of writing. (It doesn't have to be, but gods will it be awesome.) You have no god characters, but rather protagonists who live tension-filled and exciting lives. There is always conflict and action.

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I have never gone truly full open-world in any of my games; I am not built that way. But I have indulged in systems (Ars Magica, Nobilis, Amber) that in one way or another encourage strong player input in one or more areas.

The former two allow players to collaboratively design a base of operations, although with some rules framework; the latter by a reading of the printed rules allows the players to buy "personal shadows" (i.e., personal worlds with their own rules and settings) for negligible amounts of resources.

The only way I have ever found to correctly prioritize my concerns as a GM against the desire of any given player or subset of players is to do all of the following prior to the start of the game:

  1. Announce and/or discuss in detail the type of game I am going to be running. (Or, if I am still in the planning stages and willing to take some input, use something like the Same Page tool.)

    I've found it to be very important to have this talk as early as possible, and include not only genre, but relative power levels, overall tone, etc.

    However, going back over 25 years of GMing experience, I can confidently say there is always one player who will miss that memo. Therefore....

  2. Announce up front that "open world" does not mean "everything goes" or "we are all co-GMs" or anything like that. Further more, during the early stages of the game, request that all world-building stuff goes through you first before it's considered canon. This is so that everyone can get a feel for what you'll allow and what you won't.

  3. Make that demand stick. If your players are running over you, drag them back, overrule, veto, and even retcon if you have to. (But do it quickly.)

Hopefully you can back off on those stances a little later, but I've found it's far easier to keep a lid on Pandora's Box than to try and stuff everything back in once it's opened.

Once you've started a game and you're in the middle of a problem like this, you can try to restart by making those announcements mid-game. It might work depending on how cooperative your (other) players are, but in my experience it is harder. No one likes losing authority that they have already been exercising, even if it is only over a game world. (In fact, one the carrots I use to go along with opening speech that is otherwise mostly sticks is, "I sincerely hope after the first stage of the game when the style is established and we're all comfortable with the game, I will be able to ease up and give more free rein.")

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Tell him he can no longer play because of incompatible personality differences. You stated before he signed up what you want from players and he didn't follow those instructions. You told him to correct his behaviour and he didn't. Now is the time to realize he will never change; it's time to say, "No."

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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Seems like a bit of a leap when the GM hasn't even "started to negotiate" yet - which sounds to me like he hasn't really used his words effectively with the "offender". \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Sep 29 '17 at 14:06

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