Saturday, January 12, 2013

Social Contract and Conflict Resolution in RPGs

Social contracts between DMs and players prevent a lot of mismatched expectations.
But they can't prevent all conflicts.
I explore causes and possible solutions to conflicts.

Social contracts between DMs and players prevent a lot of problems.
They should be discussed when starting a campaign.
I think it's best to limit the number of topics.
Otherwise everyone might get overwhelmed.

The list of topics to discuss is almost endless:
  • Focus on tactics, exploration, mystery or story.
  • Character deaths occur frequently or easily
  • Ratio of combat and non-combat
  • Disturbing content
  • Mood: serious, scary, silly, etc.
  • Player vs. player allowed
  • Open sandbox or more scripted approach
  • Frequency of play and people unable to attend

Managing DM and player expectations is not always easy.
Even with discussing expectations up front, things can turn out different than expected:
  • Certain ideas turn out different than expected
  • Characters level up and change
  • Doing the same thing over and over again may become boring
  • Players change, their tastes and preferences change

Image courtesy of
When there is a mismatch of expectations, it's best not to wait to long to discuss.
I prefer email or talking to only one person at a time,
but if needed I'll address the group.
I tend to see this as levels of escalation.
When I discuss things in the group, people know it's important to me.

The most important thing when discussing expectations is to be open for different play styles, otherwise negotiations will be very short.
There is no wrong way to play RPGs, just different preferences.
Doing so creates trust between everyone.

I like to keep a calm tone of voice, to prevent the conflict from escalating.
I also like to prepare what I'm going to say in advance.
I evaluate what I say in advance so it's clear what I'm trying to say.

Using the first person when talking is one of the many ways of being assertive.
For example:
"I'd like to have more combat in the game" instead of "All you care about is non-combat stuff.".
Focus solely on what you feel, don't talk in absolutes.

Negotiations aren't a zero-sum game.
If some people get to to play their preferred style, it doesn't mean that others lose.
People knowing each others expectations helps with finding a solution.
Knowing why they have those expectations is even better.

The list above is a sliding scale, for example
  • Tactics don't rule out exploration or mystery
  • Several moods can be combined like scary and silly
  • Non-combat actions occur during combat
  • Losing combat doesn't need to result in character death

There are several solutions:
  • Different DM
  • Houserule current game system
  • Use another system
  • Change some aspects, sliding them in the preferred directions

Did you have a conflict after a game started?
How did you work it out?

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