Monday, October 4, 2010

Soft Skills

We tried something new this week. I think it has the potential to be a good thing, but it certainly didn't start out that way.

I assigned three special roles to the players: Mapper, Chronicler, and Caller. Mapper and Chronicler are pretty straightforward concepts and were easily understood by the kids, though I did have to give them the definition of "chronicle." The Caller role, by contrast, caused confusion and wreaked havoc in our gaming session.

The Caller, an unofficial role sometimes called Party Leader in past editions of the game, is the primary liaison between the players and the referee. The idea is to limit the chaos of five kids simultaneously trying to relate their characters' actions to me. The natural tendency is for each player to get louder in an effort to be heard over the others. I then quiet them down, but they just start over again from a lower volume point. If I go around the table and get their actions in turn, we find that one player's action is in opposition to what another player was trying to accomplish, leading to heated discussion and increased volume. And I'm not even talking about combat situations or any situation that calls for initiative rolls and taking turns (which goes smoothly). I'm talking about what the characters are doing while hanging out in the city.

Do we go to the bathhouse to clean up before shopping for nice clothes, or after?

Do the dwarf ladies shave their beards at the bathhouse or at the inn?

Do we get a room at a nice inn inside the city's inner wall (where only the wealthy reside), or outside the wall to save some money?

"I go to shave my beard."

"I'm going to the weapon store!"

"I'm looking for a candy shop."

If I allow each player to do what he/she declares, then everyone splits up, and soon the characters have no means by which to find each other in a strange city of over 150,000 souls.

Enter the Caller, whose job it is to facilitate the discussion, find out what everyone wants to do, put a plan together, then communicate the actions of the party to me with statements like, "We head for the gates of the inner wall." When describing this role, I was very careful to explain that the Caller is not the Party Leader. The Caller does not tell the others what to do, or make decisions for the party. The Caller is supposed to get consensus, then relay the group actions to me. That's how it works in theory, anyway.

The reality of the situation at my table was that the Virtues Fairy had to make a visit and take gold pieces from the Mapper, who actively resisted the Caller's efforts at gaining consensus, because in her mind the Caller was being "bossy." I was paying close attention, and although the Caller could have chosen her words better, she was trying to take a "team facilitator" style approach rather than a "boss" approach. The Mapper, however, assumed the worst intentions of the Caller and responded accordingly. Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised by this development.

The Caller also expressed difficulty with her role in that she was unsure how to present her own ideas without coming across as bossy. In her mind the other players didn't even have any ideas; they were just interrupting her while she tried to illuminate them with her own ideas! "Did you even hear them have any ideas?" she asks me even now as I type this. "Any brilliant sparks?'re not writing this, are you?" The truth was I did not, in fact, hear any strokes of genius from anyone else that day, but that's beside the point. You can see what I'm up against here.

Part of the problem is that most of the time she is the only one offering any suggestions that make any sense. She is probably correct in her belief that the game would go faster and the party would experience greater success if they would just do what she says. I can't argue with the truth of this, and so I'm a little bit sympathetic with her plight. It's not how the world works, though. She's not going to be in charge. People are going to have their own opinions about how to do things, and she is going to rub some people the wrong way whether she likes it or not. And the other players aren't going to have fun following her orders. Again, though, not that she was giving orders: she was trying to solicit ideas, even as she made sure to share her own. Yet she has much to learn about the arts of tact and negotiation, to name a few.

Now is the time for her - and her sisters - to learn how to deal with adversity and function in a team environment despite conflicting personalities. If I can help them learn these soft skills through our weekly gaming, I will be doing them a huge service, and the investment in the RPG will be well worth it.

As soon as I figure out how to teach these soft skills, I'll let you know!

No comments:

Post a Comment