Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Who's in Charge here?

Randall: Look, do you want to be leader of this gang?
Strutter: No, we agreed: No leader!
Randall: Right. So shut up and do as I say.
(Strutter nods vigorously)
- Time Bandits, 1981

For some rules, such as surprise, Leadership is important. It can be useful in contests of Leadership skills or Tactics skills to see who gets their group in the right lines and lanes for a fight.

In my experience, PC groups like to have a paper leader that they don't actually follow. This lets them claim the bonuses for Leadership skills and for specific leader-bonus circumstances. But they otherwise act as an anarchic collective.

That's a bit different from the players (and their PCs) who take the lead in pushing towards certain goals or to set the tone for combat. They're not often the same characters that statistically would run the group if it was run purely on their paper stats.

My solution is to declare that most PC groups don't have a leader, and penalize them appropriately. No one really listens to the characters, only the player in question if that player happens to be persuasive. This doesn't come up too often, but it does come up.

If you have issues with leaders in your games, how do you handle it?


  1. In my campaigns every group has a team leader who liaises with me about game stuff they collectively want to do, has the traits to be a leader in game, and is followed by the PCs in game. It's part of my social contract. Not doing it means penalties when anyone tries to claim them from the leader PC. This doesn't mean each PC must do what the leader PC is saying, but it's typically in their interest to do so and usually works out just fine.

    1. It seems like that would make play go a little smoother.

  2. My preference is either attempting to find consensus or Slinky leadership where someone up and does something and everyone else just gets dragged along

    A player who is sufficiently good at coming up with cool ideas may end up in a first among equals role however

    As a DM I may well start designing adventures based on the first PC submitted to me or first player to show up, so that may give that person some influence as a form of Slinky leadership

    Back when I did D&D and other non GURPS a lot I had characters roll opposed diplomacy checks or such if players couldn't agree on a course of action in a timely fashion

    In GURPS disagreements are much less common, a bigger risk is just sitting there doing nothing as they ponder life choices

  3. Viv-a-vis the Leadership skill, Tactics, and actual group leadership:

    I handwave it. I don't care (in general) if the PCs collectively actual do what the "paper" Leader says. The whole 'leadership' thing really only matters at the start of combat (for the most part) and if the PCs (collectively) are still trying to vaguely operate cohesively, I allow them to take part in the 'leader's' skill collectively.

    Now if they split off and start doing their own things? Where the Thief decides they're doing they're thing in combat and not helping to team up on anyone (sneaking around, occasionally opportunity backstabbing, but not 'being a team player'), the Wizard routinely blasts their own teammates because "lol, they got in teh way", and the Knight just wades off away from the squishies to glory hog on his own, then no... this is not a group working together, and I would make this clear to them.

    But otherwise I don't require the Bard to be a mega gorgeous, super-sauze, ultra charmer in real life to get that ridonkulous Reaction Bonus, so why am I requiring SWAT levels of coordination by the Players to get a piddly bonus at the start of combat? Not actively work against each other? Yes at the minimum, but I don't require any actual hardcore teamwork to get the teamwork type stuff.

  4. If I was running an RPG of accurately simulated small unit tactics lack of unambiguous leadership and training would be a ruinous handicap. It would be something like "OK, new round, everyone has 15 secs to write down their action, then pass them to me and we'll execute. Talking to other PCs is in 1 sec chunks written in this action." Success would require clear lines of authority and prepared commands and plans.

    However, I don't run that kind of game. In my experience few players want submission to another will in their power fantasy, and talking for 15 minutes banter for every 1 second of combat is a big part of the fun. So I don't worry about leadership for PCs - it is a skill to aim at NPCs. If a player wanted to use leadership to help another PC I'd let them, but it has never come up.

    1. I get that. I just draw the line of what I consider acceptable abstraction differently.

    2. I seem to be having a problem with tone on your blog Peter, sorry. If I ever wish to call hurting wrong fun on you I'll say it directly. Otherwise please just assume I am sharing my personal experience with my peeps, not calling you out.

  5. Ooh, I love a good Time Bandits reference.


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