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I Steal His Pants

The title of this post comes from one of the best moments in The Gamers [1] (which is laugh-out-loud brilliant all the way through — a must-see, if you’ve never heard of it), in which the party’s thief tries to steal someone’s pants in a bar. Why? Because he can, of course!

It’s hilarious in the movie, but in actual games actions like this can be a sign of player boredom or frustration.

Stealing his pants, in general terms, describes any PC action that is random, unrelated to the game at hand, funny and at least mildly disruptive. (Unless you’re playing a humorous RPG, like Paranoia or Toon, in which case none of this applies — it’s just par for course!)

There are two red flags in that list: disruptiveness and being unrelated to the game at hand. In my experience, PCs do some pretty random things, and there’s nothing at all wrong with being funny (every game can use a little humor [2]), so those don’t count as red flags.

Doing something totally unrelated to the adventure at hand can be a sign that the player is lost. Perhaps there are too many loose ends, and they can’t see anything important in their flashlight beam [3]. With no clear course, why not do something totally off the wall?

It can also be a signal of boredom. If nothing exciting is happening, it can be pretty tempting to do something peculiar just to liven things up. As a player, this one fits me perfectly — if I’m bored or frustrated, I steal someone’s pants. There’s are time when that’s excusable, and times when it’s not — but as a GM, it can be a useful signal to watch for.

The other element — being disruptive — can be a bit sneaky. Often, stealing someone’s pants won’t be wildly disruptive, just mildly so. It’s not the same thing as, say, randomly killing a major, friendly NPC. It might not even seem disruptive right off the bat.

But any disruptive behavior (on either side of the screen) signals a problem of some sort. Exactly what the problem is can run the gamut, from boredom/frustration (as above) to personal issues with another player, or (at the far end of the spectrum) passive-agressive dissatisfaction with the game.

Lastly, stealing someone’s pants can also just mean that it’s time for a break. If you’ve been gaming for hours non-stop, maybe the pants-stealing player just needs ten minutes, a cup of coffee and time to decompress.

Next time a PC tries to steal someone’s pants in one of your games, pause for a moment and look at the situation. It might not mean anything (sometimes a cigar is just a cigar) — but it could be a sign of frustration, boredom or the need for a break.

3 Comments (Open | Close)

3 Comments To "I Steal His Pants"

#1 Comment By VV_GM On October 6, 2006 @ 6:35 am

I’ve seen this kind of behavior in all of the scenarios Martin mentioned, plus one more – the jerk who had no intention of playing the game anyhow. Usually this is someone who is new to the group and possibly new to gaming as well who has been invited to play the game. The warning sign is that they create a character that is ironic (i.e., cowardly palladin, clumsy thief, etc.), and then they try to turn every scene in the game into a comedic event because that is easy to do with such a character.

Now you may screen new players carefully, but I just play a gmae with them because the proof is in the pudding. And my response has always been the same to this type of behaviour (over 16 years of gaming I’ve only had to do this three times).

Granted, I have very little patience for anyone who blatantly disregards the comfort and satisfaction of others in certain situations. I have taken a person’s cell phone away from them in a movie theater and ended the call (and the rest of the theater actually cheered which was nice). You might think I’m a jerk too because of how I react to these situations, but I really hate when a person just doesn’t seem to care about the other people in their immediate area.

In front of the group I tell the player soemthing to the effect of:

“Look, I’m glad you are amused. Unfortunately, there are several people here who play this game to relax and have fun. It is a cooperative effort and it is obvious you just want to amuse yourself at the expense of the rest of the group. So here are your two choices: give the game a fair chance, or leave. By playing the game you might actually have even more fun, but what you are doing is causing everyone else not to have any fun. Now which do you choose? Because I don’t feel like wasting anymore time with you if you are goign to keep acting like this.”

Yes, I’ll admit that it doesn’t always come out exactly like the example above.

Twice this has resulted in the player actually turning around and becoming part of the regular group. One time it resulted in an idiot saying “Make me leave.” So I did. 🙂

I must emphasize I have no problem when someone plays a silly character. Comic relief is great for a game when you have a character that is silly but not disruptive. Also, I give everyone the first 2 hours of the game to try and get a feel for the group if they are a new player. That is usually enough time to decide if they are just trying to play an interesting and quirky character, or if they just don’t care about the game.

#2 Comment By An old friend of mine On October 6, 2006 @ 7:25 am

A friend (who shall remain nameless) and several times over the last year Gareth and I have invited him to come play.

I dont know what he is like with his home games but after the second session, Gareth and I decided not to invite him back at the other players request. Gareth ran D20 modern with GI-JOE characters exploring a dimensional rift to his fantasy world, so it was a bit silly to start.

My friend repeatedly acted crazy, not just odd I mean actually decided that his character was nuts. Paranoid distrustful of the team and crazy violent. The problems with other players culminated with the team enfuriated by his murder of a key NPC and then choosing to sedate him and leave him behind. I took him to the side and he managed to convince me that he would calm down and stop being intentionally disruptive but it didnt work he immediately attacked my character and disappeared into the woods to harry us as we completed our mission.

As he explained it thats just how he saw the character and he “plays to have fun”. Rigel nearly hit him several times and finally left the table. His friend, and I, played mediator tried to explain that his fun was disruptive and prevented anyone else from haveing fun who wanted to progress the story or act as they felt their character would have.

I have since invited him back once, with the explanation that it was CoC, not a silly game and that he either came to play our style or he wasnt welcome. He came and I assinged him a premade who was a new york Psychologist, in 1920s appalachia to help reform the prison system in the employ of the governor (just to give you context).

THe player spent most of the session complaining that he didnt have modern scientific equipment and techniques (that Gareth kept trying to explain didnt exist, and I kept pointing out he was an alienist not a forensic scitentist) and intentionally picking fights with the appointed party leader, and members of the party who he thought were playing hillbillys.

He probably will not return to my table unless we play paranoia. He is a nice guy and an old friend but the worst part is his friend was a great guy and a good roleplayer but I dont know how to invite him back on his own.

I know from experience he’s not new to gaming but he seems to need attention at all times and particularly resented scenes without him or note passing, and he was disruptive to amuse himself. THis is very different from say my friend Jon who is actually trying to move plot and is a group player except that his personality grates on many of the other players.

#3 Comment By John Arcadian On October 6, 2006 @ 11:06 am

I’ve got a player like this now who I’m seriously considering politely uninviting to the next game I run. He plays disruptive characters, in what I think is the effort to get his aggression at the world out. Fine for him, sucks for us.

He is a great role player though, and is actively involved in the game, but justifies his game disruption under the banner of “it’s what my character would do,” even and especially when it involves attacking or antagonizing other characters. I’ve tried to politely explain it to him, and it stops the activity for a while, but it just comes back a session or two later.

The “I steal his pants” can be funny in some cases, so long as it’s not game disrupting. Those kinds of moments are the things that are talked about for years after a game, it just depends on if it crosses the line of game disrupting or not. Sometimes it’s just a player wanting to do cool stuff focused on them, sometimes it’s the “lets take it all down in flames” attitude.