Friday, September 26, 2008

My Error

How do I explain gently and tenderly that you, my not so gentle reader, are not your character? How do I convey the proposition that when writing, I expect to be read by corporeal entities and not by fictional, abstract manifestations of those coporeal minds? How shall I make it clear that the use of the second person pronoun, i.e., "You," was implied to mean the individual whose corporeal eyes might chance to glance upon the screen and make sense of the words being used?

The above, hoity toity as it sounds, has been a carefully wrought collection of nouns, verbs, adjectives and so on, meant to convey an accurate message. The hope would be that through the use of large, specifically assigned words from the English language, they might be less misunderstanding. A vain hope, I'll grant...but being accused of vanity would be the least of recent accusations.

You, the poor, wounded reader who has come to this page and felt much maligned, are the reader of this text. And you, poor reader, are not a hero.

I have presumed that those who play the game are inclined to diligently keep track of their experience points, their gold, their equipment, their hit points and such as scores indicating their success. I presume they do that because, factually, the game involves the keeping of various scores. I was not aware there was a game out there that did not include the keeping of these scores. Whatever activities one's character might be involved in, I felt certain that YOU, the individual who was not the character, felt it was more important to be seventh level than sixth.

Apparently I have been wrong in that. And yet, I wonder...for none of the modules that I have ever seen, with or without their insistence on the behavior of characters as heroes, have lacked treasure or experience.

But I digress.

No, poor reader, I stand by what I've said. You're not a hero. However much you may choose to identify with your characters actions, you are not the great fighter of evil you pretend to be. Let me reemphasize that last: "PRETEND to be." I understand that many of you are proud of your magnificent accomplishments, the villages you've lifted from the clutches of powerful overlords, the damsels you've preserved from fates worse than death, the selfless and sacrificing actions you've taken...but dear, suffering reader, none of these things have actually happened. I know. I hate to be the first to tell you.

The social disease I spoke of referred to the contemptuous manner in which many of the pundits proporting to prop up this game insist that we all, whatever our predilictions, MUST be heroes, even though clearly that is quite impossible, as actual corporeal heroes would likely not be playing this game. I must note that none of those who answered my vicious, hurtful accusations in any manner rose to say, "I have helped actual people in their actual lives." Rather, the cry was replete with those who demanded recognition for their suppositional persona--those whom they pretend to be.

I shall try again, more briefly. I stated most clearly that I do not tell my players what to do. My players often choose not to have their characters act as heroes. My players sometimes DO have their characters act as heroes. Most of all, however, my players are preoccupied with the success of their characters in GAME terms...that is, the accumulation of wealth and power. They may choose to make believe their characters as friendly, and they may choose to make believe their characters as murderous bastards. They are FREE to make that choice, as I am a referee, and not a moral judge.

When their characters have behaved as murderous bastards--and once, yes, they did slaughter every individual within a village in order to be SURE the matter would be closed (it was not)--they have never identified themselves, their corporeal selves, as murderers. I'm quite confident that they do not think of themselves as heroes, either...unlike many of you, persecuted souls that you are.

Then there is the final, throwaway line, in reference to pillaging. I grant, a loaded word. Meant, in this context, to be a "grabber," the sort of thing that leaves the reader in the end with something to reflect upon. To pillage, to take as booty, to loot, especially as an act of war.

Perhaps I HAVE led a sheltered life. But for the life of me, I cannot recall a single instance when I have supplied a location with a large chest in which it was not opened. I cannot recall any instance where the glowing, devastating sword in an enemy's hand was not wrested from the body's cold, dead fingers once the enemy was dead. I have no experience with players, informed that a given mine is replete with gold and "hardly defended", who did not immediately make plans to loot said gold...and in looting, to fully intend to have their characters wage unremitting and absolute war against the rightful possessors of same.

I am sorry that so many have been dearly hurt by what I have said. I am sorry that so many who pretend to be heroes have turned that into pretense, fully judging themselves to be better human beings by virtue of what they have pretended to accomplish. I offer no excuses for my behavior in this regard. I addressed readers and expected comprehension. I am clearly at fault.


Anonymous said...

Well no, there's playing heroic characters who will never do anything but be heroic and never break that structure.

And there's playing characters who choose whether they are heroic or vile or frightenened or whatever.

Both of these have been with the hobby from the begining.

I think Alexis is talking about the second one, but he's accepting that there's a hell of a lot of rewards for pillaging characters in D&D. It's like the Sorcerer RPG could be put as having huge rewards for summoning a demon to do your bidding. In sorcerer, if the GM says 'no, we should all be nice and never summon a demon' it is kind of forcing the player to play against the games basic character. If pillaging is a demon you summon in D&D, so to speak, then playing altruistic heros all the time is forcing players against the games basic character.

Probably Alexis thinks I'm talking crap, but atleast I'm seeing something viable in what he says so he needn't think everyone is just giving him crap (and if I'm using 'he' wrong, please correct me).

Anonymous said...

Oh, should note: That is IF the basic character of D&D's is pillaging for power. I'm inclined to think it is, like the basic character of Sorcerer is the lust for power pursued via demon summoning. Other people might think differently about D&D or even Sorcerers basic character.

Ron said...

Wait ... so you're saying that we're goofy for thinking because our characters are heroes (which they can be) that we, the players, are heroes (which we know we are not), and yet you're also saying that you play because your characters get gold and magic items? You do realize that when your characters get gold, the players don't get a cut of it, right?

Carl said...

You've had some very good posts on the philosophical aspects of the game lately, Alexis.

I'm amazed that some of your commenters have taken your musings about a game and the playing of that game so personally. We're not heroes. We're game players. It seems simple enough to me, but then the distinction between the game and reality have never really blurred for me. I live vicariously through my characters, that is to say indirectly. They are not me, although in a sense I am them. I don't know why someone would become angry for stating that.

I play because I'm not half-githzerai psion, but I find it an amusing distraction to pretend to be one on occasion.

Ron said...

If the blog entries were about player vs. character confusion, that'd be one thing. What the blogger is arguing is that the *characters* in D&D (4th in particular) are not, and cannot, but heroes. They are pillagers after money, and that's all you can ever be in D&D. For some reason the *player* motivation to have their characters get gold and stuff is somehow present when the *player* motivation to have their characters be heroes is goofy.

Alexis said...

Once again, I am impressed with the ability of my commentors to read my mind, identify so accurately my intentions, then argue against the disclosed contents of my brain that they have so meticulously defined. Well done ron.

Carl said...

I'm going to accept Ron's premise that Alexis wasn't writing about the players themselves, but rather was writing about their characters and asserting that those characters are not heroes due to their motivation to adventure coming from the twin towers of Wealth and Power rather than the One Ring of Altruism. He's still right, and it would be a rare group indeed that went against this assertion.

I've never seen a party turn down the reward for rescuing the princess, whether the rescue was the right thing to do or not. I have seen parties turn down the quest to rescue the princess because there was no reward, even though it was precisely the right thing to do. I've had players get angry, genuinely angry, when their characters were not granted a financial boon for accomplishing a "good" act. And, I've seen this happen again and again with groups over the years. I've seen this because I conduct this experiment in every campaign I run, "What will the characters do when there's no reward for doing the right thing?" Their reactions are textbook-perfect and in order: disbelief, anger, despair, and finally acceptance. This has expanded to refusal to play unless the rewards are increased, and in-game has manifested as assassination of important NPCs, robbery, piracy, extortion, and other unsavory acts (performed in-character, of course).

Players aren't playing the game out of the goodness of their hearts. It's unreasonable to assert that they are going to play their characters in any way other than being reward-motivated.

In my current game, I've restricted the distribution of experience points by limiting only 33% of any given level's experience requirement to combat. Meaning that the other 67% has to come from actions other than killing stuff. In my game this means acquisition and frivilous expenditure of treasure and doing things that are interesting, i.e. making me laugh, cry, or display my 'O' face, as in, "O my gods, I can't believe you just did that."

Treasure aquisition can be accomplished through looting or 'legitimate' business endeavors, but will not be counted toward character advancement unless it is spent on partying, whoring, or donation to religious organizations without quid pro quo. Guess what the characters overwhelmingly choose to spend it on? Guess how many times they've demanded quid pro quo from religous organizations to whom they have 'dontated' money on the single-digit occurances that they've actually donated?

We're discussing people playing a game. Would you refuse to charge rent to another player who landed on your property in Monopoly? Well, you might, but you wouldn't be playing Monopoly would you? You'd be spending some quality time with a friend or two and committing an altruistic gesture to prolong that time spent together.

Sweet Jeebus. Is this premise really that hard to accept?

Carl said...

I was going to post that shifting the majority of experience away from combat was not very well-recieved, and then elaborate on that, but I've posted enough.

Ron said...

The premise is that player's never play their characters as heroes. Carl states he's never seen heroism in the PCs in the groups he's been in. I certainly can't disprove that. But it doesn't make the premise correct, either. I've repeatedly experience genuine, selfless heroism on the part of the characters in many of my groups. (I've also experienced genuine heroism on the part of the players outside of the game, but that's a different story ;) My experience of characters being selfless heroes disproves the premise.

Now, my players also play greedy, selfish, even evil characters from time to time, as well. They have range in their RPing, see.

Different play experiences, that's all. But the premise of the blog post(s) is faulty.

Carl said...

So your characters have rescued the princess and turned down the reward or any reimbursement for doing so, even though they risked their lives and incurred expenses in the process?

I stand corrected, Ron.

Janice said...

Well, to each their own. Quite personally, I'd rather have my character going around killing things for honor and the good fight and all that noise rather than going about it to gain more gold. Frankly, I hate the book keeping aspects of most games (particularly D&D outside of 4e, which has it much reduced). I dislike having to manage my character's items on her person like she's some form of violent Christmas tree. That and heroics just sound better for game stories than "and I got 10,000 gold for killing it". 90% of the game stories I've heard never mention treasure unless it was some great artifact.

Alexis said...

ron said, The premise is that player's never play their characters as heroes.

Now you see, that is just ron's own mind at work there. It is pure bullshit. I know it is pure bullshit, because the post ron is commenting on actually contains the words, "My players sometimes DO have their characters act as heroes."

I've made no statements suggesting that I stop them from doing so. I have made statements in accordance with Carl's description that my player's WONT behave as heroes unless it ALSO means treasure and X.P.

Ron. Please. READ the posts you comment on.

Ron said...

"I have never known a single player to express any desire whatsoever to forsake either wealth or experience in favor of making an NPC's life more rich and full...that is, to risk death to free a village."


"My players sometimes DO have their characters act as heroes."

Seems like you might want to rework your blog posts. I think you may have something decent to say, but you keep ranting more than talking.

If your premise is "players that play characters that are heroes, and then act like the stink on shit because they believe themselves to be heroes", then I would probably agree with you. Although I haven't ever played with anyone like that, but it sounds annoying. However, you also make statements about the characters not being heroes, or not being able to be heroes, or players not really wanting to be heroes, and so on.