Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Squaring Cows

Reading the Alexandrian's take on Spherical Cows, and the various ideas on the author's site cascading from that post regarding the death of the wandering monster and the wizard as 'win button,' I find myself lacking entirely any identification whatsoever with the what must be the "average dungeon master."

Add to this my stumbling across a three-month old post on Hack & Slash about something I posted around the same time, in which the main problem -C's party members seem to have with dispersal is that they don't all get to join in every combat.  Like this is a human right or something.  I know if I were sitting at a table with a player bellyaching about not getting to wade into combat because the wading pants they were wearing (plate armor) slowed them down, my response would be a lot of mocking baby sounds.  -C is considerably more considerate than I am, maybe because he's been in the military.  They teach patience there.  But haven't any of these suckie-baby players heard of a missile weapon?

Anyway, if you don't read the two posts above, you're going to be a little slow on my mindset at the moment.  I'm mostly finding myself somewhat appalled by the whole "player as dictator" ethic that permeates the roleplaying hobby.  It's not that I haven't seen it before, or even written about it before ... it is only that I am occasionally slapped in the face with it, while never, ever encountering it from my gaming party.

Now, let's understand that the rest of this is not strictly in reference to the two links above, but to many things I have seen over the past few weeks.  Covering the salient points, my specific grievances include:

  1. parties thinking they have the right to be redressed when their position at the outset of the encounter doesn't suit their particular likes or dislikes.
  2. parties thinking that when the encounter is over, they have an automatic right to regain spells and power without being disturbed.
  3. parties using the argument that "it's a dangerous world out there" to justify point one, while dismissing that same argument in justifying point two.
  4. Whining that incorporating something 'real' into a campaign is an unacceptable reason for a DM to do something.
  5. Whining that the DM ought to do something because that's how things work in the 'real world.'
  6. Just a whole fucking lot of whining.
The reasons for this are sad but obvious.  There aren't enough players.  And those players out there have recognized this, and gotten it into their heads that somehow the DM is a kind of service person, like the poor bastard working the till at MacDonalds, whose purpose is to sit and roll dice against approved tables.  "Do it," goes the implied threat, "Or we'll go play in someone else's world."

A contributory factor to this attitude is that there IS someone else's world.  When a world beyond the forementioned tables comprises only  a few shreds of paper with NPC stats, one grossly undetailed map, and a dungeon scratched out on a single sheet of graph paper.  "Anyone can DM," continues the threat.  "So do as you're told and shut up."

And DMs do.  The party sulks, squawks, stages a walk-out or boycott, and DMs get intimidated and back off.  The party gets the encounters they want, delivered in the way they want, with the treasure they want and the time they want to recover for the next battle.  The game grows into a silly farce, usually building up the conflict between the DM insidiously planning revenge while the players grow increasingly demanding.

For some parties, this pattern can continue for years and even decades, particularly if the DM is prepared to obsequiously give into most of the player's demands while personally getting a thrill from the occasional 'victory' he achieves over the players (I say 'he' because I've never seen a she-driven game devolve into this kind of bullshit).  The quintessential example for this is the classic Knights of the Dinner Table, where Brian runs the game, B.A. has his petty little moments, the other boys are retarded children and Sara continues to present as the worst cartoon stereotype imaginable.

Fact is, chance dictates that individuals with psychological problems will find groups that allow their neuroses to feed off each other.  This isn't a 'working' campaign.  These are sick people who happen to compliment each other.  Makes for great comedy.  Makes for a hellish Saturday night for someone healthy.

That addresses parties who have been festering for thirty years, but what about everyone else?  How long do you imagine it takes Joe Simple to call off his weekend campaign because he'd rather catch a movie rather than have to deal with his players?  Two runnings?  Three?  Joe would probably rather play D&D ... and he would probably rather play it with John, Chris and Dave - except that almost certainly Richard's going to show up too and Richard is the real problem.  Joe isn't the kind of guy with the nerve to upfront demand that Richard NOT come (Joe was brought up to be polite).  But when Richard is there, he bosses John and Chris around, while pissing off Dave, and in most cases pushing all three plus Joe into having things Richard's way.

What's funny is that there'll be a night when Richard doesn't come, and the other four have a good time.  They'll even talk about what a good time it was without Richard.  But none of them will have the fucking balls it takes to act on that.  Instead, they'll sit around hoping that Richard gets hit by a truck or something.

I guess what I'm trying to say by going the long way around the barn is that it isn't that most players are bad, awful people who push around their DM, its that there are particular players who seem to have no other life except to exist as people prepared to push around everyone.  They are the toxic element that argues and prevaricates and bitches and moans that the game isn't serving their personal needs to the degree they demand.  If they are going to spend THEIR time playing in THIS world, THEIR time better goddamn be treated with all the respect it deserves.

I want the gentle reader to know that I have a fabulous group of players in my world.  They may play for power, they may dislike not having their own way all the time and they might not be the level they'd like to be, but they hold a fierce respect for one another.  I don't have to stop them from drawing weapons and killing each other's characters - these people are all friends and they would never cross their minds to do anything like that.  If anyone like a Richard showed up, it would take about ten minutes for the party to send Richard packing.  And they would wipe their hands together as they slammed the door at his back.

What's more, my party respects me.  They respect the work I've done, they respect the ways I've tried to turn this or that part of my world into an experience that truly draws from them the sense of being in a fantasy environment, one they LIKE and enjoy exploring.  And because they respect me for the work I've done, I respect them for giving me the recognition.  I don't celebrate at their downfall, I don't devise strategies to break them and I don't remotely imagine them becoming anything except the eventual Lords and Ladies of the Earth they deserve to be.  When the time comes.

They don't push me around because ... well, nobody pushes me around.  And I don't push them around because there is absolutely zero interest in it for me.  If I have a rule change, there's a reason.  And if my players have a contention with my rule change, they have a reason too.  A better reason than, "we don't like it."

I mean, what I read about what's going on elsewhere is just unbelievable.


Anthony said...

"I mean, what I read about what's going on elsewhere is just unbelievable."

I agree, I thought this shit was supposed to stop when we all finished puberty and got out of the teenage years. Apparently not...

Dave Cesarano said...

When I run into these issues, I just pack up and go home. I refuse to play in or DM for parties with players like that. The problem is, these issues also effect people's social lives outside of the game, which is why I've never felt comfortable playing with anyone who isn't a close friend.

I had godawful experiences in graduate school, when I moved to a new town that had a huge gamer society, but they were incredibly cliquish, and the GMs basically serviced all of the "popular" players and the newcomers had to eat crap all of the time.

Here in Busan, S. Korea, where I live/work, its similar among the foreigner crowd. There are too few Anglophones for anyone to want drama or bad blood to go 'round, so when a problem player pops up, I've got to just shut my mouth. Even if Joe, John, Dave, and Chris want Richard to stop playing, they all have to deal with Richard out-of-game and in-real-life. If John tells Richard to stop playing, Richard's neuroses cause him to start hating John, and then drama starts and in the end, John looks like a bigger asshole than Richard ever did, even though the game can go on better than ever.

Oddbit said...

I was about to remark about how I've never had this in my games. Then I realized on reflection, I've been in one as a player. It was 'those two guys'. The two who are friends and one's great and the other... Well not so much. In fact, the reason I realize it is because for giggles we created an arena setting and when I countered his 'super character' his head nearly exploded. He couldn't argue the DM, because it was a player who thwarted him.

I wonder how the situation would play out if the players overall who didn't like them made the environment more hostile... Or at least gave the 'nah it's ok we think the ruling is cool.' But they wont most likely, because the ruling is likely favorable to them, and they don't have to be asses to make it happen. He is.

ChicagoWiz said...

I've asked my Richards to leave. I've been told that my players appreciate that I have an expectation of a group that has a good social contract, or at least basic manners and consideration of others.

So much of these debates come back to the Players vs. the DM mindset, versus the DM as the referee and director of the world that the players walk in. Is it just me being sheltered, or does it seem like that when you take the DM out of the "us vs. them" equation, the whole issue of player dominance falls by the wayside because they then are only in charge of themselves and their reactions/actions?

I'm probably starting to move out of my element here.

Alexis said...

I don't think so, Shy Town Wiz. Given the chance, they'll boss around anyone they get a chance to, and argue its justice as a wide number of virtues - roleplaying in character, having 'fun,' being an experienced player ... whatever works for their agenda.

Besides, you need a DM, so as long as they make it 'us-vs-them' and the DM continues to let them play at the table, the power struggle will go on.

It isn't that the DM needs to be above the power struggle. It's that the DM needs to kick them out of the game.

ChicagoWiz said...

You won't get any argument out of me on that last point - when I start not liking running my own games, I am pretty quick to eliminate that reason. I'm just getting quicker about doing it and better at spotting what works and doesn't work. I don't mind challenging myself with good players that might push my own envelopes, but in a good way.

Maybe I am just lucky to have a good set of players who aren't Richards.

-C said...

I should point out that the majority of the problem (and the comments in the post) are from one particular player. We no longer game with him.

This is bittersweet, because he had his virtues. We were being patient? Hoping for a change in behavior? Whatever. I.E. the behavior was known, and it was a decision to try and address, because we liked the person. I got tired of waiting.

I did want to point out that there is a particular issue with "we don't like it." See, that's how they feel, and then the reasoning and justification come after. It's not that there isn't a reason.

In the particular case above, the issue was that they didn't like the chaos and risk it exposed them to. Their justifications and reasons (and as you can tell from the post, there were many) came later. Like at work when someone has high anxiety, their mind finds something to fixate on, not the other way around.

Anyway, thank you for pointing out something I was too close to the situation at the time to notice.

Tahotai said...

I think a lot of problems come down to the difference between players you play a character and players who play an avatar.

For the player playing a character making a suboptimal decision or inconveniencing their character is part of the story, they might find it downright neat.

For players who are playing an avatar, making a suboptimal decision is dumb, why would you make a suboptimal decision? I mean it's suboptimal, you just said it!

Of course the problem is the person making doesn't have to deal with the consequences of the decisions. Taking an hour to search the room in case there's treasure is boring and your back ends up hurting like hell and you didn't find anything in the last three rooms so why bother. Sure your armor protects you, but it's hot and heavy and you have an itch on your lower back that has been bothering you all day.

And because of the disconnect between the character and the player you get decisions that the character wouldn't actually make.

Of course, I don't think any player is 100% of either of these types, just varying degrees of each. But I much prefer a game that is played by and run for characters as opposed to avatars.

(Not that that playstyle is bad, it simply doesn't mesh with what I want out of the game)

Alexis said...


You remind me of my post-modernist creative writing teacher from several decades ago, who tried to pound into the heads of her young class the theory that beautiful was boring and ugliness was interesting. You've replaced ugliness with imperfect, but the argument is the same: not based on anything actually evident in the human experience (which continues to celebrate perfection and beauty despite the tiny minority that rails against it), but rather upon a philosophical rationale intended to fetishize something that others don't like.

This deserves a whole post. But for the record, someone in reality who is a capable, successful person without any great character flaws feels the sweat and the discomfort and the itching just as much as the lazy, weak 'character' you praise. It's only they don't whine about it so much.

I continue to be plagued by the invocation of realism in order to insist that suffering is 'character' while success and ability are somehow make believe traits that can't be expected to occur.