Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Be a Decent Fellow

From the 10,000 word post:

"The gentle reader will take note that when you play football with your friends, the field's measuring capacity hardly needs to be as complex and detailed as its NFL counterpart; 'Ten Yards' requires no precision; the number of players on each team do not need to be exact, and can even be unequal.  In short, where it comes to playing the game for the sake of fun, excessive rules monitoring is a detriment to game play - that is, momentum - and thus needs to be incorporated into the setting and the narrative as sparely as possible."

There is a counterpart to rules' lawyering on the part of players - and this is excessive rules' mongering on the part of Dungeon Masters.  I don't say there shouldn't be rules.  I don't say that the players shouldn't be limited, reasonably, by those rules.

But the sternest rule should be FLEXIBILITY.  In particular, the very loose application of rules which are lacking in specificity to begin with: alignment, say.  If you have a DM who makes dictates about alignment, or any party behavior, to the point where they are practically running the character's, then something has gone wrong with the game.  The same might be said for the player's adherence to religion.

For example, its often assumed that because the religious elements of my world are deep and complex, I expect player characters to adhere to them.  Not so.  It wouldn't be good gamesmanship if they were required to restrict their activities to those nominally approved by the "church" or religious doctrine.  Within the game, the character's god has to have something of a Live and Let Live sort of attitude.  Yes, now and then the cleric might be asked to perform some local service.  Yes, now and then the cleric might be advised to restrain themselves where it comes to activities directly harming the cleric's religion or its followers.  And if the cleric wants HELP from the God, then yes, you've got a bit of carte blanche to demand certain behaviors and actions of the character - the character opened that door, so walk through it.

But if the character spends a bit of the church income on a bit of resupply for the general party, DON'T jump in like an asshole and obliterate the cleric's spell using ability.  That's harsh, that's stupid, and you won't win much understanding from your party.  Here's the thing in a case like that:  it isn't that important.  Try to keep your dictatorial application of the rules to things that actually do matter.

How do you figure that?  Well, consider your setting as a whole.  What does it hope to accomplish?  Obviously, to offer challenge and reward.  Obviously, not to coddle your characters or grant them more than they deserve for the effort they've made.  Hopefully, you want to scare them a little, create a little fun, encourage some drama and a sense of victorious success.  Fill in the remainder of your purposes here.  Using those as a guideline, important monitoring of the character's behavior applies whenever the player is fucking up the system for everyone else.

In D&D, the squeaky wheel gets the least.  That is to say, stomp on that squeak, and give a bit of leeway for the player who has toughed out the world day in and day out without a complaint.

This isn't an alien idea.  If we go back to the football metaphor, and if the gentle reader can return to the halcyon days of being 14 (when boys were all a bit vindictive - I trust the women reading this can identify in their own manner).

If you found yourself playing tackle, you KNOW you hit that asshole on the other side who griped or whined or acted like a general ass just as hard as you could fucking hit him.  If you were up against a guy who offered his hand to help you up; if he joked with you as you both walked back to the scrimmage line; if he hit you square when he dropped your rush with the ball ... that guy you were decent to, whether he was on your side or not.

But damn ... your blood boiled looking for a chance to hit that bastard on the other side who laughed at every uncompleted pass.

Now, I did say stomp on the squeak as a DM, but you have to restrain yourself somewhat.  I'm not saying that you should rearrange the circumstances for the squeaker, and deliberately go after them.  You're a DM, a referee, and you've got to be above such things on principle.  But where it comes to a not-so-gentle application of the rules, you can't be blamed for counting every one of the 32 points of damage the polar worm's bite just delivered to the squeaker's ass.

You just might, however, want to back off from that sort of absolutism where it comes to killing a party that hasn't actually done anything wrong.  You are the DM, and it is in your purview to relax an attacker's effectiveness, or willingness, at the critical moment, if it saves a good party's ass.  If you can invent a justifiable reason why the polar worm might get distracted at a critical moment, do it!  Save the party's ass.  Don't be such an inflexible bastard.

This is doubly true if the party works with you towards making your world a healthier and more interesting place.  You owe them more than just the flat application of the rules.  They're giving you a good time, just as you're giving it to them.

If you're a decent fellow, they'll appreciate it.

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