Friday, August 9, 2013


I am stealing time from my online campaign in order to write this post, after suspending play there for the day. I hope my players forgive me.

I see it written all over the community that players don't like paper work or accounting. I believe that the favorite way of putting it is that no D&D player dreams of running their character as Thogred the Magnificent, Fighter-Accountant. That joke was made on this blog by an unfortunate commenter a couple days ago, but it's not the first time I've heard it.

Mind you, I've heard it from bloggers who manage to write endless blog posts about the most ridiculous garbage regurgitated from existing books and existing modules, so really all they've accomplished is the effort to scribble it all out again. It also seems to be said of players who write quite commonly on the net; who are willing to sit and design their own worlds, which requires a great deal more "accounting" than playing a character; and who often have other interests which include writing endless code for game ideas that will never see the light of day, chatting up girls on I've-Got-A-Big-Package.COM, trashing random posts on reddit, running flame wars that are based on someone else being booted for running a flame war, etc., etc. By all accounts, what I see on the net are people willing to write out a lot of words for very little expection of return.

And that's fine, obviously. It's just that, where does this myth arise that people are loathe to write out more than 18 words about their character?

What I have found through experience is that what players do HATE is being someone else's accountant. They hate being told to write out things that the DM thinks is important, and they don't like to do accounting that they don't think amounts to any purpose or has any value to the game. Here I agree ... but a player let off the chain, who recognizes that the DM has a world that's complicated with a lot of content, will happily keep even crazy levels of accounting on their own without being told. My players off-line regularly keep binders full of images they've drawn of character representations or things they wish to build, along with massive computer files or physical folders with plans they're making, notes to themselves, notes on people they've met on the campaign and so on. Online, you can see examples here and here, of the players who have been in that campaign the longest. They're not TOLD to keep these records. They want to.

Now, the online campaign is an odd thing. I never see any of the dice the players roll, I have to trust their integrity, and on top of that I am somewhat constrained to procure the kind of commitment that exists from people coming out to my home weekly or bi-weekly. Now these people online are committed, no question ... but I feel there are things I must ask of them that I don't ask of my offline characters. Keeping track of their encumbrance, for example ... which is certainly book-keeping, and certainly a prime example of something that players HATE having to calculate.

So why do I ask this of them? Is it not an unfair accounting request, adding nothing special to the game?

There's an old story about Van Halen on tour having a performance contract provision which called for a bowl of M&Ms, but with all the brown candies removed. I think probably most people who have been around know the story well, and know why the provision was there. I'll let give it:

"The legendary 'no brown M&Ms' contract clause was indeed real, but the purported motivation for it was not. The M&Ms provision was included in Van Halen's contracts not as an act of caprice, but because it served a practical purpose: to provide an easy way of determining whether the technical specifications of the contract had been thoroughly read (and complied with)."

The band could be reasonably sure that if the stadium was too fucking lazy to remove brown M&Ms from a bowl, they probably hadn't done their best job with the grips, the platforms, the electricals and the million other details necessary to make a concert come off without electrocuting the performers and many lesser dangers ... something impossible to know in a few hours of actually being there before the show starts.

Now, I don't need that level of commitment, but I do need something. I'm writing thousands of words of content, I'm providing the world, I'm hammering out the little statistical details like who gets what amount of experience and how much does shit cost, and frankly I'm not doing that for players who can't keep a two column list describing a thing and the weight of that thing. If I had a player whine and protest about the ARDUOUS amount of work that requires, and the immense suffering they'd go through adding two pounds one ounce to three pounds fifteen ounces, well then I'd know I had the kind of player who wasn't worth the crap his mother pushed out five minutes before his arrival ... wouldn't I?

I don't want to spend a lot more time on this for the present, but a very big part of being a good DM and having a good game is to recognize that a very great deal of your responsibility is not to fill it up with crap players who have no interest in playing a good game. You have to discriminate. You can't be a venue for all comers. You are not MacDonalds. The number of players you serve is of no account to your value as a gamer or as a designer. Save yourself a lot of effort and boot these people.

Something you can always tell about someone who talks a big picture but really doesn't run much of a game - how much lip service does he pay towards what players will or won't do? If it's a lot ... if the DM seems to turn again and again to statements like, "Players don't like this" or "I haven't had much luck getting players to buy in with this," then we're not talking about someone who is a great DM. Not because, as the gentle reader might think, because players should like these things, or because players can be made to like these things, but because a good DM will boot these loser players and fill his or her campaign with players who DO like these things.

This is a huge disconnect in the community ... the idea that because some or a majority of professed players won't do this or that, this or that shouldn't be done. It's bullshit. It means that players who won't do this or that need to be EXCLUDED from the process. They need to be dumped, ditched, shown the door, or at the very least have it explained to them in very small words that the really special games are for the really special people.

Cold? Oh yes. Inconsiderate and elitist? No shit. Add to that stuffy, pompous, self-proclaiming and profoundly smug. Add to it everything you want, that helps keep your ego intact. But I'm quite happy with my players and their willingness to meet with my approval, and I'm 100% certain that if I have not met with their approval, they wouldn't be here. So it's a two-way street. I work to keep them happy, they contribute full out and without damands for pandering.

It makes a good game.

1 comment:

JDJarvis said...

Seems to me many players have no trouble keeping track of loot coming in but have an odd issue keeping weapon stats and other equipment related details up to date.
Encumberance, why should we track encumberance? What's the damage roll for a sword? How should I know what level that spell is?