Sometimes I think English is the villain. I don't have any talent for other languages, but it seemed that Latin was clearer when I was - temporarily - familiar with it.
"Passion is a term applied to a very strong feeling about a person or thing. Passion is an intense emotion compelling feeling, enthusiasm or desire for something. The term is also often applied to a lively or eager interest or admiration for a proposal, cause or activity or love - to a feeling of unusual excitement, enthusiasm or compelling emotion, a positive affinity or love towards a subject. It is particularly used in the context of romance or sexual desire, though it generally implies a deeper or more encompassing emotion than that implied by the term lust."
Note that the term 'compelling' is used twice in the above. If I can be forgiven, I'd like to define that, also:
Compel: to drive or urge forcefully or irrestibly; to cause to do or occur by overwhelming pressure.
I like that word 'irresistibly.' In the latter definition, it is certain to be the word that is most ignored where others consider passion, particularly when discussing the need to denounce or otherwise restrain passion. I'm going to forego defining the word 'irresistible.' I'm going to presume the reader can understand it as clearly as they understand the word 'understand.' I'll see where that gets me.
Because passion is something a person feels compelled by ... and because that compulsion is irresistible, it is actually pretty stupid to tell someone to restrain their passion. To do so is, in fact, to deny that they have passion, or to misunderstand just how intensely a passionate person feels about a particular thing. In the larger sense, it is to deny that any other individual's emotion is a driving force at all. It is to say, obtusely, that while "I" have passions that drive me, I expect all other persons to curb their passions simply because I don't share them ... and to do so smartly.
And, naturally, it is the habit of people to deride others for having passions. "It would be better for me, obviously, if all of you were merely straw figures, capable of performing the tasks that keep civilization running but, in general, obedient and consciously respectful of my personal will."
In such a world, some will say that D&D should be banned. Some will say that some forms of D&D should be banned. Some will say that D&D is fine, but only if it is played in a particular fashion. And some will impose rules about what the players are allowed to be passionate about, and will couch those rules in the decision of the majority, believing that passion can of course be restrained by a general agreement among all the players, IF they decide.
Naturally, it never works. People cannot "play nice" where it comes to something that matters to them. If it matters, they will not restrain themselves. They do not desire to restrain themselves; if they are browbeaten or threatened or frightened into doing so, the result will be resentment, maliciousness and a host of neurotic behaviors. They will crop up in your campaign and they will destroy your campaign.
There is a rather ridiculous notion that humans are really simple creatures that can be bullied into a particular behavior ... and once bullied, that's the end of it. We have a remarkable capacity to overlook another person's ability to look us in the eye and lie about their willingness to agree. "I have stated this as DM, and since I am the DM all my players recognize that the matter is closed, and we can move on."
This is a delusion.
But it is a widespread delusion. That particular sentiment, about a DM having the final word, is propagandized in almost lock-step fashion, despite that number of campaigns that collapse under the weight of all the 'final words' of a particular DM and all the matters that were 'closed.' Every one of us has had that experience of leaving a night's running and, now that we're not in the DM's presence, reiterating our opinion of that closed matter. "I can't fucking believe he said that ... I can't believe he thinks so ... Oh, he's so fucking sure of himself ... I don't think I'm coming back next week" ... and so on.
A DM does not keep players with inflexibility. Nor does a DM keep players by denying passion. A DM keeps players by rolling with the passion, by enabling it ... and by getting the hell out of passion's way. Because passion is gonna roll. If not in your campaign, then somewhere else, or in something other than D&D. If people don't get what they want because you're Mr. or Mrs. Banality, they'll find it somewhere else.
Of course, there are a host of DMs who will argue at this point, "But I make final decisions in my campaign and I've been playing with the same people for ten years."
This is intended to be proof of something. My gut tells me that it's a campaign I'd never want to play in. I am quite a passionate person. I have a number of rather violent passions which I find quite irresistible. The need to play in a fashion that doesn't bore me, for instance. The need to be unrestricted in my character's choices, or behavior. The need to examine all the elements of life and action, not just those approved by the Kindergarten Committee. The need to write these things out. The need sometimes to abuse others for being terribly thick-headed (I don't care actually that they don't have my passions, but I am quite put out when they try to invoke policies of restraint).
So when I imagine myself at a table with a bunch of people who have decided, say, that none of us are going to be pirates - because, you know, piracy is wrong - I find myself ... put out.
It isn't that I have a passionate desire to be a pirate. If I did, I doubt I would be blogging at the moment. Or, perhaps, I'd be blogging from my ship off the coast of Somalia, describing in glorious detail the manner in which the German businessman and his fat squalling wife were hacked mercilessly to death by my proud crew of vicious Somali buddies. THAT would be an interesting blog, I should think ... though probably a short-lived one.
No, it's more to the point that if matters tilted in a particular way in a campaign, and if there was every indication that NOW would be a good time to plunder this ship and kill all its crew - except, of course, for the German merchant and his fat squalling wife, who no doubt could be ransomed (it's the 15th century, after all ... you don't kill rich people six hundred years ago), then I would be quite put out by the DM suddenly saying, "Oh, no, sorry, you can't do that. We don't pirate in this campaign."
At which point, taken unawares to discover that I'm surrounded by a bunch of complete morons, I would probably exclaim, "What? Why?"
"We've agreed," would say the DM, then going on to explain how they had agreed.
Whereupon, I would look around at the other assured faces at the table, who were nodding their heads in support of their DM, having clearly drunk the same kool-aid.
Some people will find themselves in this situation saying, "Oh, well, okay." They've looked around at the other faces, they've judged the resolve of those faces and they recognize there's going to be no negotiation with that resolve. They will then measure their desire to be a pirate in that moment against their need to continue playing D&D at that time, and most often decide they'd rather play D&D with restrictions, than not play D&D at all.
It would be better for me, I suppose, if I could look at the world that way. Unfortunately, the first thing that occurs to me in that situation is that my liberty is being flagrantly curtailed. I want a better explanation than, "we agreed." There's something about that rebuttal that smacks of "Because." My mind immediately jumps to all the times in my life where this particular rebuttal was employed ... and it always seems to have been employed because others didn't actually have a good reason.
So right there we're off to bad start. I've just been told the reason is there is no reason except that it's what others want.
That puts me in this place where I'm forced to balance my wants against someone else's wants with the understanding that my wants are either secondary in their concern, or otherwise immaterial. Now, see, that really pisses me off. I'm willing to be equal and all, but this dismissal shit really gets under my skin. Nor do I really care how many people are dismissing me. In fact, if everyone at the table is prepared to veto my liberty, that only increases the discontent I feel. My ire is inversely proportional to the number of people dismissing my liberty.
And that is where the trouble starts.
I am, unfortunately, not afraid of a lot of people. I recognize that for most, where there is more than one person involved, the tendency is to push down that feeling of being dismissed because it's a bit frightening to face up to a crowd. I don't feel that way. I always presume that a significant number of the crowd feels exactly as I do ... only they haven't said so out loud because they think they're alone. I'm going to demonstrate, loudly, that they are not alone. I have generally found this an extremely positive tactic. I most often find allies who are willing to speak up once they recognize another person feels as they do.
Not always. No, I am sometimes alone. But that doesn't bother me. My liberty is being dismissed. Right is right.
NOW ... a lot of people reading this are going to miss entirely the following paragraph. They're going to comment, if at all, having never seen what I'm about to say.
IF someone in the party says, "Let's not pirate the ship because I don't think we can get away with it," then I'm more than prepared to back off and do something else. If someone says, "We've heard that they're hunting pirates in this area, and that they're setting decoys to catch pirates," then I'm definitely going to say let's not do it then. I am VERY ready to consider a reply that has in it an actual reason not to take an action. I'm being told by the other players something else: piracy isn't necessarily off the menu, just not right now. I am so in with that.
It's that whole 'because' thing. That's what pisses me off.
I would imagine that someone is going to bring up my policy against player-vs-player. That's been out there for some time, though you'd have to have read this blog regularly, because it hasn't come up for awhile. The thing is, I don't have a 'policy' against it. If players want to go head-to-head ... seriously head-to-head ... I won't stop them. Not my place. I will step up and call it idiocy. I will make an argument about how there's so much more to a campaign than duking it out. I may toss a person from the campaign if they feel compelled to do nothing else. It's boring. But in campaign, I won't actually stop them. I count on the party to do that, with swords and stuff.
It's one of the reasons I insist that everyone starts in a campaign at 1st level. It means that the noob, if he or she wants to live, has to ingratiate themselves a bit with the rest of the party. If they act all boorish and stuff, start swinging a weapon around and so on, they're generally a lower level, with less stuff, than those who are already here. And if they do reach a level where they might threaten a long standing party member, usually by then they've worked together for so long no one would ever think of it.
I wouldn't try to change a campaign that told me I couldn't be a pirate. I'd get up and leave. I wouldn't force a player who wanted to kill other players to stay in my campaign and play nice. I'd just boot them. People shouldn't have to play with people who don't share the same passions. I understand that.
But IF I'm invited to your campaign, I don't want a bunch of restrictions imposed on me when I walk in. Certainly not a bunch of moral restrictions, where no other LIVING person in the campaign is restrained in their ability to play their character (like PvP restraints). No invisible walls, please. I presume if you've invited me, you want ME to play. Not some sanitized version of ME that you think you can bear. I don't come in an expurgated version. I'm all me, all the time. People who invite me better realize that.
I realize that about others. I don't ask them to conform. I ask them to listen, I ask them to be engaged, I ask them to be clear about what they're doing and to be informed about the rules. But I don't ask them to be a different person. If they want to get 'icky' in their description of removing the bowels of an orc and spelling out strange words on the ground with the intestines, well ... I presume they've got some reason for doing it.
Doesn't bother me.
The gentle reader can find things I've written about PvP both here and here. Make up your own mind whether or not I've contradicted myself, or if this is just a very nuanced thing that depends upon the exact circumstances involved.