Friday, October 25, 2013

Wrong Play

My post earlier in the week got these two comments:

From JDJarvis: "It seems a lot of folks can't understand you can have fun playing a character that isn't a Sociopath so they don't make the leap."

And from Jason Packer: "I've encountered more than a handful of players who are unable to create a character who isn't an utter sociopath."

I feel I must reply at length.

I have no particular problem with an individual pretending to be a sociopath at table, so long as their aware of their actions, and are able to view them with a certain necessary, desireable detachment ... i.e., "Yeah, we probably shouldn't have killed everyone in the village, that might have been a bit overboard, but hey - we couldn't leave witnesses, could we?"

Heck, that's fine. In actual life, the Mongols used to push people together in 'herds' of ten to fifty thousand, then spend days and days slaughtering them. The city of Balkh, a great seat of learning prior to the 13th century, was destroyed and ceased to exist for a period - despite almost certainly having a population rivalling that of the fifty thousand people who were killed by the Mongols at Samarkand.  I have yet to have a player character get really ambitious in that fashion ... though of course the template is there.  I hardly have one source for mass killings upon which to draw.

(Though it should be said that with modern, politically correct historical rewrites of EVERYTHING that has ever happened throughout time, NONE of these things ever happened. They were just nasty rumours spread by people who did not like Mongols. Human beings do not actaully do bad things ... except one completely anachronistic group of Germans, naturally)

If I had a character legitimately able to organize an army so as to repeatedly slaughter tens of thousands of NPCs and get away with it, then I think I'd be more impressed than appalled. I've read too much history and too many accounts of mass killings, from Cannae to Cambodia ... I'm too jaded to really have a problem with players 'killing' fictional descriptions of things.

I doubt that either Jarvis or Packer above do, either - though they can correct me if I'm in error. I think what they're referring to is the player who doesn't seem to know they're behaving with psychotic imbecility. The sort of thing where this conversation happens:

DM: You meet a old man on the road, making his way along with a gnarled cane; it is obviously difficult for him to walk, and it may be possible he hasn't eat in awhile.

Player: I kill him.
DM: I'm sorry?
Player: I take out my sword and split his skull open.
DM: Um, why?
Player: I feel like it (giggles). Do his brains run out over the cobblestones?

I've seen dozens of references to this kind of thing on blogs, most often with reference to the old man holding some secret or being intrinsic to a railroaded campaign, and now the DM has no way to tell the party where the princess is, blah blah blah. But the bigger point isn't what the player has lost by "acting hastily" or some other euphemism for being a RETARDED TIT, its the clear and obvious sign that one actually has a garden-variety sociopath sitting right at the gaming table. The player, that is, not the player's character.

Oh, probably not someone really dangerous ... there are probably no bodies in that player's backyard, that player probably hasn't the presence of mind to actually arrange and set up a murder without peeing themselves in a fit of fright and androgen deficiency. Nah, we're talking a sort of kind of ersatz socialized poster child failure who's raver parents operated with "on the fritz" efficiency during that all important formative diaper-to-toilet escalation.

Packer also added a point about how such persons being given the option of rolling a new character suffer a "non-punishment" for acting like pretty much like morons ... and that is mostly true.  In any one's world by mine, that is.

See, I take a rather confrontational style with D&D, just as I take a confrontational style with real life.  If I happen to be in a place where some sort of stupidity is taking place, all too often I'm inclined to speak out.  I'm that fellow on the bus who tells you to turn your fucking headphones down.  I'm the guy who, when standing in line behind someone screaming at the employee at the complaints counter, gets involved. When I see two Jesus freaks cornering some hapless and all too polite fellow on the street, I walk over and pick a theological argument. I like tearing born again Christians apart limb from limb and picking my teeth with the bones. That sort of propagandistic terror-spreading pisses me off more than I can express.

So if I have some hapless moron in my world, in my house mind, eating my food and making my chairs squeak, I'm not going to hold back. Fuck the game - what the fuck do you think you're doing, buddy? What are you here for? Are you aware there are four other people at the table? Are you aware of anything except your own derisive self-aggrandizing kindergarten pud-pounding jizz-spreading happiness? Hm? Can you tell me just what exactly the fucking point of killing the old man was? Go on. I'm waiting.

These are things I'm saying while standing up, looking down at the player, ready for his answer and by little freaking gnomes in the well water, it better be a goddamn GOOD answer.

My game doesn't depend on the old man transmitting any information to the party. As I said in Catskinning the week before last, if I need to put forward that information, I will find another way. What I want to know is why is my precious time being wasted. It is MY time. It's expenditure matters to me. And if some fuck intends to spend it thoughtlessly, then I want that fuck to know plain and simple that I am not happy with the robbery.

Why is it I have a game, and I don't scare all my players away? My players feel about this sort of the exactly the way I do. And it is nice for them that they don't have to handle this sort of shit personally and get their hands dirty. They have me to get my hands dirty for them.

Punishment for wrong play? Oh yeah. In my world there is.

Ah, don't take it too much to heart. I'm channelling all sorts of emotions this week.


JDJarvis said...

I don't see the Mongols as sociopaths, they are following the rules of their people and making a better life for themselves and the group.

I do mean the "murder hobos" as some folks call them when I mentioned maniacal sociopathic kleptomaniacs (with a bit of pyromania).

Alexis Smolensk said...

So the Nazis were not sociopaths either, they were 'following the rules of their people and making a better life for themselves and the group.'

Most comforting.


Jhandar said...

Not to be horrifically nitpicky, however sociopathology, or antisocial personality disorder as it is classified in the current DSM, requires evidence of a diagnosable conduct disorder prior to the age of 15 to meet the diagnostic criteria as a 'sociopath'.

So while it is safe assumption that there were some sociopathic Nazis and Mongols, they are the thumb part of the saying 'a thumb is a finger, but not all fingers are thumbs'. In both cases I think the concept of 'mob anonymity' is more fitting. Which to the point of the post, kudos on your behalf Alexis for calling them (the players; Mongol, Nazi or otherwise) to the carpet on it.

Dave Cesarano said...

You zeroed in on something I've been saying for years about how players' styles, manners, and methods of play reflect WHO THEY TRULY ARE INSIDE. All through graduate school, I kept running into people who inhabited the town my university was in that gamed. And given enough time out of game, I would discover that their true personalities were as abhorrent, degenerate, and detestable as the characters they played.

In the end, I find I prefer to play with people with whom I am and have been friends for a while rather than unknowns. As a corollary to that, I usually find through gaming whether or not someone I play with actually is the kind of person with whom I want to surround myself outside of game (it's a great way to give a person the litmus test to see if they're a douche).

Having a player portray a sociopath or something like that has a time and place, especially if they interpret it as a challenge. I did it once and ended up hating the character so much I didn't want to play him anymore. But they need to take the world seriously.

Considering the level of detail and the amount of hard work you put into your world, they'd damn well better.

JDJarvis said...

Well they were following a mad man and his hanger's on so, nope. The Mongols got to be Mongols for a while, the NAZIs failed in the first generation.

Jomo Rising said...

By personal experience and involvement, a psychopath has the following characteristics. Mine had all of them:
1. Is quick, witty, and charming – if superficial.
2. Is electrifying, self—important, and/or narcissistic.
3. Is unable to “walk in the shoes” of others – lacks empathy with people.
4. Is prone to short, dramatic displays of emotion.
5. Is impulsive.
6. Is highly reactive and short tempered.
7. Lives in the fast lane – almost nomadic.
8. Lives by their own rules.
9. Has a surprising lack of concern, or guilt, for their actions.
10. Uses deception and manipulation as natural talents – are unphased by their own lies.
11. Obligations and Commitments mean nothing to them in the end.
12. Inflicts verbal, emotional and/or physical abuse to an increasing scale.
13. States that THEY themselves are the victims.

(Source: “Without Conscience” by Dr. R. D. Hare.)
I've never had a player that could pull it all off, no matter what "evil" they chose.

Jason Packer said...

My apologies for the delayed response, and thank you for taking up the point.

I won't argue entirely from the DSM, but when I refer to people with a tendency towards playing sociopaths, I refer to the primary symptoms (if we eliminate the age requirements:

failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;

impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;

irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;

reckless disregard for safety of self or others;

consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;

lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another;

That's very close to the sort of characters I run into again and again while gaming in unstructured settings - pick-up games, LFR or PFS games at the local game store, and online - and the sort of thing that leads me towards a role more of game collector and pontificator upon all that is ill with the hobby, instead of being an avid gamer.

Unknown said...

I haven't been playing for too many years, but in my experience the sort of pathological behaviour comes mostly from new players, specifically those who have come from a video game paradigm where basically encounter=combat and they are not used to everything they say and do having repercussions. After being lucky enough to survive a few levels after disparaging and picking on nearly everyone, they actually do display regret when they find their character shortened by a head--at least because a lot went into developing that character and some degree of attachment was inevitable, if not from any innate morality on the part of the player. More often than not, having to start over from scratch has led to a more careful approach from then on.