I play D&D with my friends. In the case of my daughter, with my family. I don't think that gets in the way of this post, however, since I hold my friends to the same standards as I would hold new D&D players.
If it chanced that I moved to Seattle, Toronto or Phoenix, I know there are readers of this blog who would be very interested in joining my game. I think I could do very well in Chicago, Atlanta, Providence or Portland - on the west coast, at least. I've heard from readers from Vancouver, Winnipeg, Omaha and San Diego, too . . . and overseas in Manchester, Wellington, Strasbourg and Madrid. You know who you are.
I don't write this to pat myself on the back, sorry. I write it to make clear the point that were my circumstances different, I would probably find myself playing with relative strangers - for a little while, anyway, until they made the cut and became my friends.
'Made the cut'? I'm sorry, maybe that wasn't clear. Some of you are not good enough to play in my world.
There will be many different responses to that, but two of them will stand out.
One Group, particularly of those readers who are already thinking, "I wouldn't play in that guy's world if -" [fill in expletive here], feels on some exceptional level that they don't deserve to be judged. Ever. Certainly not in terms of how they play the game. Even less so for how well they play the game - which, and I'm not kidding here, fucking matters to me. If the reader can't play with ability, the reader is not welcome. And what do I mean by ability? Well . . . that's the point, isn't it?
The Other Group, they have smiles on their faces. Right now. They know exactly what I mean by 'ability.' And they don't doubt for a second that they have it.
Ability is enthusiasm. Verve. Commitment. A strong desire to play. An awareness of other players and their equally strong desire to play. Empathy for those players. Most of all, a resolve to make the game work, both for themselves and for me - for every damn person at the table.
"Oh," says one of the first Group. "I have that. No biggie."
I wonder. Because here's what's going to happen if I find you sitting at my table without enthusiasm, a will to pay attention and as much commitment to the game as I have. Here's what's going to happen if I catch you selfishly pressing your own agenda with a big fuck-you to your fellow players. Here's what's going to happen if I catch you with indifference towards another player's situation or troubles - and gawd help you if you show mirth at someone's downfall.
I'm going to boot you.
I'm not going to be kind about it. You'll get some warning - and unless you're living down being the kid of an alcoholic or some other abusive childhood, you're going to feel that warning down to your bones. See, I was a kid among alcoholics and I did have an abused childhood so I come from an awful lot of anger - anger that sort of comes to a pleasant simmer that provides a measurable tension at my gaming table. Some of my players really like it; they know how controlled I am, how on the edge I am . . . and that makes for really good game play. When I say 'roll' the players do it.
I know that some readers here think I must be a bean-counter during my games. They think it must all be accounting and rules lawyering. Um, no. I'm working, I'm rushing, I'm getting older and it is very easy to wear my patience thin. That's why, if you're a fucking tourist, you can catch the next bus.
Worse, I'm a social justice warrior. I really, truly hate seeing anyone unfairly abuse themselves or anyone else. Unfairly abuse . . . that's not a casual distinction. Come sit at my table willingly, of your own free will, and get ready. Because if you fuck around, you're going to hear it from me.
Yet with all this, I have players. Passionate, loyal, dedicated players that don't miss sessions - unless they're in a hospital or they absolutely cannot get out of a wedding or a shift. After which I listen to a long, self-abasing speech these players give about how fucking mad they were when they found out they couldn't play.
See, they're not sorry. They're pissed.
The Other Group is smiling again.
Let me explain something about why you don't have a group like mine. You're not angry enough. You're not righteous enough. You're putting up with way, way more shit than you should be. You're turning a blind eye to suffering and abuse at your table because you're too much of a chicken shit to step up. You're cowed. You're afraid of losing a player.
Whereas I can't wait to show those players the door. Can't. Wait. I can feel it five minutes into a session, when they start to ask the wrong questions and start to make statements about their character's motivations and . . . I can just feel my blood heating from a simmer to a boil.
Just give me a fucking reason, I'm thinking. Just one reason.
This works because the players I've already collected are just as ready to get rid of the new player every bit as much as I am . . . and because I will hold back until the line is crossed. I'll make the line very clear, I'll warn the player back from it . . . and I'll make it clear I'm the sort of person that means what I say.
I do get players who aren't afraid of me. Like I say, if we've both had the same upbringing, if we've both learned the same lessons in childhood, if we've both set our minds to being right while the other person is wrong . . . hell yes, they're not going to scare. That's a given.
But those people break down into two groups, as well. People who learned from those lifetime lessons and just want to fucking play - in which case we get along great, even if we lose our tempers with each other - and people who learned nothing from those lifetime lessons. In which case, I don't want them around.
Now that first group is thinking, "I really, really wouldn't play in that psycho bastard's world if -" [fill in lots and lots of expletives here]
Good riddance. No great loss.
Everyone else makes the cut. Everyone else gets to keep coming back and playing in a great world where we're all invested. Because everyone not invested was shown the door.
Ever walk along with someone when they're shown the door? It's all sour grapes. All of it. They tried out, it sucked, they didn't make the cut and they are understandably pissed. Hey, seriously. Understandably. I get it. I've been booted. I haven't made the cut. I've failed to measure up. Everyone has. It is a fundamental lesson in life. You, me, none of us get everything we want - and it is worse when we realize after the fact that we've just humiliated ourselves in trying to have something that, afterwards, we realized we never did want.
That's how I started this post. By saying that the people who stay are those who want it. When I say that, I mean they want it hard. I mean they're ready to put up with be shouted at or forced to withdraw what they've said or change their minds about how the game should be played or what the hell they're doing there. That's what committed means: that when someone tells me what the rules are, I don't think, "Fuck, those are shit rules" . . . I think, "That's going to take adjustment." On my part. Not the part of the table. Not the part of others. My part.
The players that stay in my world, who enjoy my flashes of passion, who like the rigor and the structure and the ungodly tension, they're people who think that way. If you, gentle reader, gentle misused reader, revolted and disgusted with my attitude, don't think that way, then you're very welcome not to want to play in my world.
There's only so much room around the table as it is.
I can't accommodate everyone.
As such, I feel justified in accommodating only a few, in exactly the way I want to accommodate anyone. Conditionally.
If you, O dear DM, haven't figured out that about your table yet . . . jeez, I don't know what to tell you.