Monday, March 14, 2016

The Two Sides of the Door

Amid everything else - the podcast, the jumpstart, working on the underwater adventure for my offline party, signing onto Patreon today - a person might be expected to forget this Friday, five days hence, I will be performing a workshop at the Indigo Bookstore at West Hills, Calgary, come 7 pm.

I don't even know if anyone will show up.  I tried to get some attention from one D&D club and that felt like a bust.  I searched out another that used to run about two years ago and apparently that one is bust.  Tomorrow I'm going to go up to the university and see if there's anyone there who plays - if they do, it isn't discussed in a page online.  I won't hurt to hunt up any intellectual club on campus, however, because I know there are people up there who role-play (there must be, there's 25,000 students there).

But the good soul who urged me to take on the workshop did tell me she had a few connections; but I haven't heard from her on those so I'm just hoping.  Of course I can get some of my friends to show up, to make a crowd, but that won't help - my friends have already bought my book.

So I'm concerned, I'm taking time to practice a presentation and I am absolutely hoping for the best. One thing about getting older, however, is how easily we learn to deal with disappointment.  At 17, we get an opportunity to stand up for an hour in front of people and we feel panicked; if it goes badly, we feel devastated.  At 51, however, it's just another hour spent.  Some hours are good.  Some are not.

The workshop is based on the book I was writing in a frenzy two years ago, How to Run.  The book is still selling.  Lately it's been getting a lot of good attention from Reddit (though most everyone is crazy over there) as the RPG followers are just now finding it.  I used to talk a lot more about How to Run, and I do still pitch it; I'll probably pitch it for the rest of my life.  In the cold, clear light of the world apart from the internet, it is my strongest pillar.  The size of it continues to impress people.

I've been thinking on what parts of the book to concentrate on and I believe I've settled on the book's most important theme: legitimacy.  Why do we - any of us - have the right to Dungeon Master and how is it that the way we exercise that right determines the success of the world's we run.

That's sounds fairly academic.  Legitimacy really isn't, so much; we deal with it every day and the lack of it infuriates us.  The subject breaks down to three things: fairness, respect and trust.

People say the world isn't fair but that doesn't fly where it comes to a game.  A DM has to be fair - to everyone.  If we're playing in a world we know we deserve the same amount of attention and consideration as anyone else at that game.

If we're at a table playing, we want to be respected.  We don't want our words dismissed, we don't want to be degraded and we want to believe that our being here in this game matters to the DM.

We want to trust the DM.  We don't feel especially good when the DM changes the rules on the fly or screws us just because he has some agenda that now he has to protect by making us sacrifice.  We want the same rules played every day, for every person, and we want those rules to reflect  what we feel we deserve as human beings.

Every word said and written on the game that gets people angry relates to how one of these three principles is ignored.

Railroading challenges trust and respect.  Godmodding is a fairness issue.  If the DM demands that we change who we are and what we believe before we will be allowed to play in that DM's world, that's disrespectful too.  If the DM starts a world and then drops it because it's boring, or if a DM cancels a running too often, then this goes to a lack of trust.  Fudging is a lack of fairness - how can the DM fudge equally for everyone?  It is a long list - and the game is FULL of people finding new ways to play illegitimately . . . mostly because even the concept of legitimacy being important is discarded.  There are still people running around saying, "The DM is always right."

How is that possible in this century?

To improve our game begins with establishing what legitimacy means to us and then living up to that standard.  This isn't something that I'm going to bring up at the workshop, but I can here: it is impossible for a vast portion of gamers to change.  Many people in the community see the game as an entitlement opportunity that allows them to compensate for the way they feel the world has failed them.  Right across this country, beginning with the day D&D moved past its makers, a particular kind of person has understood very, very clearly that mastering a role-playing game is a printed license for acting as an asshole at the expense of other people.  Moreover, this segment of DMs have served to obfuscate any change or adjustment to the power structure of the game because they know too much scrutiny by the majority will challenge their personal privilege.

This privilege has been allowed to fester and sustain its hold on the RPG community because DMs buy all the products the company sells.  Fundamentally, the self-styled representatives of authority and the self-styled opportunists have been on the same side of the fence all this time, hand-in-glove, gleefully supporting an activity that serves them both well but causes thousands of participants to suffer in bitterness to play the game they love and millions of participants to quit outright.

This game has failed to get off the ground because it is an emotional ponzi scheme.  Asshole DMs support the company that in turn provides them with product used to exploit players who - for reasons of age, geography or social strata - can't find another game to play.

What I can say at the workshop is that we should be good to our players.  Thankfully, if I have an audience, it will be people who actually want to improve as a DM - as opposed to people I met last week who were both caustic and rude to me for trying to speak to them before their game commenced and even before all their players had turned up.  I think of this and simply thank the strange entities of my propagandized childhood that I am a DM and I don't need them.

We should be good to our players.  We should treat them all the same, we should respect them, we should give them reason to trust us.

This isn't enough, however - because we are also duty bound to keep any other player at the table from failing in those principles.  No player can be allowed favor one player over another.  No player can be disrespectful.  No player can act in a manner that engenders distrust.

This deserves to be an unbreakable rule.  There are many DMs that I've read and that I've met now who I feel would absolutely hold themselves to the standard above - but it takes a very special person to step up and force everyone present to toe the line as well.  Until that happens, however, our campaigns will never be good campaigns.

When I say boot a player, this is what I mean.  When I say NO player-vs-player, this is what I mean.  I mean that people who demonstrably target other players for disregard, for disrespect, for opportunities to exploit deserve nothing more than the door.

Draw the door for them, let them know that it's there - and let them know who gets to be on what side of it.  It's only after we sort this out that we can settle down to fixing all the problems with the actual game.

1 comment:

JB said...

I've often mused that there should be some sort of "DM Oath" that is required to run a game. Not necessarily like the oath one takes upon joining the army or assuming an elected office...more like the weekly profession of faith one speaks at the weekly Mass. A vow made at the beginning of every session that they, the DMs, will hold themselves to a proper standard of conduct when it comes to sitting down and running the game.

But I'm a big believer in the power of ritual.