Saturday, April 21, 2018

Gamesmanship Examples

Which brings us to the subject of gamesmanship.  Here I'll be suggesting techniques to "game" Dungeons and Dragons, in a way that does not contravene any rule, nor rely upon an argument that "the rule does not exist," in keeping with Stephen Potter's 1947 book, The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship (or the Art of Winning Games without Actually Cheating).

Techniques may be used to interrupt, distract or otherwise break the flow of the DM's presentation, making it difficult for the DM to remain on message, or the players to maintain comprehension of what the DM is saying, allowing for opportunities to misunderstand, misquote, quibble about fine points or otherwise undermine the DM's arbitration of events.

  • Taking an unusually long time to roll up a character, choose the right die, make up one's mind what to do next, or otherwise holding up the game while asking for enough time to properly and accurately make a decision (and thus causing the DM to feel guilty if this "necessary" time is not granted).
  • Asking for key elements of the adventure's descriptions, goals, NPC participants or other crucial facts to be repeated, explained again, explained more in depth, or otherwise dissected, while pointing out aspects or key points that were previously stated in different words ~ then taking further steps to identify which "version" is true.
  • Leaving one's chair at a key moment, to use the bathroom, to fetch a drink or food, to make an important phone call that has been forgotten, or otherwise to simply step out of the picture so that either the campaign has to be suspended for the interim period or tied up with having to explain to the absent person what has happened in their absence.  Often includes momentary disappearances just when the character's participation is crucial.
  • Throwing dice as to be a distraction, dropping dice on the floor, throwing them under objects, rolling dice without purpose, organizing dice or other objects so that key moments in the adventure have to be repeated, or acting in a like distracting manner when other players must make a decision or the DM is presenting something important.
  • Maintaining intensive eye contact with the DM or another player except when attention is desired or asked for.
  • Complaining at length about lucky dice, not having lucky dice, the failing qualities of lucky dice, the importance of getting lucky dice ready or any other lasting verbiage on the subject of dice and which needs to be used.
  • Failing to remember a character sheet, failing to properly update a character sheet, getting pages mixed up, shuffling pages, losing pages, offering to "remember" details that were not written down or otherwise using bookkeeping as a means of distraction or furthering one's advancement through guesswork and the natural generosity of others who do not wish to take a hard line.
  • Encouraging others who are feeling a sense of stress from game play that it is "only a game," waxing at length with academic details about facets of the game or adventure, underscoring statements made by the DM that fearful events "aren't so bad" or that consequences are "no big deal."  In general, downplaying the emotional qualities of the game.
  • Using tools or weapons with which a character is not proficient, only to mention afterwards that they're not.
  • Connecting the wrong results with die roll numbers momentarily, such as stating that a roll is under wisdom and then stating a half-minute later that "I was mistaken."  Various innocent-sounding mistakes that seem to occur with frightful regularity.
  • Deliberately overthinking situations, so as to slow down game play.

    Techniques may also be used to cause other players to overthink parts of the game, mislead other players from chosen decisions, cast doubt on the DM's presentation or otherwise make an issue or a situation more confusing by introducing complications.
    • Proposing speculations that fit the facts that have been given to the players but which are not, in themselves, substantiated by what's happened or what's been seen: "Maybe the villain is some kind of noble lord;" "Maybe there's a beholder at the bottom of this dungeon;" "Maybe we can't find the informer because it's a trick and there is no informer!"
    • Giving advice to other players that subtly increase the advice-giver's advantage.  Such advice is often vague or potentially destructive to the listener.
    • Asking for advice in order to seem like a member of the group, then paying no attention to it.
    • Claiming less ability at running a character, speaking in character, knowing what to do and so on, in order to gain an advantage as someone who shouldn't be held too much to task for errors made.
    • At the same time, claiming a much higher expertise than the player has, in order to cause others to give greater weight to the player's statements and suggestions.
    • Stopping play in order to point out possible dire consequences if other players take actions they've already decided upon, pointing out key details that slant the decision in a very negative light, so that the player feels a greater stress or hesitates before taking the action, or balks.

    And techniques may be used to "set up" other players by deliberately failing to act as a team member.
    • Making a promise to support another player in a dangerous situation, then failing to act when the time comes.
    • Attacking weaker or minor creatures in order to minimize the amount of damage sustained, while strongly remarking upon the joint participation at the end of the fight.
    • Hanging back to be sure to give support in the way of healing or other aid, while risking no real harm.
    • Inflating one's participation, particularly when rolling extraordinarily well at a lucky moment.
    • Refusing to share resources because they must be "saved for later.

    I'm sure the reader can think of several of their own.


    Silberman said...

    I'm happy to see you referencing Potter's -manship books here, Alexis. I think about them a lot in reference to RPG play. In particular, the modern trend of arguing that the game's rules should be set aside in deference to fun, story, character, the "rule of cool" and other such shibboleths strikes me as the grandest of all gamesmanship gestures.

    Maximillian Boii said...

    It seems like a big one you've missed is the insistence that your character wouldn't know something, and thus your ability to make a decision is constrained.