Thursday, May 2, 2019

We were Kids and We Liked Rules

It is a shame that I chose to make a connection between my playing guns as a boy and what I thought of as the elephant in the room, the present state of Gen-Y.  This transformed the comments section into politics, which was not the point of the post ... I really wanted to get into the subject of how our earliest experiences as children helps define the kind of DMs we are, what we want out of role-playing and even our limitation as role-players.

No other game produces the variance in approach that table-top RPGs do.  I can be lazy or not. I can be vigorous in my worldbuilding or not. I can ask the party to fight for every inch of ground, like this is Iwo Jima, or I can set them up to win. We're locked in philosophical discussions about cheating and what the game company is doing with its public relations.

Why would we ever care what Milton Bradley's intent was as regards Axis & Allies?  What set of youtubers would gain subscribers arguing that more of us ought to lie and cheat at Settlers of Catan in order to produce a better game?  How many amateur game designers are out there inventing and marketing their own versions of RISK?  This is a weird game, deeply entrenched in the psyche of the participant ... and as such, the way we played games in our childhood paints a stark picture of what we're like when we take on the mantle of managing other players.

I wanted to talk about that.  I still want to talk about that.  I came at this game from a very tactile experience of immediate rule-making to solve real problems of gun-users NOT getting into arguments about missing or being dead or what the boundaries were.  And those rules worked.  For years.

I did not talk about "make-believe" or "fantasy," or what games were played to suit imagination.  Imagination was not the subject at hand (sorry Lance), but rather RULE-making.  We were kids.  We did not have parents to tell us we had to have rules (unlike the current generation).  We made our own rules and we liked it.

Because rules stop arguments and let people play.

Let's talk about that.


James said...

I don't think many D&D players and DMs think of D&D as a game as much as they think of it as a performance. I don't really know where that came from, maybe from when D&D grew out of its wargaming roots? Or maybe when DMs grew overwhelmed at the huge number of rules needed, and realized it was easier to just make shit up.

JB said...

Ah, yes...I get it now. Missed your point the first time 'round.

Here's something, though:

The creators of the game were certainly of an older generation that was used to rules, and using rules to settle issues at the table...there experience prior to building D&D was from a rules-heavy game culture, right? However, somehow their experience (similar to yours in terms of codifying your game) got lost in their explicit advice to "make up stuff" when there was a hole in the rules, and "the DM is final arbiter."

This, I think, got garbled in translation.

If I put it (now) in a perspective like what you're sharing here, they were saying "Here are our rules, play by the rules, if we missed something feel free to create additional rules as necessary." What (some) folks THOUGHT they were saying "The rules aren't sacrosanct, make up your own rules."

So when a player said, "How come my wizard can't use a sword? Gandalf does. Elric does," the DM said "Um, okay sure," instead of "Because them's the rules, buddy."

So when a DM had to deal with a character bitching and whining over a character dying, he/she decided "Well, the text says the DM should change the game as necessary to make the game FUN because FUN is the object of play" and fudge dice results, rather than saying "Sorry, pal, dying is part of the game, better luck next time," and dealing with the pouter the same as we would deal with any person who wrecked the Scrabble board or overturned the chess set upon losing: shape up or ship out.

I get it now, Alexis. Maybe it IS a generational thing, as I am right on the edge of Gen X/Y. I prefer to play Rules As Written because I can always point to the text and say, "See? It's right here in the rule book." But I've evidenced a bit of a blindspot over the years and laissez-faire attitude about's rare that I've taken a "hard-liner" approach at the table, simply because...I don't know. I want everyone to get along? Something (I have some ideas, but I don't want to fill up your comments section with a lot of personal history).

This post...and this discussion...cements a lot of game theory that's been crystalizing in my head the last couple years. Thanks for that.

Sebastian DM said...

This explains a lot. It make me think how telling how people go to the official source (WOTC) not just for rules but also rulings. Have you seen the kinds of questions Crawford gives official rulings on on his twitter? Just scrolling through, almost all the questions are things that could be answered logically.

It is also frightening how children are getting worse a playing. I don't know if I would necessarily attribute it to the over protectiveness of parents though. In Denmark, where I live, I have never heard of any parents keeping their children from playing in the neighborhood or anything like that but children certainly struggle with the ability to play together anyhow. It is so bad that my local kinder garden made an agreement with the local school that they should actively start to teach the children how to play early on, because the children starting in school already don't play and the teachers think they don't know how. From my own experiences, I attribute this far more to the ubiquity of electronics. Not to say that individual games and activities are always bad, but the rules of the digital spaces we occupy as consumers are generally already decided on.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Again, I don't wish to derail this conversation, but if you want to know why it starts before Kindergarten, Sebastian, I direct you to the aforementioned Lenore Skenazy:

She has an annoying voice but this is hilarious and do try to hang in there until the end. NSFW.

Sebastian DM said...

Ok I watched the whole video (You were right about the voice). I have no doubt that this is a real problem and I can see how it can contribute to the underlying problem of kids not playing. Not trying to derail anything but mostly for the record, I feel I need to add a point i thought curious.

From my point of view, this seems to concern mostly North America. Out of all of these points she brings up, most are not even remotely happening here. I don't remember the last time I saw a kidnapping story on the news. I live near the center of the biggest city in the country and see children in the public park unsupervised daily. The local ekementary school doesn't even have a private yard. The space where the children play unsupervised during breaks is the public space next to the sidewalk.

People are not afraid for their children here, so there must be something else going on as well, because the underlying problem is certainly showing.

Alexis Smolensk said...


Being in Canada, I'd say it is less here than in America, but it is definitely here to some extent. I take you completely at your word regarding Europe; but I did find a video where Skenazy is doing a talk in London, where she was invited. But she was still talking in America.

We'll have to see what happens. I'm glad Europe is mostly keeping themselves sane.