Monday, December 29, 2008

I Am A Bastard

Thinking about one of my own comments (that I’m a referee and not a cruise director) I found a description of a cruise director: someone who’s job it is to be enthusiastic and to get passengers involved and enthusiastic about shipboard activities, as well as doing general public relations work for the cruise line.


I have some idea from reading blogs on the net and from personal experiences about how some dungeon masters go about following exactly the description above. But I need it to be understood: if you are playing in my world, I presume you’re already involved and enthusiastic. It isn’t my job to make you that. If you can’t be that on your own, you’re welcome to lift your dead ass carcass up and haul it the fuck out of my world. I have no time for you.

As well, in case it isn’t dead obvious, I don’t give a flying fuck about the public relations effect that my world (or my blog) has on the fortunes of those who invented, re-invented or who now presently market dungeons and dragons or any other role playing game to the world. I have about as much chance of caring about that as I would about the fortunes of the NHL during a game of scrub hockey my friends and I play at the local gym. I’m not a spokesperson, I’m not concerned with the general image of the game and I really, really don’t care that some fantasy folk feel “queer” because D&D has a poor social image. Honest. I’m just too white and nerdy, and that’s something I own, not something I’m trying to change the world’s mind about.

Believe me, my players notice. They know I won’t suck up to them, or hand out choice magic items to make them feel special, or compensate for a character they’ve lost or whatever. Oh, sometimes I feel a tug at my heart…like when I introduced tables for characters to make abilities checks on for their former lives, and the cleric wound up losing one of her hands. That was a pity. It particularly sucks since most bludgeoning weapons do, in fact, require two hands.

My world is nasty, dark, unforgiving and unpleasant. Not very different from planet Earth. If you piss off the wrong people, they will kill you. Oh, I don’t mean they’ll politely challenge you to a duel and let you pick weapons, I mean they will hire a sufficiently high level assassin who will pop out at the most inconvenient moment possible and off you…such as once when the assassin followed the party into a dungeon, watched patiently as the party massacred—at great price—a cave full of bugbears, then stepped up at the very end and easily dispatched the one character left standing. That’s how I played twenty years ago and that’s how I still play today.

Yet I have no trouble with player loyalty. Everyone shows up, every running. Partly because we’re all white and nerdy but mostly because the harder it is, the more rewarding the rewards. I may be a bastard, but as I have nothing invested in the success of the monsters or the party, I’m viewed as a fair bastard who can be relied on not to cheat the system one way or the other. Thus, I get very loyal players who get a huge kick out of besting me whenever they can. Sometimes I can be bested. Someone will think of something very clever and I will concede the point, or the treasure, or whatever. That’s what my players like—an opponent, someone to pitch their wills and their minds against. Conflict is the resolution that drives the game.

I understand that most think that the conflict is between the players and the make believe shit the DM invents (or buys from a store), but that’s nonsense. Conflict occurs between actual entities. Ogres don’t run themselves, I run them. I may run them according to set rules, but if you want to live you better try to prove yourself against what’s in my mind—what would Alexis do, that’s the question.

That is the compelling brilliance of the game…IF you have a DM who is a challenge. I’ve played against game referees who were so dull it was possible to convince them a two-handed sword could be used one-handed. Or that a Chant spell could be done silently.

So no, I’m not a cruise director. I’m not interested in showing everyone a good time. People come to play, they come to play hard and if they have a good time, its something they’ve done for themselves.

If you’re going to get involved in this racket and be a DM, you better ask yourself when was the last time you ever wanted to be around anyone who was obsequiously trying to win your favor? Any of your friends particularly worried about you having a good time when you play poker with them? And if you weren’t, would they tear up and cry for you? No. They’d throw shit and tell you to get over yourself.

Well, they would if they were friends worth having.

You will never have a world until you get this whole, “I want to make sure everyone has a good time” thing out of your head. It automatically assumes your players aren’t capable of finding a good time on their own. Which makes you a sort of condescending asshole. Which might be one of the reasons people don’t come back.

Concentrate on refereeing the game. Let the players be responsible for their own level of commitment.


clovis said...

say it isnt so i looked up to you . . .

Will Douglas said...

Hear, hear!

A good DM should be a bastard. "Tough but Fair" should be the absolute minimum a DM would strive for.

The games I remember (as a player) weren't the Monty Haul giveaways, they were the times I just scraped by, using only my wits.

You don't need to be a Killer DM, you just need to challenge the players. Every time.

Congratulations, sir! You've described the goal to which we should all aspire.

Strix said...

I think it starts with the first game session. The DM coddles the players along until they reach some proficiency with the rules and then the gloves are supposed to come off. I think a lot of groups out there are still playing with the gloves on when they shouldn't have even come out in the first place.

My first game had no gloves. It was run by a friends older brother who obviously had better things to do than teach us the game. Our characters died in a trap that we gleefully and ignorantly blundered right into after about 10 minutes. We learned to look for traps before opening treasure chests (We were 6 or 7 at the time). He devised destruction of our characters into every scenario. We started to survive longer and longer and the challenge of killing us off became his thrill and the challenge of surviving became our thrill. Great games! Everyone turned out for every running.

Anonymous said...

All of this is fine once you have that loyal player base. I've moved a lot and had a work schedule that wasn't at all conducive to gaming, so I've had trouble even finding players. I like the cruise director analogy for getting people on board, but once that's done... and, it shouldn't take more than a session or two. No more gloves.

Curious said...

"If you can’t be that on your own, you’re welcome to lift your dead ass carcass up and haul it the fuck out of my world. I have no time for you."

LMAO I love it! I have a gaming group w/ coworkers and I have also taken your viewpoint on being the referee instead of cruise director. It's the only way to keep the characters from trying to be 'godlike' instead of recognizing the beauty of the game-roleplaying and making choices.

Very interesting. I'm going to check out your other columns.