Sunday, January 31, 2010


Harlo, commenting on a post two previous, makes a fine and valuable point, saying,
“... I feel like this attitude [table posted] can open the game to a level of granularity and intimacy that can become both cumbersome and uncomfortable."
Never a truer word, given the case for probably the majority of players who might read this blog (using the Internet as a measure).  They tend to play with strangers quite often, either at conventions or where perhaps half the players or less are 'regulars'.  It would be sincerely difficult to tell a stranger that they are gay, or that they are a clinical moron, or that their character is a racist.  I admit honestly I had not considered this aspect - but then, I know everyone I play with, even the occasional new character, since I measure them before ever letting them play.  If I found myself with a player who was made uncomfortable by my style, I don't know what they'd think of my private life.  As for my online party ... well, if they can read this blog and the one with the campaign, they should know fairly well what to expect.

I say this not to excuse the tables, but to explain why I had not considered Harlo's point - that the game is played with strangers.

Football with my friends might include a fair bit of ass grabbing and similar horseplay - but I would not act like that if I met strangers playing in a park and asked to join.  I'm getting much too old for football (except against other old farts), but the principle holds.  And I would not hesitate to say, approvingly, that if you play with people who would be made uncomfortable with too great a level of detail, DON'T use these tables.

As written, that is.

I pause to mention that such things, posted on this blog, are there to be mined for detail and useful matter, and not necessarily to be accepted dogmatically.  I don't take the DMG dogmatically, so there's no reason why some fool's postings should be seen as inviolable.  Strip it, simplify it, wreck it, discard it, improve it or criticize it ... I would, if it were someone else's.

But granularity itself is a worthwhile topic, so I should seize upon it.

I am, in one of my other incarnations, a novelist.  This means that when it comes to telling a story, I feel I have so much to say that a mere one or two thousand words just won't cut it.  I have to rattle on for tens of thousands of words.  Thankfully, there's a certain taste for novels in the western world, and writers can be forgiven for slapping together a hundred thousand words in the interest of what is - sometimes laughingly - called entertainment.

So where it comes to granularity, I somewhat come at the subject from a position of very much and more please, thank you.  And yet, I shall tell you fervently, if I get too granular with my own stuff, I get too bored to go on writing.  Yes, that's right, I am sometimes bored by my own ideas.  Which explains why my computer is filled with folders of novels that died in the attempt.

D&D, for me, is an outreach of my desire to craft 'scenes' without personally designing either the plot or the characters.  However granular a series of tables might seem, giving 12 details about a character, such a character based on these details would be a sour character indeed.  I provide, if you will, the fodder, to tweak the imagination of others (who often dabble as writers) ... and who, often, have already invented several dozen characters in the D&D milieu.  They starve for ideas - else why would they buy and buy whatever garbage the industry churns out?

Having spun out these details, I get the hell out of it.  Does the character desire not to be homosexual?  No problem, I won't enforce it - it's a ghost from their past.  Are they a criminal or a moron ... well, yes, I will enforce that, but they DID choose their stats, I'm only painting the picture more clear.  I think most can agree that a five wisdom is virtually always played like a 10 wisdom.

Is it too much?

Going through the entire gamut of everyone's characters (and henchmen) in my world and updating them for the tables posted (and not posted), a process that took about an hour, I did give pause.  I had exactly Harlo's concern in my mind.  Had I gone to far?  Was this too much?

It would be, no doubt, if such rolls were constantly compared against a character's every action, as alignment is.  Thankfully, I have a three-month record of my style of play, that demonstrates clearly that I do NOT double-check a player's actions.  I would never, ever say, I'm sorry, your family loves you, your player would absolutely refuse to desert them to travel halfway around the world.  But many DMs very definitely would play it this way.  Harlo has good reason to treat anything like this like poison.  He only wants his character given the freedom he desires, to play whatever he likes, how he likes.

I can give the reassurance that I play that way, but no doubt these tables, and many others like them, offer opportunities to the contrary.

For my own interest, and by my own personality, I will continue to pursue granularity where it does not personally bore me, and where I can see it does not apparently bore others.  I recommend that others do the same.  I won't be bored, any more than I will be railroaded.

But as to the level of granularity which is decent, how can I explain it?  I loved reading War and Peace.  Many find it deadly dull.  Many love watching Full Metal Jacket, a fairly granular Vietnam movie.  I find it deadly pedantic and obvious.  Whatever floats one's boat, I say.  If they still come to play in your world, you're doing something right.  If they stop coming, you're doing something wrong.

Yes you, the DM.  It's either boring or it isn't.  And granularity is certainly a consideration where it comes to that.


Zzarchov said...

While I do love full metal jacket, I love it for another reason. Having been through boot camp, it is painfully obvious most instructors simply watch the movie, sprinkle in some hamburger hill and dirty dozen and served it back to us privates.

That said I do very much agree with your point. Though often I go through cycles with granularity. I produce copious amounts, then I sift through it and refine it down to its most mechanically elegant solution (ideally). Sometimes I find I need to knock down the tower and rebuild the foundation to go higher as I don't want granularity mixed with confusing in my case. Though you seem to focus a little more on clarity from the begining.

Strix said...


Harlo, have you created a Shadowrun character recently? LOL!!