Thursday, May 3, 2012

Meet the Dweebs

Why is it every time I meet D&D players in the real world, they always turn out to be such fucking dweebs?

On the bus home yesterday I sat across from a twenty-something couple in an intense argument about whether or not it would be possible to strangle a god to death; she was arguing for, and he was arguing against, and it became clear after awhile that he was her DM in the game they were playing.  So naturally I spoke up and got involved.

After the initial shock of meeting someone who's almost fifty who understood what they were on about, we got into a three-way discussion about a flood of "practical" game advice - mostly given by them to me.  I learned really important things about why NOT to game with the Devil (he cheats); about how to beat Death (take his scythe away); about the exact wording of wish spells; about how duplicate gods exist in multiple universes, so that if you kill one here the others will be aroused; and how having mass numbers of attacks enables you to kill gods and thus become one yourself.  There was a great deal of discussion about super-powerful magical weapons and which ones are best wished for when you get a wish.  And all this in just under 23 minutes.

I'd say the game is divided between people who would read the above and think, "Good Discussion," and those doing a face-palm right now, thinking, "Oh my gawd this same old shit again."

Guess which camp I fall into.

There's no wonder in my mind why people who do not play this game see players as a bunch of flakey morons.  I can imagine what the others on the packed bus thought while probably not comprehending most of it.  If someone else did know, he or she wisely kept quiet.  I kept quiet for the most part, letting them ramble on in that "keen" or "cool" way people have of getting excited about their thing.  I did say that I had a world.  I didn't offer details, however, and naturally they asked no questions - that type never does.  I learned that they were players of Pathfinder; they got off the bus having no idea what edition I played.

I have to laugh when a conversation about playing the game includes the phrase, "Whenever I have a wish spell ..."

In thirty years of play I have given exactly two wish spells to players.  One resulted from a Deck of Many Things.  I can't remember what it was used for; I think the party returned to somewhere.  The other resulted from a randomly rolled scroll - and it was used to resurrect a permanently lost player character (a mountain fell on him).  My personal opinion is that I don't fuck players who use wish spells by twisting words or reading everything as an entendre.  That sort of thing popped up out of Victorian morality, based on the premise that anyone who ever gets anything for free should be punished for the good of their souls.  I have a more Chinese opinion about these things.  I think a player should be given precisely what he or she wants - which often will not be as wonderful as they hoped.

Oh, during the discussion about becoming a god I learned that the fellow's character in another campaign had become 25th level after a year and a half of campaigning.  I'm never clear about the structure of measuring these intensive games of plentitude - once you blow the doors off restraint, what keeps you from making the treasure 60,000 gold for killing four trolls as opposed to 40,000?  When you massacre 113 frost giants with 113 swings of your sword, do you give 1,000 gold per frost giant or 2,000 gold?  How does one decide, exactly?  Is one necklace of missiles ever enough?  Shouldn't everyone have a bag of holding, and isn't it necessary that every member of the party have some kind of artifact, just so no one feels left out?

I've never been clear on those things.

My apologies to all the pud-pounding fantasy fan-types out there, but there really is a more sophisticated way to play this game than figuring out how many magic swords you can hang around your waist.  See, it's like the two ways to see the purpose of movies.

There are fans of a movie like Transformers, where the thrill is about big honking robots fighting.  The reason is entirely unimportant.  The only reason to have actors at all is because they're cheaper to film than CGI.  You need to plant people in their seats for 120 minutes, and since the budget only allows for 10 minutes of CGI, you've got to fill the other 110 minutes with something.  It might as well be with Megan Fox and some dweeb with which the audience can identify.  Gamers who like this sort of thing just want to be big robots, smashing around, and the more magic the better.

I'm more of a Ratatouille fan myself, where the big climax in the film is making someone change their mind.  If there were giant robots in the world, it would probably take about five minutes for them to start fighting each other.  So, not much effort there.  But people actually have minds that CAN change, yet it happens with such infrequency that it's possible for human beings to get excited about it. Therefore, my games are about changing people.

I'd rather play a game where players think, where curiousity carries more weight than wishing and getting.  I'd very much rather stop meeting freaking morons who think the opposite.


  1. Having nothing to do with any of the above I still feel compelled to share. Ratatouille is my favorite Pixar film, followed closely by Wall-E. My young boys (5 & 10) are all about Cars & Toy Story... but occasionally they humor their dear old dad and watch the former two with me.

    I'm not sure what it says about my tastes, the current time of my life or modern movies when Pixar, to me, is producing most of the best conceived, well-written and enjoyable big films now.

  2. James,

    When I was wasting my life making no money in theatres and working on independent films, my paying job was as a cook and chef, which I did for 15 years. I eventually worked my way up to a 5-star restaurant, about the level of that in the film.

    I always bust a gut when Colette says, "keep your station clean or I WILL KILL YOU!" and I was good friends with Horst and his thumb.

  3. My own restaurant experience has been limited to dish-washing and waiting at three star restaurants, burger flipping at no star restaurants and my favorite job ever: pizza delivering... so my familiarity with the setting is only passing. I do have Anton Ego's climactic speech/ final review nearly memorized, however.

  4. Hey there Alexis,

    I have been following your blog for about a year now I think, and wanted to compliment you for the effort you have put in it for such a long time!

    I have players like the ones you described in my campaign, a version of medieval-to-renaissance earth which I run in a modified version of pathfinder.

    All excited to run the thing for them I went to work on a map of the surrounding area; they come from a small fishing town on the coast of the United Provinces, and worked out an adventure to get them invested right away.

    As I wanted to really imprint on them the fact that 'heroes' do not exist in the way they do in most D&D campaigns, I had them roll up 'zero' level characters which basically meant I gave them half a hit die, and adjusted the class features they received so the really interesting ones would not be available until they hit level 1, to make reaching level 1 something to look forward to and once more make clear that they are not that special yet.

    However, after informing them of this, all I got for feedback was "Well, I am just going to wait till level 1 then.", or "Oh, then it's back to throwing rocks because I don't have the money for anything else.”

    Never once were they thinking of how it could be exciting to start out as 'regular' sons of millers or farmers, having to think their way out of messy situations involving armed and armored French soldiers and not having that much material wealth or magic items to rely on.

    Reading your article made me realize once again how the kind of player is rare, that cares more about the world his character walks and breathes in than the amount of magic hoo-hahs he can stuff on the side of his horse.

    Thank you for writing this!


  5. You're welcome, Quinten. It was a long 23 minutes.

  6. Alexis -

    I'm sorry for your pain, I can remember being one of those dweebs for about a year, when I was 12 or 13. Many of us grow out of it and the rest server to remind us that stereotypes come from somewhere.

    I've had similar encounters a handful of times the last 10 years, some of the times I've sat and watched the people around them, sometimes I join in the conversation like you did. I've always walked away wondering how to best successfully provide a growth experience for them and show that there's more to playing that being able to "strangle a god with your bare hands".

    Still don't have a good answer there.

    On the upside, I'll run into football fans in team jerseys with painted faces that are running amok after the latest win/loss and be reminded that there's a bunch of nut-jobs in every bunch.

  7. For the record my answer to the question of if you can strangle a god to death as a GM would be both A: Have you tried it? and B: Do you know a historical figure who's tried it?

    If you haven't, I guess you'll have to find out.

    I think the biggest problem for me there is too much information... Unless those players actually did those things, which means they're battle stories, none of them should have stay valid when the tires hit the pavement.

    It's one reason why I'm a fan of even rebuilding enemies in the DMG, they have the same feel, but if a character shouldn't realistically know what they should do...

  8. In keeping with your point, Lukas, I always have a lot of trouble with the premises of these arguments.

    Gods, by definition, cannot be killed. They are not mortal. An argument has to begin with (a) the gods are mortal and therefore can be killed, and therefore are only gods in name; or (b) the gods are not mortal and therefore the very substance of the word "kill" ceases to lose meaning. If someone were to attempt to wish a god killed, they would get back a null program, as if they had asked for the rock in their hand to be killed.

    If someone were to wish the god out of existence, there would still be millions who believed in the existence of the god - and their belief would reconstitute the god's existence almost immediately. If someone were to wish that no one in the world should believe in the god, the god would still exist and the belief would soon spread once again as it had originally.

    But I have a more traditional perception of gods than that invented by some rather shoddy did-not-do-the-research game makers 40 years ago.

    As I'm at it, I'd like to make a couple of points regarding the Devil and Death.

    Does the Devil really need to cheat? He's been at it a long freaking time, and given the average competance of your average going-the-wrong-way landed-in-hell postulant, I can't imagine the Devil needs to work all that hard to kick ass at chess.

    Why do people think Death's entire repetoire of powers exists in the scythe? It's only a tool. I am not the computer I'm typing on; why presume that Death is the tool he chooses to use? The scythe is simply convenient for bringing down a lot of things standing together. You can still break off wheat with your hands.

  9. Well, the discussion you had with Pathfinder players ( of which I run a group) makes sense if you apply their thinking to the game mechanics, artwork, and overall presentation and implementation of that style of game.

    BUT- Im with you on this. Many years ago, when I played AD&D, Id have people occasionally show up to my games with their Monte Haul characters. You know the ones, the 25th level paladin with +5 holy avenger/vorpal sword, Invulnerable coat of Arnd, every magic item known stuffed in a bag of holding or protecting them, ring of wishes- the works. And they claimed to have gotten all this from a year or less of playing the characters. These Players raved about the gods they had killed from the Deities and Demi- gods, the castles they owned, and dungeons they had conquered.

    Well..I had a simple answer to this ( interestingly enough- the image and premise behind the name and icon for my blog)- I ran them through the Tomb of Horrors. They would of course detect all the traps immediately with their magic capabilities- but only good old fashion thinking and exploration was going to get them past that Yawning Portal ( you know the one....- which I had multiple of, but only one random one contained the Sphere of Annhiliation- just in case they read the module, which some clearly had), and even then there was no guarantee they would make the right move there.
    Well, you can guess what happened. Their godlike character that was impervious to anything- were lost to that portal forever, good by, no wishing , no nothing, give me your character sheet that you didnt really earn, and start rolling your first level character- 3d6 In order..

    Mean, yes. But the point I was trying to prove was that they had robbed themselves of the true spirit and pleasure of the game by not having to really "work" for any of it. And their actions only proved that.

    Its too bad that many players often dont realize that overcoming a situation or encounter with whit, intellect, exploration, trial and error, etc are far more rewarding than "beating the game" through an arsenal of magic items and abuse/overuse of the rules.

  10. Furthermore it's all setting. Unless you're operating off of basic Monster Manual (They put gods, the devil and death in there these days? I didn't think so.) Those statistics, abilities and the like are suggestions. All this research and debating and plotting goes to shit when you step into someone's game that doesn't use a pre-built.

  11. You're a very compassionate person to even offer them some words of advice. I confess, I probably would have ignored them and missed a "teaching moment;" maybe they did take something from their conversation with you that they'll incorporate into future games?

    I don't know, of course. I'm just feeling kind of "glass half full" right at the moment.
    : )

  12. 25th level after a year and a half of play could theoretically happen in a campaign with a whole lot of playing and a lot of luck but eventually that luck fails if no one is cheating (such as the DM).

  13. Player pragmatics and maturity.

    The game is a system to be exploited. Equipment is a means to an end. Discussions revolve around concrete metrics: level, experience, damage. That's the early stage.

    Some of them grow up and see the potential for mythology within the game. The ruleset is a tool for the character concept. Sub-optimal builds are alright. Character development begins to matter. But they don't get it until they've raised their level of abstraction.

    The problem with game marketing is to sell the game without elevating the discourse, because you want players coming back for the numbers, the visceral rolls for damage, the might of spells. Few people have the context to understand otherwise.

    You want humanitarians and classicists, but people are pop and instant. They do not live in your world; they live in this one. Modeled systems are cool, but money's in the masses.

    Have you played any indie games lately? They wrestle with the same challenge: appeal without sacrificing their vision. But they make a living, so it's possible.

    Don't confuse the gamer with the game maker. The former is mostly oblivious, a bag of ticklish sensations. Harping on them is futile. They get the accessible scraps off the landfill pile of cerebral struggle.

  14. I think we've all met sufficient dweebs to thank that one friend, that one article, or that one moment of inspiration, where we found/saw a better way (hopefully in our preteen years).

    I believe that the monte haul campaign gets out of control fast, and it's never a campaign that can be sustained, so it doesn't matter if it's unbalanced, because it's going to self-destruct anyway, and the players are going to be forced to re-roll, and the DM is probably going to start figuring out where he went wrong. Unless of course, the group likes the ridiculous, in which case it's their game and they can have it.

    I think that many starting players, especially younger ones, NEED those ridiculous discussions, to get past some of their issues/thoughts/misconceptions regarding the integrity and limits of a fantasy world, which, while "unlimited", still needs to be internally consistent (mostly), and that there are certain guidelines that most worlds follow because everything just works better that way. However, I don't think anyone has ever bothered writing these things down, because by the time you know enough to write them down, you consider it obvious to anyone with a brain.

    Alexis - love your writing, thoughts, and your style. The article on "Die Police", which I just discovered today, made me howl with mirth.

  15. Just once in my life I'd like to have an in-person encounter with a stranger who is also a gamer and have my response be "Hey, you're a gamer!" and not "Oh dear god, you're one of those gamers..."

  16. Ugh - I work with one of these guys! Thank goodness he works in a different department. He would come into the break room and loudly proclaim, "Man, we killed that __________ last night!" without realizing all of the stares from unknowing people. I usually don't bring up the hobby at work because you see people look at this dude with the "what kind of moron might this guy be" look on their face when he starts going over the killing in a dull roar.


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