Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Bar

I'm not clear why anyone would think I wouldn't be extremely selective where it comes to players. This was a conversation last night, with a fellow who argued that not everyone needed to play exactly as I expected, and a DM ought to be tolerant of different styles of play. With that, I agree.

I don't mind if a player swears at my table. I don't mind if they get bloodthirsty, I don't mind if they're just in it for the treasure, I don't mind if they want to put off combat and just roleplay their way around a town. I don't care, particularly, what kind of game the players can agree to play - so long as there's an agreement - and I certainly don't expect people to play 'my way,' not even in reconciliation with the post I put up, How to Play a Character. That's advice. That's not an expectation.

I certainly won't let one player abuse another. I wouldn't let two people at a party of mine abuse one another; I wouldn't let two players on a soccer field abuse one another, I wouldn't let two strangers in a coffee shop abuse one another (it's the kind of thing that gets you shot or stabbed, but I still wouldn't let it happen). People want to call each other names, argue at the top of their lungs, get angry, fine; doesn't bother me. But where one person begins to use leverage against another, that's the breaking point for me. If I heard a manager openly threaten an employee with dismissal in front of me, that manager is going to have a very bad day. I'm going to make him feel very small. I don't see any difference in one player using his or her character to threaten someone else's treasured character. Abuse is abuse. I don't care what the justifications are.

But if a player wants to abuse an NPC, that's fair game. That's what NPCs are for. I'm not personally invested in my NPCs, so I see them as foils for abuse. They're marvelous little punching bags for players who need to get out their weekly frustrations upon. A player wants to leverage his power to make an NPC's life a living hell ... I'll get a real kick out of the cleverness of that.

There's nothing wrong with the abstractive need to abuse people; it's a natural condition of being human. Anyone who says they never need to do it probably ARE doing it, and are probably too stupid blind to realize they're doing it. Not abusing people takes an effort ... you have to decide not to do it when the opportunity presents.

(As an aside, I am accused of abusing people all the time; one of the truly best ways to get your thumb on another person is to accuse them of doing something considered 'bad.' But I don't abuse people here. I argue, I confound, I instigate, I do my own share of accusing - but everyone walks away with the same stuff they had coming in. I don't want anyone feeling that something's been stolen from them ... unless, maybe, it's the feeling of righteous innocence they've adopted out of sheer ignorance. I want people to feel bad, yes, for doing or believing things I think are wrong - but that's tough love. Someone has to tell you you've got your head up your butt, and if your family and friends aren't up for it, come around and I'll give it a try)

The desirable course of action would be to take your need to abuse and apply it in a harmless direction. Sports, for instance. Mass executions of imaginary goblin villages. Sugar-coated escapism. Whatever works for you. This is what I expect to find, psychologically, from people who come to play this game ... an ersatz methodology towards derailing one's frustration and stress and directing it towards a noble and enjoyable goal. And since people don't have the same stresses, or the same means of dealing with them, a DM's got to be flexible in offering the sorts of foils that are going to provide that.

So yes, I do believe a DM has to be flexible with regards to a player's particular way of playing.

That said, I reserve the right to have expectations of my own. I expect to be heard and understood at my table. That goes without saying.

I expect a player to respect the world. What I mean is that I expect the player to recognize that the world is not a joke. That when the Pirate Captain descends from the gang-plank and eyes the party with a cool, dangerous glance, I expect the party to recognize that they're in danger, and to act accordingly. I don't like having to kill characters just because they insist on being dumb-fuck stupid. It's a waste of my time. It's a waste of their time.

I expect players to leave their 'rules' about what the game is or how NPCs act or dress at the door. I expect them to realize that such rules are invented by truly bad presenters of the game, who have created these tropes because they ARE really bad at things like three-dimensional characterizations or a believable setting. Not every 8th level fighter dresses like a peacock. 10th level wizards are not duty bound to live in towers, or be snarling, difficult cliches. Fighters can be 13th level and still considerate; they can still fall in love with ordinary maidens. Not every Princess needs rescuing, not every dwarf drinks to intoxication and halflings are allowed to be very un-shirelike. In short, I don't conform to the demands and expectations of the jackass WOTC universe. I don't hold up neon signs over dangerous wilderness valleys and I don't have trucks rolling up and down streets broadcasting the level, rank and hit points of every citizen. Sometimes, players get rooked on gems they sell, sometimes they get conned, sometimes they end up looking like bleeding idiots and I don't see that as a problem. DRAMA demands that sometimes, just sometimes, it doesn't all go your way, things suck, and it's a good idea not to "try and try again." That's how the world rolls, that's how my game rolls. If the players can mistreat the NPCs, it follows the reverse is true. If the players can adventure the world and never take a damn bath, despite now being 9th level, then it follows that begger with the quarterstaff might be 9th level too. You just never know.

I expect players who realize their in MY world, not someone else's. I expect players to like that, if they're going to keep coming around. And if they don't like it, or they feel somehow it doesn't fit into their prejudices, I expect them to hit the road. A player is a fool if he doesn't realize I'm not going to weep about it.

In the meantime, I'm going to stretch myself to give the players a good game. A game unlike anything they've played. A game they can love, and feel empowered in - once they get their bearings and stop expecting me to do the work for them. After all, you can't feel power if you haven't first overcome your limitations.

I'm there to raise the bar. I expect players who want to clear it.


Dave said...

Excellent post!

"I expect a player to respect the world."

When I talk to folks about the OD&D and Traveller campaigns I run, I don't talk about story arcs, like today's gamers seem to do... I talk about my world(s). I find it amusing that people want to spend hours and hours creating a character concept, and then want ME to build a story arc to let them live it. Come and explore my world, but understand that's what you'll be doing... not writing a novel about your character!

"...I expect the party to recognize that they're in danger, and to act accordingly."

Amen. Exactly why I borrowed DCC's Zero-level funnel concept and started my current players with five zeroes each... to help them get over the BS they've learned playing computer "rpgs" and DnD 4... they screw up, their character dies. And now, they even like talking about their dead characters, something that wouldn't be happening in a game where they'd had to devise a multipage background before play even began!

"I don't hold up neon signs over dangerous wilderness valleys and I don't have trucks rolling up and down streets broadcasting the level, rank and hit points of every citizen."

Amazing how quickly they figure out how to survive and thrive even without this crutch! Oh, and have more fun than before, too!

"You just never know."

Thank goodness!

Dave Cesarano said...

This was a conversation last night, with a fellow who argued that not everyone needed to play exactly as I expected, and a DM ought to be tolerant of different styles of play.

So, I can deduce that since you agree with this, then the argument was more about how you, as a DM, expect the player to take your world seriously?

I'm reminded by the Forgotten Realms game I ran two years ago, in which the players were wandering through a wizard's dungeon and his disembodied voice commanded them to leave. When the thief replied, "Fuck off," he got rat swarmed. He was left with a single hit point, all due to the luck of the dice. No one got angry and he laughed and said, "Damn, I probably shouldn't have done that!"

If a player got angry and stormed off because of a realistic response like that, I'd honestly say, "Good riddance!" 4th edition and video games have engendered a belief that one is a special snowflake who should be able to rape and pillage without suffering any consequences.

To that I say, "Bullshit!" You got level drained, the rust monster ate your +3 sword of badassery, and your resurrection reduced your Constitution by a point. Deal with it. If there's no consequences, there's no risk and therefore, no real sense of accomplishment. Maybe some people prefer the illusion of accomplishment to the reality of it (ironic, since the entire game is imaginary, therefore so are the accomplishments, so just how fragile are some of these egos?) but I don't.

I determined to start off every single Exalted game I run from now on as mortals because even though an Exalt can die from a lucky hit or two, the likelihood is slimmer. However, those weeks or months playing as fragile mortals who can be felled in a single blow, no matter how experienced they are, no matter how many dots in Stamina, Dodge, Dexterity, or Melee they have, that time playing as a mortal shapes their perception of the game world once they Exalt. I find it makes the experience of playing as an Exalt far more interesting and empowering for them while tempering their gameplay with a healthier respect for the setting and the lethality of the world.