Thursday, February 27, 2014

Deck Chairs on the Titanic

Yesterday I was reminded that many of the wars in human history were fought by citizens who were not primarily Fighters (with a capital 'F').  This was meant to be insightful, suggesting that not all 'Fighters' exist only to fight, but that they might have other skills too ... but in fact, it fell short of the mark.  Far short.

I do wish people who don't understand history would stop treating the subject as disconnected trivia piled together like a billions of plastic meeple, with no link or rhyme nor reason behind a single fact about a particular general's 70-year life and what that's supposed to prove.  The willing myopia of role-players in particular, who compare Fighters (capital 'F') with historical examples as though somehow we're all supposed to forget that 'Fighter' is a game designation and that yes, there really were people who did 'fight' in history that were not primarily game designations.  I don't know what its supposed to prove anyway, because there were a lot of people who fought in history (small 'f') who had no meaningful secondary skills at all, as they were employed primarily as labourers.  It is as though my saying, "Some of the people in this theatre are doctors," somehow proves that doctor-hood is something that might automatically be conferred upon any of us because we happen to be inside the same constructed building.  Role-players are always making associations like that, as if to say "some samurai were also poets" means that samurai-poets are by no account rare, but were in fact extremely common, which is proved by the fact that the three samurai the speaker happens to know by name were poets, after all.  They all must have been, then.  We don't know, of course, if they were any good at being samurai, because they're in fact known best for their poetry, but that doesn't matter, because in the minds of people who spout meeple-generated bits of history, the word "samurai" is proof positive that every person with that title was a fuckin'-A fighter, just as every American marine is a fuckin'-A fighter today, because it must be so.

Because I do not like generalizations like this in my game, and used by players as 'evidence' that their characters are able to do this or that at will, because someone they imagine is very much like their character was able to do that in history, I came up with an answer for most of these arguments.  Mind you, this is a 'game answer,' which applies only to game designations and what game designations can do.  It does not apply to scattered ideals of actual human historical figures, or five-minutes research into the life of Genghis Khan, or whatever other disconnected idealized perception the reader might have about the whole of Islamic culture.  It is an answer that only applies to my specific game.  That answer is "no."

Now, I do run a very, very, very deep game.  And there is a chance that in my game a fighter could be a poet, or know about art history, or gods, or some other detail.  I posted all about that when I put my character background generator on my wiki, and wrote about what the generator's purpose is.  And no, I don't expect that every present reader of my blog today is going to be up on those posts, because they're old and it's hard to remember that I run a deep game and that I've been doing this for 35 years and that I've heard many, many, many arguments about classes and limitations of what Fighters are allowed to do and what a cleric is and what separates a mage from and illusionist and so on.  And I understand perfectly, there are many, many DMs in the world who in the last 35 years of running their worlds have managed to BUY a lot of shit from stores, and who have done exactly shit themselves, and are still running games thinking that this sort of argument about  Fighters not strictly being fighters but potentially having an ability to make stuff and know stuff still needs to be hashed out.  I understand that occasionally someone is going to assume that I'm just the same, that I've done no work, made no effort, offered no feature or system in my world that might address this sort of thing, and that I need to be educated by someone who has read all of 5% of my blog, and who has never, ever run in my world.

I get that.  From the outside, yes, I'm just as dumb as anyone else.  From the outside, my 35 years of experience count for exactly nothing.  Why should the reader think I have anything special to say?  Why shouldn't the reader suppose that the only reason why I make a statement about fighters not being poets is because I'm dead set against it.  After all, Tacitus was a general and he wrote books.  That means generals CAN be writers!  Hey, Lew Wallace was a general too, and he wrote a book.  Heck, that proves it.  All generals are writers.  And all D&D bloggers still have their head up their asses about imposing unfair restrictions on what a fighter can do.

All of them.  Every ... fucking ... one.

Don't try to tell me different.

Listen.  I want to try to insert this bauble inside the reader's head.  I have written two popular posts on this blog that were 10,000 words each, this one and this one.  More than 12 months and 2 years after they were written, they are consistently in my top 10 posts, right there in the side bar.  They're popular.  They are because it is clear I know what I am talking about.

I am now writing a book that is floating somewhere in the neighborhood of 90,000 words.  I'm still coming up with little side things that have to be added to it, so I think it will be longer.  This book is not going to be one of these shit-art-filled choke fests that WOTC has some hack spew out.  This book is going to address subjects that no game manufacturer would be comfortable discussing.  The content is going to blow the reader's conception wide open.  Because I know what I'm talking about.

There won't be a lot of half-assed arguments about what some historical figure did once upon a time that proves that players should get fan-serviced up the anus in the way that makes them giggle like fourteen-year-old girls.  The content is going to be deep, it's going to discuss frankly the problems of running, it's going to ask the reader to improve themselves in ways the reader will find extraordinarily difficult, and it's going to express exactly how that's done.  There won't be a page where the reader is thinking, "wow, he could have not bothered with this filler."  There won't be any pictures except the ones in the reader's head.

I hope it helps people run their games better.  And I hope it raises this juvenile level of dialogue, like I've heard many times, to questions about how gawd-damned hard it is to run this game well.

Nit-picking over the details is easy.  When do we get to talk of serious things?


Lukas said...

I don't know how people can not get past the logical fallacy of...

Fighters fight, therefore anyone who fights is a Fighter.

Every player class fights. The mage beats things with sticks, the cleric beats things with different sticks, the rogue beats things with usually smaller and sharper sticks...

They are not all Fighters though they are fighters.

At one point I thought a logic and critical thinking class was pointless. Now I wonder if it was just pointless because I was ahead of the curve.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Logic and critical thinking is always worthwhile. It is only that there are a lot of people willing to come to the table who don't belong there.

Silberman said...

Alexis, the last couple of posts are bringing up a larger question for me, one that I've been struggling with a bit in my game.

Players want things for their characters. They want magic items; they want new spells; they want special perks, abilities, henchmen. This is an essential part of the game.

Now, the question is, what is the proper way for a player to express and fulfill these wants, and how can I, as DM, best encourage them to do so?

"What, fighters get no love?" is cringe-inducing to me because it points to a scenario in which players turn to the DM and say, "I want!" Or they buy a bunch of rulebooks, find what they want in there, and then give their list to the DM.

In my game, I'd like to see more instances of players pursuing these desires by having their characters take actions that might reasonably get the treasure, status, etc., that they want, without looking to me to arbitrarily place the desired reward at the end of some quest ("Oh, how convenient, there's that cloak of invisibility I've been wanting").

Alexis Smolensk said...


About the cloak first, I do occasionally place things like this for the party; recently, a player that had been without a level for some months 'conveniently' found a scroll of restoration.

That said, if the player were harping about wanting one, then that player is probably going to get ignored. My parents used to be that way about my siblings and I when it came to wanting to go to Dairy Queen or some such.

I think if you go back and look at your dilemma from the point of view of a parent dealing with demanding children (who will find magazines and then approach the parent with arguments about how inexpensive something is, in exactly the way you describe players with alternate rulebooks), you'll see the secret is not to spoil them.

MAKE them earn it. Remember that "I Want" is just greed, pure and simple. Demanding balance is envy, pure and simple. These are deadly sins, meaning they're aspects of human beings that deserve NO sympathy or reward. Punish sin, reward effort.

Culturally, we learned that lesson. Perhaps role-players need more culture.

jbeltman said...

I am not a historian at all and you are absolutely right that I only know about these people from half-remembered snippets of trivia from a variety of sources, that may also be of dubious accuracy. I do however like fighters and there are lots of examples from history to inspire us. My question just came from the sentence "That is only three topics out of seventeen possible for the cleric ... and then there's a host more for the druid, mage and illusionist to be done." This seemed to imply that fighters couldn't be sages and I wanted to see if that was correct or not. I thought you might reply that they can, or that they use skills rather than the sage mechanic. Once you mentioned multiclassing it seemed clear that that is a possible solution that would allow someone to play that kind of fighter. I don't believe I ever suggested that all fighters should be like this. And now you have given me my answer to whether fighters can be sages, and that is no. So thank you.


Alexis Smolensk said...

Well John, I am an historian. So please stop using history as examples for your position. Argue your position on its own merits.

Fighters that have some minor knowledge fields are rare. A fighter may also possess an 18 dexterity, but that doesn't give the fighter thieving abilities. So when we write about thieving abilities, we tend to ONLY refer to thieves, assassins and monks.

Do you get upset when people talk about "thundering herds of horses" because they failed to mention all the other animals with hooves that also thunder? Does the statement automatically require someone to stand up and say, "Hey, did you know that horses aren't the only animals with hooves? What, don't zebras get love?"

You made some ridiculous assertions about what I intended without remotely considering anything about me or this blog, in order to satisfy a need to jump to a conclusion. I found it insulting and dismissive.

My apologies. I was mean and insulting myself, which was purely reactionary. I hope you continue reading the blog, and that our future dialogues are constructive ones.

jbeltman said...

Zebras get enough love already.