Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Very well, it has to be this version of role-play.  But why do I love it?  Why do I not simply 'like' it? Naturally, most find it difficult to express the notion of love, or it's source, but this has been the purpose of the series I've been writing and now I've successfully gotten myself into a corner.  I have to knuckle down and explain. Genuinely.  For when I read people talk about the parts of things they love, like role-play, they seem to be pick words so as not to embarrass themselves, or reveal too much.  This always seems mendacious to me . . . and if we're going to talk about things we love, I don't believe we should begin from a position that is timidly fraudulent.

This said, I love control.  Seriously - the aspects provided by DMing that make me master of my house. Ego habis totalis dominatus. After all, who doesn't love that?  The game provides for it, demands it really, and the players willingly subject themselves to the power cheerfully, avidly and persistently.  Which means that I am exempt from the ethical framework that says one person in the context of a group has no more importance or value than any other person.  For all the egalitarian shit that I tolerate outside the framework of my campaign, both on and off line, for a six hour period, once a week, in a context where it is not only tolerated, but condoned, I am free from having to pretend that I'm just like everyone else.

It is like getting off the plane in Tortola, and seeing this:

More to the point, however, I possess all this power as someone without a desire to abuse it.  Were I interested in power that I could abuse, I would establish myself on Vancouver Island with a Bible and a book I had written about correct behaviour with respect to that Bible, and begin a religion. There's a whole lot more money in falsifying a religion, a whole lot more power . . . and the power flows out of a spigot, non-stop, until the babies are born or the state catches up.

By then, obviously, I would have taken my money, my 'family' and my ego to Tortola.

I love role-play in that I have all this power, and I don't need to use it.  Or rather, that it can be used to build a platform upon which players can obtain power that satisfies them.  Meanwhile, I get to watch.  Whereas I know for some, this means watching players jump through their hoops, I find the larger satisfaction in watching the players make hoops in my world, that they then jump through to satisfy themselves.  Heck, it's a good show for me.  I never know what these players will do.  What fools these mortals be.

DMs who get a kick out of watching a player jump through a hoop of their creation, when the whole world is there to be stormed through, sought through or relaxed upon, reminds me of the religionist who gets excited about God having created a chicken when the sun, 821,000 miles across, blazes overhead.  Scale.  My being DM isn't a question of my running a game show for contestants.  It isn't even being a coach watching his team perform well.  To quote, "If God and the Devil were playing football, Manon would be the stadium they played on."

If this seems a bit megalomaniacal, or worrying, then too bad.  If you're going to present a world for your friends, a world worth having, go big.  Make sure it counts for something.  Don't equivocate, don't downplay your part.  Because if your world is good enough, your players won't care how narcissistic you are, nor how arrogant.  Trust me in this, as someone who has possessed these characteristics for a long, long . . . long time.  Players do not mind that DMs are pompous louts - so long as they are pompous louts who make a good game.

To do that requires an arrogance that is not self-absorbed.  The DM requires a haughtiness that is not fully self interested.  I'm amazing - but so are my players.  I love power - because it feels great to give it away. I'm a boastful, bragging, conceited, egomaniacal asshole - but I take pride in stepping out of the way and letting the players HAVE the spotlight.  Not merely 'share,' mind, but have it.  Full on.  Unreservedly.

Because I am that amazing that I know I'll take it back when its time to make the next thing happen.

It just feels so damn good to play a game like this - not only when I am actually running, but the rest of the time as well - when I am designing, thinking, writing, researching and so on.  All with the approval of others. All with the shining look in their eyes that I'm going to see when I say, "Finally, the book is done, we can start running again."

Because they can't wait.

How could I not love this game?


Jeremiah Scott said...

Wow. This post made me think for a long time. I wanted to comment yesterday, but I was busy thinking about it.

It's refreshing to read a truly candid account of the appeal of DMing. I know it to be true--if not PC--because these are all the same reasons I love to DM. And I love it all the more as I'm learning (thanks in part to this blog) the reward in freely letting go of the power intrinsic to the DM. Furthermore, I think that--deep down, as they say--everyone has a bit of this desire for control inside them. It's just that some people's inhibitions and fear of failure keep them from acting on it. They usually call this humility, but it's actually timidity mixed equal parts with laziness.

But I found myself scratching my head when I finished reading. You said, "why do I love this version of [role-play]?" Then you proceeded to discuss why you love DMing.

I, too, love DMing. There are virtually no circumstances where I would choose to take a character if I had the option to DM. Partly, because I know the odds of ending up with a shitty DM--and they aren't good. I know, however, there is more to it than that and I was very eager to hear why you love the game for its gestalt.

I first started playing when I was at an age when I was just as likely to go outside and play "guns" in the woods with my friends. In D&D, we played silly module-type missions (though, even at that young age, we made up our own) with my teenage cousin as DM. It was fun to make-believe, just like it was fun to pretend my squirt gun was a futuristic assault rifle.

I gave up playing pretend outside. But I have never been able--or wanted--to give up RPGs.

My enthusiasm for gaming has gone through cycles, to be sure. I didn't play much at all for the six years I was in the Navy. But I always knew what my friends were doing in their campaign and I was always working on my own universe and I never completely lost interest, because I know the game is something more than a game and is capable of accomplishing things that perhaps no other human activity can duplicate. I know these are superlatives, yet I don't feel I'm exaggerating. The game truly is more than the sum of its parts.

Now ask me specifics and I'll say I don't know.

I have some ideas. I think it's challenging in ways that no other game can be. And I love it for that. I think it's important for people to play an un-winnable game (and not in the Kobayashi Maru sense). I love it for that. I love it for the ability to really make you feel something, while still being able to pack it all up and forget it at the end of the night. And people have long criticized D&D for inhibiting people from living their lives. But I think that--if it's run right (and that's a big IF)--it can teach people how to live. I love it for that.

You've discussed many of these things on this blog in various posts and comments. But I would love to read a comprehensive post on why you love the game--not just DMing. And not only that, but why we should all love the game. Because, we won't, but we should.

Alexis Smolensk said...

"... I would love to read a comprehensive post on why you love the game--not just DMing."

I thought I was, but apparently, as you say Jeremiah, I still only tackled a small part.

I don't do much playing. For the reasons you name. No DM. But I suppose I love playing as much as DMing.

I'll take another swing at the question soon.