Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Don't Get Them

Want to hear something funny?  I've only just stumbled on StackExchange.

I suppose this kind of thing is necessary.  Someone is going to invent it, run it, drive traffic to it and use it as evidence that they're 'helping' bring the community together.  I can't say, however, that I have much interest in it - except as a thought experiment.

Take this page, the one that includes the most frequent questions.  In turn, take the question"How do I get my PCs to not be a bunch of murderous cretins?"

The most popular answers are as follows:

  • Blame the RPG you're playing.  Choose RPG's that do not promote casual violence
  • Punish bad behaviour; make the players think hard about their immoral actions
  • Take away the motivation for killing by changing the game mechanic
  • The players are merely reacting to the setting you've created

It's a perfect representation of the same answers we get about why people commit crime in the real world:  environment, lack of alternatives, failure of deterrents and poor education.  Without thinking about it, a group of amateurs has re-invented the penitentiary system.  The argument that builds up on the page, mechanics vs. reward/punishment, reflects the real problem that has existed since we decided not to simply execute everyone in society that proved to be a problem:

How do you make people behave as you want them to behave, while giving them the illusion of freedom?

Well, I don't have an answer for that.  No one does.  The faulty premise is right there in the original question: the speaker has already condemned the players as "cretins" right out of the gate.  All conversation from there necessarily goes downhill, since the motivation here is clearly trying to change people . . . not play the game.

This does seem to be a special problem that exists among the participants in role-playing games.  I must assume that there are many participants who are playing these games with strangers, people who are not their friends, who are therefore unable to appeal to sentiment or mutual respect.

Speaking for myself, I only play with friends.  When I have had a new player, I have made sure I reach out and make that person my friend.  When this has proved impossible - and it has - then that person is not invited back.  I feel no responsibility towards people who are not friendly.

I must also assume that many participants are uncomfortable with fictional murder.  I am not.  When my players commit murder, I don't automatically set out to 'punish' them for their actions.  True, if they kill an especially powerful person, there will be consequences - but I don't automatically create consequences for every murder because I don't consider that important.  If the party feels a need to kill off a bunch of fictional creations from my imagination, I don't care.  These are my friends; they have stressful jobs; they work hard and throughout their days they have to put up with all sorts of objectionable people (cretins).  If they want to blow off a little steam by putting a sword through the ribs of a government official, who am I to deny them?

But, of course, inherent in the original question is the adjoiner, 'My PCs keep killing off the wrong people.'  That is, people who the DM created to deliberately manufacture the next part of the adventure.  There's no reason for the DM to care if the players kill off someone inconsequential.  It only matters if the players kill the DM's pet.

Well, that's the real world too, isn't it?  The cops don't care if some druggie is killed in a slum in Watts, Ferguson or Haarlem; but kill a white man uptown?  Yeah, then you've got trouble.

This is a good time for a digression.

I finished watching the 8-episode first season of Agent Carter.  Yeah, there are problems, but that isn't important right now.  Suffice to say I don't watch a lot of mainstream television, so there are tropes I remember that I haven't had to put up with for a long time.

For example, that ever-constant scene where the good girl has already determined how bad is the bad guy, along with how desperate it is that the bad guy be stopped and right now.  And here we are, with the good girl pointing a gun at the bad guy and not firing.

Wouldn't it be nice if television could work like D&D?  None of my players would hesitate to blast the bad guy by surprise through the open door; none of my players would warn the bad guy and tell him to put his hands up.  None of my players would ever, ever, get so close with a weapon that the bad guy could kick it out of their hands.

Here is the problem with RPGs in the hands of people who are uncomfortable with realities.  Too much time is taken in trying to make them work like television.  That's all the page on StackExchange has - endless arguments on how to enforce standards on player behavior, via mechanics or deterrents. Oh, it's all outlined as 'for the player's own good.'  All penal codes are.

I'm a DM.  I'm not running a penitentiary.  I'm not trying to rehabilitate my players.  I'm not interested in rebuilding the system so that it works as a better prison to inhibit play.  I am here to create a world and explain the functions of that world.  I am not here to judge.

If I don't like the player's behaviour, the player can get out.  But I'll be damned before I try to change anyone.


  1. Heh. I'm reminded of a quote from C.S. Lewis when his fiction was criticized for being mere escapism. "You know who worries about people escaping? Jailers."

  2. I can't think of anyone I'd prefer to coincidentally agree with than C.S. Lewis.

    Thank you for that, Michael!

  3. "Here is the problem with RPGs in the hands of people who are uncomfortable with realities. Too much time is taken in trying to make them work like television."

    Yep, yep. Here is how the typical game pitch sounds, every time:

    "In my new game, you can be Dr Laserfist Sexisgross, Leatherjacket Gunshoot, or any other four-color superhero you can "imagine." The rules are simple, so nothing will get in the way of you doing the things your name says you do! Just, uh, keep it PG-13, OK? Like, we've all seen superhero movies, so just do the stuff they do. Oh, and, I hope you're not interested in solving problems in any way other than those mandated by your character name - because if you don't have to think to play, I shouldn't have to think to run. Sound good? ... oh, the target numbers are secret and based on how well you describe your action*."

    Y-a-w-n. If TV itself isn't stimulating, why the fuck would I play a game run by someone who wants to emulate TV? All the flash and pow, none of the already meager substance. And as for tension (which TV is still good at, although usually just thru cliffhangers), well, it all gets popped the second someone makes another fucking """joke""".

    WRT your last paragraph:

    You've talked about making appeals to reason, such as taking a player aside while walking to the store for snacks and explaining why it's annoying that they joke constantly ("humor leads to attempts at humor" is how you put it.) This seems like a kind of changing people to me. I think the difference is as follows: trying to get someone to "see the light" about joking is a way of figuring out whether there is actually a good player (and good friend) inside them, that can be coaxed out hiding (having been driven there by shit games.) What you are not willing to do though, is rehabilitate a dedicated troll. Am I right?

    *Yes someone has said this to me.

  4. I am arguing that there is something different between "reasoning with" and "changing," yes.

    The verb to change implies an action committed against a thing, without the thing's cooperation. Reasoning with that someone asks for them to do the changing, rather than I compelling that change.

    On some level, every game demands cooperation from all the participants. Penal thinking, however, happens where someone things, "If I fuck with their minds, they'll HAVE to change in order to adjust."

    This is the sort of coercion that doesn't interest me.

  5. Gotta love it when an occasion to rant against railroading appears, then you simply mention "DM's pet", leave it at that, and then proceed to deconstruct the social strata behind the game. DM'ing arguments should always start with citing The Tao.

    Thank you


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