Friday, November 13, 2015

Just Another Player

I'm not the fastest typist imaginable or anything - just 65 wpm - but I have to explain that when I write on a keyboard, the keyboard itself has long since ceased to be part of the process.  That is, my fingers naturally find the right place on the keys and the only thing I think about as I write from that point forward are the words I'm using.

Not at the moment, however.  I've been fighting all day with this keyboard and I am nearly at the point where I don't need to look at the keys.  However, it can be seen from the bottom picture on this post that I am short two fingers . . . or as I think of them right now, the 'a' key and the 's' key.  Thus, as I type the letters q, a, z, w, s or c, I have to lift my hand off the keyboard and stab at the appropriate letter blindly with my left middle finger.  Missing, usually.  Then I fight myself to keep from looking down rather than just hitting the backspace and taking another blind stab to find the right letter.

Why not look?  Because my fingers won't find the letter through muscle-memory and habit if I keep depending on my eyes.  If I depend on my eyes, then I'm doomed to always type at the slowest speed possible.  Not using my eyes, I can improve my speed steadily over the next two weeks that I lack these two fingers.

What good is that? After all, what difference does it make if I type slower for two weeks, since I know I will get those fingers back in the end?

The difference, gentle reader, defines the way I think from the person who would ask any of these questions.  I don't have two weeks.  I could be dead by then.  That's a joke.  The real truth is that I could get a lot of writing done in two weeks - and I'm not going to surrender that just because my finger was dumb enough to get broken.

So let's write a post about overcoming things that aren't in critical need of being overcome.  That makes sense, nyet?

Since the Advanced Guide, I've been accused a number of times of failing to recognize that the principle of role-playing is that it is an entertainment, not a workload.  This is a fair criticism for anyone who has heard me rail at the low quality of gamesmanship that I would expect from a DM who possesses this attitude.  I am, unquestionably, remarkably intolerant in this way.

Let us suppose that the reader is such a DM and that I have agreed to play in your world.  For my part, I'm not concerned about your motivations for asking me - perhaps you wish to prove something or you've never read this blog before and as such it's assumed that I'm just another player.  I am concerned, however, about my own motivations.  Just as I hate the idea of typing five or six words per minute slower because of my hand, I have issues with making my way over to your space, sitting down with people I haven't met and participating in a world I don't know based perhaps on an ideology that may fail me as a player.

I don't mind the trip if I'm going somewhere interesting or assuredly promising - but I don't drive a car and you may live some distance away in a suburb somewhere, where buses are rare and cabs are expensive.  You may be getting me a ride with one of your other players, but if I take it, then I'm dependent on that player being willing to leave when I'm ready.  I don't like that.  I'd rather pay for a cab.  The long and the short of this is that while the game may be free to play, it will cost me time and money, both of which are an investment to me even if you don't think that's nearly as important as having the opportunity to play in your game.

As well, there's the consideration of what I would be doing if I were not bound for playing in your world.  I have game work of my own to do, a partner whose attentions I fancy and work around the house that must be done; hopefully, your world will be more evocative and favorable than the work I'm doing right now regarding technology level assignments for different regions of my world.

At any rate, I get my lift with Foster and I'm out in the boonies where you live in your house-poor neighborhood on the edge of town.  It's -2 C outside so that's not bad and we'll assume it won't snow tonight.  I meet Yancy, Dallas and Aziz.  They seem friendly, so we settle into chairs, eat a little junk food and you've goodnaturedly put on a pot of water so I can make tea.  So far, so good.  I watch you set up a DM's screen and I think, hm, fudging.  Oh well.  I say nothing.

Then . . . you pull out a module.

Sigh.  Fuck, well, I've come all this way, it's your house and it's your game, so I'll keep quiet about it and see.  After all, maybe you're using it for the maps or the conveniently designed monsters.  I haven't seen you actually run yet.  I shouldn't jump to conclusions.

You mention proudly that you bought the module expressly for this running, with that tone of voice that suggests I should be either impressed, grateful or on the edge of my chair with anticipation because the module is new.  Then you begin to read from the module.

Yep, word for word.  You've only owned it for a few days and it's not like you've taken time to memorize the opening.  Your head is down, your tone is a bit monosyllabic and you stumble over a few words in the ninth sentence.  Sure, anyone would.  It's understandable, since this may be only the second time you've read this passage out loud and it's the first time in front of an audience.

Briefly, I question my decision to come . . . but then I remember I haven't seen these players play, I haven't seen them interact with the DM and I absolutely should not leap to conclusions.

Then Dallas says, "My character secretly slips away from the rest of the party to investigate the well on the edge of town by himself."

And the DM answers, "Sure."

Then for the next twenty minutes, we four sit around while the DM reads bits and pieces from the module about the well, while emphatically stating that the characters other than the one belonging to Dallas don't actually know this information.

I don't have to leap to conclusions any more.  I have plenty of time - the next four hours - to come to all my conclusions patiently.  And  then confirm those conclusions with a few simple, polite questions that leave you, the DM, with plenty of rope to hang yourself.   As I watch the constructed running unfold - with the not-so-clever additions that you, the DM, blatantly pat yourself on the back for creating - I try a few innovative alternatives to the utterly obvious expected action and find myself stymied or stared at blankly.

It is difficult to express what is going on in my mind (particularly at 25 wpm) during a game like this.  It is like being a lawyer watching a court drama on television.  It is like listening to a ten-year-old extol the virtues of Game of Thrones.  It is like having a jumbotron behind the DM that describes the motivations behind every NPC.  I can see in the DM's face the precise moment that a die is being fudged or rolled again in a vain attempt not to fudge it and I can see in the Player's faces that they've missed it.  It takes no time at all to see Dallas runs this group every week and that Foster is so bored he's clearly wondering why he's still playing.  Meanwhile, of course there's a guard and of course we need to get past him - that is, until the town idiot turns up and shows us the back way into the museum.  This trope is so old that Herodotus frickin' stole it for the Peloponnesians 2500 years ago - but wow, what a great module this is!

At the end of the night - I've drunk a lot of tea by then - you ask me how I've enjoyed the running.  You can't tell from my face.  That's because you haven't looked at my face in three hours; you haven't looked at anyone's face, your head is down, reading off the module and concentrating on dice.  I haven't been rude or difficult, because I reserve my honest opinion about these things for when I write.  All through the night I've given my character's actions, rolled the right dice, guzzled tea and struggled with how I'm going to answer your question.

Have I enjoyed the running?

Well, I'm in a suburban hell, so that's relevant to my getting home.  If I lie, I can get a ride with Foster for free.  Then I can play passive aggressive about accepting another invitation and focus on not writing the experience down on my blog, since you and your players read it.

On the other hand, I can say what I think and release all the pressure that's been building up over the previous four hours.

I'm working and not doing the latter any more - being a nicer, friendlier person - but let's say that I go with it and let fly.

What are you going to say?  Well, your house, your effort, your game . . . you're going to feel challenged and defensive, you're going to look for support from your friends and you're definitely going to stand on your record of how long you've been running and how your having these players
'proves' you're a good DM.

There is no way of explaining how little these arguments mean to me.  I've just seen you DM.  A philosophical defense isn't going to work now.  The proof is in the pudding.  I'm way past measuring you against the validity of your word.  I've just measured you against the validity of your performance and my experience.

People who enter into such things believing that their performance hinges on evidence of time served, motivation or philosophy of how they choose to game are bound to fall flat on their face when the rubber hits the road.  For most DMs, however, the rubber never hits that road . . . because the "Just Another Player" that shows up in their world usually has less experience playing than those people already in that campaign.  Most of the time, this new player is getting their first, perhaps their second, chance of ever playing a game.  Most have read the endless shit on line and swallowed it whole, based on nothing more than what they wish a game could be.

I'm not like them.  Hell, not only am I not running my first world, I'm not even running the world my present world started out being.  Like learning to type all over again, I've smashed my world as is dozens of times, fixing it, improving it, even when it hurt to metaphorically hold my pained fingers two inches above the keyboard for a post this long.  I'm never satisfied.  Not with my own campaign, not with anyone else's.

I don't need to experience greatness . . . though some will read this post that way.  What I want to experience in a campaign is awareness - of the limitations, of the game's potential, of the reasonable shortcuts necessary to keep momentum going, of the people actually playing the game and of the profound crippling effect of reading someone else's words or putting dividers between the DM and the Players.  The sort of things that people who care have already realized as issues that must be addressed.

If I'm in somebody's game and those things haven't become an irritation, it's evidence of a group of lonely people who have fallen into this game instead of, oh, the Society for Creative Anachonism, PETA or pretending they can start a rock band.

I'm just not another player.  I have standards.  I wrote these standards into a book so other people with standards could refine their games.  Get good at playing.  Shatter their preconceptions and see the light regarding the fundamentals of Dungeon Mastering.  Build better games through improving the people running them, the real silver bullet where imagination and role-playing have a chance to excel.

I never had any concern for the rest of the gaming community.  They just want the same thing, the thing they've had for forty years, over and over.  And over.  And over.


  1. Of course it'd be the guy named Dallas who decides to slip off on his own.
    ; )

    I hate to just say, right on, but I do grok where you're coming from. I've had several experiences similar to the ones you describe (though I do drive, so I generally have an escape hatch). Though it may not have been evident from my short time in your on-line game, I do enjoy being a player, and I try not to be disruptive, but it's all I can do to bite my tongue when it comes to a night of "amateur hour" DMing. And when I offer suggestions after the game (to those who want them), I try to be honest yet gentle with how I give advice (my real world job provided me with skills that helped in this regard).

    However, it was more frustrating than fun and after a couple sessions (or less) I'd generally stop going. If the game doesn't improve, if the DM doesn't improve, what can you do? I want to encourage people to run games and learn how to DM, but for some folks it's just a real struggle. I'm not just talking about reading modules, here, or using worn out tropes in adventures, but lack of pacing, lack of presentation, lack of imagination, lack of connection with players, lack of engagement with their own material, not to mention lack of knowledge with the rules (later editions of D&D especially have a bunch of extra fiddlyness one is supposed to absorb from the get-go, rather than building it up over time). I'm pretty sure you'd say that you'd drop such games without a second thought, that they aren't worth your time and money, but me...well, I feel like I need to support and encourage and teach. It's just how I'm wired. And these aren't even friends or folks I deal with outside of gaming (and to whom I owe some other type of "friendship obligation")...I just feel guilty to let people flounder, or spurn them or whatever. I feel I owe it to the GAME to help these folks, somehow, if I can.

    That's part of the reason why I spend so much time running games, even though I'd rather be playing.

  2. I'm amused by the people who think "this is only for entertainment" means no effort goes into it. Reading is entertainment, and good authors go through rewrite after rewrite to make their work shine. Movies hire lots of people to make sure the "entertainment experience" is a good one. Disney's Magic Kingdom is only "entertainment" but nothing happens at that place that isn't choreographed.

    I've gone to games where I was almost instantly disappointed with the level of the DM's ability, but kept going because I thought a poor game is better than no game. Now, I don't think I'll be able to do that.

    I do have some questions about how you've overcome some ecological difficulties in your world. I'll go back through previous posts to see if I can find answers, or ask the questions there.

    Once again, thanks for sharing.

  3. I appreciate this post it strikes on qualities in games I believe in.

    I think I'm more of a second option person. I might try and give them another opportunity to back out of a review, but I really don't care for lying to people when giving feedback.

    Still wouldn't dream of running a game for you though. My quality is low enough it even makes me not want to be in the game more often than not.


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