Friday, February 9, 2018

The Consensus Strategy

Regarding the last post, New Grass, I understand the resistance to any thought of consensus.  Some nine years ago on the blog I proposed a crowd-sourced effort to create homebrew rules on a wiki.  I thought it was a great idea; an opportunity to build rule ideas using the creative capacity of dozens, perhaps hundreds of people.

No interest.  Didn't happen.  Null program.

Every time since that I have made any proposal for a consensus regarding D&D, the answer has always come back the same.  I slowly built a wiki myself of more than 1,300 pages ... and did get four volunteers to come work on it with me (after all, I'm a "volunteer" too).  And yet, in three years since proposing that, I've had no one else come forward.  Consensus just isn't a thing among D&D players.

I have some theories about that.  Culturally, we have a high resistance to any idea of "consensus," because the concept has been co-opted by the powerful, particularly employers, as code for "obey and do it our way."  Consensus means conformity, which is another word for enslavement.

Similarly, accountability has come to mean, "Getting axed because I didn't conform."  Those in control reap the benefits, the reward, and everyone else reaps the accountability.  This has been inculcated into our perceptions.

So when I say, a consensus for how to play D&D, the reader goes straight to, "Others telling me how to run my game."  And when I say accountability, the reader goes straight to, "Having to answer for not running my game according to the consensus."

And no one wants that.

A strong case for the rules-as-written folk is the consensus that arises out of everyone having to bow to those rules; many of the trials and troubles of game play arise from lawyering, misunderstandings and frustrations between those who are prepared to run by the rules and those who are compelled to game the rules at every opportunity.  Rules-as-written is a bulwark against excessive gamesmanship, the art of winning games by using various ploys and tactics to gain a psychological advantage.  RPGs, with its elements of role-play, innovation through using equipment and abilities in new ways, interaction between players in the party and the presence of an adjudicator who may not know the rules as well as the "gamesman," is particularly vulnerable to this practice.  And while the methods of playing the DM and the other players isn't technically illegal, it is dubious and, on the face of it, self-serving and directly aggravating to others who have no interest in it.  Gaming the game has ruined many a campaign and driven many a player out of the activity.  It is a pervasive, viral, difficult to manage problem that sits at the heart of game play.  Worse, it surpasses the capacity of many a DM to handle it ~ mostly because "handling" it requires less a sort of game skill and more an ability to be the sort of personality who can face selfish people down when they behave selfishly.  Not only do many people not possess that skill, many people don't want to possess it, or take part in an activity where possessing the skill is a prerequisite.

It isn't that rules-as-written is the preferred way to play.  It exists because it is a weapon; as is any consensus, against any sort of game play, adopted by a community in any activity in which humans take a part.  I've said that doctors became accredited in order to maintain a standard of life[-saving practice; similarly, engineers became accredited to stop disasters like the St. Francis Dam disaster or the collapse of the Quebec Bridge.  Rules arise that restrict behaviour when it becomes clear that behaviour needs to be restricted.

Similarly, rules appeared in hospitals for visitors when it became clear that patients needed silence and periods of rest, so that visiting hours and visitor behaviour required a sort of management that had nothing to do with the wishes or comfort of the visitor.  Likewise, rules for behaviour exist in all sorts of activities, most familiarly with sports.  The last words said by the chair umpire at a tennis match before a serve are, "QUIET PLEASE," words that are directed at the crowd and not at the competitors.  Cell phones are silenced at movie theatres and events because the personal right of a person to be notified of a personal call is suspended when the pleasure of a majority is compromised.

When I say "consensus," I'm not speaking of how the Gentle Reader runs their game.  I mean the basic attitudes and mannerisms that should be expected from all participants in accordance with what we, as the community, feel ought to be in place.  When I say there ought to be an accountability, I mean that those rules should have teeth, in that individuals should be warned to cut it out, or told to leave the campaign.

The power of a consensus is that the individual doesn't need to feel that the onus for deciding correct and inappropriate behaviour is on them.  Back in the days when fighting was considered a reasonable activity, a code called the Marquess of Queensberry Rules was drafted to ensure "clean" fighting.  Read them?  It's a short list.  They don't say that fighting shouldn't happen; they don't say that people are necessarily safe during a contest.  But they do argue, in different ways, that you can't beat on someone who's down and you can't use equipment that gives you an edge.  They say you have to win by winning.  And they exist because gamesmanship has always been a thing.

Likewise, this is why Edmond Hoyle set out to establish official rules for games back in 1742; to put a stop to the endless fighting and disagreements associated with multiple cultures and groups wasting time that could be used for fun on contests of gamesmanship and the perpetuation of self-satisfaction.

Humans cannot be trusted to police themselves.  Yes, yes, we're basically good, because if the situation calls for it, we're more or less willing to be policed.  But without the police, there's always a certain amount of fraying at the edges, of getting a bit more than we've got ... and this eventually ruins everything for everyone.


  1. If I take your meaning, you're saying that something like:

    "Stun: any attack that deals more than one-quarter the target's current hit points results in a stun effect."

    ... is different from:

    "Player-vs-Player: no player shall direct his character to assault, strike, harm or otherwise attack another player's character."

    Clearly, each rule can be further detailed, but the point is that the former is an example of a game mechanic that a DM may or may not use, as suits her game; while the latter is an example of sportsmanship and should be enforced by any DM who claims to run a good game.

  2. Yes. And what other activity would tolerate the sort of interpersonal abuse nonsense that we see everywhere in table-top gaming? Not just the obvious stuff like player vs. player, but situations where DMs feel justified DICTATING player behaviour and strategy by virtue of alignment, class or deliberately imposed magic items and other means.

  3. I wonder, if consensus can be reached at all, would it apply to things like presentation or setting design? Like, How to Win Friends and Influence People, but for D&D...

  4. That might be a bridge too far.

    Can we just stop people from being dicks first?

  5. Okay, I actually didn't realise that it was an option to join the wiki at this late stage; I thought that ship had sailed.

    Otherwise, I have been considering running a game using some variation on your house-rules, assuming I can get together the players for it, and would quite like access to that system, so that I may add things which I see missing.

    (On that thought; which version of the rules are you getting your basic rules, race ect. from? is it still possible to get a copy somewhere?)

  6. My basic rules are coming from the AD&D Players Handbook, though those rules look like swiss cheese with the many rule changes. Fundamentally, however, the classes still use the same tables, the races use the same special abilities and class limitations (though level limitations were dumped), the spells are the same (though rewritten in many cases to make the weaker or stronger), the weapon damages are unchanged, as are proficiency limits.

    I use some spells from the Unearthed Arcana and the cantrip concept, with most of the cantrip originals existing in at least name. I don't use the character classes from the Arcana, or any of the magic, or most of the book in fact.

    I use virtually every monster in the AD&D Monster Manual, except for those associated with psionics, which I don't use. I use some monsters from the Fiend Folio, though with much rewriting of virtually every aspect of those monsters.

    The DMs Guide serves as a source for many things, but in the past ten years there have been massive specific changes to the numbers, though not the format. Many aspects of the original combat system are there, but tweaked; all of the original magic is virtually unchanged. Experience is different; and almost all "suggestions" in the character, adventure and campaign sections have been greatly expanded upon and implemented.

    In fact, you could argue that my world exists and breathes from those three sections. Where Gygax touched on the subject, I went hard and deep on world design.

  7. Before I agreed to any of the present contributors, I had a verbal conversation, in the days when I was making lots and lots of money. (sigh). Basically, I was looking for editors; people who would take the time to point out logical flaws in my text, fix spelling and grammatical errors and follow my lead on concept.

    I encouraged people to create their personal rules in a section that was accessible to the main wiki, but without interlinks. I prefer readers don't get confused multiple sets of rules about the same subject, potentially interlinked to one another.


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