Monday, March 5, 2018

The Apprentice System's Yield

To be sure, the problems that some players have about entering a combat without putting their armor on first is only one aspect of a familiar attitude: the same that causes players to insist there must be scads of healing in any game system before it can be fairly run, or that death is an unfair policy carried out by DMs who apparently hate players.

If it takes too long to cast spells, so that it is difficult to fire spells off like automatic weaponry at opponents, then the wizard is unfairly crippled.  If fighters don't have enough hit points, if thieves are not able to backstab every time an enemy turns their back, regardless of surprise, if a bard can't automatically put the enemy to sleep in less than eight notes of a cheap lyre, then the game is unfair and needs to be "fixed" and reworked until the players are properly served by the rules.

I don't want to rant about this.  I do want to stress that it is a problem.  Not so much for an old grognard like me [though, as recently stipulated, occasionally] ~ but it is very hard on a DM with only a little experience.  Such new gamers are already facing a steep learning curve, which is made harder by game systems and culture which steadfastly supports more and more player power.  Just look at the videos online: fudging is pressed on DMs, in order to ensure the players have fun; the DM is flat out told that the player's enjoyment is the DM's responsibility; even the idea of TPKs are treated viciously in comment sections; while player enabling through backstories and the right to negotiate the nature of the campaign in session zeros further compromises the free hand of the DM.

This is all the linked post above, Fight Semantics, serves to investigate: the idea that armor class can be served by holding a weapon, thus reducing all the inconvenience ~ and cost ~ of holding a weapon.  Most rule proposals that I see pushed by newish DMs, or DMs who run scattered, one-off campaigns, where player power doesn't really matter, more or less push enablement in one way or another.

The finger can be pointed at me, as well: what else are the sage abilities, except more power for the players?  At least, that's how they could be interpreted, if too much leeway was given as to what sort of things could be accomplished with an ability to "brew poison" or "breed horses."  I see the sage abilities enabling the player's motivation and personality, as opposed to the player's power ... but another DM could easily be browbeat by a player looking over the list, to considerably abuse and exploit the system as written.

With all this pressure on a new DM (and players asking questions like, "Does my long sword do more damage if I swing it with both hands"), it's no wonder that moving the game onto rails is a viable strategy to reassert the DM's control over his or her game.  No doubt, philosophies like "the DM is always right" retain a vitality because of what a DM faces with more and more rules that legitimize the player's right to drive the game.

That "pressure" only exists because ~ supposedly ~ finding players is hard to do, or because standing up to a player and giving a flat out, "No" is treated as a risky choice.  Many poor souls, not realizing that a DM nixing a player's pet plan is no different than an umpire calling a strike, get themselves into far worse situations than I did with the village in my recent post.  Such DMs have to fudge, because letting the players have their way on a constant basis, trying to follow game advice that says, "Make your players feel enabled, not disabled," [my words], gets them into corners they haven't the skill to get out of.  Dungeons wind up being too feeble, or overpowered; when the players circumvent some plan, the DM feels confused and helpless; parties get overcautious; parties slaughter everything; plot hooks fail, because the DM doesn't know what the players want; the players show little or no interest in doing anything and the DM feels lost; roleplaying does a face plant, or a smart player talks the DM into everything ... and there's a constant threat the players will simply walk out if they don't get what they want.  Basically, threatening extortion.

Off record for one of the podcast interviews, I was asked to explain my support of accreditation.  My only real argument is that the game is broken ... and not because players can't use weapons to replace their armor or because an arrow can't be blocked with a sword.  The deeper issue presents within the game's play, where DMs are simply disassociated from the pre-conceived framework they've created in their own minds, which they cling to as a way of controlling a game they're clearly incapable of controlling.  Case in point:

I keep watching these videos, because they just ... don't ... make ... sense.  The DM functions in some quasi-real game space, the players just go with it, the farce is allowed to play out like a bizarre Ionesco play and a group of functionally game-retarded participants stumble through a session only to realize there's nothing out there that's better (which is a running theme in Puffin Forrest's content).

It is baffling on the surface ... but with some consideration it makes perfect sense.  The philosophy has been, for decades, whenever the rules don't cover something, the DM should make a ruling so the game can just go on.  But when DM fiat becomes less and less rational, and that irrationality is supported by a wider and wider populace, with a player-to-DM apprentice system that is all positive, all the time, the video above is what results.

I regularly get people who answer a post of mine with, "Well, I run by fiat in my game and it is just fine."  That's not a good recommendation ~ but they don't know it.  They really do think that it is "just fine" ... just as the people do who participate in the game video above.  Just as people all over the internet are increasingly feeling.  That this sort of irrationality is "fun" ... so why worry?


Ozymandias said...

I engaged with Reddit over a blog post I wrote (a sort of "Player's Manifesto," as it were) and one commenter insisted that a background is necessary to play the game ~ and I do not exaggerate ~ it's not possible to play a literal blank slate: your character is an idiot because he doesn't know what elves are, he's never seen fire and presumably can't believe himself without help.

I wonder where such cognitive dissonance comes from and whether it's part of a larger discourse as you suggest ~ that players today are so out of whack because they're following the lessons of their predecessors, who were responding to bad habits and advice.

Oswald said...

I think a lot of this strange consensus comes from people who have never had this kind of "tragedy" occur in their game. When I was new to running, I went to forums of the time and got advice of "Never let characters die, it's the worst thing possible." I also had an older dm tell me fudging dice was the true mortal sin of running a game.

So I softballed my players for a while and feared "What happens if their death is to a random goblin and not at a dramatic moment?" Then a character died. They were back in the game within 20 minutes and the only penalty to them was some lost xp. 15 years later, I realize that none of these worst fears like character death, tpk's or losing players are really that big of a deal. You have to have these things happen to realize that they're not a bogeyman. I think these people start with the fear of players being inconvenienced and the longer they avoid them, the bigger the fear grows. Now we have generations of players that have gone years and years without a character death, etc. and they hype it to an extreme level.