On What is Wrong With People

How do we frame this discussion of theory? What is the disconnect that occurs when talking a skill light game?

How is it possible that I can affirm that it has nothing to do with GM Fiat?

Clearly there is a disconnect between what I am saying and what people are hearing. Noisms wrote about this last week.

My games do not contain DM Fiat or Pixel bitching. I run extremely light skill play. Players don't roll to search or for many things that are commonly determined in other games.

Decisions are made by consensus. "What do you think is reasonable?" "Does anyone have any life experience about this topic?" "What does the internet say?"

"Nebu Pookins" in the comments in that article gives this example:
What about the situation where your players want to "win"? E.g.
DM: You fall for 30 feet... Hmm, how much damage do you think that is?
PC: Zero damage.
DM: No, that doesn't quite sound right...
PC: One damage.
DM: Eh....
PC: Two? Three? Look, what's the minimum damage I can say before you accept my answer?
DM: I don't know, I was willing to accept any reasonable answer.
PC: Look, why don't we cut the crap. You already have in mind some idea of how much damage I should get, and now you want me to play this guessing game to see if I can divine what your secret number is?

If they are acting that way they have a disorder.

D&D is a cooperative adventure role-playing game. There is some flexibility in those terms. Adventure to one person could be super-heroic fantasy and to another picaresque adventure.

But to disengage from fictional positioning and verisimilitude from the chosen setting in an 'attempt to win' is missing the purpose of play.*

The above isn't DM Fiat and it's not pixel bitching. It is a human being who is not emotionally mature or intelligent enough to understand that the goal is GROUP enjoyment. 

By the player choosing to abdicate his responsibility of engaging in consensus discussion he is being disruptive to the process of play. The fact that he is doing so for the purpose of maximizing the benefit to his fictional positioning makes him petty and self centered.

One, as a general rule, will find enjoyment stymied by the behavior of immature disruptive players.

This is so common during the history of man that there is even a global term for it.


* In order to clarify for those readers who are unable to apply the context of this article in a broad sense, it is certainly possible to play a variety of games to compete and win by thoroughly annihilating your opponent (or even decimating them if you just want to kill 10% of their forces). It is the same. You do not forget the purpose of play is for everyone to have fun. Challenge is fun. Losing a close game is fun. This does not make it ok to engage in sexual harassment, abuse or other negative behaviors.


  1. Good post. I am really frustrated by a lot of game discussion on the net - particularly on RPGNet's d20/D&D forum - where posters assume that typical gamers will be acting in bad faith in situations that depend on human choice. There is, I don't know, a complete lack of generosity towards roleplayers, and some sort of almost paralysing fear about bad experiences.

    As a conclusion to these assumptions, the discussion then shifts to how a game's rules should limit or outright prevent the potential for human error by limiting human choice; moreover, the experiences of posters who come from a different point of view are written off as atypical or downright wrong. I see these assumptions as damaging - used to argue against them for a few years, but I have mostly given up because I just ended up attacked over it.

    So, yeah, sportmanship. A mutual commitment to group enjoyment. That's the point. That's the entire point, and I don't want to play in a game that doesn't give me that.

  2. haaaaaaaaaaaaa, you made a joke about the definition of decimate. +10 respect.

  3. Tabletop RPGs should be designed for playing with reasonable people you like. If you try and design them to prevent unreasonable or unpleasant people from doing what they'll inevitably do anyway, you'll just end up with a mess.

    Examples of unreasonable people being unreasonable don't need to be addressed via game mechanics. They're addressed by not gaming with those people.

    PC: Look, why don't we cut the crap. You already have in mind some idea of how much damage I should get, and now you want me to play this guessing game to see if I can divine what your secret number is?
    DM: Get out.

  4. I don't get why it's so difficult to understand. People get together all the time and play pickup games of basketball, each side calling their own fouls, and it works. If there's a dispute, somebody shoots from the top of the key to decide which team gets the ball, and we move on. D&D is exactly the same in that regard. The jerk who whines about DM fiat and brazenly suggests 0 points of damage from a fall is the same jerk who calls foul every time he misses a shot and argues every call against him. All the rules in the world aren't going to fix it. You fix it by not playing with him any more.

  5. I think that we can disregard Nebu Pookins. He is not representative of the RPG gamers spectrum.

  6. To be fair to Nebu Pookins I think he was bemoaning bad gaming, not advocating it.

    But yeah, I agree with Melan. I think rpg.net has a lot to answer for, as far as online debate goes. It seems the default assumption there is bad faith, and it sets the tone for a lot of the online discourse.

  7. The quote you used from Nebu Pookins is something I could definitely see happening in a game like the one you describe. A player at low HP doesn't want to see his character die in a pit trap - who does? If it's a light improv game where the enjoyment comes from hanging out and bantering, maybe the player could enjoy the sudden fluke failure and death of his character.

    But I'd say most players want good things for their characters.

    The fun for me comes from overcoming adversity, and growth, and exploration, and acquisition. Sure sometimes your character dies or your sword gets eaten by a rust monster, them's the breaks. But in general, the goal of me as a player is to see my character succeed. I don't think that's immature or unintelligent.

    Part of adversity is lacking control. There are rules to the game, or there is a referee, so you don't get to decide that good things happen to your character. You don't get to push a "win button". You have to work for it, and sometimes you fail. Some control over your fate, but not much, is what you need to experience enjoyment at overcoming adversity.

    In your example of DMing style, you give a lot of illusory control to players. You let the player come up with falling damage and then veto anything that's too low or too high. The criticism that you might as well just tell him what the falling damage is, is legitimate.

    The player thinks he has more control over his fate, but doesn't really. If I were to play in that game, I would think there was less adversity for me to overcome because I can do some of the work to set up the challenges and their parameters. That means I enjoy it less as a player, in the same way I would if I could decide what the cost of a house was for me in Monopoly.

    But I don't actually have any more control, so the outcomes are still the same.

    And that's what I think is important in your DMing style: the player feels like he has input, but he really doesn't. You might say he does, but the example above pretty much proves it. If the player's input falls outside what you want, you ignore it and it's his fault for not playing right.

    This assumes your gameplay is actually like your example. If things are more complex than you said I could easily change my mind about this.

    For example I could see a game where the player says "I fell in the pit but there's deep water in the bottom" which changes his problem from falling damage to drowning / possible monsters. Or "I fell in the pit but the bottom is covered in sand" which reduces falling damage as an award for enriching the description of the environment.

  8. @1d30
    I think you're assuming the DM is asking about the falling damage because the player is using the answer to the question as one of the tools to win or to enrich the fiction whereas -C is seeing the answer as merely "all the brains at the table trying to decide what the most simulationistic damage for falling would be in the context so far set forth in play".

    If the players' answer seems to smack more of "using the answer as a weapon to win or enrich the scene" than "using dispassionate brainpower to help model the situation" (as any group of engineers would) then the DM gets to veto it (because without some mechanism to end conflicts it's logistically impossible to run a game).

    That is: he is not so much judging the answer as the _motive_ for giving it.

  9. In other words, at that point the GM is asking the player to put on a different hat:
    the hat of the person who helps contribute to the rulings that make up the list of rules the game is going to run under from now on. Take off the player hat, put on the game designer hat.

    If the player refuses to do that, s/he is not playing with good sportsmanship.


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