On Battered Player Character Syndrome

Do you show up to the game each week wondering why?

Are you sitting across from your DM as he shakes his head at your attempts to navigate his adventure?

Do random, bad, unforeseeable things happen to you because you couldn't auger what the DM wanted you to say?

Then you might be suffering from Battered PC Syndrome.

Unlike traditional abusive relationships, experiences are not told of the months and months one spent laboring under the abuses of a Dungeon Master because that doesn't happen. What does happen is that people have singular or short term bad experiences with single Dungeon Masters.

Sometimes the intent of these people is good with them giving excuses like "But I want you to experience my story!" or "I'm going to make sure it's appropriately dramatic by following my script!"

Sometimes these people are ignorant of human nature or possess the naivety of youth leading to statements like, "Won't it be awesome when they see how bad-ass Thorin DeathBlade is! They can watch him cut down the dragon!"

In rare cases the intent is actively malicious, stemming from a desire to feel superior "Ah ha! You didn't say you were looking where you were going! Take 1-6 damage for walking into the wall" or from painful insecurity manifesting as a desire to control things "Players:We go south. Dungeon Master:There's an impenetrable forest! Players:We go east. Dungeon Master:An ocean lies there. Players:We get a boat. Dungeon Master:No one builds boats."

The truth is, when we game it is not our livelihood. It is not our home-life. This makes it clear that we aren't dependent on the person running the game in any way that can affect us in a material substantial way. By definition this person can only extend control over you to the amount you allow them to. You are engaging in a recreational act.

What's more is that we are not dependent on the person running the game for our entertainment. This might have been true twenty years ago in the late 80's, but you could find someone running a game in a few hours if you want to hop on over to G+. If for some reason that isn't good enough for you, the number of gamers is large and the stigma of doing so no longer exists in any real form.

The dynamics of abuse don't exist in any chronic long-standing form. Why is this important?

Because it lets us know that trying to design rules to prevent the above is pointless, because there is nothing to prevent.

Because it lets us know that avoiding playing some games because the rules aren't there to protect you is only robbing you of experiences you might otherwise enjoy.

Anyone can make a bad choice and have a game with a jerk. That problem is self-correcting. People who don't enjoy it won't play. Then the bad DM won't have players and he will stop running games.


  1. But some of the funniest 'after the fact' stories come from games that didn't quite work out. In my current group we still laugh about a dysfunctional game we played years ago where in one session a black dragon killed 1/2 the party and as a reward we got a pile of silver and copper. The dragon had a pet goblin who snatched up a wand from the treasure pile and used it against us, consuming the wand's only charge. So we got the equivalent of the contents of the change jar from atop someone's dresser and an empty wand as our treasure.
    It was like a Monty Hall from Bizzaro world.

  2. My feet and legs are fully functional, so no bad gaming experience need ever be repeated.

  3. Just a couple dissenting opinions...

    First, I was a battered gamer. But, it wasn't as simple as putting up with a GM who was terrible. It was more the classic abuse cycle of "he's not like that all the time". He was heavy into the railroad style. But, if you got on board, he could really bring the awesome. When everything clicked, it was butterflies and rainbows (except the rainbows were prismatic sprays and the butterflies were high-level barbarians). When things failed to click, everybody had a Real Bad Time(TM).

    Second, rules that limit what the GM can do aren't just there to protect the players from evil GMs. They are also there to rein in the GMs who have good intentions but poor execution. Very few GMs want to abuse their players. But they don't understand how to translate the awesome scenes in their head into actual play at the table without just handing the players a script. With a few rules that add resource management and role playing incentives to both sides of the screen, the novice (or poorly trained) GM can get a better handle on how play is supposed to go.

    1. Your first paragraph is almost word for word what battered spouses say about their relationships


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