It is March of 2001. Two conflicting assumptions by industry professionals collide in Dragon Magazine Issue 281.
By Monte Cook * Senior Designer
Wizards of the Coast RPG R&D
"It's with some regret that my first letter to your magazine was prompted by something negative, for I really like Dragon Magazine. I think it offers wonderful advice and game material on a monthly basis. That is why I was surprised when I read Tracy Hickman's "How You Play the Game" article in issue #277.
I strongly disagree with some of the positions Tracy takes, and while I admire the goal of encouraging people to have more fun with their game, I think his methods do much more harm than good. In fact, much of the advice in the article is a blueprint on how to create a player who is the bane of both the DM and the rest of the group.
The article starts out with a story of how an adventuring party was trying to figure out the runes in a room and a barbarian character got bored and started fights with nearby monsters, which ended up killing a number of PCs. This is meant to be something desirable? To my thinking this is hardly different than coming upon two friends playing chess, getting bored while watching them enjoy their game, and tipping over the board to watch the pieces fly, because that would be more fun--the game's players be damned. Disrupting other people's fun because you are bored perhaps suggests that you should switch playing groups, but it certainly does not give you license to forcibly impose your will on others.
Later on in the article, particularly in the section, "Take charge of your own destiny" the article's advice really goes wrong. "The appeal of roleplaying games is that they forge camaraderie and encourage cooperative endeavors." So far so good, but it goes on: "But if the result is not heroic, then it's time to take matters out of the hands of the committee." This is tantamount to saying, "The opinion of the others in the group doesn't matter if they don't agree with what you want to do."
Tracy's article seems to take the position that rather than reacting to the situations put forth by the I'm horrified at the suggestion that the players might hold the game hostage until the DM gives them what they want. That's no way to play a roleplaying game. In my own games, such a player would be asked to leave--or simply not invited to return (an action I don't take lightly--it's something I've only done twice in 22 years of DMing).
The rest of the article contains some valuable and thoughtful advice. I agree with Tracy's suggestions for creating interesting character backgrounds, interacting with NPCs, and using dramatic flair when roleplaying (although I believe that it is okay and not everyone's going to want to play a swashbuckler with flourish and panache).
It doesn't change the fact that the article does damage to the game. A section unfortunately trimmed from Chapter One of the new Dungeon Master's Guide due to space dealt with "player types" that described various kinds of players and their approach to the game, encouraging the DM to embrace multiple play styles (although this is addressed somewhat on page 8-9 of that book in the section "Determining Style of Play.") The "troublemaker" player type is one that ignores the actual events in the game and just does whatever he can think of that will mess with or hurt the other players and disrupt the DM's planned adventure. In the Dungeon Master's Guide, it was listed as one of the very few types to arduously avoid. This article creates "troublemaker" players. I hope no one follows this advice.
Tracy Hickman * Game Designer
NYT Best-Selling Author
I am flattered at the notion that an old gamer like myself, with a stroke of my keyboard, seems to have threatened the foundations of roleplaying across the multiverse. Cool! Who knew?
Unfortunately, Mr. Cook seems to have missed my point: That complacent games--and complacent gamers-- need to be shaken up from time to time. In real life, great ideas and visions often die a slow death being "Bogged down in committee." The same can be said for heroic action in role playing games.
Monte seems to see D&D as another form of chess, a set of rules where the outcome is determined through a contest of intellectual manipulation of conflicting mathematical probabilities. I see D&D as a simulation of a fantasy environment in which the heroes of our imagination attain some measure of life. This goes beyond probability rolls, charts, and tables. Monte seems to take a Newtonian approach; I lean more toward chaos theory.
I realize that the approach of my article is radical and, to a certain kind of DM, downright threatening. Imagine the audacity of mere players thinking that they have an active role in a roleplaying game! Monte states my position as "rather than reacting to the situations put forth by the DM, a player should just think of crazy things to do and act upon them." My actual position is more accurately stated as follows: "Rather than merely reacting to the situations put forth by the DM, a player should act like the hero his character is supposed to portray."
As to player's holding the game hostage, how is this any different from DMs holding their players hostage in a bad game? If the game design is flawed or the Dm is not properly doing his or her job, why not just walk away? Why toss away an afternoon trying to solve a puzzle when the DM has not provided you with the means or information to solve it? In my seminars, I emphasize the need for DM's to listen to their players to understand what the DM is doing right and what the DM is doing wrong. If your DM has his head in his rulebook, he might need a message that is very loud and very strong.
I am in complete agreement with Monte concerning "troublemaker" players in games, as he defines them. If you, as a player, think that my article is a license to become a "troublemaker" in your game, then you have also missed my point: Troublemakers are anarchists and should be stomped out.
I am advocating something else: "Revolutionist" as a player type. Revolutionist act on them. Revolutionist players play their heroic character rather than the game rules. Revolutionist players know when a DM is leading their PC around by the nose and laugh in the face of such tyranny. Revolutionist players are the McGyvers of the game rules, using them in unexpected ways. Revolutionist players cooperate with other players but boldly go--and boldly die--when others quiver in fear or are locked in committee debate.
players pay attention to the background and events in the game and
Revolutionist players are terrifying to DMs who are unprepared for them. They require the DM to demonstrate the same cooperation with players that the DM has traditionally enforced among the players. This, perhaps, is the most important and frightening concept of all.
Roleplaying games might have a lot of dice and rules, but they are first and foremost about roleplaying. Ironically, Monte's team did a wonderful job of doing that very thing. The new edition is a magnificent achievement and has brought back, for me, the magic that once was D&D. I wish I could get my copy signed by Monte's Team.
My article might create trouble for DMs, but it does not create troublemakers. The point of being a revolutionist player is to take back the experience from the realm of "running a game" and put it firmly back in the realm of "having an adventure." Players of the world: unite!