Tuesday 24 March 2009

Gaming Advice #1: Don't Be A Dick Head

Because for my work and research I spend most of the day on the internet, I do rather a lot of trawling through rpg-related forums and blogs. (This is about the only perk of spending day after day in front of a computer.) And because people who post on forums and blogs about rpgs are an ornery lot, this boils down to reading lots of amusingly vitriolic flamewars. (rpg.net is the indisputed king of these, though the rpgsite has its moments.) A waste of time, perhaps, but no more so than watching Japanese TV, and occasionally more educational and edifying.

A common theme running through these flamewars is that an awful lot of problems get blamed on rpg systems, when really the fault is with the players. I call this the Forgetting That One Shouldn't Behave Like A Dick Head phenomenon.

Some examples might help to illustrate:

1. Older versions of D&D are bad, because they rely on individual DMs' judgement, and this means that players who "get on with the DM" or can "convince him to rule in their favour" have an unfair advantage. Often presented by fans of 3e and 4e, which supposedly leave less to each individual DM's judgement and are thus "fairer". This is a not actually a problem with older versions of D&D. It is a problem of DMs and players behaving like dick heads and being biased and easily swayed or excessively manipulative, respectively.

2. D&D 4e is bad, because it forces everybody to do things a certain way - if you are a Warlord you have to do this or that in combat, and if you don't, other players will accuse you of failing to properly fulfill your role and not being a team player. Again, not in fact a problem with 4e, but a problem of players behaving like dick heads and being inflexible and mandarin.

3. Cyberpunk 2020 is bad, because you can manipulate character generation and equipment a certain way and create characters who are virtually indestructible killing machines. Not in fact a problem with Cyberpunk 2020, but a problem of players behaving like dick heads and trying to create munchkin characters to ruin everybody else's enjoyment rather than just participate in a fun game.

4. The Rust Monster is bad, because DMs use it to spoil players' fun by destroying all their hard-earned magic items. Not in fact a problem with the Rust Monster, but a problem of DMs behaving like dick heads by deliberately trying to piss off their players, and also of players behaving like dick heads and being cry babies and forgetting that it's just a game.

You get my drift, anyway. As a rule I tend not to read much 'GMing advice' on blogs, because I think it all boils down to something rather simple: play with cool people who are your friends, not dick heads, and don't be a dick head yourself. Mostly it all works out fine from that initial foundation.


  1. And because people who post on forums and blogs about rpgs are an ornery lot, this boils down to reading lots of amusingly vitriolic flamewars. (rpg.net is the indisputed king of these, though the rpgsite has its moments.)

    If it wasn't for all the vitriol rpgsite would not be half as fun. :)

    Play with cool people who are your friends, not dick heads, and don't be a dick head yourself.

    Indeed, maybe game designers should just post this sentence on their books, right by the side of Rule #0 and stop wasting pages and pages with GM advice and How to Roleplay "advice".

  2. And, generally, good foreign policy.

    Nice use of 'mandarin'!

  3. You know, if you were a few thousand miles closer, I'd offer to buy you a beer.

    Very cool post.

    Word verification: "homper"

  4. That was epic.

  5. Hey, you couldn't find me some cool friends who aren't dickheads, could you?

  6. "How shall we not be dickheads, oh Lord?"

    Sorry, couldn't resist.

    wv: preduci - a terms used to describe the conciliar government of the early Venetian Republic
    (what? I got nothing)

  7. Excellent post! Not just about gaming per se, but "life" in general.

    Dick Heads Suck. "snicker..." (puerile humor at it's best)

    Funny thing, I just had a long conversation w/ a buddy of mine yesterday about rules, and why we weren't generally enjoying a game we're playing in. Turns out it's not really the rules, but the way the game is being run and the group chemistry. Or rather, about dick heads.

  8. Perfect. That about sums it up --

    Excellent post.

  9. Although I'm not in the habit of fueling the Blog Echo Chamber Syndrome, I posted a column about your column this morning.

    Truer words were never spoken.

  10. One of the great balancing acts of running a game is trying to assemble a "Dick Headed-less" group of guys to game with...I'm lucky on that count right now, but it hasn't always been so...

  11. Absolutley...good commonsense. But, and I think I'm with Badmike here, the trouble is there are so many...

  12. Well said, sir. Have a virtual cookie.

  13. Thank you.
    Gamers are weirdos.
    And it's always to easy to blame something/someone other than your self.

    I think (and shudder at the thought) that maybe some people like to play because it gives them an opprotunity to be a jerk. ugh. what a drag.

  14. Me and my GF once had an interesting convo. I was at work complaining about how 9/10 people are just braindead. She said "No, 9/10 people are assholes". After a bit of discussion, we realized that the two groups were far from mutually exclusive. And so in fact 19/20 people are Braindead Assholes. I liked the term so much I have used it numerous times, including as the band name for Rock Band 2.

  15. I think that asking dickhead players to get fucked is doing the whole hobby a great service.

  16. The trick is finding friends that aren't also dickheads. I love my best friend to death, but she's literally such a munchkin that she won't play any game without a lot of fairl obvious exploits to string together (Indeed, lately she won't play anything at all because there aren't enough numbers to crunch. I'm thinking Hackmaster or gods forbid FATAL might be more to her liking.)

    Confirmation word: Wirasted
    Definition: Scrubbed clean by the sharp ends of wires, for example a wire brush on a grill or an unraveled sdteel cable as a method of torture.

  17. I give with the main point, and still read plenty of game mastering blogs. Why? Because running a good game is a skill and hence something one can get better at. So is playing (specific) roleplaying games. Practice, as always, is an excellent teacher but I also find the more theoretical musings very helpful.

    Rules can make some nasty behaviour easier or more visible or impossible. (If given a point buy system, I will optimise it. If I can simply pick and choose my stats, I will not optimise them. I am not alone in this.) Rules do preciously little to actual dickheads, of course, but they do affect the edge cases, like me at character generation.

  18. The only time I think your Dick Head Theory may be wrong is when dealing with teenagers. These are people who may be actually good and interesting people who would enjoy playing but may yet simultaneously not have the perspicacity to remember to deal with the rules in such a way as to always be attempting to distribute maximum fun.

    To teenagers, I propose the "Explosions in Space Rule" which goes like this, and which should be printed at the beginning of every game:

    "Are there explosions in space in this game--like in Star Wars? Or not--like in real life? We, the game designers have left this entirely up to you.

    "Before each gaming session, you must get together with your players and decide, as a group, whether--should such a contingency come up--there will or will not explosions in space.

    "If you cannot all agree, or if this conversation goes on for longer than 20 minutes, DO NOT GAME WITH THOSE PEOPLE."

  19. Zach-I love that "explosions in space rule." Absolutely priceless. Thanks.

  20. The only time I think your Dick Head Theory may be wrong is when dealing with teenagers.

    Heh. My father in law routinely refers to *all* teenagers as "dickheads".

  21. A lot of the problems in the gaming community have to do with how many of us start gaming as teenagers, really. It's hard to break those habits.

    I might just use "explosions in space!" to stress-test all my new groups from now on. Most excellent

  22. Thanks for the comments. Seems I hit some sort of nerve, unwittingly!

    Anyway, in response to thanuir, you're right that system is not entirely meaningless. (At the extreme, I really don't think Knights and Barbarians and Legerdemain even actually qualifies as a playable game.) But in my experience it's at least 95% meaningless, because if you get on well with the others at the table, you can usually come to a consensus about changing the rules to fit what you collectively want from the game.

    To use your example, yes, I think that point-buy systems does lead to optimisation. But there's nothing wrong with optimisation if you're aware of how your choices impact on the other players (i.e. if you don't think like a dick head), and don't take advantage of it to create a character which ruins other people's fun.

  23. Great article! I only wish it were easier to weed the dick heads out ahead of time, I'll have to try the suggested "explosions in space" method!

  24. Great post, it's good to find some people who may actually have social skills and for whom the word "Hygiene" is not a greeting for a guy who danced with Ginger Rodgers.

    As a long-time CONVENTION-style game organiser... I can tell you that Jerk/DH-gamers can be spotted in around about 20seconds of sideways listening.

    Jerk/DH-gamer monologue: "Well, then you add four levels of Demented Follower of Ythixataca with nine levels of Paladin. Then add the 'I was once incarnated as a spider-monkey' template and the half-dragon template. Finally buy the 'stupidly underpriced rortastic magic item of cheese' and you've got something at level 13 that will take out [insert name of god here] in four rounds..."

    Non-Jerk/DH Gamer Monologue: "And then, the dude slammed the door, did a double-move past the party and screamed 'This way... dragon that way!'. Then came the breath weapon... [insert 10min] So we staggered back into town right and then got to find out that this mace the Cleric picked up would make him sprout chicken feather 3 days each month unless he sacrificed 3 cats with it each day for 3 days before the full moon..."

    If you can't spot the jerk from those situations, please store your dice in the fireplace.