Tuesday, December 13, 2016

It's Possible To Suck At D&D

Perhaps because it involves so many nerds, the RPG community has a much tougher time than the sports community accepting really that sometimes people just suck and redesigning the game won't fix that. 

Now--I've rarely seen a group with a decent interpersonal dynamic have a player who just sucked--even people who are dull shine up over time when surrounded by people of good will. Whether this is because interesting, smart people self-select or because an environment of cool, friendly people stimulates people to be better (or both) would be pure speculation on my part.

But there are lots of groups that aren't functional. Let's handle their FAQs. 

My friends won't role-play their characters and I need them to!!!

Then they are, at best, people you don't get on with and--at worst--super boring. Leave them and play with other people.

I like the other players but they won't do what I want to do!

Become more charismatic. Or if you can't: realize you never will and accept your limitations and relax a little because apparently you're stuck with them?

They won't read the book!

So? Reading the book is not and never should be essential. They have lives. That is good and probably makes them more interesting than you--a person who is complaining to internet strangers about your players' problems instead of talking to them. Maybe you're the boring one? Not everybody needs to read the book.

But maybe if I played a different game that supported role-playing?

If you need a game that gives you mechanical cookies to have a personality you are a boring person. You should become more interesting before you play any more games.

I dunno D&D seems to work against role-playing--in order to have a character whose personality reflects me I need to make choices that make the character suboptimal?

Then make the character suboptimal. I always do.

But if I play a suboptimal character, I'll die!

You should be able to run the table with a 2hp thief having never read the rules. If you can't then either:
-You are not good at imagining things and solving problems and need to become smarter. Because the game should be testing your ability to imagine things and solve problems.
-Your DM is not running the game in such a way that problem-solving imagination is rewarded in consistent and transparent ways and they suck at DMing and need to become smarter.
-Despite being so into playing your character you're willing to play a suboptimal build, your performance of that character isn't charming enough for the clever problem-solving characters to take pains to keep you around. Improve.

But there are games where I don't have to be smart or interesting!

Yes. And you can choose to play them--and find enough dumb, boring people to play with you (please don't inflict yourself on cool people)--then you can play them instead of becoming better as a person.

Are you saying everyone who plays games which don't require problem-solving and which have tools to help you roleplay more are only played by boring, stupid people?

No, I'm saying if, as an adult, you need them: you're a boring, stupid person.

That's very judgmental.

Yes. It's 2016: it should be painfully obvious that some people suck and that diagnosing that is an important life skill.

Ok, so everyone I play with is terrible? What do I do?

This is not a problem any game design can fix. You need to go meet new people.


Artifice said...

What the world obviously needs are more RPG systems to cater to every last personality type so that RPGs just become personality tests and corporations will start hiring for positions based on what RPG system you play. They'll also be used for dating compatibility and adoptions. And everyone will have their own RPG system tailored just for their specific quirks and triggers and twists, but of course you can't play it with anyone else because they all have their own systems and yours is just bad.

Because ideas like compromise and collaborative imagination and just making shit up that seems fun are outmodded concepts from the 80s and we can totally do better, right?

Zak Sabbath said...

Customization is a fine idea.

I am not saying there is no reason to play or invent new systems.

I am saying only that if you _need_ them ( ie your game is chaos without them), the problem isn't the system, it's you.

Chris C. said...

"That's very judgmental."

And yet that doesn't make it any less true.

Artifice said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Artifice said...

I think there's something to be said for the game following from and being supported by the rules. I can probably run a high school romance, alien mech, Neuromancer-jocky or kung fu game with B/X rules, but I'd be the first to admit forcing square pegs in round holes. There are probably better systems for all that where the rules reinforce and support what you're suuposed to be doing. Like Shadowrun is ostensibly a better system for running Shadowrun-like games than B/X (maybe...) On the other hand, I don't even need Stars Without Number to get my space opera on because D&D actually will do that pretty damn well. I love new systems, especially when they bring things to the table I haven't seen. DCC's magic system is one of those I like to crib from because it's fun and novel and interesting.

What I'm railing against is the idea of remaking D&D, almost exactly, right down to the Tolkein rural/feudalism, but then adding stuff about making people roleplay out their actions under a false pretense of needing people to roleplay out their actions and that being good or even better. All that shit's not about systems and settings and having a good time, it's about forcing people to play a certain way. And I'm sorry, V. Baker, but in my entire long career of playing RPGs, I've never needed a rule that tells me about fucking my fellow player, and I'm a little beside myself that people gravitate towards systems like that.

So yeah, the "we put the role back in roleplay" games feel a lot like a reaction against something perceived but not really there, using mechanics to support stuff that doesn't need supporting because every other game does it just as well provided that players want to play like that. In the vast continuum between W40k wargames and actually LARPing in the park with capes and plastic fangs, all that shit's always been just fine in D&D and every other RPG. It's antithetical to me that you need games that somehow codify how much you need to do this or that and it starts to feel pretty exclusionary, especially when those games don't bring anything else mechanical to the table.

But I don't even really care about any of that, except maybe academically. If those people want to play those games, more power to them. It's likely that I wouldn't enjoy playing with them and they wouldn't enjoy playing with me and that's totally fine. We're probably better off in separate corners anyway.

Ro said...

"You should be able to run the table with a 2hp thief having never read the rules."
Absolutely. This quote is the essence of role playing.

Unknown said...

Just want to say I have been running Maze of the Blue Medusa. Players are pretty timid when they realize it's not your typical dungeon crawl. They hadn't made it far due to backtracking to look for other ways to go. Been a great time.

Zak Sabbath said...


Spwack said...

Literally our lord and saviour Zak Sabbath in a nutshell right there. Insightful and relevant points are proven with gusto, and then used to stab people with equal amounts of gusto.

Adamantyr said...

Well said indeed!

I've listened for years to my brother complain that his games seemed to lack energy and he blamed first rules then himself, he obviously wasn't doing a good enough job. Meanwhile, I would look at his players, who basically sat at the table with an "entertain us, slave!" mentality and asked "Maybe you just need new players?"

Recently in my own games, I decided to cut someone from the group because they are just a huge source of negative energy. A rules lawyer who argued and stopped the game constantly, and even at one point admitted he didnt trust my judgment on rules, only rules themselves.

Ranthan said...

"They'll also be used for dating compatibility and adoptions"

Now hold on... Selectively breeding out the GURPS players isn't the *worst* idea I've heard...

Edgewise said...

Zak, it's commendable for you to be drawing our attention to this problem of shitty gamers, but I don't think you've gone far enough. There are so many different ways to suck at D&D. You left rules lawyering out entirely! In all seriousness, the problem is commonly understated to the degree that it's easier to explain how to be a good player than catalog all the shitty archetypes.

In fact, I've seen a billion articles on how to be a better GM, but very few on how to be a better player. I had to pointedly ask one of my players recently "What are you doing to make this enjoyable for me and your fellow players? I put a lot of time into this." To his credit, he got it.

Ro said...

I agree on this point. The Crypt Lords of the world shouldn't have to shoulder all the burden. I wrote about this (http://crypts-n-creepies.blogspot.com/2016/01/how-to-play-rpgs-real-good-part-i.html). I'm not sure if I'm breaching some form of etiquette or unwritten rule by putting a link here. I'm sure I will find out soon enough.

Adam Dickstein said...

Except...well...I can run the table with a 2hp, but I'm not sure I'd want to in some games.

Call ME boring if you like, but Pathfinder isn't a game where playing a sub-optimal character is fun. At all. I've tried numerous times with GMs, and players who were awesome in M&M, Star Wars D6, and other systems.

You don't need a system that gives you mechanics for role playing - you do need systems that don't punish you for trying to role play instead of being the best optimized package you can be.

Zak Sabbath said...

Adam, If you played Pathfinder and you needed to optimize then your GMs were bad at running Pathfinder.
They should improve.

Ro said...

I have read some of the Pathfinder stuff and it seems pretty basic, in that how it is run is open to interpretation by the GM (Unlike a game like Morrow Project or Champions in which the system can overwhelm roleplaying). Based on your description I would say your GM's are running the game more like a video game, where having all those big numbers matter. There are many who like this style of play. I am not one of them.

s7610ra said...

I also feel we need to accept that team/group dynamics utterly change people. One person in one group, boring flat dull uninspired, in another, sparkly interesting on fire. Sometimes you need to find different people. These other people may also not play rpgs..

Anonymous said...

So how does one go about getting smarter, more imaginative and more interesting?

Anonymous said...

Really excited about your answer.
You should sell personal development products for roleplayers, Zak.

Anonymous said...

It's getting somewhat silly, responding to my own comment for the second time already.
However, I just noticed that my initial comments might come off as sarcastic.
So I'd like to add that I asked out of pure curiosity, since I'm really interested in what approaches you might have.
So thanks a lot in advance, in case that you find the time to answer me.

Zak Sabbath said...

go somewhere you've never been, do something you've never done before, talk irl to people you've never talked to before, read something difficult

anonimous, emperador en el exilio said...

1) Fuck "Role-Playing". From now on ahead I'll refer to D&D as a "Narrative-Simulator Game".

2) Fuck middle grounds. From now on ahead role-playing is either mandatory or banned from my table.

2(A) if mandatory, every player not talking in character will have (CAKE).

2(B) if banned, every player doing funny voices will have (CAKE).

(CAKE) = PC popping random monsters, Vomiter's style, from random body orifices.

3) For now I'll choose option (B).

Anonymous said...

"They have lives."

So a bunch of dumbass proles who never read books (probably because they are too interesting already to do so) would be a great addition to Zak's gaming table, or maybe I missed something here?

Zak Sabbath said...

1. To translate from smart people language to your language: Yes

2. Game books are not exactly high literature--so if you're trying to pull some kind of snob/class appeal out of your ass, you're doing it wrong.

3. Please seek therapy

Anonymous said...

I still fail to see why the lack of interest about the very background of a game you're just playing makes you way cooler than the pathetic nerds who actually take the pains to read. Can you please enlighten me?

Zak Sabbath said...

First: your references to reading placing you some axis of "cool" and "pathetic" are not present in the text.
So you're bad at reading, and should improve (In addition to seeking help for your clear emotional problems).
There is, however, a sane person's question underneath the insane comments you made, which I'll answer for the benefit of anyone who has the non-insane, non-illiterate version of your insane, illiterate question:

Since reading the book is optional, it's recreational reading.
And no human should ever be put in the position of being forced to choose between:
-choosing the recreation of their choice (whether that be to read any of the million other things one could read besides D&D books, or spend ones time doing anything else)
-being called names by a lunatic
Your next comment must include:

-an apology for strawmanning my position (misinformation is not allowed on this blog)


-an acknowledgement that you read the answer to your question


-either an acknowledgment that you now understand or a request for clarification

josh said...

i like this (cake) idea. the only improvement i can think of is setting new arbitrary trigger events each time (cake) happens. also, could be tied to a specific place for flavor. also, im totally sincere.

josh said...

i think that was real advice dude. i find that my playstyle is more nuanced and creative as an adult than it ever was when i was a kid. i attribute this directly to lots of diverse experiences and life choices.