You’re Playing it Wrong

Sunday , 16, October 2016 5 Comments

There’s no nice way to put it.

Oh, I suppose I could invoke differing schools of thought on how this sort of thing is done. I could call one an “old school” approach and another the “new school” way. The latter would still be taken as derogatory. The former would provoke testimonials from people claiming to have played the “new” way in 1978. Besides, after watching an “old school revival” transition from a celebration of unearthed arcana to being about making new things inspired by old stuff to simply being about making new things, well… what’s the use?

No need to mince words anymore. No need for a shell game. No need to try to soften the blow. Might as well just come right out and say it: the people pictured in this comic are playing wrong.

And I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, hey… if they’re all having fun, then it’s clearly working for them. What’s the big deal? Well let me tell you. You might do all manner of boneheaded things and have a good time, that doesn’t make it right. Just because something seems to work doesn’t say anything about whether it’s right or wrong.

I mean look at ’em. These people are ostensibly playing a fantasy role-playing game, right? And what is the most distinctive thing about this particular genre of game? Well, the main thing about it is that you can do anything you can imagine. You aren’t limited by anything on your character sheet. You aren’t limited by what’s in the rule book or even by what’s in the adventure module. Anything can happen. And it does. That’s the beauty of these things.

Granted, the dice do play into this. You might say that there’s something almost oracular about them. But the players bring something to the table as well. Or at least, they used to. Certainly at my table I would never think of letting a player substitute rolling a die in place of giving a verbal description of what they were trying to do. I mean… why?

And before you say it, I get that the comic may be simplified in order to deliver the joke. But I have seen people that play as they are depicted as they’re doing there. And I’ve had people from those sorts of games come to my table. They have no idea what to do when they don’t have a pile of skill targets to pick from, “Choose Your Own Adventure” style.

What’s going on with this…? Well, you have this whole body of gaming matter that was once marketed with the catchphrase “Products of Your Imagination.” You have a generation of people where, as Lewis Pulsipher puts it,  “everything in their lives [was] served to them on a plate, no imagination required.” Put those two things together and what do you get? A guy that can’t even come up with a description of his character’s insult to an orc.


So yeah. There’s all kinds of ways to do these games. There are many differing approaches and schools of thought. There are all kinds of styles and subgenres and scenarios. Everyone should feel free to go out and find one that best suits their table, that goes without saying.

The people depicted in this comic, though…? They’re playing it wrong.

  • Paulman says:

    I blame D&D 3.0 for that. If there’s no stat for, say, Diplomacy, yeah, everyone at the table expects a scene involving Diplomacy to play out verbally. If you have invested in a Diplomacy stat with the designers’ and GM’s blessing as you level up, you have every reason to expect that investment to work for you. Not to say I don’t prefer the old school ways.. started slinging dice in ’78…

  • Blue SFF Reader says:

    Concur about v3.x and v4.x. I’m an ADD 1.x and 2.x gamer who started on Red Box in ’77. I’ve never understood the gamers who think it’s all driven by dice and stats (rules lawyers & level max’ers) and “winning” (XP collectors).

    I grew up in Appendix N territory (60s & 70s) and *knew* that OD&D, D&D, and AD&D were about entertainment via unbridled imagination, barely constrained by the DM’s envelope and adjudications.

    D&D was about fun, cooperative storytelling, horror, spots of SF/F, humor … and dice rolling.

    The comic shows nothing but being led about the table by the dice. No surprise that incoherency and dullness results.

  • cirsova says:

    Y’know, we could solve all of this by going back to the fundamentals, like DMs making all of the rolls for everyone. Players had to describe everything they were doing because that was the only agency they had.

  • Jon M says:

    There was a time when people trusted their DM to adjudicate these things. For some reason the solution to the problem of DMs bad at adjudicating these things wasn’t to help people be better DMs or even boycott bad DMs and just find better ones. Instead, the solution was to take that responsibility away from DMs and dump it into the rules and dice. This turned the DM from a judge of actions and results into an interpreter between the players and the game world. It worked great in the short term – players had far more power to point to rules and demand better treatment by abusive DMs, but didn’t solve the core problem.

    Bad DMs gonna bad DM.

    Where before bad DMing took the form of arbitrary and capricious ruling, now it takes the form of this sort of idiotic “the dice made me do it” DMing. Which is actually harder to fight as a player since it’s baked into the rules. Before you could point to an ass sitting behind the screen and boycott the table, now when you call out the ass hiding behind the die rolls and mechanics, you look like the ass. You look like you’re blaming hapless black-librarian DM for merely playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played – according to the rulebook – when the truth is that the best DMs will ask, “Rulebook?” then lower his shades, grin, and say, “Where we’re going, we don’t need rulebooks!”

    • cirsova says:

      I’ve been spending the day gushing about my friend’s system, so I’ll do it here, too. One of the best parts is there’s no rulebook to consult. There’s a class-list with what perks can be bought if you’re in a particular profession, but everything players need is on the character sheets. Mechanics consist of “did you roll under your stat/attack value?” and “now that you’re at negative Grit, what body-parts are you losing?”

      A million times better than passing around heavy books and looking up this or that bit of minutia, rules checking and table consulting!

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