Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Gospel of Gamer John: "We Can Do Better"

Brothers and sisters, please open your guides to Chapter 1, How to Pwn:
In the beginning of role-playing games there was a belief that we had found the holy land. But being gamers we naturally said, "Fuck that noise! I can make a better game with spit, squirrel fur, and tree bark." So it was that Dungeons and Dragons beget Tunnels and Trolls, Empire of the Petal Throne, Chivalry and Sorcery, RuneQuest and a great number of house systems that never made a commercial success. Days turned to years and still the gamers said, "It's all warm piss being passed as beer. We can do better, and we will!"

New systems were born and names were brought forth as the saviors of the hobby: Jackson, Siembieda, Miller, Dee, Herman, Peterson, Wiese, LaTorra, Koebel, Crane, Hicks, Tweet, Williams, Mearls, Cordell, and Cook. Their names were added to the rolls as gamers fell to their knees and prostrated themselves before each savior only to whisper, "They're not that fucking great. I can do better."

Then the internet was brought to the masses and where once the gamer could only whisper now he could shout. He could scream his rage about the god-damned grapple rules and the inability of a traditional role-playing game to accurately simulate the damage a light mace could actually do to a human being! In their anger the gamers went online to tell their former saviors that they could all eat a bag of dicks.
There is no perfect game in this hobby and there are no savior designers that will come along to make it. The very idea that such things could happen is anathema to the core idea of this hobby and the guiding principal of every gamer, "We can do better." We can do better because nothing is perfect. Every game has errata; every module can be improved and house rules that make the game more fun at our tables will be invented. Still you'll find people saying that the game as written is sacrosanct. Its foibles, misprints, and vagaries are features purposefully put into the product to challenge both players and Game Masters alike. 

It's these people who mystify me. 

Our hobby is designed around the idea that our rules are actually guidelines. Every game, whether you're talking about Dungeons and Dragons or Burning Wheel, is built with the understanding that as a Game Master and player you're going to use and abuse this game for your own purposes. You'll build your own methods and procedures for dealing with all the situations that the game can't possibly cover - because it's impossible for any game to make a rule for every possible thing that can happen.

"We can do better," isn't a pejorative that assholes have been uttering since the hobby began. It's a maxim that has colored the direction of this hobby since Dave Arneson took Chainmail and said, "I can do better." It's the phrase that has given us every great gaming moment, house rule, and product you've ever touched.


  1. I never understood the designers who said "You cannot change my rules."

    Yes, I can.

    Look. I change them. Right here. On the table, for all to see. Chaaanged.

    By the normative power of the factual, I can!

  2. We can do better, and we do, but...

    If you speak the gospel my friend, and you do, may I play my favored role - that of devil's advocate?

    Why then do so many of us discuss, adjust, add to, fix, modify, or otherwise change certain games, instead of just playing other ones?

    Why are so many of the faithful OK with other religions, just so long as they are variants of theirs?

    Amen brother.

    1. While it's entirely possible as the Anonymous commenter below suggests, that it's because we're not playing the game we want, I think it far more likely that it's because we're stubborn. So many of us tend to play a certain game because we learned it first even when there are better options out there. For example, I have a friend who will only play the d6 Star Wars - not because it's the best but because it was the first one he learned and the rest just don't have that same feel for him.

      Long story short, people are weird.

  3. >>Why then do so many of us discuss, adjust, add to, fix, modify, or otherwise change certain games, instead of just playing other ones?

    Because the other ones still aren't the game the fixer wants.

  4. At one point, there used to be just one card game then there was 5 card, 7 card, solitaire and so on. When I was a kid and long before I started gaming, my family house ruled Monopoly. I think house rules are just part of a natural instinct that some people have to tinker with things. I was 13 when I first started playing Moldvay B/E D&D. Later that year, T&T 5e and Runequest were the second and third RPGs that I had ever played. 3 fantasy RPGs but the mechanics gave each a unique feel. It only seemed natural to recombine the rule sets to create the game experience I wanted. Ken St Andre once wrote, "Remember, if you haven’t changed something, then you’re not really playing T & T." That is the way I feel about RPGs in general.


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