Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Hold Up, Someone Is Playing the Game Wrong and They Must Be Stopped!

Before the reformatting of my computer happened I disappeared down a rabbit hole of pseudo-intellectualism that wrapped itself up in a self-righteous cloak of quoted text to protect each of the combatants within a cocoon of ignorance masquerading as brilliance. There were two sides of this debate. On this side you found a loud and protracted mewling chorus of voices screaming out, "GYGAX SAID THIS AND THUS IT WAS WRITTEN IN STONE AND SHALL NEVER BE CHANGED!" Arrayed against them were a slew of flagellating warriors mindlessly repeating the chants of their forefathers, "YOU KILL THE ORC AS A STAND IN FOR THE BLACK! YOU SLIGHT THE WOMAN IN YOUR STATISTICAL ABILITIES TO PROTECT YOUR BOYS CLUB FROM THEIR COOTIES! THE OLD WAYS MUST BE COMPLETELY ABANDONED AND CAST INTO THE DUST OF TIME TO BE FORGOTTEN!"

There was no progress made by either side and reading through the morass of mindless grandstanding and infantile attempts to score points with cutting words across the infinite void of the internet it became clear to me that no one had any real interest in finding a middle ground between the two sides.  In spite of more than a dozen calls for changes in tone and for a real exchange of ideas neither of those things was actually the goal of the people foaming at the mouth in that kerfuffle. They were there to be seen and heard not to change hearts and minds.

By the time I had finished reading through the thread I was out of wine and disgusted with the whole affair. Oh, don't get me wrong, there were some real moments of hilarity in there like when one of the Gygaxian faithful started flailing about telling everyone who would listen that the only way they were getting his D&D books was by prying them from his cold, dead hands. Then there was the lady with an ambiguous user name like 247Jonesn4Scotch who started screaming that they were all "mansplaining" to her because of their sexism!

Good stuff, good stuff. 

Anyway this evening I was reading through James P. Carse's Finite and Infinite Games when I saw a line that reminded me of this little rabbit hole I had been down. The ". . . [r]ules are not valid because . . . God pronounced them through Moses . . . They are valid only if and when players freely play by them . . ." (Carse 10). In other words just because you find a rule written down it doesn't mean that you have to use it. You don't like that women have lower stats than men in the early versions of Dungeons & Dragons; and if you don't then you don't have to use the rule. Role-playing games aren't holy scriptures written in stone with Enforcers standing at the door of every Hobby Shop watching to ensure that each nerd picks up their books with trembling hands and a whispered prayer to the designer that they might play the game correctly. 

Hell, Gary himself once wrote these rules ". . . are guidelines to follow in designing your own fantastic-medieval campaign. They provide the framework around which you will build a game of simplicity or tremendous complexity — your time and imagination are about the only limiting factors . . ." (Gygax  4). He was telling you all the way back in 1974 that you could absolutely modify the hell out of this shit because role-playing games are like a living language that morphs to fit the needs of those involved. That's the whole reason why there are people actively involved in DIY projects on the web and in your local gaming communities right now. They looked at their favorite games - RIFTS, Dungeons & Dragons, Savage Lands, GURPS, FATE, Star Wars d6 - and decided that it wasn't meeting their needs. Then they went out and made something that did. They made Carcosa, Iron Kingdoms, Red & Pleasant Land, Microlite 74, and a million other games that have helped change what we think of when we say we're playing a role-playing game. So to argue that we have to play the game as it was written always mystifies me.

Don't get me wrong, the other side of this debate was completely full of shit too. 

Look if in your games you want to explore what it's like to sexually molested or to deal with racism because you've never experienced either of them than more power to you. It's not my idea of a good time, but to each his own; because there's plenty of room for all of us to have fun in our own ways. BUT that isn't what happens. Instead I get some half crazed jack waggon coming along every so often who wants to tell me that the reason I like killing orcs is because they're a stand-in for my repressed bigotry. Never mind that I have close friends across all racial, and most of the sexual, lines and involved them heavily in my games when they showed an interest OR that I've got family who fit into those categories. No, I kill orcs so I must be a bigot.

I get it, I really do. You've got issues with people of color, women, transgendered folk, and queers so it's impossible for you to imagine that anyone else could not work out their issues in the game because that's what you do. The thing is that not everyone is like you. I can like killing imaginary creatures simply because it's fun and not because I'm a closeted bigot. So seriously, stop projecting your own issues on everyone else and enjoy the game.

Works Cited 

Carse, James P. Finite and Infinite Games. New York: Ballantine Books, 1986. 10

Gygax, Gary and Dave Arneson. Dungeons & Dragons Vol 1: Men and Magic.  Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1974.  4


  1. D&D is a war game. War is always racist. In the Koren war for example, we killed us a big fuckin' pile of Koreans.
    Women are smaller and weaker then men. The average strength is lower and the peak (record holding) strength is lower.

    Social justice is so divorced from reality.

    1. "War is always racist."

      Always? Even the English Civil War?

    2. The Korean War is surely a terrible example. I'd always understood it that you (the USA, I guess) were fighting on the side of [to be South] Koreans?

      Also, FRPGs are 'divorced from reality'. So, regardless of average female strength, a player at my table can roll up a STR 18(100) female Fighter. If that player is lucky enough to roll that with 3d6 in order ;-)

      Campaigning for social justice, on the other hand, is all about arguing that the inequalities in the real world are not inevitable, and that other, better ways are possible. This doesn't mean arguing that women and men are equally strong, on average, but it does mean questioning whether barriers to opportunity (say particular jobs) that are based on strength are necessary. In some cases, they might be. In others, a reorganisation or work, or better use of technology, for instance, might mean that we don't have to tolerate this equality. We are modern human beings, and we can have a conscious hand in creating our own societies and environments. They are not built by instinct, as are those of bees or ants.

    3. "we don't have to tolerate this [in]equality"

    4. War is not always about racism. The U.S. revolutionary war was not about racism.

  2. I remember back when 3e was first released, and people were claiming that "lizard men" becoming "lizard folk" was a sign of out-of-control Political Correctness and the "Girdle of Giant Strength" becoming the "Belt of Giant Strength" showed that the game was being dumbed-down for the benefit of ignorant, illiterate kids who didn't know classical literature...good times.

    More seriously, part of the problem may be because at one point, Gygax envisioned AD&D (distinct from D&D) as a massive organized play network, with players freely moving their characters from campaign to campaign, like the RPGA on steroids or the Hackmaster game from the Knights of the Dinner Table comic book. In that situation, it would be necessary for every campaign to be using the same rules. That's the source of Gygax's statement in Dragon #67 that "The AD&D game system does not allow the injection of extraneous material. That is clearly stated in the rule books. It is thus a simple matter: Either one plays the AD&D game, or one plays something else, just as one either plays poker according to Hoyle, or one plays (Western) chess by tournament rules, or one does not. Since the game is the sole property of TSR and its designer, what is official and what is not has meaning if one plays the game. Serious players will only accept official material, for they play the game rather than playing at it, as do those who enjoy “house rules” poker, or who push pawns around the chess board. No power on earth can dictate that gamers not add spurious rules and material to either the D&D or AD&D game systems, but likewise no claim to playing either game can then be made. Such games are not D&D or AD&D games — they are something else, classifiable only under the generic “FRPG” catch-all. To be succinct, whether you play either game or not is your business, but in order to state that you play either, it is obviously necessary to play them with the official rules, as written."

    1. Of course, that's not what the 1e DMG actually says, but a rather cruel paraphrase that ignores all of the language that suggests that you DO change it. AD&D was meant to provide a framework where the rules of each DM's campaigns were different, but there were enough similarities that you could port characters from one game to another. The rules in common between each individual campaign would be different, depending upon the tastes of the individuals involved.

      What the Dragon #67 statement's source is can be clearly denoted from context and content: "Serious players will only accept official material" and "the game is the sole property of TSR and its designer". Gary Gygax was concerned about who was getting paid for devising extra materials for the game, and what that would do to the game as a property, and trying to convince you to spend your money with TSR instead.

      (By the time the 1e DMG appeared, others were beginning to horn in on TSR's baby, so "Spend your money on official stuff!" type language does appear in that book.)

    2. Just to be clear, that is Gygax's rather cruel paraphrase of his original position, leaving out the clear language that suggests that AD&D is NOT to be played "with the official rules, as written."

  3. There is a third side to this coin.
    There are people out there (myself for one, but I doubt I'm the only one.) who do not try to shoe horn social issues into my rpg's and at the same time does not care at all what Gary Gygax may have said or written forty one years ago.

    This ongoing howling over social issues in gaming and old school acceptance where does that leave us?
    For my part it leaves me playing 3 nights a week over roll20 and enjoying the games a lot of people can't seem to help but get angry over. However I might be the exception, I don't know.

    I can imagine that all the angst and hollering might just scare some fine and talented people away from the greater gaming community. In the same way a train are full of hooting teenagers might signal "move along" to a calm minded person on their way home to better, quieter things.

  4. I don't preted to kill pretend orcs because I'm a racist. I'll just as gladly pretend kill a pretend white anglo saxon inn-keeper if it is in the nature of the pretend character i am pretending to be.
    Sometimes I play a pretend character that would be a really horrible real person, just like some actors play the bad guys on stage and in film.

    I have marhced lead armies across tabletop battlefields, plastic hordes have swept the world at my command, and cardboard legions have slaughtered cardboard foes to a cardbaord man. But no legeless lead soldeirs had to struggle on for the remainder of their days, no plastic widows cried for their slain love, and no cardboard orphans have starved.

    Games are a form of play, play explores difficult issues from all sorts of angles and allows participation in that issue to be entertanment instead of trauma.

    1. "I have marhced lead armies across tabletop battlefields, plastic hordes have swept the world at my command, and cardboard legions have slaughtered cardboard foes to a cardbaord man. But no legeless lead soldeirs had to struggle on for the remainder of their days, no plastic widows cried for their slain love, and no cardboard orphans have starved."

      I love the way you wrote that

    2. I wish I could have done it without the typos but it was I was on my darn phone.

  5. GYGAX SAID: "No matter if it was Demogorgon, Orcus, or some other who strove against Graz'zt; which ever of the demons eventually floated to the top, Infestix would himself enthrall." --Come Endless Darkness, page 159.

    I selected the page and random. My eyes saw "orcus." I think if anybody says GYGAX SAID for any argument I'll just randomly open a book he wrote, and randomly pick a passage to quote.

    But then again, I'm on maybe 3 hours of sleep in the last 24, so somehow this makes sense... I think.

    1. No, no, no. This is pure brilliance in its simplicity and satire of the entire line of thinking. Never change it! Also, I'm totally stealing this idea.

    2. GYGAX SAID: "In general, the skin color of a particular individual is of no particular importance."
      --Dragon #55, page 19.

      Yeah. Now that I've gotten more sleep, this is kinda fun.

  6. The middle ground is (understandably) bored with talking about this. These two groups are supporting eachother with a strong (angry!) meme pair:

  7. My condolences that you ran out of wine. I avoid forums like the plague. They are generally toxic and cliquish like high school. I'd rather sit outside & get eaten alive by the mosquitoes.

  8. Well said, Charles, well said. Sometimes an orc is just an orc. The best part is that those who see an orc and think "that's clearly a (insert real human culture here)" assume everyone thinks that way, and then get off on railing against their own biases that they've just projected onto the non-bigots.


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