Role-Playing: Gig or Game?


Read the rules, roam the boards, visit the games and it's all the same: Acting has replaced gaming in RPGs. Players are discouraged from studying the gamebooks; knowing about common monsters or enemies is disparaged under the derogatory term of "meta-gaming." Instead, characters should stare in wonder at the story and atmosphere that the Gamemaster creates, then blunder and stumble through the adventure. As long as they blunder and stumble using flowery language, Gamemasters reward them. I'm disgusted. I'm sick. How has it gotten this bad?

Read the rules, roam the boards, visit the games and it's all the same: Acting has replaced gaming in RPGs. Players are discouraged from studying the gamebooks; knowing about common monsters or enemies is disparaged under the derogatory term of "meta-gaming." Instead, characters should stare in wonder at the story and atmosphere that the Gamemaster creates, then blunder and stumble through the adventure. As long as they blunder and stumble using flowery language, Gamemasters reward them. I'm disgusted. I'm sick. How has it gotten this bad?

Even D&D 3rd Edition has gotten into the act by having a non-weapon proficiency called "Knowledge: Creatures". So, now, all the experienced players pretend not know what a troll is or how to kill it while some newbie makes a proficiency roll to find out if they know! If he fails his proficiency check, watch out because players now make dumb decisions so they can role-play not knowing!

And, Gamemasters! Gamemasters then reward the "good" role-playing with treasure and experience points, even if half the party gets wiped out and the Gamemaster fudges all his rolls. He rewards the players for pretending not know something. And everybody backslaps each other for being good actors and feeling oh-so-superior. That's crazy.

But, suppose that an experienced player speaks up (assuming that he has not been brainwashed into doing all this acting). He knows what a troll is and rallies the party to defeat it. If he's unlucky, he has a Nazi Gamemaster who punishes him for ruining the game for the newbie players. The newbie players don't know what a troll is and somehow it is better for the party to fail than for an experienced player's knowledge and strategy to influence it.

But, wait, that's just the beginning. Role-playing has become the new excuse for every gaming sin. Don't figure out the riddle. Don't defeat the monster. Don't win. Just say, "Oh, my character has a low intelligence. I'm just role-playing him." This instantly wipes away all blame. Do you betray the party? Or are you just lazy and sloppy? Do you have no strategy at all? It is all justifiable by saying that you are role-playing.

No, I do not suggest a return to powergaming, munchkinism and Monty Haul. Instead, players should role-play "in town" but play to win when "on adventure" and during combat. Role-playing should never be an excuse to sabotage or compromise the the party's opportunities. Role-playing is not an excuse to act cowardly, be lazy, be incompetent or to fail. Role-playing should be added on top. When you are succeeding and have figured out all the riddles and cleaned out the dungeon, then role-play. It's the icing, not the cake.

Gamemasters, you can change, too. Liberate your game. Throw out all those subjective role-playing rewards that encourage your players to focus microscopes on their characters; they are already brainwashed by the industry to role-play. Stop scripting all those stories. Start giving the players honest challenges and redeveloping their tactical and strategic skills (stories can still develop without all your artificial machinations). Stop handing out rewards to the players in your group who flub the adventure in spite of their virtuoso performances. Stop railing against meta-gaming. Let players enjoy the game by benefitting from their game knowledge and using it to strategize. Hey, you're the Gamemaster; you can invent new skills, creatures and traps to invalidate that knowledge if need be. Let the balance of power shift, from sissified actors back to competitive gamers.

Push the pendulum back. Don't abandon role-playing, just mix it with a big portion of gaming. It's not an acting gig; it's a game.

Wow. Where to begin?

First of all, dwhoward, this is an extremely thought-provoking article. However, it also happens to be an article that reaches conclusions with which I profoundly disagree, and here's why.

I guess I just don't see why it's such a bad thing to occasionally play a character who knows less about the world than the player. Note that I said occasionally. Most of the time, most people will play characters who have at least a cursory knowledge of the world, enough to get through and face adversaries to the best of their ability (except in games like Hunter, of course, where the point is to discover things about the setting as you go along, but that's an entirely different can of worms). This is, as you say, a time when metagaming is good, since it lets the game flow more smoothly and lets the party accomplish more. There are plenty of situations in which it's obnoxious and inappropriate to play an ignorant character. On that I agree with you 100%.

However, I've found that at other times, it can be a fascinating experience to throw out everything and start again. It just doesn't work all the time. In a goal-oriented adventure such as the ones you describe, yes, it's annoying. But what if the GM and the players agree to play inexperienced adventurers, effectively making a campaign that is character-driven instead of goal-driven? I mean, if all the PCs are equally ignorant and the GM focuses on their journey of discovery, isn't that an accomplishment in its own rite for them to overcome their own ignorance and become established adventurers? Maybe it's a question of personal preference and we fall on opposite ends of this particular spectrum, but I don't see how you can say that it's "dumb" and "a sin" for me to prefer a more story- and acting-oriented campaign to one that focuses on battles and tactics.

"Role-playing is not an excuse to act cowardly, be lazy, be incompetent or to fail." Frankly, that sentence is extremely disturbing to me. You spend the entire article talking about the need to "win" at an RPG when I don't know if such a thing is even possible. For the past three years I've probably spent an average of 20 hours a week either roleplaying or doing things related to this hobby, and I don't have a single medal or trophy to show for it. And I like it that way. What do you get out of "winning" a campaign anyway? Bragging rights to say you defeated a certain monster in 5 rounds or finished a certain dungeon in under an hour? Who do you crow to about something like that? The average person is not going to understand or care. So what's it worth, really?

For me, not much. The things I've gained from gaming are the best friends I've ever made and *AMAZING STORIES* that keep me coming back week after week. When I find myself thinking about the Hunter campaign I play in when I should be concentrating on class or work (which is far too often), I'm not pondering how to defeat werewolves or zombies in the most efficient way, or rehashing highlights of battles past. I'm wondering whether my character will ever work out her differences and get along with the Defender, or whether she'll be able to continue her relationship with her vampire boyfriend (and what will happen when other hunters find out!), or whether the former enemy she turned into an ally is going to stab her in the back again. Now maybe the average person still won't care about that sort of thing. In fact, I bet they won't. But I've found that battles come and go and are forgotten, whereas stories about the interactions between characters are the ones that get retold again and again.

Now I've finished plenty of storylines and killed plenty of monsters with a well-thought-out strategy, but in all honesty they haven't meant much to me. Sure, I've been proud of my skill, but it's the same kind of short-lived, sickly pride you get from winning at Monopoly. There have been exactly two occasions in my entire gaming career in which I felt as though I "won" an adventure (if such a thing is even possible). The first time, my character made the mistake of trusting the enemy and died a humiliating and ignoble death at his hands - but her death provided the impetus for a moral renewal of the rest of the party, who adopted her pacifistic worldview in honor and tribute. The second time, my character sacrificed her life in order to preserve the existence of an institution in which she had always believed very strongly, and which would have ceased to exist if she hadn't done what she did. By your standards, I lost and I was a cowardly, lazy, incompetent failure. But in both cases, I felt that I won because I single-handedly transformed and influenced the storyline of the campaign (and, in the second case, the game world). Without my actions, the campaign would not have gone the way it did. In general, finishing one dungeon or killing one monster is not as satisfying as that.

I guess what I'm ultimately trying to say is, if you're so focused on winning why are you roleplaying in the first place? Why not go back to wargaming, or board games, or card games, where you are rewarded only for good strategy and you don't have to go to the trouble of making a character that's only going to be a distraction? We play ROLE-PLAYING GAMES, for crying out loud. The name itself states that taking on the role of a character (and, thus, a certain acting component) is integral to making our hobby the way it is. That's the role of a CHARACTER, not the role of a collection of dots on a piece of paper. Part of what makes gaming so entertaining for me is that unpredictability that you get whenever you throw humans (or elves, or dwarves, or whatever) into a purely tactical situation. In real wars and in real battles, the company doesn't always work like a perfectly oiled machine. Soldiers get scared, they piss themselves, they retreat when they're supposed to be fighting, they forget or don't know basic facts about the enemy and have to surpass that.

Let me put it this way. Do you want to see a war movie where the heroes triumph without a hitch, where there's no setbacks and only the bad guys get killed? Of course not! Part of the fun is in watching everything go against the heroes, yet in spite of adversity and against all odds they triumph. That's drama. Not super-soldiers who suddenly remember the grenade in their back pocket or the bit of metagamey information they yank down from the heavens. Sometimes playing dumb makes the best story - and in the end, it's the story that matters to me, not the death toll.

Maybe in the end it's a question of player preference. Maybe you grew up on D&D while I grew up on White Wolf, and that's why we'll never see eye to eye on this question. Maybe it's just that my favorite game is Hunter: The Reckoning, in which the characters begin ignorant not only of the enemy but of their own powers and maybe get a little bit of insight into the World of Darkness before they fall in battle, and which commits every so-called "sin" you've spoken of and still manages to be the most compelling and well-crafted game I have ever had the privilege to play. Maybe it just boils down to the fact that I am a "sissified actor," and I will never be a "competitive gamer," and every day I'm proud of that. I know you won't agree with what I have to say, but I know that the "acting" you disdain so resoundingly is the reason I keep gaming even in the face of gamers who promote this sort of tedious hack-n-slash mayhem, and I know that I'm not alone in believing this. But f you can't handle the fact that for many gamers, a substantial part of any good campaign will always be an "acting gig," go back to Monopoly and Crazy Eights instead of insulting my personal preferences and telling me that I'm stupid for wanting to tell a story more than I want to roll my THAC0 for the millionth time.

Let me put it this way; role playing games evolved from wargames, just as humans did from monkeys. (if you choose to think that way, of course.) And, like humans and monkeys, they are not the same thing.

Hey, you want to play a combat-based game, go ahead. But don't tell
me to, and don't act like it's the wrong way to play it if I don't.

I'm not sure if it was editted out or forgotten but there is an introduction to this piece which goes a little something like this:

"I'm disgusted. I'm sick. How has it gotten this bad?

Read the rules, roam the boards, visit the games and it's all the same: Acting has replaced gaming in RPGs. Players are discouraged from studying the gamebooks; knowing about common monsters or enemies is disparaged under the derogatory term of "meta-gaming." Instead, characters should stare in wonder at the story and atmosphere that the Gamemaster creates, then blunder and stumble through the adventure. As long as they blunder and stumble using flowery language, Gamemasters reward them..."

The introduction was not forgotten. It's on the front page of the website.

The less combat in a game and the more roleplaying, the happier I am. If I want to play a game where winning is important, I will get out my copy of Diablo 2 and I will slaughter monsters to my hearts content there. When I play RPGs, I'm more interested in things like STORY and CHARACTER INTERACTION. That's the stuff that's truly fun. Combat is just an aside. And heck, most of my characters are more likely to run from a fight than actually help. If you think roleplaying should be secondary, why the hell are you playing a ROLEPLAYING game? Geez. Some people...

This article is filed under "Rants" and a rant is meant to be over-the-top. That is why this piece is so extreme. In real life (and in the article, too, if you read carefully and ignore the obvious baiting), I do not have a problem with roleplaying. I am not anti-roleplaying. I have a problem with roleplaying as an excuse. Roleplaying is fine as a topper on superb tactical play.

Story and character interaction are great. I love those and I think that most people do.

If a game is all story and character interaction, my rant (mostly) does not apply. My rant does not say, "Your game should be all combat." My rant says, "If the game has combat, players should do everything to be victorous. They should not sabotage themselves or the rest of the party and then cop the "roleplaying made me do it" excuse."

I understand how people can say, "It's a ROLEPLAYING game."

And, I say in response, "It's a roleplaying GAME."

A game implies competition and scoring. It implies striving to be the best by using all your own skills and wits in the competition. Be it D&D or golf.

Now a person can roleplay and not be in a game. A person can roleplay for a job interview. A person can act in a play. A person can merely imagine some situation and use conjecture to imagine how a certain type of person in a certain type of world may react to it. And, that's fine. (Just like a person can putt around the green but not really be "playing" golf.)

But that's not really D&D. (I won't speak of other games because there is some pretty weird stuff out there where the point can be truly bizarre.) Roleplaying is a part of the game, not the sole point of it.

Why are people so opposed to being good at tactics? Can't a
person roleplay _and_ be good at tactics at the same time?

Not if their character sucks at tactics.

While Yonjuuni may be being facetious, that's where I draw the line between "acting" and "roleplaying". It isn't a game, anymore; it is just acting. (And acting can be fun. That's why community theaters exist.)

I realize that I'm swimming against the tide here.

When I first joined the game, players could recite statistics from the Monster Manual from memory. But, if you'd ask them, "But who is your PC?", he wouldn't get it and would just say, "A w22nd level fighter."

Now, it is different. Now, players can recite their PCs likes and dislikes from memory. But, if you ask them, "What spells does your PC have?", he replies, "I forget. But methinks that I will buy some candy for the local children."

Oh, well.

Competition I can understand...the PCs trying to best the antagonist, or in some cases even establish superiority within the party. Yes, that's an essential part of roleplaying, and always should be. But scoring? I'm not seeing a built-in scoring system anywhere in roleplaying, be it D&D or any other system. And "striving to be the best" can take many forms. Being the best tactician and the best in battle means a lot to you, just as being true to my character (even if that means playing dumb) means a lot to me. The beautiful thing about RPGs is that you can choose to focus on either the roleplaying or the game aspect, and mix them in whatever way you want. So I don't think a lengthy article effectively insulting those who choose the other path is the best way to promote your own personal opinion about RPGs.

Yes, I realize that it's a rant, and it's supposed to be opinionated. I realize that you're not anti-story or anti-character. And I will admit that after reading your clarifications I feel somewhat less insulted. But I still feel insulted, mostly because I don't see it as this great threat to all roleplaying everywhere if some players get permission from the GM and the rest of the group and decide it would be an interesting challenge to play a character who knows less about the gameworld than the player does.

Oh, well.

I fail to see how 'acting' detracts from the game aspect. Very many RPGs start off with an explanation of roleplaying in which it's compared to the games of make believe that we played as children. GAMES. RPGs are a more advanced version of these games, and are still a GAME, no matter if you intentionally handicap your character against a narrow definition of 'winning'. If you ask me, you're missing out on the main point of RPGs by focussing on killing the monsters as first and foremost. You might as well go back to playing wargames or videogames, if that's your main objective.

Almost everything in life involves compromises between two ideas. This is one of those compromises. Deal.

This is an interesting, thought provoking discussion.
Firstly let me say this, I don't find roleplaying GAMES that interesting. Not as interesting as I find Wargames, CCG's, Computer Games or even board games.

I mean, why the riddle the GM thinks up might be innately clever, perhaps I myself can't figure it out because I don't understand how a character thinks. Yet perhaps I am playing an uber intelligent mage who SHOULD be able to figure out the riddle. The second the game calls for ME, the PLAYER to figure out the riddle, and I can't, the illusion is ruined. The GAME is to figure out the riddle, but this GAME does not suit my ROLE as 'uber riddle solver'.

Equally, the 'rules' and 'purpose' of the game are often vague. Perhaps we are paid to save the town versus monsters. How do we save the town? Well, anyway we want because the non linear systems roleplaying games incorporate ALLOW us to try any way, but if the way we try doesn't suit the GM then we will have a rushed, half finished conflict to play through, like playing through the alpha of a computer game.

Some fantastic GM's might come up with something tactically challenging and suitable on the spot. Most won't, and really I don't think we should expect them to.

Of course, this doesn't mean there isn't room in the genre for tactical play and lateral problem solving within the confines of a linear environment, after all that's the entire 'dungeon' premise.

If you can only go down, and you know there is only one way in and out of a dungeon, then you know you have a relatively linear journey. In this case solving the problems withthe abilities of those at hand, in a tactical manner is vital AND logical. The bonus here is that a good GM can set up such linear problems to fairly test the ability of ALL those at hand, both as individuals and as a group. The PC's will face problems and riddles which are solveable, and monsters which are beatable, if they work together as a team and maximise their abilities, as that is how the GM intended it to play out.

Playing a bonehead character does not make for an excuse to be boneheaded about what you can and can't do.
However, in many cases it's up to the GM to decide how much information the character should have for the player to go on. If a player knows the names of spells and arcane lore, and the character does not, should the GM recite them to the other players and their characters who do in that players presence? Or should the GM simple state: "The warlock begins to rattle off seemingless meaningless words in an arcane tongue" while passing notes to the wizards letting them in on the secrets?

Out of character knowledge has always been a sticky subject for roleplaying games, and the ability to interpret how much your character should be able to achieve, how much they should know, and how much they should percieve when you already have a god like and encyclopaedic knowledge of the game world is quite a complex matter.

So what it really comes down to is the confines of the game set out by a GM.

In short, is the GM saying to you: You as players have been given these characters in this situation, utilise all your skill, cunning and ability to allow these players to succeed in the following quest.


Your characters have been given a task, attempt to complete that task as you imagine your characters would.

Now, if the GM asks of you the first, you know you are fairly safe. The task can not be impossible, no matter how difficult, and there are clear boundaries as to what the GM expects you to do. Those boundaries are to use your best assets in game.

In real life we often don't even know what our best assets are in any given situation, so we fall back on habit, personality, outlook and beliefs to see us through. Sometimes we fail because of this, and in hindsight we may know there is something we could have done differently, but before hand we do not have the knowledge or wisdom to figure this out. When we roleplay like this we have to trust the GM to provide an entertaining story without the vagaries of the mundane getting in the way. We should have some sense of fate, because if we do not we are merely walking blind and poorly equipped, at the mercy of a GM who is trying to challenge us with tasks that our characters have no reason nor right to succeed in.

It is inexcuseable to not know how your character works in the game world, because that is missing the most basic aspect of human behaviour, their ability to ascertain their surroundings. Just as things look and act differently on the moon, so they should in our games, but as our characters grew up in those games they TOO should know the basics of the world mechanics. Just because they may not have seen a certain type of monster before, doesn't mean they won't understand roughly how difficult it is to kill, I mean unless it is somehow misleading in it's nature (chameleonic or disguised) then their basic sensory perception should give them a reasonably accurate guess.

Additionally, just growing up in a world will often impart you with basic knowledge that you may not realise your character has. In the case of a troll, maybe you have never seen one before, but if adventuring is at all common, and trolls are relatively common foes, then surely you would have heard the nursery rhyme:
Trolls are big and green and got no brains,
And never get hurt or feel no pain,
Unless you set their skin alight,
Then you'll be ready for a fight.

Or whatever.

So while excessive use of OOC knowledge is a bad sign of roleplaying, underestimating what is common sense, parochial knowledge or basic understanding of world principles in the alternate world you are playing in as equally bad an offense.

Now, of course a good GM can always turn this against you. For example, again, say a very low intelligence/wisdom low level fighter comes up against a troll, having never actually seen one before. The player knows to use fire, and could justifiably use an explanation like the above to turn out of character knowledge to in character knowledge. But the GM is uncomfortable with this, so asks the player to make a test against his intelligence/wisdom. If he passes he gets to use the out of game knowledge, having succesfully remebered the rhyme. If he fails perhaps the GM will say it takes a while to remember, and lower his initiative for the round or some other penalty to indicate the player couldn't instantly remember what to do. If he critically fails perhaps the character gets it completely backwards, and the GM suggests that his character believes that water, rather than fire, should do the trick.

In this case the character will be roleplaying his solution, but the GAME will dictate it's accuracy.

Does that sound like an appropriate middle ground, rather than the player simply saying "Yeah, but my character is too dumb to know that" and promptly getting killed, or alternatively a nazi GM saying "Oi, that's out of game knowledge, that's bad roleplaying" and forcing either the player to take it back or some other stupid penalty down the track?

It seems to me this argument is very petty, but I love petty arguments so I'll jump right in. ;)

Personaly, I like a balance. There are times I like to kill things, times I like to act, and I particularely like it when the two are combined. It's quite easy, really. Does your character chop the orc in half with a cruel sadistic laugh, or give him an elegant blow to the head while smiling a crooked, cocky grin and laughing an arrogant laugh? But that's just my view, and the important part about personal views is that they just don't matter to anyone but the person they belong to.

That's my stance on this argument. It just doesn't matter. To quote DWHoward, "It's a roleplaying GAME." That's the imporant point, really, but in any game, the goal is not to win. Don't get me wrong, you shouldn't *not* try to win, but if you only play to do so you shouldn't be playing in the first place. The goal is to have fun. If you enjoy killing things, then do so. If you enjoy acting, then do so. If you enjoy both, do so, but remember that a lot of people don't like both so only do it with people who enjoy it.

In the case presented in the original rant, it is quite clear the problem is just different gaming styles. If you don't like having both in the game, or only want to have them at specific time to render designing killfests easier, then talk to whoever you're playing with who is causing the problems and fix it.

There, I'm done my fence sitting. Now I'm going to go join canada's liberal party, as I feel I am quite good at sitting upon fences.

At, a rant is described as "To speak or write in a angry or violent manner; rave. 2. To utter or express with violence or extravagance: [e.g.] a dictator who ranted his vitriol onto a captive audience." (But I can understand being offended. It is offensive.)

As for promotion, I've already lost. These days, my opinion is just not fashionable. The knee-jerk reaction is to label me as a powergamer or munchkin or merely pity me as "somebody who does not understand the real nature of roleplaying games."

It is patronizing (but understandable) for people to think that they've found the "one true way" by roleplaying and that anybody who doesn't agree is just some ignorant heathen. But, I have roleplayed a lot in the past. But, eventually, I realized that there can be such a thing as too much roleplaying. Roleplaying is not an unchallengeable single virtue.

I've got to stand by my rant here, though. I've got no objection to roleplaying. I've got an objection to people who slow down or sabotage the game with their playing style. Those people frequently use roleplaying as a way to make the game all about themselves, too find a reason to be the center of attention and to excuse themselves from not being clever, not being interested in the adventure at hand and simply indulging their own sense of aesthetics.

Now, unlike a player, acting is essential to a GM's job. A GM should not be playing NPCs and monsters using all of his available knowledge and tactical ability; he should be rendering them in a realistic and believable manner. He takes the part of these creatures but should have no vested interest in their survival.

Contrarily, a player is not a GM who merely runs a single NPC. A player should use all of his knowledge and tactical ability to play his PC. He can also use roleplaying to flesh out his PC and add spice to the game.

It is the GM's job to hobble and police the players, not the players themselves. The players should not be mini-GMs, refereeing and censoring themselves to determine what is valid and what is not. (Obviously, a player should not try to warp or fast-talk the GM. I'm not advocating that!) As players, they should have a vested interest in their PCs. Whereas a GM is disinterested in an NPC, a player should be interested in his PC.

A GM can set the value of the bits of metagame knowledge that his players have. By varying his game from the standard, he can invalidate some or all of the knowledge that players have gained from reading the "GM only" books. For example, a GM can invent a whole new monster and the player's knowledge of the Monster Manual will be invalidated. So, players should not be concerned that the GM needs "help". A GM can always use decisions by fiat and variations to control the game (even to the point where players have no choice at all!).

If people love acting, the GM's chair is really the proper place.

(A good analogy might be a soccer game. The referee defines the bounds of the game and enforces the rules. A player is conscious but not supra-conscious of the rules. A player obeys the rules but his primary concern is to play his position to the best of his ability. If he gets called for "offsides" occasionally, that's ok. His job isn't to be the referee nor to referee himself. Pushing the rules and boundaries is considered good, competitive play, in some cases. And, finally, a good soccer player is more than just somebody who knows all the rules and follows them to a T.)

Caliban, challenges in a game do not have to be at one point of the spectrum or another, at combat or riddles. There can also be politics.

You know, non-lethal competition [pay attention, Dhoward - this ties in with why running away is a valid option in combat. Fighting can mean dying. Many sane or sensible people, even most who are not, will seek to avoid that. Take a census of any population sometime, and notice how many of them CHOSE military, or other occupation with a high incidence of violence, for its own sake - which can include "as a career", but not "that was the only/best deal the government was offering for my student loan / college scholarship" . . . and how many have gone to make their fortunes in other career paths] counts too. Nor does it have to be either of the linear/improvisational things you say.

It is the GM's responsibility to roleplay the world. She does not need to create various situations for the players to involve themselves in; such situations do not exist merely for the players to have something to do! There will be many already happening, and in varying state of completion; roleplaying determines what the PC's want to get involved in, and rationality [of the characters] determines where they are challenging for influence. It is NOT the GM's responsibility to make things "fair" for the PC's. She is under no obligation to make things easier than they would be, just to place objectives within what would seem to be the far grasp of the PC's. Rather, it is up to the PC's to find something worthwhile, and if it is difficult, they will use their ingenuity to finagle a way to succeed after all. Or they will fail. But if the PC's goal is to help people out, and their grandmother was killed by a mugging, then they witness a mugger sneaking up on another old woman, the GM need not make this encounter challenging. There could even be no reward, save the sense of satisfaction that the PC got through having disabled the grandmother's mischevious son before she was aware that he was sneaking up to surprise her with . . . hmm, what's this on his corpse? Looks like some flowers [well, he was holding the triangular plastic-wrapped package close to his chest, and it looked like a knife! You rushed right in]. The GM will work out realistic reaction to the PC's movements, placing the NPC's in both a reactive [to the PC, who are new to the game] and proactive [they continue going forward with their plans, mayhaps not even realizing the bumbling efforts of outside forces to interfere with them], and the PC's are forced to take the initiative. The plot will not idle while they are sitting there thinking; if they do not properly investigate to find out where the opposition party will be meeting, that meeting will take place cloaked in the full secrecy with which it was deliberately arranged, and the PC's miss their chance to crash it.

Furthermore, roleplaying is not always a first-person excuse. I had a wizard once who threw an area-effect spell with visible light shows into a confined space - misunderstanding with the GM as to how big the area inside was. After the battle, our large fighter took my character up by the neck and promised that if he ever noticed ANY magic cast on him again, without asking for it beforehand, he would do the same thing - and -squeeze-. So, when a hosting GM decided to introduce an unwarranted extra "special effect", for "flavor" [I guess], an effect that was explicitly defined in the spell description -itself- as impossible . . . I protested. Not because of the impossibility; not just, anyway. I was protesting because some of the visual effects exceeded their range, and went RIGHT THROUGH the body of that big fighter. It wouldn't matter if it didn't do any damage that time. The more subtle the effects were, the more convinced he would be that it was nasty - and the more times my character insisted it hadn't done anything, the more suspicious he would become as to its -true- effects, and the more vigorour all that shaking around would be. So, in short, my character was dead. That's roleplaying [under a one-shot GM] for you.

-Coilean mac Caiside

Certainly, running away is a valid option and, sometimes, the best option. (Of course, there are other situations where running away is one of the worst options.) A player who doesn't roleplay at all can have his PC run away.

As for the rest, I'm still digesting it.

Caliban, I've read your 2nd paragraph three times and I'm still not understanding. Do you mean to say that "many people choose the military despite its danger"? Or are you saying, "many people choose the military because they have no other option?" Or something else?

Is your point that, in the real world, many people chose dangerous careers in spite of the danger? That a certain percentage of the population will choose a career (a la adventuring) even though they could have succeeded just as well in a less dangerous career?

I would imagine that that'd be true.

I think that people should be allowed to play a game their own way, should it be an exercise in method-acting or a hack-fest. Different people have different ideas of a good time.

dhoward, why does the "RP" in "RPG" disappear as soon as you go into a dungeon?

RP doesn't have to disappear as soon as you go into a dungeon necessarily. If it can be worked in without sabotaging the party and without boring the rest of the people in your group, that's ok. Just, in general, dungeons tend to be places where other skills are more vital and a focus on roleplaying can sabotage the party. The group should be working together as a team in a dungeon to overcome obstacles. Not letting individual agendas promote strife, distrust or distractions from the dungeon at hand in the ranks. If you can throw some RP in and it won't affect the outcome of the dungeon negatively, go for it.

Dhoward, I presume you mean Coilean, for Caliban's most recent post did not mention the military by what I would have considered the fourth paragraph.

I am saying that, if you count ALL the people who chose to join the military, ignoring whether it was by draft or not, you're stacking the odds. You're also stacking them if you insist on considering those who took it as part of a deal for something else.

Some people choose dangerous careers in spite of the danger, others because of it. But you speak as if physical danger were the only kind. In all, your article and posts seem to focus on only taking the hack-and-slash as important. My point is that people will accept those risks when it is necessary for something else they want, but not go seeking out those risks of their own merit. People manage to succeed, and an extremely large percentage of them choose to pursue jobs that are not overtly dangerous.

They take the risk of being mugged every time they take a walk, of being in a crash when they drive. They do accept these risks, but many people will not seek them out.

This is my point. That life-and-death struggles do not really appeal to people as a means of problem resolution - not when it's THEIR life to be putting on the line, anyway.

-Coilean mac Caiside

I understand. You're taking the altrustic viewpoint.

But you're going about it in the wrong way. The good of the many may outweigh the needs of the few, but let that be attempted by the characters.

Many of us in this life try hard to act well, but our intentions are mitigated by natural disagreements. Not getting along with other people. Let the characters get along by themselves - do you really have the right to enforce perfect cooperation on them?

Especially when you yourself are only using your own idealized view of perfection? The characters could be right, you know. Whatever THEY would naturally do, might be the best thing to solve the problem, and your need to exert personal control over their lives blinds you to their potential.

So, no, gaming should not excuse poor roleplaying :P

-Coilean mac Caiside

Caliban's 3rd paragraph sounds like it could be a rant in itself. Whether the GM is merely a referee or tailors the game to the players, different GMs will have strong opinions on both sides. Some will say that the GM is merely a referee and the game should not be "fixed" like a corrupt boxing match. On the other side, some GMs will say that it is hard to make a fair match and just letting a mismatch continue without stepping in as the GM isn't much fun (think: Mike Tyson versus Pee-Wee Herman).

Caliban's 4th paragraph is quite accurate: GM's can mess up their players without any effort on the player's part. A GM has a powerful influence on players; he can sow distrust or he can mend fences. Certainly, there are games where the PCs are more afraid of each other than anything else! I personally don't approve of this style but somebody could write a rant telling the other side I'm sure.

"I've got to stand by my rant here, though. I've got no objection to roleplaying. I've got an objection to people who slow down or sabotage the game with their playing style."

It may surprise you, Dhoward, but there are other people playing in the game (and they're not just figments of your imagination - they're figments of mine, and so are you) - people besides you that have a vested interest in how the game turns out, and their idea of it may not mesh with yours. Things may not turn out exactly as you want them, and you're right to blame the other players, but not right to call it a bad thing. The game is not dictated by you alone. There are other players, and what their characters want or they want may come into it. They've slowed down your plans, or even sabotaged them entirely? Well hey, oh well, get over it and try again (you DID select a venue of competition other than lethal combat, didn't you? Oh dear).

-Coilean mac Caiside

You misunderstood my fourth point. I don't have to mess up the party with my character; it's ANOTHER character that, through roleplaying, will do that if MY character takes one (type of) action towards helping the party. He had enough health to survive the hit; we had healers nearby. Logically and strategically speaking, sending him up there to engage the enemy while we sent forward area-effect spell was the best choice.

But no, my character didn't even get torn up. We didn't pretend that it never happened; that player was forced to compromise his roleplaying because it shouldn't have. And I don't feel that it was right. My character SHOULD'VE died.

And I think the rant was well-written; you have managed not to slant things so far towards your own viewpoint that people can't recognize what you're saying and continue to disagree with it.

-Coilean mac Caiside

Sorry if my post was unclear, it was a 1:00am response in my time, so it pretty much just streamed straight from my unconsciousness. :)

Overall I am not really intending to say anything about the military, nor dangerous careers. My point is that in a game world characters often should KNOW more about the world then the people playing them THINK they should know, and often overplay ignorance in their character because of that. I mean, it's not like we are talking about Paranoia here. A troll is a big scary monster which is not mythical. Not everyone may have seen it, but if they live near by to where you grew up you probably would have heard of them, just as people may nt have ever seen a shark, or a tiger or a bear, but have heard of them in our world, and justifiably know a little about them.

My second paragraph was simply stating that when given ANY sort of challenge in the game, be it how the group should act together tactically to beat the troll, how my character would solve a riddle, how people will barter or even plan politically then their will be a difference, a gap, in both the intentions of a player and their character and the knowledge of the player and their character.

Now, if you are simply GAMING, then you are using the intentions of your character but all your own god like knowledge of the world to your best advantage.

If you are only playing a ROLE, you will try and simulate the knowledge of your character and use THAT to achieve the intended result, which MAY make you worse at the GAMING side.

But it MAY make you better, and THIS is where a GM's refereeing skill is important. Being able to identify whether your character realistically might know something about the creature you are encountering, even if the rules don't dictate that they definitely might (for example no monster proficiency), whether they SHOULD know something about the monster you are fighting (again, if someone had monster proficiency in a world were Trolls were a fairly common threat, I'd assume regardless of any roll that they knew they were hurt by fire. However, they might not be informed that if you DON'T light them up they are going to regenerate, but only if the rolled really poorly.) and whether they SHOULDN'T know anything about the particular monster (i.e they are in a foreign land, or the monster is so ancient and terrible that no one in the past 10,000 years has even heard of it, or they are encountering the first critter of it's kind or whatever.)

It is the GM who should be setting the standard of knowledge for the game world, the local wisdom everyne has imbued on them as children, and she should convey this amount of knowledge throughout the game to her players. So when a players character SHOULD know something, but the player doesn't, the GM should inform them. EQUALLY when a players character SHOULDN'T know something, but the player does, the GM should inform them (preferably before the middle of an encounter. just by reminding them of their characters lack of in game knowledge at the beginning).
And finally, when a player decides their character SHOULDN'T know something, then it is equally up to the GM to decide if that player is right in that assumption.

All these things can be done by forcing stat checks (the 'fair' way of doing things), hiding information from the players, or some other solution

GM: "A huge shambling thing is attacking you from the shadows!"
Player: "What does it look like?"
GM, quickly consulting character sheet notices that the character has no monster proficiency and that the player realistically would have no idea what it might be. "It's terrifying, you've never seen anything like it, now what ar you going to do before it eats you!?"
He then passes a note to the player with Monster Lore or whatever, the note says "It's a troll.".

So basically dwhoward, I agree with you, players shouldn't be making constant assumptions about what their characters should or shouldn't know on the basis that they are simply 'roleplaying' their character. The GM should be in control of that, as they are in control of both the necessities of the adventure, and the game world at large.

Whether the GM chooses to try and get around OOC knowledge or a percieved lack there of by hiding information or providing it to the group; by creating new knowledge that the players couldn't possibly have and the providing it to those in the group who might; by simply letting it slide in combat situations because the players are going to need all the luck and skill they have anyway, and then when it's all over expect them to say 'What the heck was that!?' and not know they just killed a troll (which in turn could provide them less experience, after all, their characters may not have figured out it was the fire that killed it, even though the players know, thus the characters just got 'lucky' that time and didn't learn anything, unless they investigate the situation further) or some other solution which isn't immediately obvious should be up to the GM.

A player should not be rewarded for playing dumb and getting someone killed, especially if the GM disagrees about the amount of knowledge that character should have. If the GM finds it reasonable that the character doesn't have the required game knowledge, then if the player roleplays that then it's not a bad thing, because in my view it simply means the GM does not have to find a work around like above. Again, no REAL benefit should be accrued, unless in the course of the adventure the player did something particularly entertaining or creative when roleplaying.

After all, I think you are aiming a little low in the ROLEplaying aspect if you are rewarding people for simply staying in character. Additionally you are aiming WAY too low in the GAMING aspect if you aren't challenging your players and have to constantly prevent them from being killed because of how they are playing their roles.

Yes, I have been confusing Caliban's and Coilean's posts. Sorry about that.

We seem to have strayed far from the point. D&D is a swords and sorcery fantasy game. In the real world, people do not usually solve their problems with swords or sorcery but that's not the basis of the game. The game isn't meant to be modelled on the real world; it is meant to be a fun, imaginary world. (To follow my soccer analogy, it is like wondering about whether it is moral or fun to score goals or not. Maybe the other team feels bad if you score a goal on them so you should just try to play without scoring. Or without goalposts. Or the best way is to just kick the ball around and not even have teams. Or maybe you shouldn't play at all.)

Now I don't command perfect cooperation from myself or players but I do promote it. And players should promote it as well. (To extend the soccer analogy, teammates may argue. One may want to play competitively and another may just want to play for fun. But soccer teammates should be part of the team and not be working against each other by ignoring their positions to talk to friends near the sidelines, plotting with other teams to upset the match or not following the team captain and just kicking the ball where and when they feel like it.) A certain amount of cooperation is needed to have a good game; good roleplaying should not be the excuse for a player to void his obligations to the group.

I agree with Caliban's latest post, I think.

My rant is against players focusing too much on self-censoring and not enough on gaming. I simplify it a little further than he does: I say that players should never worry about metagame or OOC information. GMs should just compensate for it with creativity (e.g. "this thing that you call a troll doesn't seem to react to fire") or rulings (e.g. "Sorry, Bob. That's over-the-top. You can't make gunpowder in Greyhawk.").

Of course, people can play in whatever style they want, as long as it is mutually agreed. I actively discourage people from making a big deal out of metagame and OOC information. I think that it isn't fun and prematurely shortens campaigns, even when the player may think that he's being a good player by making a big deal out of it. That's an opinion. I can respect that others may have other opinions on the subject (but, naturally, I think that my opinion is the best one to have).

To summarize, I offer GAMING (i.e. mixing player and PC knowledge for maximum effectiveness) as the way to have the best game. I can understand that others might think ROLE (i.e. carefully keeping OOC information) is the better way to go. While I don't agree and actively discourage it, ROLE is the contrary and more popular view.

In conclusion, my rant is against players who have super-charged the ROLE of their PCs and let their GAMING skills atrophy.

You seem to be emphasizing a return to the "rote memorization" school of competence - but people who work with their characters, will be forced to innovate, to come up with a NEW trick to overcome the difficulty. Perhaps this is why non-combat problems disturb you so much - the same solution will not work twice guaranteed. In wargames, two equal armies are affected by the terrain, dice, and their generals. You seem to be advocating the return to dice alone.

Now, I am of the "players exercising their minds to create something new is good" school of thought. Your implication here is that players should not be under any requirement for creativity, that indeed, the "way of doing things" should preclude any but the traditional solutions!

Your view of "GAMING" seems very narrow. Are you sure you even have the right word?

-Coilean mac Caiside

Coilean, you have a point. There is a fine line between declaring a strong point and having readers feel that that strong point negates or insults their (opposing) viewpoints. A piece is readable when it says, "Do it this way or this is the best way." A piece would be less readable if it was filled with a bunch of mealy-mouthed warranties, absolutions of guilt and general apologies only to say, "Well, here's one opinion but it is one opinion in a huge range of opinions so I don't know why you should care about it specifically anyways." A writer doesn't want to exclude other people's opinions but he also doesn't want to lose his opinion by hiding it by being too-gracious to being completely fair.

An opinion piece should present an opinion. My article was my best attempt given the forum ("Rants").

I played soccer for many years, and was quite good at it. I left when it stopped being recreational. People do have a choice ("I think you are suicidal, but I will go into the dungeon with you to help in keeping you alive until you realize the folly of your ways. I will not help you to kill the monsters, because I have no quarrel with them. I may even try to alert them of your intentions before-hand, if I think you would forgive me, so that you could see your cause was hopeless and leave.").

And my point, actually, was that you did not go on and on about how vaguely horrible those views were, giving everyone such an impression prior to even hearing what you had to say. You gave your opinion of a situation; you did not attempt to force any bias on them before they were fully exposed to the topic.

-Coilean mac Caiside

Alright, now that we're through that, I'm going to argue against your ACTUAL point, instead of the point I percieved you had but you didn't really have (sorry).

There are plenty of games that are designed to let you use fun, interesting, or smart tactics. These are not strictly role-playing games, but tactical combat games. Many RPG's FEATURE tactical combat, and saying that you'd like to see more, or that you'd like to see it more prominently, is different from saying that that's part of the essence of RPGs. The essence of RPG's is roleplaying(in my opinion), and sometimes it IS an excuse for failure. I do agree that it isn't always used validly, but it IS an excuse occasionally. Tactical combat in RPG's is, to me anyways, unimportant and often boring.

I guess it's really just two different ways of playing, your view being that it's "gaming", whereas I think of it as "role-playing". But the real point of it is to enjoy yourself, so go with what works.

dwhoward said: "I agree with Caliban's latest post, I think.

My rant is against players focusing too much on self-censoring and not enough on gaming. I simplify it a little further than he does: I say that players should never worry about metagame or OOC information. GMs should just compensate for it with creativity (e.g. "this thing that you call a troll doesn't seem to react to fire") or rulings (e.g. "Sorry, Bob. That's over-the-top. You can't make gunpowder in Greyhawk.")."

Yeah, that's pretty much the crux of the matter. My interpretation is that if players worry about it enough to stay in character, but AS those characters make tactically sound choices with the knowledge at hand, then NEITHER GM nor Player has to compensate.

I mean, if a party is about to head into a dungeon, filled with creepy crawlies, for some reason or another, and nobody has bothered to ask the locals what sort of creepy crawlies they are, and/or each other what they should do when they come up against said creepy crawlies, don't you have a pretty dumb group of adventurers on your hands?

Alternatively, if a GM sends a bunch of totally inexperienced adventurers against a bunch of critters who have very specific weaknesses that need to be exploited for them to be able to beat them, isn't the GM being a bit dumb assuming the ADVENTURERS will know hot to beat the monsters, even if he knows for sure that the players will.

As the old boy scout motto goes: "Be prepared."

Also, D&D and most other roleplaying games aren't tactical combat games as has been said above, although the often have a tactical combat element.

Meanwhile, there are games out there (like Games Workshops Warhammer Quest) which is a tactical combat game, with a roleplaying element.

Heck, isn't their a pen and paper game out their based purely on tactical combat, Rune or something, where it awards players points etc?

As gaming has become more widespread almost every wish or want can be catered to in different games, so while I appreciate your opinion and think you are probably right to make the call that there is an over abundance of people who gloss over the gaming aspect a bit too much, I don't think you are right in implying that particular type of gaming has totally taken over the hobby or has become fashionable to the point of ridicule. I think people who like the tactical style of game might just be playing different games more suited to it.

In saying that, I have more than once seen a pick up game of 3rd ed D&D where people just rolled up some stats and went monster hunting, and the people who were playing knew that's what they were in for and had a great deal of fun, so in my opinon there is no real reason to rail against either side.

As usual if you know what you signed up for, then you are not likely to complain when you play it. It's only when people stop asking the question "What sort of D&D game is it going to be?" or even "What sort of roleplaying game?" that people start to make assumptions and are disappointed when the get something they didn't really want.

After all assumptions, as we all know, are the mother of all fuck ups.

No, not rote memorization. I would not obligate players to memorize the Monster Manual. Memorization is actual work, not a game. But, if a player did memorize the Monster Manual, I wouldn't chastise him and disallow him from sharing it with the rest of the party. Similarly, if one player had memorized the Monster Manual and another player had chosen "Knowledge: Creatures" for his PC, I wouldn't try to shut down the memorizer from using his knowledge. If the "Knowledge: Creatures" person was upset, I'd encourage him to chose an alternative skill.

Somewhere along the line, in the last ten years, most players shifted all their focus away the group, onto their individual PCs. (I blame the class system for this but that's a whole different rant.) When the "Knowledge: Creatures" person is upset, he is complaining, "Hey, I want you to put restrictions on that memorizer player because I have a skill in game that he's already gotten another way. I want the credit." But, I reply, "Look, the party is supposed to work together. You shouldn't fight amongst each other to decide who gets the credit for a certain skills. Be happy that somebody already has that skill and now choose a skill that can really help the party." Players should be cooperating, not competing. And, a GM should not be layering arbitrary restrictions on players, especially ones that further divorce the player from his PC. If a player's biggest challenge is to arbitrary separate his own knowledge from his PC's knowledge, I say that he is just missing the game.

He misses the game because, in spite of the fact that he is making all this effort to stay in character, he is actually spending all his time and effort on building a wall between himself and the character. The wall stops his own personal knowledge from coming through. It is almost as if the point is to write a computer program to run the character and, once the character is "programmed" to react accurately with no involvement or overlap from the player (in other words, when the player can forecast his PCs actions with no thought), the game is over.

Labyrus' argument is a common one, although it assumes a solution in the way that the problem is phrased. He is saying that D&D is not a tactical game but a roleplaying game and, as such, tactics are not needed. I disagree, merely saying that being a roleplaying game is a game and even far simpler games require tactics. The essense of the word, "game", I say, is overcoming competition using tactics. And, my whole argument is that running your PC (and usually the whole group) into the ground on purpose is never acceptable, whatever the justification may be. Now, tactical combat may be boring to you and you should find a GM who does not include it. At that point, my argument is moot: If the game has no collective threat to the party, you cannot sabotage the party.

On a side note, it is fashionable these days to elevate role-playing of trivialities (like shopping in the marketplace, caring deeply about NPCs' lives and so on) to some lofty level. As if being able to stomach such boredoms is a sign of greatness. Similarly, the separation of IC and OOC skills and thoughts seems to me to be another pretense; the reasoning goes that if you can soldier through such dull exercises, wow, there must be something really special about you. But I claim that it is just over-intellectualization, trying to turn something interesting into a dull exercise where the only fun is looking down on all those other poor heathens who have not attained this enlightenment. While a slight amount of these trivialities can contribute to the atmosphere of a game, they are not the point of the game.

I'd like to agree with a point from an earlier Caliban post: People do seem to over-estimate (over-roleplay) the amount of fear and cowardice that a PC would feel. I don't advocate that style, but if I did, that would be another dispute.

But I do disagree with a later point: it is a widespread problem and is fashionable. I am amazed at the number of superb actors that I come across. Everybody seems able to do it.

I think this entire argument boils down to two elements: the type of game and the GM. Now in a game where tactics and dungeon crawls are a major part of the action, yes, Knowledge: Creatures doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and yes, the slight use of metagame information as far as creature knowledges go is not necessarily a bad thing. I think the reason I had such a problem with the article at first glance was that it applied this to all games. (I feel like I'm stating the obvious here, yet I continue to do it...weird.)

In some games (like Hunter, which I keep going back to), it's very important to create an atmosphere of terror and mystery. That is, to a certain extent, what makes the game work. And one of the things that contributes to this atmosphere is not knowing exactly what you're facing, because the unknown is the scariest thing of all. There is no Monster Manual for Hunter. The few enemy sourcebooks that have been published contain conflicting or unreliable information. This is all the characters know, and many don't even know that. They go off into the night with a few shotguns, the knowledge that vampires exist, and maybe a few myths that may or may not be true, and that's it.

Now let's say a GM decides to run a Hunter game in which the PCs end up in this situation - and that one of the players is also involved in a campaign of Vampire: The Masquerade. The GM goes to great lengths describing an eerily beautiful vampire who moves faster than the eye can see and seems to know all the PCs' deepest secrets, and the PCs are scared out of their wits because they didn't know vampires could *do* this shit. Then the Vampire player speaks up: "Oh, I get it! She's a Toreador! All we have to do is show her something beautiful, and she'll be entranced by it!" And just like that, the GM's entire scenario is ruined by a player who brings up information he never would've known IC.

In this situation, I guess I don't see how the metagamer can be in the right. Look at it this way: By destroying the GM's carefully planned scenario with out-of-game knowledge, doesn't that put him on the same level as the D&D player who refuses to use the OOC knowledge that the group is fighting a troll? Doesn't it screw the party over just as much? Just as the D&D party is denied the opportunity to fight a good tactical battle, the Hunter group is denied the opportunity to experience the game as it is meant to be. (Sure, it might get them through the scenario, sure, but any GM worth his salt will take it out on the party later on.) I think that when you play certain games you enter into a contract to behave a certain way: in tactical games to use whatever knowledge the player possesses to win battles, and in games like Hunter to leave OOC knowledge at the door. Apply either way of playing to the other game, and chaos ensues. So I agree with you to a certain extent, dwhoward; I just don't think you can blindly apply the same set of criteria to every game you play.

Same goes for the elevation of trivialities. In tactical-based games, yes, visiting the marketplace or caring about the lives of NPCs is trivial, because the battle is the important part. However, the only things that are trivial are the ones that the GM chooses to MAKE trivial. In the games I run, PC-NPC interactions are essential to the story, and "caring deeply about NPCs' lives" has saved a player's ass on more than one occasion because it gave them information about upcoming events that they would not have had otherwise. So you get frustrated when a player spends the entire session talking to the innkeeper, just as I get frustrated when a player spends the entire session secluded in their apartment and refusing to make inroads with any of the (I like to think) interesting individuals with whom I've populated their world. That's when you have to either discourage what is trivial or find a way to make it important...but I digress.

Broad generalizations are never my style, and that's why I continue to have a problem with this article. This sort of "benign metagaming" will help some games as much as it hurts others. Sometimes you need to build the wall between player and character, sometimes you need to break it down. If you find one "boring," for God's sake, don't play it, but don't tell me I suck for enjoying it.

"Be prepared." A rallying cry.

Unfortunately, most players have gotten out of the habit of caring whether their PCs live or die. Or are rich or poor.

I want people to get back to that place where they care. That is how to get back the excitement and sense of accomplishment that many players have lost.

While Gamerchick's "Hunter" example is well-written, I would call it a poorly planned scenario, not a well-planned one. Using a Toreador and miscalculating that the players would not recognize it was a mistake. Asking the players to pretend that they don't recognize the Toreador after they have recognized it compounds the mistake. A GM should generate real mystery, not ask players to pretend that something is mysterious when the mystery is ruined. Sure, it is pity to have all that well-built suspense ruined but making the players pretend isn't going to bring it back. Furthermore, establishing a convention of artificiality lets the GM off the hook and makes it more likely for the mistake to be repeated. Moving on and avoiding that mistake next time (by not using a Toreador) is the best route.

Gamechick's "innkeeper" example illustrates the problem well. While probably one player will find the innkeeper discussion fascinating (most likely the one leading the discussion), the rest of the players will be left out. This is ok if it is a brief interlude, 5 or 10 minutes, with some relevant knowledge extracted in the end. That is not trivial. But a discussion about the innkeeper's wife and children and the weather which has no relevance and lasts for quite a long time, that's a problem.

While realistic, it is dull. Nonetheless, many players will indulge in this behavior, even taking turns to be the one PC participating in the conversation. The game will break down quickly as there is no legitimate excitement.

A counter-argument to my argument may be: But the PCs may not know what is important and what isn't until after they've had an entire conversation with the NPC innkeeper. He may reveal something in passing that turns out to have larger relevance later.

To this, I say that it is a matter of presentation. Creating long dull sessions to make exciting things seem more exciting is bad use of game time. I suspect that most people play for excitement, not to vicariously live trivialities of doing an imaginery person's shopping.

A poorly planned scenario? I guess by your definition it might be, but consider this. You have three players who have never played a World of Darkness game before, and thus know nothing about the game vampire. Your forth player has played all the WOD games, and read most of the sourcebooks.

Using your logic, why would you ever let that player into one of your games? He would always have the answers, and would in essence be the 'main character'. He will always overshadow the other players, and trust me- they will get frustrated.

Having the skill 'Lore: Vampires' acts as a check. It allows the character to use that out of game knowledge by making it in game knowledge, but in exchange it costs the player a few of his creation points. It balances things a little so that newbies are not penalized so much.

I have played AD&D for twenty years, and I know the stats out of the monster manual backwards and forwards for 1st and 2nd edition. If you use stock creatures, traps and dungeons then there is almost nothing that you are going to do to surprise me. That's why I don't transpose all my out of game knowledge to my character.

However, neither do I play inexperienced characters in games like D&D. My character concepts reflect the fact that I know quite a bit about the game and the game mechanics. My mages use spells very effectively, and most of my characters know the weaknesses of the average monster.

But if I am playing a game like Earthdawn, and the party is starting at 1st circle, its a different story. If I let my character have all the knowledge that I have (being a GM), then it will unbalance the game. I will have all the answers, avoid all the traps, and know when/where/why the horrors are trying to corrupt us.

I admit that it is a tradeoff. The first time that you play a game is usually the most fun, because you are genuinely surprised by everything that you see. The second and third times that I play campaigns in a game I am going to have a lot of OOC knowledge, and that can be hard to deal with.

But if we use your logic, then why even play lower level characters at all? If all of your 1st level characters have the culmination of knowledge amassed by your three 15th level characters what's the point of even playing?

You know that kobolds and goblins are never going to be a threat, so why would your GM even send them at you? At that point the game devolves into mindless hack n slash.

Personally, I respect your right to play RPGs any way that you want too. But to me your method presents its own problems, and that's why a lot of us chose to put Roleplaying over Rollplaying...

Wo ho ho! Seems like DWHoward really got to the White Wolfers out there!

While I agree with many that there is a limit as to how much game knowledge one character should be allowed to have. I completely agree with DWHoward's assessment of Gamerchick's latest post.

Whatever the game, there is a challenge and a thrill in discovering what your enemy is all about (what it can do, how it thinks, what are its weak points, what makes it tick). Hunter is all fine and dandy, but if your storyteller puts you up against stereotypical vampires and ghouls all the time, that's his or her problem (and yours).
We played Mage for three years and our chantrie were kind of hunters. We faced vampires, black spiral dancers, the technocracie and other supernatural foes. Never did we make the mistake of categorising vampires by their clan alone. Sure all sabat gangrells are similar, but unlike zombies, they have personal traits that makes them way too unpredictable to assume anything beyond their most basic capabilities and general outlook on unlife.

In D&D, you don't have to make trolls immuned to fire to surprise the heroes. Have them fight on a stormy night, in a swamp. Hell! have them play possum until they are back up to 75% their hit points.

In an old Planescape campaign, we had a player who kept justifying all his wrong decisions and rude attitude with "Hey I'm roleplaying my character." But it so happens that he keeps playing the same dumb ass characters! Needless to say I don't game with him anymore.

ROLE playing is an essential part of any game and augments the fun one gets out of it. But, it isn't the only thing. I don't find any difference with the stereotypical D&D munchkin dungeon crawler and the pedantic vampire RPG overactors. Both are too far off on their extreme of styles of play continuum (for my taste).

While I will never ever again play a game that is basically Diablo with dice and never again will I play a game that is nothing more than Charmed/Melrose Place/Angel the Roleplaying game.

Finaly, if your gaming group doesn't suit your tastes, leave! Find people who have found the same equilibrium as you have between drama and action.

By the way Gamerchick, has Joss Weddon given you his accord for "impersonating" Buffy Summers' in you Hunter game? ; )

Just kidding GC, es solo por seer tu sonreir amiga.

Cthulhu Matata!

Personally, I love the roleplaying of 'trivialities'. They give the characters great oppurtunities to interact in situations that aren't life threatening. I run a modern supernatural game, and the characters are just as likely to spend a session shopping or going to a movie or just ordering pizza and hanging out as they are to do battle with a horrific demon. And you know what? The players enjoy it. The relationships developing between the PCs as well as the NPCs are just as interesting as the plot itself. And you know what else? Most of us would rather gouge out our own eyes than play anything made by White Wolf.

I did not have time to respond to Gamerchick's last point. I can see how you (and people in general) are irritated by broad generalizations. But to say something of significant interest to a group of people I've got to generalize. If I show a specific case and don't have any general advice, I will be leaving the readers to guess how to translate those specifics into generalizations themselves. That isn't as helpful as generalizing.

Now, sure, there are probably a few GMs out there that do all kinds of things that I would call crazy or dull but have found a following. And, if you are a player that has found a GM and likes an eclectic and unusual style that isn't generally appreciated, that's great because I'm not speaking to you. Obviously, you don't need any advice or other opinions because your game is going great and you are enjoying a style that would probably destroy another campaign with average players.

For example, Yonjuuni's game. The players that Yonjuuni play with like to have PCs that spend time ordering pizza or going to a movie. Now I might find that boring and probably the average gamer would find that boring (which I feel is a pretty safe guess). It is a specific case with specific people and I guess that they like it. But, certainly, I'm not going to advocate that style in an article meant for the role-playing community at large. I would wreck more games than I help because I would be recommending something generally that only applies to a small section of the gaming public. In contrast, I believe that my opinion and advocation in my rant will help many games and wreck only a few.

Arkelias said exactly what I meant when he pointed out the need to level the playing field between experienced and inexperienced players. I run a Hunter game in which half the players have only played D&D if they've ever gamed at all, and the other half are extremely experienced White Wolfers. Now a major part of my antagonist structure for this chronicle is based off non-canon beasties that I came up with all by myself, and that will be mysterious to everyone in the group. But IMHO expecting me to do that 24/7, especially in a place like the WoD where the premade setting is the big draw, is entrusting me with a level of creativity that I just don't possess! So I throw something familiar at them from time to time and trust the experienced players to be mature enough to keep their mouths shut. And they do, because they know it's going to pay off in the end - they'll walk away from each encounter with a little more knowledge about the enemy and be able to apply it the next time. Ideally I see PCs as progressing along a continuum as they continue in the game - they start out pretty much ignorant and then slowly become aware of what's going on (and become allowed to use their OOC knowledge to make things run more smoothly). But at first, the mystery should remain intact. So yes, when my players get to be more experienced hunters I will probably cut them some slack and let the experienced players apply a little more OOC knowledge to what's going on (after all, some of those crazy ghost stories that everyone knows have to have some kernel of truth in them, right?). I think that's pretty reasonable.

But when it comes down to it, gaming necessarily involves a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. If we didn't have that, we'd never be able to talk about slaying trolls when in reality we're just sitting around the kitchen table, right? Just as we play characters who have physical or magical that we ourselves do not, we can play characters who have knowledges that we ourselves do not. I don't see that much of a difference, really, between playing a fighter when you yourself are a wimp and playing a naive character when you yourself have read the Monster Manual cover to cover. It all boils down to what the GM is hoping to accomplish, whether he wants the progress of the plot or the characters to take center stage. And yes, I think it's possible to go too far with this. Patently disruptive behavior defended with "It's what my character would do!" is inexcusable; I just don't believe that pretending not to know what a monster is falls into that league of annoyance.

Maybe the central bit of this whole argument is developing plot vs. developing character. Things like streamlined combats, use of OOC knowledge, and a lack of "wasted time" talking to NPCs contribute to pushing the plot along. Whereas lots of acting, feigning ignorance at times, and the occasional roleplaying of trivialities contributes to the development of characters. I'm stretching for a good example to illustrate the contrast here and more or less failing, but I guess it's kind of like Voyager vs. Deep Space 9. In Voyager, all the focus was on getting the damn ship back from the Delta Quadrant, and most of the episodes focused on their quest to do that and the setbacks and weird shit they encountered along the way. Characters were, most of the time, secondary. Now Deep Space 9 definitely had a plot and big things happening around it, but it wasn't so tied to that. Sometimes the crew would be really involved in what was going on, and other times the war would be happening way the hell on the other side of the galaxy and they'd be having Worf and Dax's wedding or whatever. It's a question of which you prefer: a streamlined narrative driven by events, or a more meandering one driven by the internal desires and interests of the characters.

And these two things are INCREDIBLY hard to balance. My own campaigns have been slipping a little too far toward the character-driven end of things lately, and I'm trying to put the kibosh on this by limiting the length of conversations with NPCs in-game or making them do really long discussions in blue-booking sessions. But I've found that when a game starts slipping toward the trivial end of things, pleading ignorance is never the culprit. The problem with roleplaying that dwhoward talks about begins when players start hogging the spotlight. And then you *do* have to remind them that they're part of a group, that other people want to play, too.

In short, I guess I just see what dwhoward is describing as a symptom rather than a disease. "I want people to get back to that place where they care. That is how to get back the excitement and sense of accomplishment that many players have lost." I don't feel like I've lost that at all - I just accomplish it in a slightly different way. Victory in combat can be a very satisfying feeling, as can the successful completion of a storyline, but so can feeling as though your character has grown, progressed, and changed for the better. It's a matter of keeping things in balance, as so many others have said before me. Stray too far toward one end of the spectrum, and you're in for trouble and a debate like this one.

(Interesting side note, unrelated to anything and full of horrible stereotypes: Given the subject of many of my articles, I just have to speculate that maybe there's a gender correlation to this. The group that resists all efforts to give them anything resembling a plot and revels in honest-to-God trivialities is 100% female, whereas none of the men I've ever gamed with have had more than a cursory interest in all the soap-opera shit. Maybe women just don't go for tactics, and I've been blinded by my own gender? Just curious.)

And Yonjuuni? You should know by now that I'm not even gonna allow myself to be baited by the end of your comment... (c;

Building off your last point, dwhoward, and incorporating it into some of my own, I think your advice is likely to help campaigns whose GMs want to make them more plot-based, and hurt those that want to make their campaigns more character-based. Maybe you're right and more campaigns need to become more plot-based (my own does, at times). Still, I can't say I plan to use it because I feel it's a little too drastic. I don't feel comfortable telling players that there is *any* situation in why they should stop playing their character and start playing themselves, be that combat or whatever. If they are stepping over the line and making the game unpleasant or unplayable and justifying it with acting, I will talk to them and tell them to back off (and I have). But hey, the unpredictability of PCs is part of what makes gaming so entertaining to me. If I knew exactly what they were going to do every time they got into combat, I don't think I'd want to keep GMing. And if they always worked like a well-oiled machine when they fought...hey, sometimes watching them screw up is what keeps the game entertaining. What matters is that they learn to work together so they win when it counts. A few failures along the way because of character conflicts just make the victory that much sweeter at the end. And if they can't work together...well, then I let them have it at the end and say "Better luck next time." Players have to learn somehow, right?

To address a specific situation with one super-knowledgeable player and three newbies, that is a specific case. It seems to me that there are two possible problems even though you've assumed one.

If a player is obnoxious and interfering with other people's fun (whether it be through dominating play or for some other reason like not paying attention), that needs to be addressed. Nobody has a right to interfere and drag the game down. In-game solutions will not address the problem; the person will just find another way to be obnoxious. In this situation, the problem is just like dealing with any other out-of-control, disruptive player (i.e. explaining how he is annoying the other players, asking him to leave, or whatever).

If the super-knowledgeable player helps the party and the newbies are happy to have him around to show them the ropes, there really isn't a problem. The GM can compensate with some unusual monsters or merely let a few standard monsters get beaten so the skilled player can rally and lead the group.

In both cases, asking a player to hobble his performance by self-censoring is counter-productive. In the first case, his disruptive behavior will manifest itself in other ways. In the second case, if the party is happy to have this player around, there isn't a problem. If, in the second place, the super-knowledgeable player is dominating play, even though the others are happy to have his help, it degenerates into the same problem as having a shy player. Encouraging the shy (newbie) player to get involved by various means is the direct approach; asking the other player to hobble his performance is merely hurting the group's survivability and the hobbled player's investment in the party's future. Putting restraints on another player in the hopes that the shy player will somehow step into the vacuum is indirect and unlikely to be an effective solution.

Not trying to bait you at all, Gamerchick. Just trying to point out to people such as Sam that not everyone who takes this stance on roleplaying is a White Wolfer.

Heck, the character in my game who has the least use in any combat situation is the character made by the guy who's been playing DnD for 14 years.

I think the point that's really coming out, is that there are two typers of games being played here, even if they're both called RPGs. You find the same devision in console games; there are Tactics RPGs and Story RPGs.

In a Tactics game, the focus is around combat. Troop formation, lines of attack, stratagy, attacking emeny weak points, supplies. And most importantly, maybe, the group acting as one. A tight unit, working together to bring down their foes, not being rift with personal worries or agendas. The story exists to add feeling to the combat, and fill in the cracks, but is really secondary.

In a Story game, the focus is characters. There pasts and futures, friends and foes, feelings and thoughts. If everyone in the group is running their own agenda, bickering, and being tempted to switch sides, it's all for the good. Combat spices things up, and there's the inevitable showdown with the Boss, but why the characters are fighting is more important than how.

In console RPGs, they're both common, but they advertise the difference, and I know which I'm expecting when I buy one. If I want to the play the sort of game dwhoward is championing, I boot up Tactics Ogre, and try and crack the enemy formation. If I want story and personal struggle, like gamerchick enjoys, I stick in a Final Fantasy. I play both, but I make sure I know which I'm playing.

It's not surprising that dwhoward is a D&D fan, while the WW people are getting offended. D&D got spun off of the Chainmail tactical wargame system, and it shows. The majority of D&D stats are based around combat, and the game rewards you for it. Meanwhile, WW created the Storyteller system, which wears its slant very openly. What both sides have to realize is that there really are two different types of RPGs, and you can't force anyone to enjoy a type they don't.

dwhoward's problem seems to be Story RPGers showing up in what he expects to be a Tactics game, and throwing off his game play and enjoyment. It's a shame, and maybe the group has to get together and talk about what sort of game they want to be playing. And the Story RPG fans have to realize that Story really is secondary in a Tactics RPG, and you shouldn't try to force him to play one.

P.S. Gamerchick, re: gender playing styles. You might be right, but I think it may be because girls are coming from a "Let's pretend" background, while the guys played "Shooting guns and running around" as kids. It's more what they thing RPGs are about, and it doesn't always hold true. The player with the most detail obsesive background I've know was a guy.

I guess the point that I disagree with is simple, dwhoward. Playing a character that does not know every fact that I do out of the Monster Manual is not 'hobbling' him. If I were to play a character that knew absolutely nothing about the world around him, and had never run across a monster- now that would be hobbling him.

I chose the middle ground. Most of my characters have a history that reflects some experience adventuring, and they have had to face encounters with various beasties in the past.

I am also confused by one of your points. You argue that a player should never be asked to not use OOC information. You then say that such a character is 'disruptive' if the other players are bothered by his superior knowledge and experience. Following your logic, how would an experienced player avoid dominating play? He is naturally going to know more about dealing with situations in the game.

How would you resolve the following example?

Player 1 has been gaming forever, and has been through every module and knows the rules and statistics of every creature, item and trap like the back of his hand. Players 2 and 3 are playing this game for the first time, but have played other games in the past.

As the GM I try to change things up. I throw some encounters at the group that are basic. Player 1 easily solves them, and the rest of the group feels overshadowed. Player 1 is not being obnoxious, nor is he trying to dominate things. But because he is following your advice and using all his OOC knowledge he cannot help but excel.

So in the next few encounters I use more challenging encounters and some unique creatures that I create. Player 1, once again, adapts much more quickly than the other players because he knows the rules and his own capabilities far better than the other players. He is more able to effectively structure his character than the rest of the players.

So, in the end, no matter what I throw at the group or what plot I divise Player 1 is likely to come up with most of the ideas and the solutions. The other players feel overshadowed, and start loosing interest.

How would you solve things? Obviously the only way for the other players to match Player 1 is through experience and play. Therefore, the best way that I have seen is to ask Player 1 to limit his use of OOC knowledge.

He doesn't have to play a moron, nor does he have to pretend to know nothing about a certain creature or artifact. Rather, he needs to purchase the skills neccesary to reflect his level of knowledge, and only display the knowledge reflected in his character background.

This balances him with the rest of the players. He is still very effective, and will still most likely lead the group. But he will not come up with ALL the solutions, nor will he dominate play quite so much.

Dhoward, I was going to address these posts in order, but you said something that revealed your true identity as the Evil Advocator Of Metaplots!

I will expand my earlier definition (the one describing solipsism) - you elevate the importance, not just of your own plots to the top. What you want, is The Way Things Are Going, and everything should happen to advance that plotline, or else not happen at all [and it's a good thing the GM has the same plot in mind {doesn't she? doesn't she?!?}].

Complexity is good, and having multiple, interacting plots, even if that interaction constitutes "interference", is not a bad thing.

I've been reading the responses going back and forth while debating on contributing to it. Well, obviously, I've decided.

I have to go with DHoward for the most part on this one. However, I do feel his rant generalized things a little too much. I agree that there has been and is a tendency for most players to concentrate on the "art" of roleplaying.

White Wolf games are generally the worst culprits in this. Not all, maybe not yours, but this is where I've seen it come up the most. In a LARP setting, taking care of all the little trivialities is fine. Hell, it should be encouraged. I remember having a blast sitting in a corner and reading the Wall Street Journal for a couple f hours as my Ventrue Primogen. I delighted in setting up dummy corporations to hide my true interests and holdings for other Vampires. None of that would entertain most other gamers. It entertained me though, so I always had a good time. (At least until that Ravnos pretender had me blood-hunted.. grumble, grumble.) Did all of this minutae contribute to the game? Yes. When the Nosferatu decided they needed a lot of silver, they knew that my Ventrue had the business connections to get the metal quietly and in bulk.

Now would all of this work contribute to a table-top game? Perhaps. The key here is that if I wanted to this with a table-top game I would do it when the group wasn't together gaming. I love to encourage my players to take the time and make detailed backgrounds. I like using them to help the game. If a player has a business or something similar that could impact the game, I want them to take care of it. I want them to worry about the market, etc.

What I don't EVER want to do is waste the GROUP'S time with this stuff. When you have a group of 3-8 people sitting around a table or in the living room ready to play a game, you want ALL of the players to be involved. When a player has their character interact with a barkeep (to use an example from an earlier post), I'll play it out. However, once the character has gleaned all of the information possible, OR I notice the attention of the other players wander, the interaction is over. I drop out of character and let the player know that he can spend the next hour of game time chatting with this person, but he'll only find out 'x'. I can then move on to the other characters and help to make sure they enjoy themselves.

As far as player's bringing out of game knowledge into the game, I take each instance seperately. When a group of new characters run into a creature for the first time, I describe it without the name. Using the troll example, if a player asks 'would I know to burn this sucker?' his background will decide the answer for me. Did the character grow up in an area that was near to possible troll habitats? If any of the characters fit that description, then I'll say yes, you've heard stories from the bards and elders about these fearsome beasties and how to kill them. When they encounter a creature that the characters would have had no chance of hearing stories about, I don't let the players act on any knowledge they might have out of game. That doesn't mean I let them get killed, but I do make them spend the round or two "experimenting" with what weapons work. I haven't had any complaints, and doubt I will. My players love the excitement of their characters encountering something new and learning how to fight it. As long as they know I won't kill the characters off randomly, they are fine with the separation of character and player knowledge.

That's enough from me for now. I think I'm going to get some work done.

"Be prepared."

I can spend the rest of the morning categorizing the myriad ways this statement is wrong.

Let me let you in on a little secret of life, Caliban/Dhoward - people are stupid. Not everyone is a trained SEAL team. You could go into a dungeon to [imagine this] EXPLORE, and have deliberately NOT asked people about what was down there because you wanted to find out for yourself ["Ye might want ta watch yerself, dere be nasty critters.", "Hah, we are adventurers, we can take care of ourselves, old man!"], or simply because they are haughty aristocrats who wish to examine the "unsuitability for inhabitation by civilized folks" of their newly purchased land [certain forces back at court having deliberately withheld information from them], "It can't be that dirty, I imagine we'll fix it right up in no time and recoup the cost in months!", and even if they have guardsmen . . . well, I do not even have to ask. I know your interpretation would always be "The guardsmen WILL decide, to a man, that their loyalty is best demonstrated by acting towards our boss' own good, and not what he says to."; but you're not always given that freedom. NPC's do not suddenly and mysteriously gain the ability to countermand direct orders from the spoiled princess who, incidentally, is out for some fun. And if there's another PC with the guardsmen around the princess? Well, what non-counterproductive actions could be taken if those same men then threatened to execute him on the spot for treason against the princess by not following her orders?

If the players are stupid enough not to ask questions about somewhere before heading to it, then I will honor their decision to roleplay their characters. And if they decide they remember what happened last time, and want to learn from their lessons, they can act more paranoid.

And you're correct. Most players have stopped caring about the fortunes of the character - so long as it's INTERESTING, they'll let the character worry about what happens to them.

And, not to skip over posts, we DO build a wall in between ourselves and the character. That is what roleplaying is about. Not playing yourself; playing someone else, the CHARACTER. If any of YOUR personal knowledge or preferences or likewise comes through, you're not roleplaying well. And why allow a tactical view of things which you yourself admit to be in the minorty [yet fail to connect to your own words about only being useful in a few campaigns], to occur at the expense of good roleplaying? The point is to READ a "program", so that, when you can roleplay the character accurately with no overspill [involvement/overlap, as you put it], in other wordss when the player can forecast his PC's actions without even having to think about it/them, the game . . . is just beginning.

I have found that the "filler" NPC discussions, are quite entertaining to watch from out of character [hell, if people can extract some enjoyment from watching TV, why can't they extract enjoyment from watching games? It's like the final product and the blooper reel all in one, with situations that the player has intimate knowledge of to help them understand], and in the case of players who are used to receiving crucial hints right away, it can be a great way to see how much time is wasted there [the rest ofthe group may eventually interfere, in character, at seeing the idiocy displayed], for realistic innkeepers/etcetera will mention ANYTHING interesting, they will not just magically, as if guided by destiny or the hands of fate, give the PC's the exact clue which could lead them to the next step on "the" plot. The innkeeper will casually mention, in passing, certain clues like "Oh, an interesting wood sculpture that so-and-so the ranger mentioned seeing along the paths one day . . . but you know, I think he's been drinking too much of that acorn mead.", the right kind of player will just snap that up, homing in on the signal like a guided missile. There one-track mind will ruthlessly extract from the innkeeper every single iota of information related to it, and then consider the conversation over. There are plenty of things going on in the world. It takes a discriminating mind to even begin to make sense of exactly what applies to THEIR interests.

As a final comment, before I start the next post, I'll illustrate one assumption you are all making about the vampire example - that it really WAS a Toreador. I noticed GC mention that there was a PLAYER who had extensively played V:tM. But somehow, I missed the part where she specified said vampire to actually BE Toreador. It displayed similar qualities, yes. But the perspective of the rest of the group, their ability to come up with unique strategies, was then tainted by the weight of belief that the vampire should be treated as something known. The more so if any of the other players knew ANYTHING about V:tM vampires. Their plans were weighted towards predesigned "effective" tactics towards a single type of vampire, which compromised their roleplaying.

And that, is what I got from the example GC gave ;)

-Coilean mac Caiside

Dhoward, I've told my players to look around a store next time they are in one, toy stories, general stories, et cetera. Why? To look around for ideas. See things, and imagine how they might be used in the game.

As for dungeons, I'm running Feng Shui, and the Netherworld is technically one BIG dungeon. I've disallowed Signature Weapon because, frankly, if you have a single weapon that will do +3 damage, always indestructiblerecoverable, and enough gun shticks to ensure you will never need to take longer to reload than you would to pick up another weapon . . . the whole Feng Shui concept idea of taking along a duffelbag of guns, or improvising other weapons from your current environment, is nullified.

And that's the kind of creative tactics which, somehow, I just cannot envision you enjoying. You can learn the stats of the monsters, but that matters little. Your tactics are supposed to vary, and if you spend more time describing your cool moves than everyone does rolling dice to figure out what happened because of it, then you're doing well. But you can't just use the same tactic in every environment, because you won't always be in the same environment, and the move will quickly get old and boring, racking up your penalties. Although you claim you do not favor the "rote memorization" practice, your posts seem to support this way of thinking. Be prepared - know exactly what to do in every situation. When every situation can be reduced to its composite numbers/dice, you can excel - and never need to exercise your brain again. Just invoke the same memories, over and over again.

-Coilean mac Caiside will stop here, to avoid giving away details on future articles

Just to reiterate part of my rant, I did say players should role-play "in town" but play to win when "on adventure" and during combat.

So, a GM could run a game that is 100% "in town" and 0% "on adventure" and combat. In this case, they would be in perfect harmony with my rant even though they role-play every session and even if they decided to maintain the artifice of IC versus OOC. For other reasons, I think that this game is likely to have problems but I do not address it in my rant.

Other possibilities are 50-50. Or, even 0% "in town" and 100% "on adventure" and combat which would define a hack-and-slash game.

Just a reminder.

My rant does not take a position on the correct balance of Story versus Tactics. To put it in that context, I am exhorting people to stop justifying and stop distracting themselves by approaching tactical situations using only the skills meant for Story. (I think that that makes sense.)

So, you do not feel you should be held accountable for views that are not expressed in the main rant? We should act like the subsequent points you introduce don't count when we ask "Well, do you really MEAN it?"?

You've expounded on your beliefs and clarified the focus of what you were saying. You're allowed to address points beyond the aegis of the original rant, in the posts ;)

Following the next post, I can see that what you are ranting upon, in the Story versus Tactics spectrum, is splitting up the Role-Playing-Game into two separate distinct parts - the Role-Playing, and the Game. While it makes an interesting idea for the Next Wave of system [Deadlands is the only system I can think of which came close to this*], I do not think you are correct in attempting to make people use that method in a setting that is not created for it.

*Next Wave: Mechanics that are games in themselves. Only, in the second game which is the mechanics for the first, the first game is the mechanics to be used in the second. The Game determines whether you succeed or fail at certain tasks in the Role-Playing, and the Role-Playing determines your objectives in the Game.

In short, the entire problem with your rant and followering opinions is that you are drastically underestimating the scope of Role-Playing. It can incorporate combat too; it was made for EVERYTHING the characters do, not just the mushy town / soap opera / minutae that you postulate it to consist of now.

-Coilean mac Caiside

Players with uneven abilities seems to be a sticking point.

Asking Player 1 to limit his use of OOC information is just the wrong way to go about it. Asking Player 1 to encourage and help others to participate is the right way to go about it. Or, the GM can do this himself. But, it does not follow that if a player chooses his PC to overlap OOC knowledge that he already has, that this will lead to him being less dominate in the game or that this will encourage shy or newbie players.

Coilean: Well, personally, I would like to help the folks at keep their site well organized and topical. Admittedly, there is a grey line between what is a tangent to the topic at hand and what is a tangent to a tangent. Expanding the discussion from a single rant to a complete exposition of my opinions and thoughts on all gaming subjects seems egoistical on my own part.

Perhaps I will submit more articles to cover other topics. If you like, you (or anybody else) can e-mail me privately with a list of questions/subjects that you'd be interested in seeing other articles or rants on.

Extending my opinions to say that I advocate adding rules to games to split the game into two separate parts is a distortion. I separate the game into those facets to analyze and explain but I do not advocate formalizing rules around that separation. It seems that you are just reading a bit too much into my words, turning a simple explanation device into a full-blown world view.

One of the reasons that I wrote this rant was that I believe that many campaigns fail due to excessive roleplaying but GMs and players are not generally aware that excessive roleplaying was the cause of death. In fact, many GMs will point to the excessive roleplaying as the highlight of their campaign. That is one reason why it is so hard to find and fix the problem.

I did not extend your words; I pointed out how they might be more effective if trying to accomplish something different. Whether or not you make it a Rule, you are still advocating just that - but in the tone of one who is gently leading misguided children back to the One True Way it was once done. You're right, too - it WAS once done that way. But, like all children, we grew up - and now roleplaying is more than just another word for a wargame.

The "you SEEM to be reading too much into what I said" piece appears little more than a "Please be ashamed of your own words and retract your statement by yourself."; I won't, and it will sit out there until you make a direct stab at refuting it.

-Coilean mac Caiside

Wow, I didn't expect to see such a big response to an off hand phrase like 'Be Prepared'.

In response Coilean I was only saying that when any group of people are about to go knowingly into a life threatening situation they should at least have a quick chat about it.

You see this in books/movies all the time, for example in Lord of the Rings when Strider saves the Hobbits from the Nazgul, they ask 'What are they" and he tells them. Of course, because of dramatic reasons that was after the fact, but hopefully you can see what I am getting at.

Basically my point is that players who heavily roleplay their own character may be so caught up in the limitations of their own knowledge that they forget that there is a certain amount of knowledge that can be shared by the group.

So, for example, if one CHARACTER was a ranger who had a knowledge of the area and had monster lore then if they sat down at an inn the night before going down to a dungeon I would count the entire party as having Monster Lore for that dungeon. The others would just have it at a lower level than the ranger, enough to shout "Hey, I think it's a troll!" if they saw something roughly the right size and shape. Of course, they may be wrong, and that could provide some classic comic relief when the Ranger wanders in, see's the foul monstrosity the party has awoken and yells "That's no Troll! Run for it!" and suddenly they find the situation is much worse than they thought.

In no way do I condone the use of out of character knowledge dwhoward is promoting.

I think it's a crap way to roleplay because it rewards those who happen to have the most knowledge, usually by having the most books. Having a myriad of other interests outside Roleplaying which compete for my money, the thing I enjoy about roleplaying is I don't HAVE to have an indepth knowledge of the game before I play, as long as the world around me is a recognisable setting then the GM can prompt me on any knowledge my character should have (thus learning it without having thumbed through all the books myself).

I often enjoy playing characters who have less knowledge about the world around me than the rest of the group, but I don't try and use that as an excuse. If I am playing a less knowledgeable character than the norm I always try and make up for it by making him inquisitive and curious. He'll ask questions to get up to speed. His lack of knowledge should only be a factor if the GM wants it to be, and the GM is welcome to use it as a plot device. The classic gag of having the rest of the party leave the newbie to his own devices, and then suddenly realise that he may not know NOT to touch the Alter o' Doom, or read from the Necronomicon or whatever, and before you can say "NO! Don't Touch THAT!" The GM has created a new scenario for us.

So, while I vehemently disagree with a lot of what dwhoward is saying, I do understand the underlying point:
He wants characters to achieve their goals, rather than get cut down in their prime, and by having people roleplaying things like cowardice (which are usually factored into a games combat mechanics as well, creating a double dose) or a lack of creature/world knowledge (not realising that there is a certain amount of BASE knowledge everyone in the world probably has, and perhaps having a rough idea how to kill that particular monster is included in that) that their roleplaying steps out of staying in character into unnessecarily hurting the group.

Extreme situations make people react differently, so perhaps the coward finds some hidden reserve courage at the last minute to help save the group. Perhaps the inexperienced fighter 'stumbles' onto the right way to kill a troll. All these things are common in film, theatre, and literature as important turning points at the climax of a scene. So, if used well, out of character knowledge or actions are not only justifiable but actually make the ROLEPLAYING experience better.

Of course as with everything a sense of timing is important, they should be used in moderation, and the GM should ultimately decide whether they can be used.

So basically what I'll take away from this discussion is a note to remind myslef or my players if I am GMing that while roleplaying their own character is great, they shouldn't be doing it at the cost of realistic group interaction. We all should remember that a group will share it's strengths as well as using the combination of individual strengths to overcome problems, just as groups share their weaknesses as well as each member having individual weakness that can be exploited.

And I don't really care whether or not that's the original point, because I think that it's something that is OFTEN overlooked in any sort of roleplaying game, and it's an important thing to be reminded of.

We have had a complete elucidation of opinions here, I think. Thanks to all.

I'm willing to continue the conversation but I think that we've settled into two opposing camps with no common ground between. Obviously, I'm sticking by my rant. And, obviously, if you haven't been convinced by my explanations up to now, you probably won't be.

We can bandy about and try to get the last word or post the others into submission but no new arguments seem forthcoming on either side. We seem to have "agreed to disagree."

Actually, there is a common ground. ENJOYMENT OF OUR FAVORITE HOBBY.

That being said, we dissagree as to what constitutes a fun game… Still, when you watch a monster movie doesn't it bug you that regular people (who should have seen as many movies as we all have) always fall for the same dumb trick?
1 - Going alone in the dark basement unarmed instead of calling the cops.
2 – Splitting up in the monster's lair.
3 – Not finishing off the monster/maniac when it falls down.

And I could go on. Yes some people are tactically inept, some others are socially inept but doing the same mistakes over and over again seems boring to me.
I mean do you people who Soooo love playing house and acting when you roleplay keep making the same "faux pas" game after game? Do your characterd become more socially apt as the games pass? Isn't that out of character knowledge if you're supposed to be naïve and inexperienced?
While falling for a trap that actually surprised you is fun. "Playing dumb" and falling for a trap you saw coming a mile away doesn't seem rewarding to me. Just as having my character fall for the woman that I know will only bring him grief and eventually betray him doesn't seem fun to me.
Mind you I like acting I get on stage a few times a year and it is great. Maybe some of you should try.
I play wargames too, maybe the strategy hungry gamers should get their fix there too.

I dunno maybe trying to cram everything into your RPG is asking too much of it.

I disagree with this article nearly point for point. In any situation in which characters interact they are acting from their own perspective. Their own experiences must influence their own actions. We all know a little about sharks. If a shark was attacking me and my friends I would still have no idea how to drive it away or kill it.
Can anyone truly and fully supress their own drives and motivations when they do anything? The author would have us all supress our creativity to suit some need to powergame. Powergaming it a state of mind. It doesn't matter if you can kill a God while fending off a dragon or die from a the attack of a lone Kobolt.
Imagine for a moment you were in a situation any of your characters could find themselves in. Could you set aside fear of death or dismemberment? While characters are by nature above and beyond us, they are meant to be complex, thinking, feel beings with drives and motivations. Those motivations run the gammit from lust to disgust, rage to peace, treasure to the betterment of life.
Sometimes player try to excuse out-of-character behavior by suddenly alter their character. "Oh. My thief hides in the corner until the Troglodyte leaves." For a thief that may be normal. But is it normal for that thief?
Adventuring is NOT about cool stuff. It is about creating and fleshing out modern-day myths. Life is less grand than it used to be. People care less about people. Characters are heros, villians, or the innocent victims of the former. No it's not about winning either. It is about the Hero's Quest, the mental and physical journey a character takes to become a Hero. It is also about the sacrifices and pain he or she endures, the joy, love, and friends found along the way. It's about that moment of decision every gamer can sense coming, that adrenaline rush when the character rides the winds of destiny and discovers what they are made of. THAT is the game.

Although I appreciate Master Castillo's contribution, his argument assumes his conclusion. He assumes that the enjoyment and goal of RPGs comes from investigating and philosophizing about PC psychology. I say that that is one aspect of it and is fun *when used in certain situations* but making that the only thing limits both the game and the enjoyment. (I also contend that, when employed wrongly, it interferes with other players' enjoyment, fragments the group and destabilizes the campaign.) If I don't agree that PC psychology is the end-all-be-all of gaming, an argument which uses that as a basis is not convincing.

Now, assuming that I am powergaming because I take an interest in seeing my PC survive, that has been addressed elsewhere. I contend that players *should* enjoy seeing their PCs succeed and they should make that an important part of the game, not just enjoy the mere satisfaction of saying, "I acted out the role accurately and realistically."

And, I'd say that some of the enjoyment of gaming comes from gaining (or fighting) cool stuff. Not all, but some. Likewise, some enjoyment comes from ad-libbing in-character in conversation when appropriate.

For the hero's quest, this is one possible aspect of the game but a highly overrated one. Writing or reading a short story is a much better way to explore and enjoy that particular scenario. In literature, much more time can be spent exploring the psyche and fears of the character; it can be much more personal than a game usually is (especially if the game is not a one-on-one).

I have nothing to say that isn't put more eloquently by James P Carse in his book 'Infinite and Finite Games'.

Anyway, a quick summary is available at:

I believe the fundamental argument here is between people who percieve roleplaying as being an infinite or finite game.


I haven't read all of the previous messages in depth. What I say here may already have been said, to some extent, in previous posts.

Also, since there seems to have been a certain amount of WWolf vs [whoever] posted, I might as well state now for the record that I don't play WW games. I don't hate them. They just don't appeal, with the possible exception of Wraith: Great War, and only then because I'm a biplanes nut.

I disagree with your rant, dhoward.

For starters, I have difficulty with the idea that RPGing is about winning the game. For me, it isn't winning unless I get something tangible. I can't trade in my XP for a crate of beer, let alone a Mercedes. Gaming is never going to get me that Carribbean holiday I've been wanting. You could argue that there's some personal satisfaction in building up a character. For my part, I've never wanted to be the kind of gamer who'd tell longwinded anecdotes about Wibble the Wonder Thief/Assassin/Mage and his scads of castles/henchmen/magic items. Or even plain old Wibble, the lucky rogue who made it to sixth level. It just doesn't appeal to me.

That's a minor issue. Where I really disagree with you is on the subject of using out-of-game knowlege to plan strategy, with a view to beating the encounter and eventually the scenario.

To begin with, I can't see how you can possibly adjudicate what would be common knowedge and what not. OK, in some cases it's a no-brainer. In a world where orcs run rampant all over the globe everybody's going to know about orcs. However, in a game world where kobolds are rarer than hen's teeth characters aren't going to know much about them, even though their players might have memorized kobold stats backwards & forwards. As DM, I might have a very good reason for making kobolds rare. That isn't going to help me much if the players know all that there is to know about them before the characters have even met one. There's also character knowlege to consider. Logically some character types would know about different kinds of 'common' monsters. Wizards spent their early years studying arcane books of forgotten lore. They ought to know about some magical creatures. Ghosts, say, if they have a necromantic bent, or genii. Fighters would know more about other creatures, and the same goes for rogues, clerics & any other PC type you care to name. However, if the player who runs Grod the Swordsman has more OOC knowlege of ghosts than the player who runs Elvira the Sorceress, where does that put me as DM? Do I assume that Grod somehow knows more than Elvira, even though Grod only uses books for toilet paper, has a very public dislike for boring bardic tales, and has never once set foot in a graveyard or haunted house? Do I design some kind of flowchart for use during play? "OK Pete, this is what your cleric would know as a Priest of Zeus. As a halfling, he'd also know about this and this. Moreover, as a native of Krondor, he'd know about this, that and the other thing. Now, Alice, get your head out of that rabbit hole and pay attention because these are the common foes that your elven sorceress from the mystic East would know about . . ."

However, where I really disagree with you is on your belief that OOC knowledge should be used to plan strategy. I think that this can only lead to in-game chaos.

You seem to think that OOC knowledge is limited to monsters. At any rate, monsters are all you mention. However, most gamers know the stats of a lot more than just the monsters, and that kind of OOC knowledge could get very annoying very quickly.

I might have a copy of Grimtooth's Traps. I might want to use one of those bad boys, just to see if the group will let the rogue check out the Gem of Eternal Power before snatching it. However, if Pete the Player owns the same books as I do all he has to do is remember what he knows. He might be playing Grod the Swordsman but he'll leap in and do the rogue's job. He knows the stats of that trap. He knows how to disarm it. It's OK to use OOC knowlege, right? It's all about planning strategy. The game is won by beating the DM, no matter how you go about doing it.

As DM, I'd be in BA hell, with a bunch of Teflons sat across the table from me with those make-my-rules-lawyer-day grins on their faces. I'd never be able to use a prepackaged scenario again. After all, where do I draw the line? If it's OK to read all of the rulebooks then the players will go ahead & do just that. Did I think it was a good idea to take the group through the Against the Giants scenario pack? Silly me. After all, the players will know. They'll know where the treasure is. They'll know where the traps are and how to disarm them. They'll know where the secret doors are. They'll use that knowledge, because it's essential to their strategy to do so. Just like it's essential to use cheat codes to beat a computer game. After all, no-one ever won without cutting corners, right?

It's all very well to say customize that dungeon, or that monster. I may not have that kind of time. I might not want to spend hours of my life doing this. I have a job, right? A social life outside gaming that I might want to indulge in?

I might be using the Forbidden City or Barrier Peaks because I enjoyed those scenarios when I played them and I want to enjoy them now as a DM. However, where's the fun in the game if everyone knows what you know? It's like Christmas without wrapping paper, all the little secrets & surprises well known long before the big day.

I guess what it all boils down to is this. The path you advocate creates the illusion that RPGing is adversarial. The DM sets up the challenge and the PCs knock them down. However, the PCs want to win more easily, so they access the cheat codes, their OOC knowledge, and they beat the system. So the DM goes and finds bigger challenges, more esoteric monsters. The players look for more cheat codes. Suddenly it's an arms race. Who gets there first? Who owns that o-so-rare copy of Dragon or White Dwarf that has the info DM & player both need? Whose OOC knowledge is supreme? Which geek gets beat?

Nah. Boring. If I wanted to spend my life studying statistics I'd have become an accountant. I want to have fun. This isn't it.

c ya

One common counterargument against my rant seems to be: "As a GM, my players already know all the monsters and modules so I want them to pretend not to know."

Now, if you are the kind of GM who insists on using a module that some of the players already have memorized backwards and forwards, then I cannot see how the game will be enjoyable for those players, no matter how those players play. Sure, counterarguments suggest that they can coast along and get their enjoyment out of answering such questions as, "I know that room 3C has a minotaur. Would I be smart enough to figure it out?" Or, according to my rant, "There's a minotaur up ahead, let's go left up here to go around it." In either case, the module is going to be unsurprising, to say the least.

Another counterargument seems to be: "I don't have time to customize my dungeons and monsters."

That is a pity because making your players play through a played-out dungeon and pretend to be surprised is a poor substitute for a dungeon and monsters that are *actually* surprising both to the players and the PCs. If you don't have the time to provide that kind of excitement, you'll just have to make do with what time that you do have. Not everybody has the time to be a great GM. And, if you don't have the time, your players will just have to settle for what you do have time for. If your time is that limited, deep sacrifices (such as retreading known modules) must be made by everybody. We aren't really talking about my rant, anymore; we are just talking about how much muscle and bone can be cut from a game and still have it be worth running.

I should point out that I've had stock monsters blow away players (even hardcore RPGers), even though the players know all their weaknesses. Knowing all a monsters' weaknesses does not imply victory. Stock monsters can also be as varied as human beings; knowing how to beat up one particular human doesn't imply that beating up any human implies the same tactics.

Now, I never suggested and do not endorse the idea that players are required or expected to acquire modules and books that they think that the GM will use. It is a distortion to say that I suggest that players become accountants. Rigorously organizing IC and OOC knowledge sounds a lot like accounting to me, rather than just saying, use whatever knowledge you happen to have, regardless of the source.

There is a distinction between the player who malaciously tries to find out OOC knowledge and one who merely happens to know some. As a GM, if you feel that players are trying to peek around your screen, rifle through your backpack and anticipate and buy published adventures when you are going to use them, ask them not to do that. But, if you decide to run Barrier Peaks, knowing full well that one of your players GM'd the same adventure last year, you are not really running a game anymore. You are either running a farce ("Let's all pretend that this is new stuff") or a retread ("Let's just play through for a lark."). Now, you and your players may enjoy it. But it is more akin to just kicking the ball around on a lazy summer afternoon, not actually playing a game.

I'm not saying that players should spend their lives studying statistics. (If you look at my rant, it says nothing about this. I don't know where people get that.) I'm saying that players should spend more time being in the game and less time intellectualizing over IC and OOC knowledge.


Sometimes I just don't have the time. Sorry. My life is not made up of the games that I play. BTW, statements like:

If you don't have the time to provide that kind of excitement, you'll just have to make do with what time that you do have. Not everybody has the time to be a great GM.

Might be taken by some people as condescending and rude. Good job I'm not one of them.

"There is a distinction between the player who malaciously tries to find out OOC knowledge and one who merely happens to know some."

OK. But where is it? We can say in the calm quiet of a discussion board that 'we all know' when someone's jerking around with the rules. In practice, though, it's often a pretty narrow distinction. In the past, my defense in the heat of the moment has usually been 'your character wouldn't know that', and it had the benefit of being both true and relatively fair. Not perfectly fair, but few things are. It was accepted by every player I've ever had dealings with. Now, though, what do I say when I suddently realize, half-way through the game, that Pete the Player owns the exact same copy of White Dwarf that I do and is using his knowledge to extract maximum reward for minimum risk? Call a halt to the game and argue it out with good old Pete? Spend a half-hour in heated debate that does no-one any good? After all, why should it be that a player can use his OOC knowledge in some ways but not in others? Where is this line in the sand that we're all mutually pretending that we're not crossing?

You say that players shouldn't spend their lives studying statistics. That players shouldn't be expected to acquire certain books or modules that the DM is known to use. I think you've missed the point. Either that, or you've been playing with saints. The gamers I know, (and Lord knows there were some doozies), would happily buy as many books and magazines as they could, IF they thought it gave them an edge. We go back to the arms race again. I buy therefore they buy therefore I buy therefore the guy in the games store gets rich but everybody else just gets frustrated because rather than play the game we're worrying about what rules we play by. That, and calling the DM a jerk because he didn't allow Pete to use the variant Barbarian rules as published in the D20 format by Werenotgoingtobeinbusinessverylong Press. White Wolf used to be hell for that, and I still shudder at the memory of bookshelves filled with nothing but Vampire sourcebooks. Now D20 is the new rules king. Whoopie.

Rigorously setting up Chinese Walls between OOC and IC knowledge is indeed a waste of everyone's time. That's why it's so useful to be able to say 'no OOC knowledge at all', as opposed to 'OK, some OOC knowledge, but not all of it, and you all know who I mean, don't you, ERIC? Yes, you in the back there with your IT job, don't think I didn't see you sneak out of GamersRUs with your arms full of books . . .' There's no intellectuallizing involved in saying no OOC spoilers. No Means No, to coin a phrase. The mind games come in when you start saying No Means Sometimes and You're On Your Own Now, Kiddo. That's when you start having to build Chinese Walls between what you do know and what you don't.

Besides which, allowing OOC creates a whole antagonistic atmosphere that nobody needs. I'm not at war with my players. I don't set up challenges for them to beat like targets in a Shooter. I set up a game for them to play. It involves a little bit of acting, sure, a little problem solving, some monsters. The usual. I don't want to feel as though I have to delve into my back issues for grudge monsters because combat tacticals are the New God and I always have to be one up on the players. It's not about them winning or me losing. It's about all of us having fun.

Anyway, gotta scoot.

c ya

Adam, I apologize. I phrased my point poorly. Please allow me to rephrase.

When people use the counterargument, "I don't have time to customize my dungeons and monsters", they are saying, "I don't want to or cannot put the time in to make my games the best that they can be." So, their games are not the best that they can be. Nobody blames a GM for not devoting his life to RPGs. But, I would not call somebody a great GM if he does make those compromises. I might call him a good GM that made the best compromises, that is, he got "the best bang for his buck". But a great GM is somebody who gets "the best bang" with no concern for the cost.

I, too, have a limited time to spend on RPGs. I would not call myself great for that reason. And I probably make compromises in different areas than you. But, let's not compromise anybody out there who is 100% devoted and pretend that we are just as good as him, when, in reality, we aren't willing to put all the time into it (to create customized dungeons and monsters) that could improve it.

I hope that you can understand my point and not be offended.

I'll reply to the rest of your post later.

Dhoward, I contend that players should NOT find enjoyment from seeing their PC's succeed. Watching other people walk through life, all over those who would contest them, is nothing more than a cheap, voyeuristic, immature means of satisfying primal urges, such as the much-touted inferiority/superiority complexes. Likewise, the motivation of the player should be to constantly throw CHALLENGES in front of the character, and leave it the CHARACTER's job to avoid those difficulties. By using the phrase "not JUST enjoy" [emphasis mine], you remind me of a quote by Julius Caesar: "Winning isn't the most important thing; it's the only thing!". Now, by your post, you've reminded me of what I was going to write next; so I thank you, because after I lost my notes, I was not sure what to write next. But now the next two articles, at least, are set for me [and that's beyond tha backlog I already have!], and you can read them somewhere over on

Now, you said that:
When people use the counterargument, "I don't have time to customize my dungeons and monsters", they are saying, "I don't want to or cannot put the time in to make my games the best that they can be."

So, what, the games consist entirely of dungeons and monsters?

Now, while you say above that you never suggested, and do not endorse, the idea that players are required or expected to acquire modules and books that they think the GM will use, you are doing just that when you attribute the "best GM" to those who obtain the "best bang", "with no concern for the cost". GM's have the right to spend 100% of their time creating things OTHER than the dungeons/monsters, tailoring everything to the specific campaign. And they should have the ability to pick up a module, the intention of which is to take certain things [such as monsters/dungeons] that are universal to many campaigns, and place them in a form that can be used directly... and use them directly. Not to pre-classify your argument, I simply do not see how you can contest this point without arguing that noone can be a great GM unless they are extremely skilled at ALL aspects of campaign creation/maintenance, and spend ALL of their time on it, managing to equally sustain all aspects. It seems to be that you are jealous of those who are naturally good at something, and wish to narrow the focus of gaming to one specific aspect [which you are, sheerly by coincidence I am sure, quite skilled at], whereupon it becomes evident that no others matter, and in fact quality is irrelevant; only the EFFORT put into it does [in short, if you naturally suck as a GM, and you buy ALL the modules, spend 100% of your time on it, doing your BEST to make it better, your players should love/laud you for it]. There's a type of government which works along these lines, but I forget what it's called. And to conclude my rebuttal, I know you have a limited time to spend on RPG's. Yet even if you spent EVERY WAKING MOMENT on them, I would not, by your own definitions, call you great. After all, you are not WILLING to put ALL the time into it [compromise does imply sacrifice] that could improve it.

"I'm not saying that players should spend their lives studying statistics. (If you look at my rant, it says nothing about this. I don't know where people get that.)"

There you go again, trying to say that, just because you didn't express an opinion in the rant -proper-, you should not be held accountable for it. It doesn't work that way.

-Coilean mac Caiside

"There you go again, trying to say that, just because you didn't express an opinion in the rant -proper-, you should not be held accountable for it. It doesn't work that way."

Just to clarify, I don't recall you saying that either. But your logic is still broken ;)

Well, you may have your own definition of a great GM and I have mine. It doesn't matter since that definition isn't important to the argument. (It has caused more distraction than it is worth, frankly.)

The point is that, if you don't have the time to do something, that doesn't imply that it is not worth doing. There is a difference between saying that customizing monsters doesn't make the game more exciting and that you don't have time to do it. Not having time to do something doesn't mean that it isn't worth doing.

An analogy might be: I say, "Read a module thoroughly before using it." And, a reader says, "I haven't got time for that; I'll just wing it." And, I say, "Your game won't be as good as if you read the whole module. Better GMs would be willing to read it to get that extra oomph of having full knowledge of the module beforehand." And then the reader gets angry at me, for implying that he's not a great GM. Then the reader says, "Your argument is invalid because I haven't got time to read every module that I run. I've got a life." And, I say, "That doesn't make my argument invalid; it merely says that you are unwilling to follow my advice. Hey, fine. But not having time for something doesn't make it worthless."

dwhoward, one thing about GMs taking the time to alter modules if they know there are those in the group who may have played them. That arguement falls down in one area: What if you don't know a player has read the module?

I mean, sure you can ask, sounds like a good idea to start with, but if players are meant to do everything in their way to be the BEST at gaming possible, and the BEST GM's simply are meant to alter the game to fit the players knowledge, then isn't the logical progression for the player to HIDE that knowledge? In other words, lie?

If the player pretends not to know the module, but then goes and 'cheats' and reads it anyway to get an edge, and you don't know they cheated, what happens next?

In my mind, there are two possibilities:

A) The player makes it obvious that he/she cheated, always having ungodly premonition about events to come. Seeing as this is pretty much a straightforward betrayal of faith between player and GM a conflict ensues. Or, perhaps if it were your hypothetical GREAT GM they'd merely shrug their shoulders and start re-writing the campaign from where the playes got up to, thus denying EVERY OTHER player the chance to play the module they had intended to.

B) The player, trying not to arose suspicion, ACTS like he doesn't know a thing, occassionally purposefully setting off traps and taking the wrong paths, but only the ones he knows shouldn't do him or the party much damage, and cunningly avoiding the worst problems or piping up with the correct solution at the last moment.

Now, isn't the second possibility a lot like what you decry as overly playing in character? After all, the player has the opportunity to walk through the module with total preparation, but instead 'fakes' a lack of knowledge to not let the GM in on his/her dirty little secret. The line begins to blur once again between gaming and roleplaying, and frankly as a GM I would prefer the player who had read the module to take the second option, because it would allow the other players to enjoy the module a bit more (and it would probably mean less fudging by the GM as a relatively safe route is guided by the player with the ooc knowledge).

Which. as a GM, would you prefer? To have to do a heck of a lot more work, while spoiling a possibly great module for the players who HADN'T peeked, or having players 'pretending' to not know everything, but seeming to have a sixth sense about truely dangerous situations, much like characters in REAL fictional stories?

And you can't cop out be saying you wouldn't expect a player to deceive the GM, because you have made it clear that in your mind it is a game, a competitive activity, and that the players seem to be 'up aganst' the GM. And seeing as there are no rules to the game that prevent lieing to the GM, with the criteria you are setting it's the for success it's the next step in the arms race of OOC knowledge versus GM compensation.

I have not had the kinds of problems that all these recent posts speak of. Players buying every magazine and dungeon, angling to get an advantage by owning the next adventure? Players who lie? Players create these sophisticated schemes to defraud and hide their advance knowledge?

Maybe I do play with saints. Maybe my game somehow weeds out these people before they have a problem. Maybe I've just been lucky. If my players were criminal and unethical (or immature narcissists), I'd have quit GMing long ago (and probably moved).

I certainly never, ever endorsed any of that, neither directly nor implied.

Needless to say, the solution isn't to not allow OOC knowledge, it is to run away.

Sure, natural ability plays a part in being a great GM. I never said that effort was the only criterion, merely that it was one.

Playing a game to win, such as Monopoly or D&D, is not immoral. A characterization that I am crushing people into the dirt and laughing it their misery is just grossly inaccurate. By that definition, anybody who ever won a game of Monopoly would be some immature, animalistic, incorrigible, insane scumbag.

A D&D game has the added advantage in that the players cooperate to overcome the challenge of the DM. Unlike other games which have direct competition, a GM provides the obstacles but is not the opponent. When the players win, the GM can be happy, too.

I've never seen a GM's Bill of Rights but it sounds like a great idea for an article. Somebody should write one.

Most GMs try to provide the best game possible. If all his players have read the modules (whatever the motivation), he might invent his own modules to make the game more surprising or fun. I guess that he has the right to run a published module, anyway.

So, now, people have posted all sorts of doomsday scenarios. And, some of these probably happen every once in a while (or continuously to a tiny fraction of the gaming community).

Like I said before, my article was meant for the general gaming audience. If you fall into that 1% who has unusual players or unusual problems where my advice would hurt your game, then don't follow it. That doesn't mean that my rant is irrelevant to everyone; it merely means that it is irrelevant to you.

A GM can (should) balance play between "on adventure" and "in town" scenes. A great GM would mix up a bit, "in town" style roleplaying one week and "on adventure" gaming the next (in the same campaign). He would put in enough time on preparation and planning such that putting more time in would not improve the game; there is a point where a GM is as prepared as he'll ever be and he has no choice but to run the game.

As an aside, if he is running an "on adventure" scene, he can also run stock monsters in a challenging way. I suggested inventing new monsters as variety, but not as an absolute requirement for every game. Fighting known monsters can still be challenging and exciting under a talented GM.

"Well, you may have your own definition of a great GM and I have mine. It doesn't matter since that definition isn't important to the argument. (It has caused more distraction than it is worth, frankly.)"

Aye, 'tis SO difficult to make a logic tree when others keep on wasting time uprooting fundamental flaws in said logic :)

"A GM can (should) balance play between "on adventure" and "in town" scenes. A great GM would mix up a bit, "in town" style roleplaying one week and "on adventure" gaming the next (in the same campaign). He would put in enough time on preparation and planning such that putting more time in would not improve the game; there is a point where a GM is as prepared as he'll ever be and he has no choice but to run the game."

You seem to have a very fixed idea of what a great GM would be, and conversely, what we need to DO to -be- great GM's. To paraphrase a point I made earlier, you are, by your own admittance, in the minority. Why haven't you applied your own advice to yourself, in acknowledging that your article won't be of use to everyone, in fact only to a small number of people?

"The point is that, if you don't have the time to do something, that doesn't imply that it is not worth doing. There is a difference between saying that customizing monsters doesn't make the game more exciting and that you don't have time to do it. Not having time to do something doesn't mean that it isn't worth doing."

Just an excuse, yes. Just like the one you're using - "I don't have the time to consider what my PLAYERS might like, on top of working at what we BOTH like."; what you seem to be upset about is people that have put in the time and effort to incorporate something new which their players enjoy even MORE than what they did before.

Call it an investment, but still, it seems to be quite compatible with your own theory - if you could have a wand of unlimited magic missiles, or a wand of unlimited fireball, which would you take? Sure, the magic missiles are effective [especially in a dungeon; and considering your emphasis on those, and the blast radius / recoil of a fireball, mayhaps this was not the best analogy to use], but a fireball is even MORE so. Doesn't the Law of Efficiency DEMAND that you take the wand of fireballs? Doesn't the desire to become the best GM you possibly might be, tempt you into spending your time as efficiently as possible?

And your analogy is imperfect. For one, your advice did not come WITH the module, nor predate it; it came afterward, and was not forced on every person. The normal GM has to work without it. Either we call the module broken, or we allow them the basic right to be able to run a module as is, without players abusing the campaign thereby.

Reading the module beforehand implies knowledge of it. The matter we are debating concerns the actual content, and whether or not to alter that on any basis. Reading is necessary for most modules; it is also, in most cases, before major alterations [people don't mess up the entire premise].

-Coilean mac Caiside

An opinion may be disagreeable to the majority but still, by its acceptance by most individuals, would provide value. My rant can improve most games, even though GMs and players may not want to hear it.

An unpopular opinion can become popular over time.

Perhaps if you listed this bill of rights for players and GMs by numbering them and describing each in one sentence, it would be of some benefit.