A Quick Primer on Middle School Gaming

Matthew J. Finch’s A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming has been around a while, and, in certain Dungeons & Dragons circles, is held as a sort of Leviticus on how the game is supposed to be played. I, however, did not start gaming in 1974.1

I’ve gamed in a lot of different circles, and in a lot of different ways. With luck, I’ll continue to do so. I play the old games, I play the new games, I’ve obviously played a lot of the nineties games. Any way you want to play is cool with me.

That said, here’s some of what I’ve learned so far.

We’re all friends here

Alex Kingston as River Song in Doctor Who

River Song is the hottest Carmen Sandiego.

We wouldn’t be sitting here in a spare room full of Apple IIs arguing about which Carmen Sandiego poster is the hottest if we weren’t friends. And it’s certainly because we’re friends that we stopped naming Oregon Trail characters after each other.

Now, being friends isn’t some magical thing where you never argue or always do everything together or whatever. And just like you don’t always get along, your characters don’t get always get along. They also don’t always work together. For the most part, an adventuring party is a social group, not a sports team.

If the rules break your game, break the rules

The core mechanic behind middle school gaming is “stat + skill = whatever the GM says.” Rules are important, because they lend structure to play and provide a common vocabulary for the game, but the main adjudication remains in the hands of the human beings at the table.

The GM shouldn’t be a tyrant. Forcing people around to obey your will is for Debbie and Ms. Frost. Which brings us to:

The GM’s supposed to provide action

No aspect of the game is so important that things should stop happening. Forget puzzles and “player skill” and all of that… if the characters are stuck for ten minutes at a dead end, something should happen and it’s usually GM’s job is to provide that.

The GM should also keep the world moving. I don’t mean you need to map out the troop movements of every city state or envision every insult a vampire makes to another. But there needs to be a sense that the world isn’t sitting, paused, waiting for the characters to wander into the appropriate hex.

Do what seems like a good idea at the time

If a cool idea strikes you, run with it. Player or GM, doesn’t matter. What you planned earlier isn’t as much fun as what you’re doing now and you’ll all have better memories of the session if you broke it.

Middle school gaming is not about the strategically or tactically optimal path. Leave that to the old school with its ten-foot poles and the graceful death ballet of D&D 4. Middle school gaming is also not about maintaining perfectly the mechanics of a great novel.

Crib Shamelessly

Octorok, from the Legend of Zelda

Come on, this guy deserves to be in the Monster Manual.

If White Wolf asks you to turn your game into a novel, you may have some problems here, but otherwise? Go nuts. Like the Octorok from The Legend of Zelda? Give him some hit dice and you’ve got the Roktopus. Think Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer would be more awesome as a Nazgul? Time to make that noise.

_____

  1. Though I’ve gamed with those who did, and they don’t play like Matthew Finch. Confusingly, the Quick Primer also more or less rules out Call of Cthulhu as an old school game, something I’ve never quite been able to grasp. Nonetheless, it’s a neat book on gaming style with a lot to recommend it.

21 thoughts on “A Quick Primer on Middle School Gaming

  1. In the friendship section, do you mean friendship that predates gaming together? I ask because Malcolm and I recently had a pretty lengthy back and forth about friendship and gaming groups. In the course of it, Malcolm kind of modified “friendship” into “friendship, or good faith in friendship to come,” which is a phrase I liked a lot.

    The thing is, my personal experience of gaming is, you start gaming relatively young, with schoolfriends. But after you grow up, maybe move somewhere, maybe just see your schoolfriends grow into different interests, staying with the hobby means meeting new people for the purpose of gaming with them. This seems to hold true across the decades, and doesn’t seem any less true of WW-era folks than “indie” or whatever we want to call people who came before. (I’m a generation ahead of you.) Wasn’t the Camarilla, among other things, a way for WW gamers to meet each other and play?

  2. Huh, okay, that’s an interesting argument. When I said “friends,” I meant that people you game with are people you have emotional connections with on some level or another. I wasn’t thinking especially of whether that pre- or post-dates gaming together. Both, I imagine.

    Reading your links, I’m fairly offended at Malcolm’s characterization of… uhm… my friends. Because, you know, I hang out with small press game designers. One brought me a quiche and read Arduin with me when I couldn’t walk and thought I had a tumor. And then Eddy Webb, a close and trusted friend, designed one of those horrible Hellraiser-boxes that are apparently destroying gaming — Cartoon Action Hour! Oh, the terror. And yet, somehow, despite being a small-press game designer who does something other than clone White Wolf games, Eddy and I have gotten each other’s backs on a lot of occasions, socialize, bickered, and shared meals.

    My experience is a lot like yours, honestly. Personally, I have a lot of faith in friendship, friendship-to-come, and so on. I like people, and not, I don’t think, to an unusual degree.

    I’m not qualified at all to speak about the decline of friendship in North America, but I think I’m pretty well-equipped to talk about social contracts and social structures in tabletop gaming. (For LARPing, you want Eddy Webb’s blog, over there on the right.)

    Most games, even in the Internet era, are designed via groups of friends. This is particularly true of the small press set, as you can tell if you follow their postings on the Internet rather than just slagging them as awful people later. This goes all the way back to the dawn of the hobby, in fact. Gygax developed Chainmail among his local wargaming friends, it got refined in Dave Arneson’s (literal, I believe) basement, and the two men, connected entirely by gaming interests, turned it into a game together. Their later falling out only makes this more of a friendship narrative.

    Matt Wilson developed Primetime Adventures playing with his home group. As you point out, that’s how Vincent Baker designed In a Wicked Age. Most of these games actually break completely if you play them in poor faith; the notion that they’re only designed for conventions among dysfunctional people runs counter to my entire experience of actual play.

    Actual play. With my friends.

    By interesting point of contrast, most of the White Wolf games are not designed by groups of friends. Yes, we actually are mostly all buddies at White Wolf, but we have a fairly fancy design process that’s aimed at keeping our games fun for other people’s friends, which is not at all the same as designing for your own, or even designing for people like them.

    I joke above, about the mechanics of middle school gaming being “stat + skill = whatever the GM says.” Whereas the mechanics of the new old school are “what the GM said in the first place” and the Edwards-Baker design continuum would be “if the cardinals send up the white smoke, do as the GM says, if they send up the black, do as you say.” I think this is a perfectly reasonable range of game mechanics, actually.

    If you buy Malcolm’s argument, that real-true-Malcolm-approved friends are antithetical to games that relocate ad hoc judgment from one part of the system to another,* then “real friends” can’t even play Chutes & Ladders together, much less Dungeons & Dragons or Diplomacy.

    And while I’m at it, no, a game can’t promise you anything. But a person can, and a person can do it in writing. In a book that also tells you how to play a game.

    _____
    * As it always is. I have yet to see one of these horrible small press games that eliminates human judgment

  3. Last thing’s first:

    “* As it always is. I have yet to see one of these horrible small press games that eliminates human judgment.”

    You’ve never read The Burning Wheel? Let it Ride? Stuff telling you to tell the GM off unless he obeys the book?

    Anyway, this isn’t shit I make up. Take this email I got, for example:

    “Oh boy, that describes a huge swathe of Forge people I’ve gamed with. I had a five player D&D game. The two Forge guys took me aside after three sessions and read off a laundry list of problems with the game. I was bummed that the game was going so badly, so I emailed the other three players to see if they were unhappy with the game.

    “They weren’t. Two of them actually said that the Forge guys were making the game less fun for them, but otherwise they were into it.”

    I get email like this regularly because the senders feel intimidated by their own groups and communities, particularly when they get dominated by fashionable dogma. These are people who put on a happy face in public venues. Some of them are even pretty well known designers (including the writer of the email I quoted above). I met one (friend of a friend) in a bar, where he told me all about how his shiny happy actual play reports were bullshit.

    Am I talking about your friends? Am I talking about your community relationships on places like RPG.net? Your convention meetups? Unless you’re more specific about the types and contexts, I can’t answer that. I can just tell you that this stuff comes from evidence — I’m going with what real people are telling me in environments where they have no motive to deceive. You don’t get that in spaces where people are performing for a crowd or engaged in social stuff at conventions. And I submit that since this is where the majority of roleplaying is taking place, that merits more attention than the ability to assure an online forum that you’re listening.

  4. “many games under the ‘indie banner are designed to be played by people who meet at conventions, primarily know each other online or have similar remote, vaguely suspicious relationships. ‘Traditional’ games assume a stronger good-faith bond.”

    Oh, fuck that noise.

    It’s cute to see that Malcolm is still at it; in my experience the man has a bizarre hate for the Forge-originated indie community that knows no bounds. I’m not sure where he gets the energy for his poison.

    As some folks also observed in Malcolm’s comments, my own gaming history shows more or less the opposite; my games with folks who are into the “indie scene,” once a little social groundwork was laid, have been creatively fulfilling and based on mutual trust, friendship, and respect. My games previous to that were characterized by contention and confusion as to what we were even doing, much less trust to get there together.

    I don’t think this is because “trad” gaming is badwrong, but rather because the indie design ethos brought a focus on examining and clarifying social and creative goals in a way that had seldom been addressed in the scene before that. And me, personally, I needed it–needed a name to put to the kind of play I desired, and needed an examination of social dynamics to understand how to HAVE functional gaming friendships. So I’m glad of it. Previously, gaming did not mean friendship but we PRETENDED it did; “He’s your friend, don’t you TRUST him to [play correctly, whatever that means]?” was a common tactic of social bullying and denial of shitty behavior. So while I had some good pals in the group, and even genuine loved ones, I also had some asshole non-friends, and some well-meaning sorts with severe creative dissonance–and ALL THESE ROLES WERE INDISTINGUISHABLE.

    I guess when Malcolm says “‘Traditional’ games assume a stronger good-faith bond” he means something like,. they just assume good faith, rather than trying to write codes of good faith into the procedures, which you would only do if you were guarding against evil dicks. But I don’t think “write rules to stop dicks” is equivalent to “examine the social dynamics of play, and write texts to reflect that examination.”

    And it doesn’t sound like you think so either, Rose, so before your original topic gets consumed completely, lemme bring it back around:

    Looking at your tenets, I think something provokes hesitation in me regarding the first two. And basically because of the social bullshit I just mentioned. Like, “We’re all friends here” is great and I believe in it with all my heart, but sometimes it’s been used to mask dickery. I guess the key is that the friendship principle can’t be self-justifying–he’s my friend so anything he does is friendlike because he;s my friend. There must be conditions (unspoken, unconscious, whatever, but real and in ACTION) for qualifying and DISqualifying someone as a friend.

    And “stat + skill = whatever the GM says” gives me heebie-jeebies for similar reasons. I’ve had a lot of experience with GMs nullifying or disqualifying my input due to some criteria in their head that I had no way to anticipate or comprehend. Things like a wild success on the dice bringing a null or even harmful outcome. And when I got frustrated, I got the whole song and dance of “What, don’t you truuuust him?” People thought I was getting all hot and bothered over the rules not being followed, but in actuality I was just clinging to the rules as the only standard and tool for achieving my goals that I had access to.

    Then again, I think a lot (not all) of my frustration would have been solved by the next precept, “The GM’s supposed to provide action.” Interactions that go nowhere and/or drag on for hours make my teeth ache. So this one is solid gold for me and one that I use rigorously in my plan NOW; I just wish I’d seen more of it back in the day.

    “Do what seems like a good idea at the time” is another rockin’ principle. I saw myself and others fall into planning paralysis so many times over how things were going to be SO cool when they did this and this and then that. I’ve learned to focus on the here and now and make character decisions from that center.

    “Crib Shamelessly” I’m simply nodding along with. We totally did a ton of that, tbough in retrospect it ended up a bit shallow and unsatisfying, like the MERP GM ending up railroading us through a reenactment of Dave Sim’s High Society with Blackadder thrown in, instead of letting us pursue what our characters were supposed to be about. But we had a lot of laughs.

    So, though our experience has some differences…I feel you, man. It sounds like we’re in about the same age bracket (born in ’75, got into Marvel Super Heroes at 12 or 12), and hit a lot of the same touchstones in our formative gaming years. “Middle School Gamer.” Heh. I can dig it.

    Actually, what I’m most grateful for in this post is how you’ve laid bare a set of gaming traditions that I identify with and enabled me to process and evaluate them. While there may be some stuff that I’ve drifted from, there’s a lot there that’s valuable and cherished in my gaming even now. So, cool.

    Sorry for the length. Maybe this should’ve gone on my OWN blog. 😛

    Peace,
    -Joel

  5. (Oh, hey, Malcolm. Didn’t see you there. If I’d known you were in this sandbox I wouldn’t have addressed you in third person. Oh well.)

  6. Hey guys. What’s going on? I’ve been out of the country for a while, so I thought I would stop by and…

    uh…

    Wow.

    So, I’m not going to address Malcolm’s points, because he’s entitled to his experiences and his opinions. All I’ll say is that I have been an indie game designer, I don’t necessarily agree with or subscribe to the so-called “Forge culture” or “Forge theory,” and I have friends that I game with. People who tell other people that they’re “playing the game wrong” are douchebags, whether they’re slinging dice for The Burning Wheel or D&D.

  7. Hi Eddy!

    I’m specifically talking about the indie design community that designed games that react . . . well, to the ramble above. When Joel complains that friendship might just be a ruse to disguise abuse . . . well, it *means* something when you consider this not an edge case, but a central problem among adults. It means something is wrong. Adults are not supposed to be concerned that somebody’s going to hurt them at a game.

    When this is not even considered strange? That’s worse.

    I’ll give you an example. The people I play with (who have virtually no contact with online TRPG communities) read and were flabbergasted by the reaction to this post:

    http://www.mobunited.com/mobunitedmedia/2009/09/15/suicide-is-painless/

    Kearsley, Steve and Jeff were gobsmacked by the first post’s implication that without any set procedures, it must be all about me, me, me. When I tried by best to argue the other side (as sincerely as possible — this is something I do a lot) Kearsley laughed at me. Jeff in particular thought it was strange because he helps manage a Trek sim on Second Life. Basically, he thought it was bizarre that these rules were necessary when his crew freeforms and co-invests no small amount of real, could-feed-the-kids money to get the toys and sets they need.

    Now Jeff’s sim is full of all kinds of drama. People come, people go. But in there, they roleplay, and their arguments are 99% aesthetic — whether the Captain doing such and such a thing is plausible, or whether Starfleet should have marines. And I see that the biggest self-started movements in roleplaying are wracked by the same conflicts, because they grow from fanfic or original worlds explored through Livejournal and forums and wikis.

    All those nerdy arguments? I’ve come to realize that they’re about *artistic vision* — being true to something. I used to think that it would be better to be above that and tell gamers that by caring about where Malkav is and crap missed the bigger theme-and-mood picture. I used to think it should be my mission to build toolkits to help gamers get into the guts and structure instead of tracking NPCs. I was wrong. I was totally wrong. The canon-monkeys weren’t perfect, but they grabbed “no ideas but in things” by the balls.

    So I look at Harry Potter/Inuyasha RPs featuring arguments about truth to character and appreciate that passion, because when I look back at the tabletop community, I don’t see much canon-talk — everyone’s far too mature for that! — but see people slotting in trope mixes by rote, agonizing over the fear that somebody’s going to stab them in the back, and designing systems to prevent it. And I see creative goals that manage to be *more* banal than the stereotypical fanfic. Given modular tools and a safe, safe, safe space, people reproduce the fortresses of some nostalgic era or other fixed form. In Nerf.

    Is doing it that way really keeping the community vital?

  8. Hey Malcolm!

    Like I said, I have a complicated relationship with the Forge community, and never personally identified with them. However, I don’t think that game designers should be in the business of telling people who someone’s friends are or how to have the most about of fun, regardless of how “indie” or “mainstream” they are.

  9. Actually, Malcolm, I’m complaining that friendship WAS a ruse to disguise abuse–within my specific group of (some real, some bogus) friends. And that those friends had no connection or exposure to the Forge tradition. By contrast, when I later played with Forge-influenced folks and ran into similar difficulties (hot-blooded clash over creative differences) we all kinda went “whoa, whoa, whoa”, talked it through, and worked it out as friends first, artists/gamers second.

    I’m not drawing any larger generalizations from that except to point out that my experience doesn’t match your model. I ain’t telling nobody’s story but my own.

    (On that note I also want to express my objection to seeing my experience co-opted for further slurs. Please don’t do that.)

    Peace,
    -Joel

  10. Joel, when I say “we’re all friends here,” I mean what I say, which includes the implication that you’re not playing with abusive jerks. Kind of like if I wrote advice on how to have a romantic date, I’d be implicitly assuming none of the parties was going to start tearing into the others’ career choices.

    The bit about “stat + skill = whatever the GM says” was a joke perhaps best saved for another post, about the assumption of GM narration in the service of the best possible story that was common in nineties games. And it was common — the Rules Cyclopedia talks about it just as Vampire does.

    Truth is, most games I play today run a lot on consensus or random determination. I kinda burned out on running D&D 4 a while ago. It’s a really good game, I just don’t connect with its preferred mode of fantasy very well right now.

    Probably the next thing I’m running is a homemade standard fantasy hack in a world inspired by Quest for Glory and Monkey Island. That’s partly for a change of pace, and partly as preparatory research on teaching game systems.

    I’m also looking at running a sword and sorcery game set in the book of Judges. I’ll probably use Barbarians of Lemuria for that. Right now that’s my goto stat + skill system, to the point that I have my own rules reference documents for it. It’s not far off from Doctor Who, but I’ve rather gone off point-buy that takes more than a couple of minutes, too.

  11. Rose:
    “when I say “we’re all friends here,” I mean what I say, which includes the implication that you’re not playing with abusive jerks.”
    Totally feel you on that. I was just, since you were relating some principles of a strain of gaming tradition I’m familiar with, taking the opportunity to compare and contrast experiences. I guess the constructive takeaway from my experience could be that “We’re All Friends Here” CAN mask abuse but doesn’t ALWAYS, so be sure to spend some effort learning to tell which is which.
    “The bit about “stat + skill = whatever the GM says” was a joke perhaps best saved for another post, about the assumption of GM narration in the service of the best possible story that was common in nineties games. And it was common — the Rules Cyclopedia talks about it just as Vampire does.”
    Oh, totally common–my group had internalized it to the point where it was an axiom of play…and most of them had never played or read WoD. And I appreciate that you were expressing it humorously, but I also took the concept seriously because it’s very much a real thing.
    “I’m also looking at running a sword and sorcery game set in the book of Judges. I’ll probably use Barbarians of Lemuria for that.”
    Oh. My God.
    That sounds so hot.

  12. @Joel

    I guess the constructive takeaway from my experience could be that “We’re All Friends Here” CAN mask abuse but doesn’t ALWAYS, so be sure to spend some effort learning to tell which is which.

    I’m cool with that assertion. One thing middle school games definitely don’t do is provide a framework for addressing problems within your group. They typically have a large safety net of rules, but encourage you to develop a style which doesn’t require you to engage the rules, and move into some space of “pure” storytelling and roleplaying.

    I find that movement… irrelevant. A happy group, for me, is one that knows what kind of game it wants to play and plays it, picking rules, setting, and whatever to suit the style of the game. Although I find that I have a particular “default” style, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with varying how you play based on what you want at a given time.

    Sometimes, we’re not going to roll the dice at all. I’ve run combats purely on consensus. Other times, I’ve had exciting character moments where I wanted a random result. I find Doctor Who often plays well this way. (Both the Cubicle 7 game and the subject in general.)

    The game systems I return to the most make this stuff easy to dial in and out of. The current World of Darkness system is a favorite for such things, though as much because of my long experience with it as because of its own virtues. Trollbabe throws in pace and scope, two variables that help manage a number of in-game tasks.

    Trollbabe also doesn’t break if you decide you want to renegotiate things and run it “wrong.” I told Ron this at Gen Con once and his response included the words “rock on.” I’ve played games of really purist Trollbabe, all cylinders firing, How Ron Meant It, and it’s kicked ass. I’ve also played “you’re playing like WoD, but with the Trollbabe rules” games, which for all the baggage and brain damage, also kicked ass.

    As for the Judges game, I’m still working on it, but I dropped the idea in conversation the other day, and TerraObscura hit me with a character concept right off — part Deborah, part Daniel, part Dar. It was the kind of thing that made me want to throw dice at the table right there.

  13. @Eddy

    However, I don’t think that game designers should be in the business of telling people who someone’s friends are or how to have the most about of fun, regardless of how “indie” or “mainstream” they are.

    Yeah, game designers don’t get to tell you what or who you love.* My job, as a game designer, is to present something and say “here’s a fun toy which I made for you; check out Skeletor’s dragon blaster feature.” And then the players may not even ever use Skeletor’s dragon blaster feature. They may not even play a game with Skeletor in it. But they know it’s there, and I showed them why I think it’s cool.

    And that’s my job, as a designer. If I’m also a professional, it’s my job to at least get them to buy a Dragon Blaster Skeletor. Because I’ve got a killer idea for a Thunder Punch He-Man supplement.

    It’s not my role to go to he-man.org and announce that everybody’s doing Skeletor’s voice wrong, and that their need for a squirt-gun on the back of an action figure shows that they lack the trust to just pretend that Skeletor has a dragon blaster.

    ___
    * Except for Aleena, but that was love between the lines.

  14. Stray things:

    @Malcolm, a problem with your first argument is that it isn’t *like* “the lurkers support me in email.” It actually IS “the lurkers support me in email.”

    AND YET, I don’t discount your claims because, way back in the Forge’s “Pon Far period,” it became clear to me that people like Chris Chinn were making maximalist claims (“We always have fun because we play games that are complete and functional”) that not only could not be ubiquitously true, but that constituted overwhelming political pressure to *say* you were having fun. In those days, I saw multiple AP reports whose purpose became browbeating the person who said he didn’t enjoy Forge Game X into confessing his error.

    So hell yeah, that kind of thing has happened. I just think animus is making you take the private reports for the whole truth of the experience of the “community” rather than an important, unconfessed component of it.

    @Rose: Speaking of animus, it does genuinely surprise me that you have such an obviously warm, collegial relationship with folks like Ron. I mean, hell, I have pleasant enough relationships with folks like Ron, but I’ve never been a White Wolf creator. Back in the day, multiple WW-related people had very unhappy and insulting experiences when they showed up at the Forge, and honestly, none of them that I saw went there to say, “You’re doing it wrong.” But there was a LOT of anger there at “storytelling games” mid-decade and earlier.

    I wonder if this is just a time heals all wounds thing or a nobody doesn’t like Rose thing?

  15. @Jim Henley
    Speaking of animus, it does genuinely surprise me that you have such an obviously warm, collegial relationship with folks like Ron.
    Shrug. He’s always been decent to me at conventions. We’ve had some cool conversations. I’m sure it helps that he knows I like and play his games. (In addition to Trollbabe, which I really can’t praise highly enough, I’m a big fan of Sorcerer and Sword, which I think is a great perspective on a genre Ron and I both have a lot of love for.)
    The current White Wolf crowd plays a lot of small press games. 3:16, In a Wicked Age, Mutant Future, Primetime Adventures, etc… those are just the ones played in the actual office.

  16. Jim:

    @Malcolm, a problem with your first argument is that it isn’t *like* “the lurkers support me in email.” It actually IS “the lurkers support me in email.”

    Can’t be helped in this situation. That said, the same stuff came up the moment my group (who I don’t think are really super-exceptional samples of the gamer demographic) had contact with online gamerdom, as I linked to via my blog earlier.

    On the idea that nobody should tell gamers what to do:

    The RPG is virtually the only medium where we think of the right of people to do what they want to be in constant peril and so sacred as to refuse all forms of criticism. I can work on a play or film, participate in a writers’ workshop, etc, etc. and in each of these I can basically say “UR DOING IT WRONG” to other participants. And if I give my reasons, the creative person involved (actor, writer, whatever) will engage those in discussion/argument/notes, and the work grows for it.

    But in RPGs, this is apparently a horrible thing, and I’m a bad person. Well, so be it. I tell people what to do and I challenge them on their own creative expressions *all* the time. I did it my my Star Wars game the other night when I argued that a PCs motivations were kind of bollocks. Yes — I *told my player she was playing her character wrong.* She retorted, we talked, and we came to an agreement that I think was superior to anything that would have come via me shutting up or use resorting to some contrived narrative control mechanism. We talked about what something meant as two people.

    (Incidentally, it’s worth rereading 1st Ed Star Wars’ GMing section, which is one of the finest ever written — and is substantially about laying down pronouncements over what is and isn’t Star Wars.)

    So y’know what? I think we should absolutely be telling people how to play, and that they’re “doing it wrong.” Totally. And we should lay out reasons, and invite people to argue otherwise.

    You know, I hear a lot of stuff about tools and toys and making things your own from CCP nowadays. It’s friendly, but how well does is it get implemented? How does it allow lasting, passionate communities to form?

    I’ll use an example I’ve brought up elsewhere. When I was contracted for Seers of the Throne for Mage and we had the pre-write bull session, I pointed to Vampire’s VII as something to avoid. Why? Well — and I say this with absolute love — nobody cares much about VII. VII comes in multiple flavors in a well-written book, but with no strongly argued theme and no way to bring people together with common experiences and expectations, that faction is moribund. People will praise it up and down, but the last person I heard run VII in the game was me. The last serious thread about VII in the WW forums is almost a year old (and the last thread period is a joke about those Roman hooker tokens).

    It’s very friendly, warm and open to talk about options and playing it your way, but I don’t think people really care about the results so much. The fandom-based RPs (and original works in the same style) don’t need people granting permission to change things. They thrive on interacting with a fixed canon and a culture that is *all about* telling you how to play. Obviously, they function just fine without constantly ceding to the Supreme Will of the Gamer.

  17. @Malcolm,

    I sincerely have no idea where this conversation is going, so I’m going to drop out. It seems like it’s going all over the place, and there’s massive confusion between concepts, so I’m just going to say “hope things are going well for you” and get back to work.

  18. Malcolm, I never said you’re a bad person.

    As for CCP, I’m not CCP. This is not CCP’s blog. This is Fantasy Heartbreaker, which so far is mostly about Dungeons & Dragons and my feeeelings. Take your concerns with CCP to Rich Thomas or Ethan Skemp, or, if you’d like to discuss them with fans, someplace like RPGnet.

    I have no issues with how you run your Star Wars games. Fixed canons of facts are fine with me. Fandom-based RPs* are lovely.

    You know what? I’m confused. I’m with Eddy, leaving the thread.

    _____
    * Which I participate in.

  19. As for CCP, I’m not CCP. This is not CCP’s blog. This is Fantasy Heartbreaker, which so far is mostly about Dungeons & Dragons and my feeeelings. Take your concerns with CCP to Rich Thomas or Ethan Skemp, or, if you’d like to discuss them with fans, someplace like RPGnet.

    Bwuh? I mentioned CCP/WW books because of a time I worked on one CCP/WW book and referred to another CCP/WW book, and the fact that you said that you built toys/tools in your job and didn’t tell people what to do or anything. This is stuff that I either have hands on experience with or you brought up above me. It happens to be topical to that whole thing you raised about telling gamers what to do, or not. That’s it; it’s not a Big Thing About Your Company (or if it is, I’m not in any position to know). It’s was just easier to do it that way than to talk about 4e books I think fit with this sort of thing, or the time I talked about pre-reboot Star Wars online with my boss on the MMO project I can’t say anything about in reference to a system I can’t describe to you.

    This is the kind of thing I’m talking about, though! That goes both ways. Rose. I’m not in it to attack individuals or their livelihoods or any of that intimate stuff. We should both be mature enough to have that understanding, and I’m truly sorry if I didn’t demonstrate that to your satisfaction.

    On my side, I don’t need you to confirm that you still approve of me or the way I play or anything like that. Frankly, if you have a contrary opinion, why not *disapprove*? You could say that I treated K the player like crap for haranguing her over getting a Dark Side point and if the criticism was coherent, it would be useful whether I agreed or not. That’s good stuff!

    When fear of some personal thing becomes an early response to any creative disagreement, then something is wrong. As I said before, If I act or direct, once I get to notes, the guy with the other position and I can kick each other’s ideas to the curb all night long without wrecking the relationship. But it really feels to me like you’re saying gamers (GMs, other types of players, designers, whatever) are more fragile than that. It sounded like Joel is saying they’re more mean-spirited.

    When we internalize those values, I believe that has design consequences. I believe narrow systems are one of them (eliminate dangerous procedures and you have a safer output) and tookits are another (by not taking a strong stance the designer avoid committing some kind of assault on audience values, so they’ll build themselves something safer). And I believe that a newer generation of gamers is demonstrating that there’s no need to be alarmed, and that they seem to be doing fine structuring games around what are supposed to be Bad Things.

    That last para is what I’m feeling now, in a nutshell. Note that none of it is about how much any particular person sucks.

    Anyway, take care! You can always email me if you have questions about my intentions, ideas, whatever.

  20. People are not alike.
    There are those you can talk to and they rest in themselves and they have no problem when you express your opinion about whatever they do. Others take offense, for one reason or another, when you just tell them they are doing it wrong (and this already accepts the rather enterprising notion that there can be somebody in a gaming group telling others off, instead of the group finding, on way or another, a consensus on what is right for them).
    This can ruin your game.
    And it helps when you tie lifelines, and lots of them, so they can take advice without losing face. It think that is especially important with gaming friends. I did not follow my own rules and now the group is breaking up.
    Assuming one can tell right or even wrong from the other is always tricky.

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