A Year of Crappy Roleplaying

Started by InkMeister, August 21, 2010, 11:52:49 PM

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Hello Forge, this is my first post here.  I've been a lurker for about a year, and have been fascinated with the ideas and theories and experiences discussed here. 

My name is Nick.  I'm 27 years old. I've been back into RPGing for about a year now.  My recent experience is primarily with D&D - a several month stint with 3.5, and a new game with 4th.   There was a dabble with Runequest and Trail of Cthulhu.   I've not GM'd since I was a teenager (then I mostly did AD&D 2e).

I've gamed with three separate groups in the last year, all in the range of 4 to 8 total players, ages varying from 12 up to 43 (averaging probably 20), and most every game has really been pretty horrible.  There have been fun moments, but they are tiny islands in a sea of lameness.   Most of us regulars are people with RPG experience, but  I've seen maybe 4 or 5 new people introduced to the RPGing through my gaming groups.   None participated beyond a session or two.  Last night was the latest initiate, and the look of dismay and annoyance on her face makes me think we would be lucky to see her return for a second go.  These games suck!   It's sad, because I know the potential for these games to be fun is there, but we are scaring off potential gamers because our games suck. 

Why do we, the regulars, come back to play again and again?  Because, on some level, I think we have fun in spite of the game.  The game is awful, but the company is fun... usually. 

So perhaps my experiences will be a bit of a case study in how games can really, really, really suck - maybe others will have similar experiences and some insight.  Here are some of the issues encountered:

1) Problem player.   In my games, this is someone who doesn't respect the game.  In the last few sessions, this has been a person who's disruptive play has occured INSIDE the game.  Specifically, his character acts like an idiot.  He jumped off a boat randomly and began sinking hundreds of feet below the surface of the ocean because he was sure - with ZERO evidence - that he would hit an air bubble and then somehow descend to the lost city of Atlantis (no evidence was given that Atlantis was even at this location).  Everyone told him not to.  He did anyway.  Character died.  He whined about it for awhile, until the GM ruled that he didn't die afterall (she took pity on him because he whined and complained - a decision I thoroughly disagree with).  This guy constantly plays his character recklessly, endangering everyone around him, purposely trying to do the most ludicrous thing possible.  The player always has this silly smile on his face, like he is making a great joke of the game.  "Look at what I can do!  I can do anything HAHAHA!!!"  I guess the best analogy is this: you and your friends are building an elaborate sand castle.  Then one of them suddenly starts destroying the towers and turrets of the castle, laughing hysterically "haha, this is fun!!!!"   Particularly annoying, this fellow, because he disrupts other people's turns constantly so that he can state his next moronic action.  It's obvious he wants to be the hysterical center of attention - a real clown... but no one is laughing.   I guess we can't kick this particular guy out (which would probably be my choice); he's related to another, much younger, player in the group.  Luckily, I think we are (as a whole group) starting to literally shame him into respecting the game...  the second best solution, I guess.  This fellow is near 18, I gather, and nearly threw a tantrum when he began to realize everyone was turning against him, recommending penalties, mocking him, treating him with disdain - truly dysfunctional "play" happening.   But he seems to be calming down...   

1a) Problem player 2, this is the ADD type player; can't focus on the game at all.  Every situation turns into a pop culture reference, or some real life anecdote, or...   anything not directly related to the game at that moment.  It might even be tangentially related to the game, but not bearing on the situation ("OH, GM!!!  When I get my next 2000 gold, I want to buy a XYZ so I can do such and such!!!" - this just as we are about to engage some orcs in vicious battle).   The game constantly starts and stops, loses focus, goes astray, because these problem players can't get into the game.   Eventually, what happens, is that the game will lose enough focus that more and more of us start this kind of joking and parodying of the game itself, and talking about completely unrelated stuff, and zoning out, and it becomes all about just socializing with friends while somewhat halfheartedly attempting to play.   I wish I could say these sort of problem players are just bored with the game in the first place, but in my experience, with one fellow in particular...  the problem player would claim to LOVE the game, and would always be the first one there... always be talking about it, etc.  It was like they couldn't focus at the moment of truth, just couldn't embrace the exploration - seemingly regardless of what the exploration involved.

2) Utter lack of focus.  I think this is in large part a CA issue.  Basically, everyone seems to have the expectation that when you get a nice group together (6 - 8 people) and play D&D, magical fun will just happen.  WRONG!!!  It sucks.  It sucks because no one really knows what they want or what to expect or what to do. 
My longest running group was DM'd by a really awesome guy (very friendly, smooth, cool, fun to be around, great as a socializer, etc).  He claimed to be really into the game for the story aspect, having taught creative writing, etc.  He runs 3.5 D&D, and it is obvious very soon that a major focus of the game is going to be about optimizing our characters - super high stats, awesome abilities, RADICAL class and race combos (basically anything goes with any D&D book you can come up with).  Truly gonzo power gaming going on.  The fellow even strongly urges some of us to take certain options because they will be "more powerful."   Fine.  So we have massive power gaming. 

But we don't play by the game's rules.   Lots of things are overlooked.  Resources aren't tracked.   Who has what spells memorized?  Doesn't matter.   Resolution mechanics are ignored (he's using D100 for things that should be standard D20 skill checks, in ADDITION to the standard skill check).  DC's are seemingly plucked from a hat, and seem very high - perhaps compensating for our awesome character powers.  New rules are used, but not explained at ANY point (like the mysterious D100 roll which happens at every skill check, or at all sorts of random points in the game).  Attacks of opportunity are ignored.  Initiative isn't consistently rolled.  Characters can buy magic items seemingly at any time, even mid-adventure in the wilderness... 

Characters are constantly getting redesigned.  An anthropomorphic ape becomes an anthropomorphic wolverine because it helps some bonuses... then he becomes an anthropomorphic cat for some other bonuses.   Feats are selected, re selected, etc, well after play has started.   Sometimes this happens right smack in the middle of a session.   No continuity, no explanation, nothing.   My character eventually went from being human to being some kind of lizard man.  It helped some of my bonuses, which the DM assured me would be important.  This was at least a month and a half into the game.   To the DM's credit, despite ignoring rules, he really, really is on top of our characters in terms of calculating bonuses, keeping track of abilities, etc. 

There is no challenge.  Encounters are very slow, but not because of crunch, and not because of difficulty, but rather because we are so disorganized as a group, and because the encounters are simply very large.   There is never any doubt that we'll simply destroy any opposition.   I learn to dread all fights, because fighting is pointless - we will win, yawn.   It's just going to bog down play into a million dice rolls - why can't we just say we won already?   By the time I quit, the game had gone on for about 4 months, weekly.  We had progressed from level 5 to level 25.   Sometimes we would go up 3 or 4 levels at the end of a session (clearly against the rules, and often after very little achievement in game)
There is no character background.  Maybe one sentence of background.  No character flaws, no interesting history, nothing to work with from the character standpoint.  No reasoning as to why we know each other or are adventuring together.  No sense of purpose. 

There is no setting background.  We know we're in some alternate Earth America.  But what are the powers in this world - governments, wizard orders, secret societies, great monsters, etc?  No idea!  There is no setting.  We just wander around having encounters, and sometimes a scenario will be thrown at us (one scenario was pretty cool; we had to investigate some murders, and it was actually fun because we had a lot of freedom in deciding how we would do it, and it seemed like we were, for once, engaging some kind of universe that existed, and we saw the consequences of our actions... and because combat was not really a big part of it).   

There is some kind of story thrust on us - I believe it's supposed to be something epic.  Something about us transporting a super artifact (we don't know what it is and can't use it) across the country, keeping it from the forces of evil (Lord of the Rings type thing?).   There are seemingly no alternatives to this main plot.  The plot sucks.  Can't do anything else because what would you do?  The game world is a big blank canvas.  I guess with more initiative we could PUSH the DM to make up new things for us to do and interact with, but with no background given us at all, we would basically have to take on some GM responsibility as players and tell the GM about his own world so that we could interact with it.  I could be wrong, but I don't think he would have gone for it; he had some definite story in mind, and beyond that, he upheld strong GM/player split.   It felt pretty damn railroady to me (he did often make little comments about how he was a story teller).   By the time I quit the game, the DM just decided to change the whole world around, and the game was happening in Europe and based in Norse mythology - a total transplant that had no in-game basis or explanation. 

So in short, there is no discernible premise, no discernible setting, no discernible genre to emulate or create, and no challenge to overcome.   I'm amazed I stayed in the game as long as I did.  It all devolved into some kind of pot-smoking / beer drinking nonsense extravaganza (it didn't start out that way at all, though - it's like drugs moved in to fill a gap in the play).   I gave up all drugs and alcohol in my life right as I was quitting the group, and came back one last time to play - totally sober - and I couldn't stomach the experience.  It was simply too awful.   I was painfully bored.  I ended up watching movies on youtube on a friend's laptop while the others played.  Some of the others were awfully interested in those youtube movies too... 

To restate: people think you can get together and good play will just happen.  I think we needed to sit down as a group and decide what we wanted.  What kind of game?  Challenge based?   Story based?   Are we going to stick to the rules?  If not, what rules do we use?   What kind of setting do we want?  What is the setting?  What happens there?  What kind of characters do we play?  Where do they come from?  What do they want?  What are their problems?   I'm not saying all these things have to be answered in the game, but as a group, we needed to pick some goals - pick something to work with.  We can flesh out characters and focus on that.  We can say "fuck the characters" and simply do challenging dungeon crawls (something I was and still am very interested in).   We could immerse in a detailed setting.  Whatever (I'm truly very open to all creative agendas).  Just SOMETHING.  FOCUS!   As a group!   

The default D&D assumption SEEMS to be that the DM creates everything; he is the keeper of the world.  He creates the game - you, as player, play.  The game just magically happens.  NO!!!  Everyone should decide together what is to be played.  Decide on tone, style, genre, focus, etc! 

3) Complicated Rules - This one bugs me a lot.  It is very hard on a game when people don't have good knowledge of the rules.  I brought a few of my non gamer friends along to play, including my girlfriend.  None lasted beyond 2 sessions.  Aside from all the BS mentioned above (problems 1 and 2), they were totally disempowered in the face of six hundred billion different options (D&D 3.5, all options allowed).  They didn't even know what the 6 basic abilities were in D&D, let alone the gajillion feats, spells, skills, etc.   Total virgin roleplayers.  The DM made them a character based on some loose conception of what they wanted to play (badass elven archer for one lady friend, and a druid/archer type for my girlfriend).  They didn't know how to play their characters, though.  What number do I use?  What option?   Etc.  Too complicated for them.   Too much investment to learn a complex system just to see if they like RPGing (and I'm pretty certain learning the system would have been a waste, since 1) the game sucked, 2) we didn't follow the system properly - just randomly). 

It goes beyond newbies, though.  If everyone isn't on board with the system, there is a problem.  What I tend to notice is varying degrees of enthusiasm about the rules.  Some people (and I'm this way with regard to 4th edition) just want to relax and PLAY.  We don't want to study a new system and learn all the neat tricks to make a super character.  We want to engage a situation with minimal system getting in the way (I, for one, love roleplaying through situations, not having to use any mechanic to decide what happens).  Others want to twink a bit (and I recognize surely that this can be fun) and be able to handle anything.  They have the time and interest to really learn the system.  From a crunch/challenge standpoint, this is a big problem.  How do you run any kind of gamist/tactical/strategic/resource managing game when half the players don't know the rules?   In my present D&D 4e game, the DM doesn't even know most of the rules, just the broad strokes.   I, for one, just want to play basic D&D (literally, B/X D&D.)   I don't want to have to scan 10 pages to see what power options are available to my wizard, then 5 pages to find out my skills, then 10 pages to find out my feats, then ........  So the complexity of system, particularly when you aren't enthused by a system, can be a major barrier.  I want to role play, but my group wants to use this system!  AGH! 


Admittedly, I'm all over the place.  It's a broad post, trying to summarize with some small examples why I think a year of RPG experience deserves the grade of F.  I hope to do more detailed and focused posts on specific issues I've had, later. 

Before I quit, though, I'd like to throw a few ideas out there.   A week ago, I had a good experience.   In my new D&D group, one of the players decided to run a Cthulhu game for us - a one shot.  It was actually surprisingly fun.  There were problems (the idiot gamer who wants to experiment with just how stupidly he can play any particular game, for one), but by and large, it was fun.   I noticed other players saying very positive things about it, and comparing it favorably with D&D.   Why?  Why the difference?

This is what I think: it worked in large part because it was a one shot.  By nature, it had an intense focus that these drawn out, pointless D&D games have not had.  We were to investigate a storefront/residence in the 1930's, and recover some boxes with, as it turns out, occult artifacts.  We get trapped in the house, realize quickly that there are strange supernatural happenings tied to the artifacts, and the game quickly becomes about finding out what the artifacts are, and how the hell to escape.  Of course we all died (in part because the idiot player mentioned above murdered us because he thought it would be funny), but the scenario was engaging. 

Our characters were pre-gens with background that linked them together (we were criminals - I was a bookie, my associates were hired muscle, cat burglers, etc).   The scenario was predefined.   The goal was made explicit (go to house, retrieve objects.......  oh!  We're trapped!   Find out what's going on so we can hopefully escape with our lives and our sanity!). 

In short, the game had focus.

I'm becoming interested in running a game of my own, and I think what MAY work for groups such as I've played with, is serious, explicit gamism with a simple ruleset (B/X D&D, or some OD&D clone), in the one-shot format.   Sit the players down and say, "look, guys, this is a game.   Here is the situation.   Here is the goal.  It will be challenging; there are multiple loss conditions, ranging from death to failing to complete the scenario.  Failure is a real possibility.  You have 4 hours to try to win.  Go!"   I'd probably want to game it up as much as possible, with acknowledgement for most badass move, best strategy, etc.   Maybe even break the scenario down into checkpoints, so that players could achieve 70 percent victory (to be announced AFTER the game, of course), not completely unlike, say, Ninja Warrior (TV show).  The game would not be about character - no need to dream up a life story or come up with some heavy character premise.   It wouldn't be about some big sandbox world.   It would be a tightly defined scenario with win/loss conditions, where players must step up and see what they can do.   

I don't know.  In a way, the above is contradicting the idea that everyone should cooperate in trying to decide what sort of game to run, what sort of creative agenda to embrace, what system to use, what techniques and setting to use, etc...   But at the same time, I think a more top down approach, combined with such focus, could be helpful, whereas a more direct critique of the present game could be taken much more personally and cause offense.   I've not found it fruitful to discuss theory or to offer constructive criticism to a GM or play group thus far.    People seem to just assume they are doing it right, no matter how crappy the sessions are (and the sessions are crappy - if they weren't, people wouldn't be texting, playing on their laptops, talking loudly on other topics, acting bored and frustrated, etc).   I wonder if simply embracing a very focused style with a one shot game might SHOW them what might work, rather than telling them.   I don't know.   I do know my group is open to other people running games/sharing the GM duties. 

This post is as worthy as any other for the comment "TL;DR."  I understand.   If anyone wants to comment, feel free to comment on any single part, or ask questions on any single part.  Or just ignore it.  My future posts will be far more focused; consider this one more of an introduction, but conversation/discussion is welcome.


Mike Sugarbaker

Welcome to the Forge.

How old are these people?

And why is It-Would-Be-Funny Boy still getting invited to the game?
Publisher/Co-Editor, OgreCave
Caretaker, Planet Story Games
Content Admin, Story Games Codex


Hello Mike, thanks for the welcome. 

In the longer running game (3.5 D&D), the DM was 43.  All but two of the group were 25+. 

In the newer, more promising game, we have 2 older teenagers, one 13 year old, a 20 year old DM, and some other college kids who might be 20-22.   Younger group.  One fellow who might be older than I (maybe 30). 

I don't think age is the issue, for the most part.   Especially considering the older crowd's game was a good bit worse. 

The Foolish One is invited back because he is a family friend of the DM, and the older brother of another player in the group.  It sucks.  The DM gets very frustrated with him, but she doesn't want to kick him out (too nice, I think).


Ron Edwards


I think this is going to be the basis for some serious discussion. I will be back with some heavy replies in a day or so.

Best, Ron


Hey Ron, I have read a number of your essays, posts, etc, and admire your work.  I look forward to any discussion.  To you and anyone else, I'm open to any questions, comments, insights, criticisms, related experiences, thoughts...   Looking forward to it. 


Paul Czege

Hey Nick,

A 43 year old female DM running a game for 4-8 twentysomething guys? How'd you hook up with this group? What can you say about the DM outside the game?

"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton



I have to apologize for the overly vague descriptions on my part.  I wanted to leave out names, but I can see how that is confusing.  At the same time, I was generalizing from my experiences, and didn't expect the individual details to be of interest - but it is fine if they are.  As I said, I'm happy to answer any questions.

So, to be clear, the DM of my first group was a 43 year old male.  This was the 3.5 D&D power gaming group.  There was one regular female gamer in that group, who is NOW the 20 year old DM of the present 4th edition group.  This newer 4th edition group contains the player who likes to do very disruptive, crazy things in-game (and out of game, too, frankly).   I mentioned a third group in my post, but didn't go into any detail about them - there was no need, the game sucked for reasons already mentioned with regard to the other groups (mainly #2 "unfocused" - not so much problem players in this case).   

Each of the three groups have one or two common members (though the first group has disbanded).  It all started with me approaching the 43 old DM about getting a game going.  I knew him casually, but saw a post of his on the internet for D&D, and so I got really excited and thought "YES, I finally know someone else into this hobby."  We got the ball rolling, and various friends and people met through the internet joined.   I'm just amazed so many of us stayed involved for so long.   

I guess a question I have for YOU all (any readers) - a question that helped prompt me to write this whole thing - is this: is this how gaming often is?  Is this common?    If I were to base my thinking on RPGing off of just my last year of play, I'd think it was hopelessly stupid.   I stick with it because I remember it being more interesting as a teenager, and because I read such fascinating ideas and games online, and it sounds amazing.   

Maybe I expect too much, but I doubt it...   The games I play in make no sense.  People end up acting stupid.  There is no character development.  No compelling story.  No real motivation.  No real excitement.   No point.  No challenge.   I read GNS theory and I think about these creative agendas, and I think "wow!  ALL of this sounds so cool!"   I'd love to do a game with Fate and see how the different mechanics tie character to setting, for example.  I'd love to do some kind of simulationist, immersive game.  I'd love to do crazy old-school D&D dungeon crawls with high PC casualty rates.   But the games I play in seem terribly unfocused.   Like I said, it's as if we all expect that just getting together and playing D&D is going to be cool.  But then we run into a wall.

Here are parts of the wall, as I see it.  We don't sit down as a group to decide what kind of game we want.  So we end up kind of creating characters in isolation (even if we are at the table at the same time, it's isolated).  All the character development is mechanical.  No real background or connection to the world.   And we don't have much input regarding the world (because, traditionally, and conventionally, that's the DM's job).  The DM ends up just saying "you are here, what do you do?"  But how do we decide what to do when we don't know anything about the world?   No character... no world...   So what do you do?   

Maybe the above could work if the game were more focused in a scenario involving a challenging situation (I'm thinking gamist structure).  You wouldn't need an elaborate setting, and you wouldn't need character development.  Just roleplay the situation and try to win.  That would be cool...  Except I think everyone I play with is bogged down under this notion that 1) an RPG can't be a simple win/lose game (that would be, I guess, too low-brow or simple), AND also 2) that an RPG needs to be geared towards extended campaign play.   Too bad, because I think the simplicity of a straight up gamist approach might give us the focus to actually enjoy RPGing on SOME level.  And given that our games are geared towards extended play, there is a strong drive on the part of GM's, I think, to not let anything too bad happen to the characters.  Players might get upset if they die (this hasn't really happened, though... no one ever dies...  so I don't know why people are afraid to see a PC die.) 

In other words, there is no story, no setting...   To me, that leaves the remote possibility of a focused, challenging gamist structure - which I think the group might really go for if it occured to them that you can play an RPG in such a "low-brow" way.  But then we can't do the gamist thing, because there really are no loss conditions...  There is nothing to prove. 

This is why I say our games are unfocused.   It's like we try to do everything, or expect that everything will just happen by the simple act of getting together to play an RPG, and we end up going nowhere.  And everyone is so protected that there is no way to suffer or die or fail in the game, so whatever we accomplish has no meaning in even the most basic challenge sense.   there is literally no point to what we do. 

Does anyone else experience this?   If I had to guess, just based on my own thinking and my own experiences, I would think this experience is extremely common.   Perhaps not here, but in general...    But I could be wrong. 



Sorry to double post, but I think this is important in response to Paul's question:

Both of the DM's I've mentioned are really neat people outside of the game.  I'd say they are well rounded, intelligent, sociable, friendly, outgoing...   Genuinely likeable people.   The 43 year old guy DM is always fun to talk to... funny, friendly, cool.   The younger lady DM is very sharp and good with people as well. 

Outside of the game, I honestly like almost all the people I game with - even, though to a lesser degree, the annoying and disruptive ones.  The thing is, before gaming with them, I didn't know a lot of these people.   I think, generally speaking, all these people like each other, as well.  I think that's the main reason we come back week after week.  We really like each other, and we do have fun, but it's IN SPITE of the game, not because of it.  And when the game starts getting really bad, we end up joking and laughing and making fun of the game, and getting crazy.   We end up becoming kind of like that ADD player I mentioned in the first post - we joke, we disrupt, we ignore the game to have conversations about whatever.  Something will happen in the game and it'll turn into a joke, or a parody of itself, for no reason (I'm as guilty of this as anyone).  Things get really loose and disorganized, but still kind of fun.  What becomes unfun is the feeling we have to keep plugging along with the game, because it's D&D night.  Still, we all consistently show up, and if I had to guess, I would say that we all genuinely want the game to be good.   We want to roleplay and have cool in-game experiences.  We want to use our imaginations and face challenges and create stories.   I think a lot of the problem is that, as a group, we don't know how to make it happen.  We aren't focused.



find better players.  This is really it.  If you like playing but don't enjoy who you are playing with - change the group.  Kick out who you can, or find a completely different group.  Check online for other players in your area.  The players make the gaming experience.

I checked online for some players and met a guy who was new to the area who wanted to GM a game.  We found another player and his sister.  The player claimed he wanted a "heroic" game.  We discovered that to him heroic meant powerful.  His character concept was the most powerful mage in the world who was feared and respected.  The GM and I stopped playing with them and found others.  It sucked to not play for a few months while we looked, but it was better than playing in a game we didn't like.


oh, and for a simple system you might try Savage Worlds.  Vastly simpler than D&D.
I also like BASH for a simple superhero game, they supposedly have a fantasy version as well.

There are simple but good games out there if your interest is playing the game rather than building characters.


In response to your question, yes gaming can often be like that mostly because the games havent provided much focus for what the activity is supposed to be, but it doesnt have to be.  If you can find a focus and convey it to the group things tend to run much smoother.

Sounds like you've managed to analyze the problems quite well.  In big Model terms you've picked up on the Social Contract problems (the guy there have fun at others expense)  the lack of Creative Agenda to focus your game and at the technical level you've realized your not all that into complex rule systems. 

I think your idea for a focused gamist approach sounds ideal for your group.  Check out this link for a strong example of a gamist scenario  that doesnt suffer from not being connected to the game world.  It has a solid setting that has impact on the game. http://www.indie-rpgs.com/archive/index.php?topic=21227.0

IMO picking out a system for such a game isnt all that hard.  If you are comfortable with B/X D&D then by all means use it.  The rules in these systems (D&D, Rifts from the example above, Savage Worlds from what I know of it) dont really accomplish anything all that complicated.  By that I mean the rules mostly deal with combat situations which are important but like in the example above they dont totally determine succes and failure.  It's up to the GM to determine timing considerations and how they affect the scenario as well as judging what affect players plans and schemes will have on the action, not to mention deciding on what opposition they will face.

I think the solid focus should help with some of your social issues but you really have to be firm about poor actions that lead to failure.  Firm but fair is the old school D&D mantra and it applys in this case, dont let a bad impression from previous games spoil your judgement but if he puts his character in danger let him face the consequences.


Hello Forge,

I've been a long time lurker, but was moved to post because my gaming group was stuck in a similar situation to InkSpot's and we just recently seem to be pulling out of it. I think the hardest first step was just bringing up the topic that you weren't happy with the game situation (constructively, instead of the usual Upper Midwestern gamer tradition of saying nothing until you find an excuse to explode and stomp away). It took a while - switching to mostly board games and discussing what we were looking for in a rpg for a year, and involved uninviting several regular participants (who we'd been gaming with for more than 20 years) until they dealt with their out of game behavior issues.

One of the big things we insisted on when starting this new campaign (Gurps 4E fantasy - I hope to post game reports at some point) is that all our characters had a common background (working for the 'Lorekeepers', an ancient group of knowledge collectors - also sort of fun because we have several librarians in the group) to avoid the 'why are our characters together in the first place' issue.

- Eric

Ron Edwards

Hi Nick (and Eric too, welcome Eric!),

A lot of what came to mind after reading your first post has been covered already, and probably better, by Caldis and others. Here's my take on a couple of the last points.

First, after a lot of wrangling in earlier Forge discussions, it became clear that the relationship among (i) liking other people, (ii) being friends with them, and (iii) gaming successfully with them are really hard to tease apart. Especially since in our gamer culture, or more generally along the lines of the famous Five Geek Social Fallacies, it's often considered rude and evil to talk as if they were different things.

Although it's pretty clear that (i-iii) are related, or can be, or come to be, I don't know if we ever managed to get a good clear picture here.

However, a while ago, I was a little more successful in thinking about how in most social, leisure activities, especially those which rely on the participants doing something rather than merely spectating, everyone pretty much grasps that the following three things have be the case:

1. "I" (meaning each of the participants) must want to do this thing, at this moment at least, more than I want to do any other thing that we might be doing for fun.

2. "I" (same thing) want to do this thing with these particular people, because I like the way they do it with me.

3. Finally, we all understand that this thing requires a certain attention to do it well and most enjoyably, and we are going to help one another maintain that attention, and reinforce it when we see one another do it.

Again, thinking specifically in terms of what people get together to do, in groups, for fun, I can't think of anything in which those three statements are not baseline expectations. Even someone who's lukewarm on one of them is expected to step up a little to fill in that gap, and no one who is demonstrably wholly uncommitted to any one of these things will be invited back to do it again.

... except for hobby gaming. It's kind of appalling how thoroughly this set of expectations is not only left out of talking about the activity, but even rejected out of hand in many cases.

So Nick, I bring this up because I totally accept that you do like these folks, or most of them ... but I'm saying that liking people is not actually the same as those three baseline points. In fact, friendship itself (in the sense that friendship is a more dedicated thing than merely liking someone) isn't the same either. If I'm not mistaken, the problems you're talking about arise out of not having that baseline. I'm not there, though, not playing with these people or knowing them, so I'm interested to know if that makes any sense or seems helpful.

Best, Ron


Hi Nick,

I'll have to come back to your post and take some time to digest it, but it sounds like some of what you're dealing with has relation to some things I've written about:


The core issue of all three of those is that for any game to work, everyone has to actually want to play -this- game, -this- way, and, somehow, to coordinate that.  Roleplaying culture has notoriously engaged in a lot of traditions which make that very difficult to achieve.

It'll probably be a few days before I can post in detail.


Callan S.

It's worth raising the idea that in terms of doing this thing, alot of roleplay texts are actually disruptive to this qualification, giving one person the idea this thing is X, another that this thing is Y and another that it's Z. Other games, like chess, give everyone an the exact same understanding of what this thing is. While roleplay games have been scrambling peoples brains on it for years.

Or so I'd suggest they have. If anyone thinks they haven't, I'd just ask; what would a game have to read like to give people different impressions of what this thing is? Then compare that to traditional RPG texts.

So I suggest you've had one basic requirement undermined by the text itself, pretty much your whole roleplay career.