Sunday, 13 September 2009

whose koolaid is it anyway?

The ROLPUNK manifesto (capitals by Berin Kinsman) is a timely warning.  Our blogosphere has become privy to camps warming themselves by flames of discussions on which edition or play style is best to the point it's more discourses & diatribes than Dungeons & Dragons.  People are attituding out of their games to find play they like and the seriousness of such discussions waxes gibbous indeed.

Yet it isn't unexpected and we shouldn't be surprised. Gary Gygax (remember him?) is famed for his quote:
"The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don't need any rules."
The journey to find that flow of enjoyable and pervasive play spawned multiple games; multiple styles of play, multiple stances a player can take.  Yet in all this ephemera, something risks being lost.  Not unlike how 'high-concept' music from musicians like Emerson, Lake & Palmer occured just before punk sprang on the scene, it appears indie gamers may have the hearts and minds (if not the market share) of the tabletop RPG audience.  And Ron Edwards may have tapped into why.

I have met dozens, perhaps over a hundred, very experienced roleplayers with this profile: a limited repertoire of games behind him and extremely defensive and turtle-like play tactics. [...H]e hunkers down and does nothing unless there's a totally unambiguous lead to follow or a foe to fight. His universal responses include, "My guy doesn't want to," and, "I say nothing."

I have not, in over 20 years of roleplaying, ever seen such a person have a good time roleplaying. I have seen a lot of groups founder due to the presence of one such participant. Yet they really want to play...

The Forge currently has more authority on Technorati than Wizards of the Coast and last I checked, there were a lot more D&D fans (and blogs) than for indie games!  So why aren't they linking back?  Is it a choice or did the GSD website policy hit that low?  The Internet isn't the be-all and end-all but it's a significant indicator of mood and trend.

The Old School Renaissance has addressed simplicity of play by use of retro-clone games, stripped down mechanics and clarity of purpose has invigorated gamers.  Yet it may have contributed to the turtle play style - if you're willing to game, expect regular attrition and cultivate detachment to your character.  This is agon (win/lose) style play, no save points, no taking back. 

So people look at how to enable rewarding play, to encourage fiero (triumph), kenosis (immersion) and paida (fun).  I've said before that 4E is a great entry-level game, not least for it's advice on how to play and DM, yet it's relentless publication cycle and conservative marketing approach where the Internet is involved do it no favours.  Some are already performing the last rites.

In our attempts to find flowing play via Gygax's Big Secret, our attitude and communication steer the ship and how players engage with a game is key - the presence of MMORPGs make engaging, simplified, challenging play a priority.  The ROLPUNK manifesto urges people to get out there and play without prejudice; to pick up what works and run with it.  Now is the autumn of our discontent it seems.


  1. I worked with kids for over 12 years and introduced a few to RPGs. All of them had experience with the card games, such as Yugioh (sp?) or Pokeman. Each one had a similar approach toward the RPG, they didn't want to lose. The concept of having a game that has no winner or loser was completely alien to them. They would look through the books and wouldn't have even started playing yet and they would want all the most powerful items given to them.

    To try and staunch that approach I told the one boy that he was the most powerful being in the universe all he had to do was think it and it would be done. You want all the money in the world? Bam. You got it. You want everyone to worship you? Bam. Everyone falls on their knees before you. You want all the powerful items in the world? Bam. Got all those now too. All enemies are dead. Everything is under your control and everything you want is gotten. Now what?

    Gratefully, the kid got what I was trying to say and started out at the beginning and learned to have a good time playing the game.

    It's a mindset that needs to be retrained. A lot of the kids that come to RPG table with nothing but card game experience have trouble grasping the general philosophy of an RPG. It takes time, but is doable. I was able to convert a few to playing RPGs and I know one is running his first campaign.

    I never get into discussions of which game system is better, but rather what each has to offer. Since these are kids generally from poor families they tend to gravitate to the game that they can get the cheapest. I know a few games where the kids are playing the 1st edition of Vampire the Masquerade because the used book store had a bunch of the books cheap.

    In Ron Edwards quote, I know exactly what he is talking about. But there is a reason, a source where this attitude is learned.

  2. First, I have to compliment you on your links to fiero, kenosis and paida. I absolutely ADORE getting hijacked to adware/trojan browser sites that I can't get rid of without either hosing my system, or ending task on a process. Thanks for that.

    Second, Ron Edwards and The Forge really aren't an authority on anything. The pseudo-intellectualism that he and his toadies try to force on everyone is a complete load of pig feces.

    No linking back? That should give you a measure of the credibility of Edwards and The Forge.

  3. I've seen both attitudes at the table, exercised by gamers of different age groups. Usually you can reign in 'god mode' by showing them consequences and challenging them to think outside the box. If that doesn't work suggest they work their need to vent out on video games.

    I've seen 'turtle' play blossom under DMs who take agon play very seriously and who use peer pressure to encourage their style and attitudes in others. To them, gaming is serious business and almost a pack dominance thing - if you don't agree with that call then you're clearly wrong and a loser!

    I've found a good way to encourage evolution from turtle style is to give the odd small victory while gently rebutting any boundary tests/god moding by consequence-based situations. Laying the smackdown at the table is not a good approach as it's counterproductive unless it's a gross breach.

    I hear you on playing what you can get. This is why I've got a lot of respect for homebrew systems and retro-clone publishers who are encouraging play! I can relate to ROLPUNK's approach (even if the f-words detract from the message) because it's about playing your way.

  4. Sorry to hear about your bad experience. Even though I've checked the links and couldn't find any malware I've removed the links and uploaded the definitions in a virus-checked PDF file (link here) for people's reviewing pleasure.

    Ron Edwards and the Forge have provoked needed discussion; while I don't agree with everything he and others have said, I've seen ultra-defensive players in action and he's right on them wanting to play and not enjoying it when they do. And I agree with him that it's sad and needs to change.

    As for there being no linkbacks to the Forge, I think you may find this page enlightening as people are apparently linking back there. Imagine.

    To quote Mark Twain "It were not best that we should all think alike..." so I'm of the view that we agree to disagree on your views and leave it at that.

  5. Interesting post.

    As someone who is completely buying into the ROLPUNK thing, I can't imagine how anyone could link it to one style of play. Berrin really did a great thing with its focus on PLAY, not posture.

    I ROLPUNK. I do it when I play B/X D&D as much as when I break out Vampire the Requiem or sit down for a game of 4e.

  6. Thanks! I'm for the manifesto as it reminds people to play first and not let opinions get in the way of their enjoyment. Yet formation of opinion is an inevitable part of play. Either play ticks boxes or doesn't and the attitude of discontent with the status quo drives innovation, simplification or Ebay sales

    Retro clones would not exist without the discontent with later editions. Story games fulfill a style whose needs are not met by other games and devised a whole new language doing so. All systems and settings can be ROLPUNK'd but what consequences does only playing your way have?

    I think we all play our way within existing frameworks agreed around the table - defined by system and setting unless you're an auteur that improvs or freeforms something else... which may be fun but it's not B/X's Known World nor Vampire: the Requiem nor 4E's (pick your fave setting).

    And if your group was expecting those things and doesn't get them - what happens next? Is it radical or a mess? What if your way diverges from the genre norms or rules? Play within the boundaries and drink the koolaid or push/pull others to your thinking and be a fascist? Some choice!

    Consensus is compromise - ever play Vampire when one player has a mage? Is it the same game? Is an all-vampire coterie a better idea to explore the themes and tropes of Vampire or is the presence of a human mage going to provide contrast and will a living Masquerade breach pose unique challenges?

    Which one ticks your boxes? And is compromise the hidden key to ROLPUNK?


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