Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Your Problem is Not My Problem

"Your problem is not my problem" sounds more flippant that I really intend it to be, but one thing I've noticed in talking to people online about D&D is that a lot of people have concerns that just wouldn't have ever occurred to me on my own. In the examples below, I'm specifically talking about problems that some DMs encounter that don't factor into how I run games; some of these I understand, and some of these are just plain alien to how I approach gaming.

The Character Information Problem
Recently I was in a thread on G+ where several people expressed that they have difficulty keeping track of all the player characters' powers, spells, and abilities in medium-to-heavy complexity games. This one baffles me; when I'm running a game I don't focus at all on what the player characters can do--that's the job of the player of the character because I've got enough on my plate as it is when I'm busy being everything else besides the players' characters.

If I need to adjudicate a rule in play regarding a character's ability, I ask the player to tell me what it does or I have them read me the text of the ability from the book if we've got a question about how it works. It's their responsibility to keep track of it because it is an aspect of the game attached to their particular character. I think of it like this: if someone is playing chess, and they don't know how the knight moves so they never move it, well, that's on them. 

The Cleric Problem
This one I understand: D&D's archetypal cleric just doesn't fit into the campaign settings some DMs want to play in. As a character class, the cleric is such a D&Dism; it doesn't really have much in the way of antecedents in the literature that inspired the game, or even in fantasy in general until the fantasy began to respond to D&D's cultural and aesthetic influence. For example, if you want to run a game that is true to the sword & sorcery genre, the cleric fits badly. 

The most obvious "solution," simply taking the cleric out of the game, presents some mechanical difficulties; in many editions of the game, healing magic is mainly sequestered in the cleric's hands, and without it the game's balance can be thrown off. Luckily for me, the cleric class tends to fit my settings pretty well. In my Krevborna setting, for example, the idea of a divinely-empowered inquisitor, a fanatical exorcist, or a vampire-hunting priest hits the aesthetic conventions I'm going for. 

The Game With No Players Problem
Offering up a game is a way of putting yourself out there; I have sympathy for people who are trying to get a game together but are struggling to find players because if people aren't interested in your game, that probably feels like rejection. My sympathy ends, however, when that feeling of rejection becomes a jealous hostility toward people running games that have no problems attracting players who want to play in them. Instead of moaning "My game is more fun than that guy's game, why aren't people playing in my campaign instead of theirs?" consider what the people who are running successful, beloved games are doing to make their games attractive and figure out how to incorporate that into your own games.

Part of this problem is that a lot of DMs construct their philosophy of what makes a "good game" from bad sources. Instead of thinking about the things they could do to get the game experience they want, they default to theories and perspectives that have more ideological value when arguing about games on forums than they have in utility value for games being played. Not all advice about how to run a game is equal. I have my own opinion on this. Mathematically speaking: Advice from DMs who frequently and currently run games that people are excited about is greater than:

  • Advice from DMs who maybe ran some games "back in the day." 
  • Advice from "game designers" who don't actually seem to run games. 
  • Advice from people who design games that few people are interested in.
  • Grognard consensus about the "right" way to play D&D.

So instead of deciding to die alone on a lonely hill of bitterness because other people are running games that people want in on, consider asking them what they're doing and what is working for them. Maybe people aren't interested in your game because you're presenting limited player options, maybe you're so invested in the metaphysics or history of your setting players feel like they're just along for the ride--but you might not figure that out until you honestly compare your techniques and ideas against those of people who are getting the kind of results you want.