Friday, November 4, 2011

Table Manners: A response to Noisms

Noisms pointed out some subjects D&D RPG bloggers tend to avoid, and I saw Simon is going to rise to the occasion as well.  Plus, there are many comments at Noisms's place - here are some more!  It's a perfect lazy Friday post.

There is an entire social side of the hobby that doesn't get touched on much in the blogs or the published game books.  I haven't had the chance to get onto any of the Google+ games, but this would be the best reason for me to be a player out there; one of the surest ways to improve as a DM is to play with some great DMs and see how they handle their tables.

Here are some practices from Table Beedo:

Roleplaying, Voices, and Roll-playing
I don't mind hamming up characters, taking on some physical characteristics of an NPC from time to time, and I have a long history in the 90's doing all those character-driven White Wolf games.  That stuff is GREAT when it comes from the DM.  But whenever a player disagrees with the group and starts in with "My character would/would not choose X for role playing reasons…", it's going to lead to tears and breaking glass.

D&D is a cooperative game of problem solving and adventure, and there's no place for role playing choices that inhibit group play; the needs of the many outweigh the few. Player-versus-Player conflict is not accepted or wanted.  I don't mind players discussing role playing choices out-of-character and coming to a consensus, but any time we've had players that have stolen the spotlight and warped the game around their in-character dramatic role playing choices, they haven't lasted long in my group.

For that reason, I'm really dubious about alignment, and many of the sub-classes in AD&D, because they come with built-in agendas that can warp group play - Paladins, Rangers, Assassins, Druids - bah.  They're all banned unless the group clamors for one.  Our current group does indeed have a Paladin, but that's because they have a powerful Cleric that was already guiding party activities towards "good" versus the roguish pillaging they were engaging in earlier in the campaign.  As a group, they cheerfully agreed that a Paladin was a good idea when one of the kids suggested making one.  At that point, I concede; it's their group.

I've had plenty of "evil" characters in my games in the past, and they bring a lot of drama and interest, as long as the evil acts happen off screen or back in town, and involve NPCs.  When it's adventure time, it's team time.  For instance, one campaign had a callous and slimy Magic User that tended to overuse Charm Person whenever he was passing through a place, leaving behind a slew of cheated merchants and pregnant farm girls.  He was shockingly despicable, but during adventures, he was all business; no PvP action in sight.

So that's my line - role playing enhances the game and makes the experience fun, but the moment it crosses over into a distraction from group goals and makes the game less fun for everyone else, you need to take that person aside and have The Talk.  This happens all the time with the kids, and once you explain to them that D&D is a team sport, the kids usually get it.  It's the immature adults who respond with, "F-U, Beedo, I'm taking my Half-Orc Cleric/Assassin and going to play World of Warcraft on a PvP Server."

Snacks, Breaks, and Booze
I host like 90% of the time, and players bring snacks; each week the snack duty rotates, and the snack person brings a few bags of chips and pretzels.  During important sessions and boss showdowns, some wise guy might bring chocolate covered donuts or Pop'Ems in an effort to cloud my judgment; curse them for knowing the DM's weaknesses.

We only play three or so hours, so we don't take breaks - folks just wander out as necessary.  These days we go with water only; there are kids at the game and a few of the guys have to drive, but we've had beer at game night in the past.  For that matter, every game night starts with The Song:  the theme for Monday Night Football.  The only thing better each week than the kick off for Monday Night Football is kicking off game night.

Other curious table habits:  the bringer of snacks is also the party "Caller" for the night; this ensures the duty rotates around the table and every body gets a chance to be the table boss.  Weekly snack duty comes along with an honorary title, such as Ceasar Octavius Snackius, Thurston J Snackwell the 3rd, or Spongebob Snackpants.  This week, snacks will be brought in by JR, in the role of alien snackoid from the planet Snack.  (It's true, I can be amused by really dumb things like making up a weekly snack title.)

The Absent Player
You cede control over your character's life when you miss a game, and the other players run the guy like a henchman.  Pretty much everyone is a friend or acquaintance of each other, so they don't go out of there way to abuse the characters of missing players, but it's also true that those guys tend to be the ones that open doors and test potions.  Just saying.

Talking About the Hobby
The first rule of Fight Club….

On a more serious note, I'm long past caring what people think about gaming.  I've got a successful career, awesome family; I'm very open about my enjoyment of history, fantasy, horror and sci-fi literature, and running a weekly D&D game.  You get used to reactions that run the gamut from embarrassed chuckles ("You still play that game from the 80's?"), shocked incredulity ("That game's not evil?") and the occasional approval ("Very cool, I wish I had a group near me").  My neighborhood has a few dads who play, and a few who nod politely and don't let their kids over because they're close-minded.  C'est la vie.

The funny thing about explaining gaming to interested newbies is that it's become easier to discuss video games like Zelda or WOW, and then just say this is like playing those games from the time before computers.  Ouch.

Narrative Style
I believe in progressive elaboration, start bland and high level, and reveal more details as the group asks questions and investigates.  I'm not shy of big words, but I understand that long descriptions put people to sleep, and folks can't parse too many things at one time in short term memory.


  1. Here's mine:

  2. "I'm really dubious about alignment, and many of the sub-classes in AD&D, because they come with built-in agendas that can warp group play - Paladins, Rangers, Assassins, Druids - bah"

    My thoughts exactly! I just can't really imagine how any of those characters (with the possible exception of the assassin) can really fit in with your typical group of adventurers. I suppose "typical" varies from game to game though...

  3. Agreed, thanks for sharing your reflections and insights. Your game sounds like one I'd want to play in!

  4. As a player I will admit to often having to bite my tongue and go along with the group in spite of in character reasons not to. But, while I don't want to bring the table down, making these character compromises really drains the fun out for me.

    Often, another player or two will come to my rescue, and in character, persuade me. Which is fun for everyone. We don't hold up action, we just char between rounds.

    However, using your Paladin/Cleric example, let me ask you this:

    Say the Cleric meets a messy demise, and for whatever reason, the Paladin isn't the moral compass that his predecessor was. Would you allow the Paladin player to retire the character and roll a new one more in line with the groups more mercenary bent?