Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I'm in a Different Hobby than All These Other Folks...

My ranty rant here may have been a bit over the edge, but my "I'm washing my hands of them and declaring them a completely different hobby altogether," line seems to have raised a few eyebrows.

Here are some examples of why I feel this way. Admittedly, these are cherrypicking other internet nutcases in order to make my case, but... it's a scary internet out there.

Check this out. "My players wasted time looking for stuff that wasn't there. Was I wrong to have it not be there?" Perhaps it's a nice thought exercise about how to run games, so the premise really isn't that absurd (my opinion on the matter is included in that thread), but it's this inanity that really makes me want to hand myself by my dicebag drawstrings. This guy who claims that a flying wizard with no stairway access would break his suspension of disbelief because... he feels the flying wizard would need stairs sometime, just because. And then there's Mr. "Gaming is a Wonderful Fancyland", who declares that whatever feels most happy at the time is the correct thing to do.

Sometimes players just suck, and sometimes even excellent players get sidetracked with nonsense or don't figure something out right away. Crappy players don't improve by caving in, and excellent players will appreciate that an earned victory means more than one given to them because that was the most fun thing to do at that moment.

Reading some of the responses in that thread, I get the feeling that they'd be happier if the ref, or GM, or Player Fun-Facilitator or whatever his title is, should just throw the adventure down in front of the players and ask for the players' descriptions of how their characters beat the adventure and call it a game.

I guess this is all part of the greater phenomenon of thinking everything has to be awesome at all times. That shit-ass website calls this The Rule of Cool. Basically, this rule says that if you numb someone with sensory overload, you can do anything, and they'll like it, and they think this is a good thing. is a top driver of traffic to this site since somebody over there completely misinterpreted my I Hate Fun thing, and it's also a piece of shit website because instead of exposing the cliché garbage that TV peddles (like I was hopeful it would do from its name), it peddles these clichés as true and awesome culture, else it wouldn't be repeated so often on TV, right? TV is our god.

The Rule has its adherents in RPG circles as well. There's a load on Recent blog posts here and here advocate it. Robin D. Laws was all about this in his much lauded Robin's Laws book.

You know what? Cool stuff is cool, but the Rule of Cool is absolute Crap and following it, especially on the spur of the moment, will lead to more Mortal Kombat II finales than it will... um... I really can't think where The Rule of Cool ended well, ever. That Was Cool is a fleeting fart of a sensation. That Was Well-Done and/or That Was Impressive are completely different sensations and ones more well worth pursuing.

I'll tell you another idea-pox upon this hobby that I supposedly share with thousands of people across the globe:

All RPGs are wish-fulfillment. Unless there is a "Full-time Paid Referee: The RPG" or a "No Conflict, You're Just Always Right: The RPG" out there, this is pure hogwash from my point of view. Most activities that occur in RPGs are things that I would never want to do, even if I knew I would always succeed in the end. I have taken absolutely zero steps in my life towards becoming rich, or a great warrior, or much of anything besides a big blow-hard that pontificates about shit with zero meaning to the "big picture," really. Being powerful and able to kick ass is all well and good, but frankly if I was in a situation where being powerful and kicking ass was something that had to be done, I'd feel pretty shitty about the whole thing. It doesn't matter if I somehow could handily dispose of (in whatever genre-appropriate fashion) a gang of thugs that was trying to mug me... the fact that someone tried to mug me would ruin my evening regardless of whether they took a dime or whether I got a scratch on me or not.

And as a referee I design dark and dangerous hellholes. As if I'd build a house full of man-eating tigers and booby-traps if I ever won the lottery and had enough money to make my every wish come true.

In fact, people who do use RPGs as wish fulfillment are really kind of sad. You really want to be a dashing hero (or explorer, or murderer, or whatever)? Then go do it and stop sitting around pretending to do it!

I can't be arsed to search out other living examples of these-people-aren't-doing-the-same-activity-I-am I've read recently, but there is a lot of the type that inspired the I Hate Fun essay going around the message boards. Lots of talk about game balance (I think precipitated by the above factors to provide a "safe adventuring environment" which is about as oxymoronic a phrase as there is), lots of talk about miniatures (can we at least be unanimous that miniatures collecting and painting - and LARPing, while we're here - are separate, although related, hobbies from role-playing?), dead games and the horridness/impracticality thereof (that's right, games not currently in print and easily available and actively supported by a slew of totally game-changing new rules don't really count to a lot of people... can you imagine AD&D 1E with a new Unearthed Arcana appearing every month or two? Fuck), discussion on licensed RPGs (and the apparent necessity to have a separate one to play that setting since a complete game these days comes with a setting so of course you can't use an existing game to... AARRRGGHH), the treatment of industry news as relevant to their gaming hobby (I'm torn on how the Zagyg/Gygax Games saga fits here; I was never going to run Castle Greyhawk anyway, so would my interest in it, especially a newer interpretation, even if it had been by Gygax's own hand, actually be a part of my actual gaming hobby?), being a collector of role-playing books (would those 10 books you got for Christmas be for reading, shelving, or playing?)

Keeping in touch with the greater hobby is healthy. It's a source of fresh ideas and new perspectives. So the mood-soothing advice of, "stop cruising the internet," is detrimental to my gaming in the long run, as there are some prime peanuts of usefulness out there. But it's increasingly difficult to pick those peanuts out of the feces because it's difficult to find discussion along the lines that are actually relevant to my gaming.

Awesome. This was just going to be a quick explanatory note and it turned into I Hate Fun the Holiday Edition.

Happy frickin' New Year.



  1. Being powerful and able to kick ass is all well and good, but frankly if I was in a situation where being powerful and kicking ass was something that had to be done, I'd feel pretty shitty about the whole thing.

    Well said. The psychology behind the nerd-love for being powerful and kicking ass is so obvious and pathetic that it's almost untrue: Nerds by their very nature feel small and impotent, but being "awesome" alleviates that in some small way - even though it's vicariously carried out by pretending to be an elf who can murder a thousand orcs with one blow. Thus 4e was born.

    It's about time the role playing world woke up and realised that refusing to engage with anything except from a standpoint of AWESOMENESS and COOLNESS is deeply infantalising and silly. But stuff like the Rule of Cool indicates that we're going further in the wrong direction.

  2. I'm completely baffled by most conversations on and other boards, blogs, and places where gamers congregate, and I definitely feel like we're engaged in a different hobby, or are at least on opposite ends of the same broadly-defined hobby.

    (There are also enough vocally obnoxious, spectactularly untalented and unfunny food-tubes and douches that I find my rare forum visits frustrating.)

    So, I make no effort to engage in dialogue with those folks, and I don't hang around their watering holes, in the same way that a vintage car enthusiast probably has little reason to visit a forum devoted to bolting aftermarket bits onto 2005 Toyotas. I have nothing against them but I can't imagine an extended conversation being anything other than pointless. Story of my life.

    Unfortunately (I guess), I've self-marginalized my gaming to the point that first, then dragonsfoot, and then even the OD&D forums wound up feeling like "those folks," as evidenced by the completely retarded Carcosa flap.

    Now I just blog, and folks who are into my kind of stuff can find me, and I can go find them, and I'm satisfied with this state of affairs. What the great mass of "other gamers" are up to has nothing to do with me.

  3. I've always thought the Rule of Cool should actually be called the Rule of Hackneyed Bullshit That Some People Mysteriously Get Off On (HBTSPMGOO). But maybe that's a bit too wordy.

  4. Hmm. The Rule of Cool must be why I despise Anime...

    However, when a player does do something impressive, I tend push the limits of realism with some creative embellishments. And I am all for creating "awesome" or "cool" locations/environments (that fit within the context)... which seems to be one the points ChattyDM makes.

    As a DM & player, I want the damn game to be fun, if it's not fucking fun, why the hell would I participate in such a significant waste of my time? However, I would not reward (or expect to be rewarded) for poor decisions in game. The question is, how can you maintain the fun in the face of a showstopper?

    In my case, my gaming group is smart enough to move on and find something else. As a DM, I build in alternate means to get to the desired destination. Will I throw them a bone if they miss the secret door with non-critical, but sweet-ass treasure, no. You can't win them all. And without challenge, there is no reason to play either.

    So I think a roleplaying game must provide both challenge AND fun, and the best DMs can give players both without excluding the other.

  5. Crap. I had a long ass comment written out, well thought and almost Maliszewski-esque in its sheer brilliance... and I clicked the wrong damn button and lost it.

    *Sigh* Just insert an AOL "ME TOO" here, because I get and feel exactly what you're saying.

    And James.. Happy New Year. Best to you and yours.

  6. >>Crap. I had a long ass comment written out, well thought and almost Maliszewski-esque in its sheer brilliance...

    I know what you mean... but...

    I'm now tempted, yet scared, to ask what a post would look like that is Raggi-esque in its sheer brilliance.

  7. All things in moderation for me.

    Sometimes I feel like putting my group through a roller coaster of one absurd incident of power-wank after another and just have a laugh as they use their horribly twinked out characters come ahead despite my machinations. (See Exalted or *Rifts)

    Other times I want to drag my group through the mud and really make them hang the thrill of victory or agony of defeat on their willingness to gamble on guts, savvy, and luck of the dice. (See *Chaos Earth or the BFRPG game I'm prepping)

    I see the rule of cool like a big hot fudge sundae. It's very tasty, but eating it everyday would make me tired of it.

    Otherwise awesome post, and I look forward to more for the new year.

    *Maybe I'm just that good, but I've always been able to take what many think of as Palladium's execrable rules and bend it to my will.

  8. Don't tell anybody, but I used to love Palladium stuff... Robotech (although I used the books as show sourcebooks more than gaming supplies... rolling for ALL THOSE MISSILES got to be a pain) and TMNT (pre-pizza surfers!) were cool.

  9. All things in moderation for me.

    Indeed, what I have noticed about modern game discussion is that it really tends to be about subverting D&D and making it "more like the games I like", which rather misses the point. Either do what you like with it or play something else, but don't tell me I'll have more fun playing D&D when D&D is played in the way you prefer... if you get my meaning.

    can you imagine AD&D 1E with a new Unearthed Arcana appearing every month or two?

    Of course I can, that's one of the purposes Dragon served for many years.

  10. Wow, interesting to see at least 3 counter-Rule of Cool positions by influential RPG bloggers pop up in the last 24 hours.

    As Noisms said on his blog. I'll take the agree to disagree stance. The Rule of Cool is, to me, a tool to help GMs see things differently when they get sucked into the intricacies of prepping. Its not a dogma (while I'm aware others are making it out to be).

    But then again, while I'm a regular reader, we often don't see things the same way. And as usual, that's what makes the RPG blog sphere interesting.

  11. "In fact, people who do use RPGs as wish fulfillment are really kind of sad. You really want to be a dashing hero (or explorer, or murderer, or whatever)? Then go do it and stop sitting around pretending to do it!"


    When I was fifteen, vacationing in Maine over winter break, I hit a bad patch and wiped out into a tree.

    Now my legs don't %#$&ing work.

    Six months later, when I was seriously considering a way to roll myself into traffic and put an end to what, let me tell you, is one miserable effing manner of existence, a buddy of mine tried to get me to play GURPS. I thought, at the time, that RPGs were pretty much D&D, and that it was just a weird half theater half boardgame thing nerds did.

    Eighteen years later, I'm still gaming. I game twice a week, one of those via webcam, and once a month I pull an all day game. I GM and PC in equal measures in almost any genre I can think of, and in NONE of them am I stuck in this friggin' wheelchair. Escapism isn't just PART of gaming for me, it's just about the whole damn thing. But you know what? I'm not gonna be an Amazon-trekking adventurer or Delta Force commanndo any time soon, catch my drift?

    I browse by this blog once every few weeks and usually find a post of interest, but nothing has made me actually want to comment until now.

    And so, please feel free to step in front of a bus, or jump off a building, or - hey! - ski into a tree, and when YOU can't walk again for the rest of your life, THEN re-read that quote and tell me how sad it is.

    Happy New Year!!!

  12. Yes, it sucks that you had an accident. No, it doesn't change my position.

    You make it sound like that gaming is the reason you can stand to live. I can understand that life as a cripple seems unbearable as a fifteen year old. If, as an adult in your thirties, you feel the same way without gaming, then that is very sad.

    Gaming certainly adds joy and doing it makes life better (else I wouldn't be so immersed in it), but it is not a reason to live and it isn't a replacement for life.

    But I'll assume you're still not in that state of mind you were when you were 15.

    But I stopped feeling sorry for the handicapped and acting like I had to make special concessions to them when I was on the wrestling team in high school and watched a one-legged guy wrestle circles around our state-ranked team.

  13. "the Rule of Cool is absolute Crap and following it, especially on the spur of the moment, will lead to more Mortal Kombat II finales than it will... um... I really can't think where The Rule of Cool ended well, ever"

    Well, who could argue with such a well reasoned, insightful analysis as this? I can't speak for everyone, but I know you changed MY views on making gaming FUN.

  14. Have you ever seen Mortal Kombat II? It is a compelling argument.

  15. Ugh. Well, I guess I'll have to get cracking on making my gaming not-fun and not-cool. Man, this is going to suck, cuz after every session, my players tell me how "fun" and "cool" the session was. I wish they'd have just been honest and told me how awful it was instead.

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  19. *sigh*

    What most of the angry "I guess I should make my game NOT FUN" commentors aren't getting is that cool =/= fun.

    Suspense can equal fun. Seeing your character gruesomely killed by the alien can be fun. Getting really immersed in a role can be fun. (Do you think Shakespeare did it for the "cool"? The funny maybe, but there is rarely "awesome and/or wicked sweet" in theatre.) Getting really stupidly lucky and finding that treasure vault against all odds, but without any cool moment, can be fun. Tweaking Garg the Barbarian's mechanical features just so as she levels up can be lots of fun. Playing a peasant in Hârn who abandons their lord and goes and gawks at the big city and then gets rolled by the local thugs can be fun. Seeing what's in the next hex can be fun, even if it's just a sublime and serene bit of landscape.

    There are many, many aspects of this hobby that people find entertaining that don't involve coolness. The Rule of Cool is irrelevant for the great majority of these aspects. A certain number of gamers will never have a need for the Rule of Cool because it doesn't apply to what they enjoy about gaming. Gamers who think it's necessary for a good game are having an un-gamerly failure of imagination.

  20. Just a thought: I think that players and GMs should not let whimsy alone dictate their roleplaying. Sure, D&D is played in a fantasy universe, and whimsical occurances are acceptable in some cases, but a fantasy world needs to have stable ground rules if it is to be immersive. Violating these ground rules, or making them unclear, leads to nonesense and confusion.

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