Saturday, October 12, 2013

Don't Hate The Player, Hate The Game

The next few posts are about some things that have been on my mind lately.

They are not meant to be deep or philosophical, although if you find them so be my guest. The posts are not necessarily my opinion, though some may be, or may include my opinion.

More accurately, they contain things that have crossed my mind, and which I felt would be fun or intriguing to consider, whether I agree with them or not.

Please feel free to discern for yourselves what you think about these subjects, and what I think on the subjects if you should fancy such an exercise.


I don't really want to use the word 'hate' in the post title but it is part of the original phrase I am playing on and, in all seriousness, 'Don't Vehemently Dislike The Player, Vehemently Dislike The Game' just doesn't have the same ring to it.

 We gamers (at least those of us who have been doing this for a little while or who care about it enough to read blogs on the subject) are all too familiar with the Power Gamer, Min-MaxerRules Lawyer and other less than desirable player types that crop up at our tables from time to time.
Those of us of the Gamemaster persuasion gripe about them, ask for and read our peers advice on handling them and more often than not, try to come up with some devious method of dealing with them by (as I have personally heard it phrased) 'teaching them a lesson'.
As I am something of a Player Advocate Gamemaster (from now on known as a PAG, unless I utterly forget I came up with that), I think my fellow GMs may be coming at the problem from the wrong direction.
Don't Hate The Player, Hate The Game.
For a good number of years, I had no real clue what any of the aforementioned player types were like first hand. I had heard tell of them and read about these phenomena in Dragon Magazine and the like, but never personally encountered them in any of my games..
It wasn't until late Junior High School or really early High School that I began to see gamers who qualified for these awful nomenclatures. Yet still, not in any of the games I ran (though occasionally in ones I played in, especially if I was playing with strangers and not close friends).
As time went on I noted their presence more often. It was usually in games of Dungeons & Dragons and Champions, though sometimes they showed up in others. I no longer ran D&D by this point and while I played Champions, the GM made up my character and I didn't even know what the rules were.
My own games of choice during the era in question were Ars Magica, Cyberpunk 2020, Mekton II, Star Trek (FASA), Teenagers From Outer Space and Toon, among others. Not a Power Gamer, Min-Maxer, Rules Lawyer, Hack and Slasher or any other such entity in site. Why would there be?
Why would there be indeed. Why would you Min-Max Star Trek? How can you Power Game TFOS? What is the benefit of Rules Lawyering Toon? As for the other systems and games, my approach to running campaigns was much more focused on story, theme and genre so maxing out your character's combat abilities was fine if you wanted to but what were you going to do the other half of the time when we were role-playing and not fighting?
While learning to train dogs I learned a few things about canine psychology and a few things about Human psychology as well. Dogs, much like young children, will not do something that is not perceived as beneficial to them and will figure out what is beneficial and repeat the activity.
For example, if your dog begs at the table for scraps and you give her some, expect her to beg at the table from now on, every time you sit down. You proved it worked so don't go getting upset that she does this.
If on the other hand you don't give her anything, she will eventually walk away and find something else to do. Sometimes you will see dogs learning a new trick or task running through the gambit of the tricks they already know in hopes that ones of them will get them the treat you are holding. Those tricks have worked before so why not now? Ah, because you are looking for that new one she just learned and you'll give her the treat the moment she does it.
Players (I hope no one minds my comparing Dogs and Gamers. I assure you the Dogs will not be offended) will develop styles based on what they are rewarded for and for what works in the game they are playing.
Champions players min-max in that game because the system allows it by its very design and because its a game where you fight powerful opponents a lot.You need to be tough and if you are tough you can defeat the enemies that get you points so you can make yourself even tougher. I love Champions but the basic concept of its mechanics does lend itself to that type of mentality.
In Dungeons and Dragons (and especially the Old School approach to it), monsters, traps and dangers abound. Everyone and everything is trying to cheat and kill you. In order to survive, you need top-rated stats and abilities, since in some editions that can net you bonuses, more spells and languages, increased skills and all manner of advantages.
Being a Rules Lawyer is another survival technique. With an encyclopedic knowledge of the rules, you can find a loophole or an advantage over whatever it is the DM is throwing at you and your party. With some members of the team running around with 4 Hit Points and no armor, you need all the help you can get. You NEED to be or have a Rules Lawyer.
Sure, individual personalities and player preference is the main thing that gets people into the aforementioned mindsets. All I am asking is that we consider for a moment, is the game we're playing and the way we're running it influencing the players to be this way or that? Instead of berating such players, should we not take a look at the system we are using and ask ourselves, "Am I/Are We/Is this game reinforcing the approaches that many view as negative?
Just some thoughts.
We'll chat more soon,
Barking Alien



  1. Nah, hate the player.
    Someone _capable_ if rules lawyering is a prick. Doesn't matter if they are _currently_ rules-lawyering or not.
    The fucked-up behavior is merely a symptom of a problem that's there whether they're doing the fucked-up thing at the moment or not.
    A fuck-up will always find a way to do a fucked up thing.

  2. I have to disagree, at least in some cases.

    At cons I have been in games with random strangers who will rules lawyer in Star Wars D20 but then not rules lawyer in WEG D6 Star Wars. Why? When asked, of the latter he replied, "Its not that kind of game".

    1. I think you missed my point--
      I UNDERSTAND that a game might make someone less likely to rules-lawyer. You spent several paragraphs saying that and I read them.
      What I am saying is: just because the person stopped rules-lawyering does NOT mean they stopped being a dick.
      They may have stopped rules-lawyering but they are still going to do some other stupid thing.

    2. While its no guarantee, I agree it is distinctly possibly, perhaps even likely.

      I the very real example above I was pretty astonished. It was like playing with two different people who shared one major thing in common; They were both fanatical Star Wars fans.

  3. I'm a believer that every such aspect(Rules Lawyer, etc.) definitely has a place - it's just a matter of HOW said person applies it - if the intent is be somehow get over on everyone else(incl. the Game-runner), then yes, that person is being a "dick"; BUT, if the intent is to see a character idea/concept to fruition, that's just creativity - I think the defining characteristic might be exactly that: 'Is it for the sake of character & Story, Or is it for the sake of "getting over"...?'

    1. Interesting. A positive spin on what are normally perceived as negative attributes. Thanks for the input D.R. And for stopping by.

    2. Rules lawyers can be in fact very helpful, especially when there are new players and/or GM at the table, if the limit themselves to advising the correct use of the rules instead of arguing.

  4. The flip side of a rules-lawyer is the make-up-the-rules-as-we-go-randomman. Time and place and motive/context. I have to partially agree with both Zak and BA. I like rules as well as rulings, but I also understand the need for spontaneity and try to balance both as a GM. As a player I usually default to however the GM is running the game.

    1. As do I. If ever I argue a ruling (and I've done it myself on more than one occasion), it's not to quote a rule but to say "hey wait a second, how does that make any sense?".

      Many games (especially old school ones in my experience) were balanced by rules and mechanics that didn't make in-game sense. Sometimes we would ignore it for the sake of getting on with the game and sometimes I would just have to point it out so we could come up with something better and we usually did.

  5. This was a very interesting read. I guess it depends on the player, GM, game, and context.

    I guess the WEG d6 Star Wars is significantly rules-light compared with the d20 version. Since old school RPGs are generally rules-light and about rulings more than rules, it would make sense to bring out the rules lawyering in a d20 Star Wars player. Probably the same thing goes for OSR (A)D&D, too.