Regardless of what people say about tabletop RPGs, there is no denying that it is a social game. Whether you are trying to play a fun and interesting character, do the most damage or get the highest defenses, or create the most engaging story as a group, none of those pursuits are possible in a vacuum.
The 4e Dungeon Master’s Guide, in my opinion one of the best books on RPGs in general and D&D in particular, does a great job of breaking down the various types of gamers and examining what people are looking to get out of playing RPGs. While the information that James Wyatt presents is crucial for DMs to create content and run games that appeal to their players, it also equally important that players understand these differences in play styles and preferences. Players cognizant of the needs of others, while also itching their own scratches, can facilitate the best game possible.
One of the lowlights of my time involved in the RPG world is the time I have spent forced to read RPG message boards and forums. Having been an administrator in various shared-world, organized-play campaigns, this time tolerating the trolls and know-it-alls is penance for all the fun and challenging work that goes into such campaigns. But undoubtedly the worst of the Interwebz troglodytes are the ones who insist that other people are playing the game wrong, or failing to realize that games can be played in different ways or for different reasons.
But on the Bright Side
With all the negative stereotypes that are proliferated and intensified on the Internet, I am the first to admit that I absolutely love gaming with strangers. Having spent the first 20 years of my gaming life only playing with those I knew well and whose attitudes I agreed with, it was easy to carefully tailor the makeup of my gaming groups to match my own preferences, eschewing the necessity to deal with those who might play the games differently than I.
In the midst of outlining the content of this column, I read an interesting sentiment on Twitter. I don’t remember the exact quote, but it was something like, “Removing those who don’t belong improves the experience for those who do belong.” It was so completely relevant to this column that is struck a chord with me. Like any overly simplified aphorism, it is so very right and so very wrong all at once.
For all those years I had a great time gaming because I made sure I only gamed with those whom I thought “belonged.” A great deal of conflict was avoided because anyone who joined the group who turned out to be argumentative rules lawyers, who pouted when every decision or conflict did not go their way, were not invited back. The harmony of our group was not perfect, but it was conflict-free enough to ensure that the players and DMs kept coming back for more, year after year after year.
What We Learn from Those Who Don’t Belong
However, people different from us—those who might not seem like they belong—do have something to offer. Even in the most extreme cases, where the person is totally incompatible with a group, his or her very presence as a disharmonious force helps to teach the group why and how their preferences were established and reinforced. And in less extreme cases, where the person brings a different but reasonable view to the group, there is much to be learned.
My gaming group as a kid and young adult actively avoided rules lawyers and players who stressed the letter of the rules over the spirit: or more correctly stated, over what our group thought the spirit of the rules meant. Looking back, as someone who has taken a more-than-passing interest in game design, I now regret not being more accepting of a rules-focused player. Those detailed rule discussion, even if they turned into arguments on occasion, would have pushed me deeper into that dimension of the hobby. I would have grown more as a person and as a gamer by accepting those who “didn’t belong,” even if it was at the expense of my own enjoyment at that particular time and place.
My eventual involvement in the RPGA, its public-play emphasis, and its shared-world, organized-play environment was an eye-opening experience. People who I never would have shared a game with under other circumstances soon became part of my very large and diverse gaming group. All those people who Mr. Wyatt talks about in the DMG, with their diverse preferences and expectations, became living examples within an incredibly varied gaming community. I would be lying if I said that every interaction–whether as a player, DM, writer, or administrator–was a great one. But I am better person and better gamer for seeing all of the different attitudes, styles, imaginations, and talents of the hundreds and thousands of gamers I have interacted with since getting involved in organized play and the gaming community.
So What’s Happening at DDXP 2011?
While ruminating on whether or not I should attended DDXP in January 2011, I asked myself what I would really want to do at a national gaming convention to make my attendance meaningful and worthwhile. I thought about the games I had played and the people I had met, and my final resolution was that I would attend if I could meet new and different gamers, people whose experiences and sensibilities might be different from my own. That led me to ask this question: I wonder how I could meet the most interesting roleplayer in the world?
From that one question came a flood of ideas that churned and bubbled into various configurations. Finally, after interesting and productive discussions with Dave Christ of Baldman Games (the entity responsibility for running DDXP) and Dave Chalker of Critical Hits (this most awesome collection of gamers), we decided that a tournament was the answer. This tournament will try to offer something fun and enticing to each type of player, with the understand that the best type of gamer is the one who understands that the best gamer is the one who has fun while facilitating fun.
Between now and the end of January, keep an eye on Critical Hits and the DDXP website. We will be releasing more information on “The Most Interesting Roleplayer in the World” tournament. I invite everyone who loves gaming, who enjoys sharing this hobby with other enthusiasts, to take part in the tournament. Yes, there will be prizes. But I hope that the best prize for all the participants will be the chance to take part in a game with others who might bring a new and different sort of fun to the table.
That, and there is going to be so much awesome stuff happening there that any D&D (and RPG) fan will not want to miss it.