November 4, 2011

Up On A Soapbox - Apathy

Apathy runs rampant in my generation, and especially among gamers. It sickens me.
How often do you talk with someone and they describe their feelings as "meh"? A lot, right? Meh is worse than a negative feeling. Meh is boring, and boring is the absolute last thing I want creeping into my game. I'm going to guess that I'm not alone in this regard. This  kind of non-comittal attitude permeates far too much in our dealings, and intrudes far too rudely into the RPG world.

Part of this, I feel, is due to the political correctness and unspoken social rules that permeate many home game tables. Character optimization and seeing the game as a challenge are things that are frowned upon. There are many of us out there whom with to explore the complexities and nuances of Dungeons & Dragons' intricate rules system, but we are too often told that the game is meant to be used to explore the emotional development of our characters.

If you're in the majority of D&D groups, this feeling against character optimization and the mindset of "you can't win at D&D" is all bullshit. Many of the people clinging to these high brow notions of character development and interpersonal drama are really just trying to keep themselves in an isolated comfort zone where they have no chance of failure. Imagine, if you will, that there exists a group of people whom are socially awkward, a little lonely, and have a crippling fear of failure. It's not so hard to imagine, is it? What style of D&D would they like to play? Further, what style of role playing game is going to keep them, the real person, developmentally trapped and doomed to never break out of their shell? I'll give you a hint: it's a cushy, no-failure dollhouse of a game.

Being in a group that takes this game seriously; that goes into the game with the intention of winning, of beating the snot out of the dragon and dominating the dungeon, shines a spotlight on just how much less capable the other players are. These players then see themselves as coming up short, and rather than step up to the challenge and conquer their metaphorical demons, they slink away and insist that all their friends speak in accents when playing D&D.

An extension of this apathy is how some gamers tackle the design of their D&D games. They stick to formulaic, by the numbers encounters with formulaic, by the numbers rewards. The 4th Edition Dungeon Masters Guide is an excellent book, with extremely helpful guidelines ... for beginners. If you've been running this game for any significant length of time, you should be comfortable enough with its system to not worry about what Level an encounter should be, or how many magic items the party should be recieving. You just do it.

This kind of playing isn't limited to the DM's side of the screen. Players routinely stumble into one encounter after the next with the sum total strategy of "I want to roll well". That is a perfect example of the "meh" attitude. They know that the game rules make it so that they need to rest every 3 combat encounters, any puzzles can be solved with dumb skill checks, and that it's almost impossible to get killed in a typical encounter. In that regard, why should they bother expending the effort to develop tactics?

This is now getting into the heart of why the DMG 42 blog exists. I want to develop and display all the weird corner cases of the rules. I want to take designing dungeon difficulty to the next level, and do things different than the norm. I want my players to to think, learn, and expand their minds. I want them to feel like they really faced a difficult situation, and found a way to come out victorious. I want action, adventure, danger, and excitement. I don't claim to have a magic bullet that will fix all of my perceived problems with the player base. But I do want to get out there and help out where I can. I want to explore the actions the books don't cover.

Want a good place to look for something that will take your D&D game places it's never been before? I can't recommend the Fourthcore Alphabet highly enough. You'll thank me on this one.


  1. Aren't there some players who enjoy both character development AND challenging combat? Or is your experience mainly that the players who focus on character tend to play in games where there's no real threat of failure?

    I haven't seen that at the tables where I've played, but my experience is fairly limited so far.

  2. You're absolutely right, I am all for interesting character development. Perhaps I didn't phrase things that well; I wrote this when I was pretty riled up about something and (in hindsight) come off a bit harsh. I love character development.

    However, I hate when people use character development as a shield for inept strategy, or as an excuse to play the game with anything less than 100% of their efforts. I hate the apathy, I hate the laziness.

    When playing D&D, I want people to push themselves and their boundaries in every way, and don't think that having a bad accent and a cliche background excuses you from doing your best in the other aspects of the game.

  3. I came to your blog looking for Fourthcore, I wound up with a better understanding of some players from my old RPGA group and a desire to try out 4E Modern. Thanks!

  4. Hey, I'm glad to share my thoughts and random bits of D&D creations!

    Really though, I'm just happy you don't think I'm a jerkoff for writing this piece. It's kind of gruff.

  5. I think you just laid out some profound insights into why some players have such an aversion to taking tactics and optimization seriously. I really have to ask, though: do you not understand or accept that D&D is a leisure activity for some people? Sometimes, they don't want to give the tactical side of the game %100 because the other %50 is just relaxing and enjoying the company of friends after a long week.

    Other times, they don't optimize their characters because they honestly don't enjoy doing so, just as some players don't enjoy talking in funny accents or making up cliche backgrounds. And you shouldn't spend leisure time doing things you don't enjoy.