30 November 2013

The Black Elf Follies ...

My apologies for being quiet the last couple of weeks, but I’ve been plowed under with rehearsal and concert schedules for both the ensemble I’ve been in and my college chorus’ alumni reunion concert, celebrating the conductor’s 40th year at the helm.  (NUCS forever!)  But since you’re not here to hear about my singing ...

One of the hoary old standbys of gaming discussions is the player who bucks the campaign’s premise.  I've editorialized on what many call “special snowflakes,” a term often applied to the resulting PC, but more along the lines of my distaste for the term being used as a code slur for “Anything I don’t like.”

But that doesn’t touch the original syndrome.  Allow me to quote from a post in one of these debates, which illustrates one side of things.

Whether this is a problem and who’s  problem it is all depends on who's being the asshole. If the players wants to interject something cool or unusual into his character because he has a fun idea and it's going to get him into the game more and the GM pulls some sort of "No, in my world elves aren't black!" or "there are no female dwarves!" bullshit? That's the GM being a dick. That stuff is just another way for GMs to take the often reasonable "this is mostly my world and ideas" and throttle the players with it. This is also where a lot of GM horror stories come from, especially if people push their own pet peeves, control issues, or even racism and sexism through this crap.

No, screw that noise.

In joining my game, you're joining a campaign.  It has a defined game system, a defined setting and a defined milieu.  Someone agreeing to play in my campaign agrees to all of these elements. It is not "mostly" my world; it is entirely my world. Characters are created within that setting, as natives to that setting, and exist within that setting. If you don't like that setting, if you don't want to engage with it, then what are you doing at my table in the first place, instead of seeking out a campaign better suited to your needs and preferences? 

For my part, I miss where insistence on rejecting the setting helps someone "get into the game more" -- it sounds like, by so doing, the player would be getting into the game LESS -- and I definitely miss the part where (say) Being A Black Elf is the sort of make-or-break character creation decision which makes the difference between a Fun PC or an Unfun PC.  (As to that, I also miss the part where a GM is a dick for refusing to permit a character that doesn't fit with his setting, but a player isn't a dick for refusing to play a character which does.  Come again?)

Are black elves part of my gameworld?  No.  Would I prevent you from playing a black-skinned elf? No. But, by definition, you'd be playing someone wildly abnormal.  Most people would presume your PC to be accursed in some fashion ... and very likely they'd be right.  Cityfolk would more often than otherwise recoil from you, villagers would grab the torches and pitchforks, and any ghastly crime committed within a week of your arrival OR departure would be presumed to be your doing.

That's the point where most Special Snowflake players throw a tantrum. See, they're usually fine with playing their bizarre I Must Be Different Than You Peons characters ... but they're not nearly as sanguine, in my experience, with facing the fallout of their choices, and often throw out accusations that they’re being unfairly targeted or “punished” in some way.

I reject, contemptuously, this concept.  If you decide that you're going to play an assassin, you run the risk of the law and heroic types hunting you down.  If you decide that you're going to play an orc, you run the risk of prejudice and fear in areas where orcs aren't well loved.  If you decide to run a priest, you'll run into people opposed to your faith.  These are all your choices to make: I am not going to force you to play an orc, an assassin or a practitioner of an unpopular faith.  If you want to play a character that twigs as few knee-jerk prejudices as possible, you can.

There are prejudices in my campaign.  Some make sense; many don't.  People are down on one another for the many reasons this happens in real life: racial, economic, class, profession, nationality, ethnic group, hair color, speaking voice, what have you.  I quite understand people who don't want to encounter prejudice in their gaming, the same way there are people out there who don't want to encounter violence, who don't want to encounter fantasy ... what have you.  You've every right to seek a campaign that meets your requirements, and I wish people the best of luck in finding one.

Let me reiterate: the players don't get to decide what is or is not true in my game setting.  I do.  The details aren't up for voting.  If I wanted a Generic Fantasy World where anything goes, I'd play one, and no doubt that campaign would attract those who prefer such settings.  I don't want one, and I don't play one, and my campaign has attracted a couple hundred players who prefer those settings.  I am no more about to change fixed details for every newbie who can't stand coloring inside the lines than I'm going to stop running GURPS because that newbie prefers to play D&D, or that I'm going to stop running sandboxes because that newbie really prefers a nice, straight railroad track.

Here’s another quote from one of those debates: "Is the consistency of the world really that important compared to all you having fun at the table and being friendly?"

Why is it that some presume that "consistency" and "fun" are mutually exclusive values? My players like the consistency just fine, and they not only have fun, but they've been having fun for many years. Three of my current players have been gaming with me for over twenty years; a fourth has been doing so eleven years.

But hang on, let's turn the question around. Let's say you've just joined my main group. There you are, with the aforementioned four players. You're the newbie at the table. Why is being inconsistent really that important to you, compared to everyone having fun at the table and being friendly?  Don't you think it's UNfriendly to decide that the setting doesn't apply to you, and that you don't want to follow the guidelines that every other player's not only followed, but have done so for many years?  Wouldn't, in fact, YOU be the disruptive one here?  Why should the fun of other people be spoiled for your benefit?


  1. Yeah, as a GM I wouldn't put up with any of that nonsense.
    But as a player I think I'm disruptive sometimes when I feel the group is following some lead from the GM... vs. doing what comes naturally to their PCs.
    Not arguing against the actual setting of the game... but not going with the flow... not biting at ever plot hook the GM drops. Not playing it like an MMO 'here is your daily quest.'

    Example: In our recent Pathfinder game we were given a task to hunt down a beast that has been plaguing a town. The townspeople have been nothing but rude to us and at one point locked up in their jail, mistreated and insulted us, based on a simple misunderstanding. My character, an elf, decided he'd had enough of these townsfolk and they could go kill the monster themselves. There was no magical/legal onus on us to complete the task.
    So he lobbied the other players to escape the jail and make tracks away from those people.
    The other players though, seemed to feel that the GM had given them this plotline and they had to continue.
    Our GM has stated repeatedly that he's running the game as a sandbox, there's no 'plot' or CR ratings to guide us. I'm sure we could have left the area and found adventure elsewhere.
    Anyway, we went back out hunting the thing, for the ungrateful townspeople who have told us to our faces that we are expendable. My PC is irate but feels he needs to stand by his comrades... while secretly trying to think of a way to get a bit of vengeance on the arrogant townies.

    So I'm left wondering if I'm the 'special snowflake' or otherwise being annoying... because just taking an assignment without question and feeling it HAS to be completed before moving on... that just seems like a video game to me... but not so much the other players, apparently.
    So it's not that I'm challenging the GM's milieu... but I am feeling a bit of friction with how the other players react to it.
    Now I'm wondering if I'm doing the same thing here, if what I wrote is even at all relevant to your post...
    Maybe I'm just naturally contrary?

    1. I wouldn't say so. I think players have every right to say "The locals are all hostile jerks, so why should we help them?" I also think that if your GM says he's running a sandbox, you have every right to take him at his word. You have as much right to lobby the other players into doing things your way as they do to lobby you in their direction, but in the end, you're being a team player. Nothing wrong with any of that.

      PS: I hope your private vengeance goes well!