Three Things I Hate In Roleplaying Games (That Other People Love).

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

What I’m about to list are things that some roleplayers clearly get off on; they’re embedded in the DNA of almost every game, feature prominently in modules, and are generally repeated so thoroughly in so many games that I can only assume that they’re really popular among a large subset of players.  But this is all stuff I jettison the instant I get into any game, the stuff I’m continually surprised to see popping up again, and it just makes me wonder.
Being A Banker. 
A lot of modules assume the players will keep track of their wealth, down to the last copper piece.  They negotiate frantically for an extra 5 GP, are thrilled to find an additional 4 GP in the flowerpot, and later on have to hire a coachman for 10 GP.
Whether I’m a GM or a player, I hate that crap.
I like knowing my players are wealthy, or poor, or whatever, but having to track every expenditure against their baseline is the D&D equivalent of balancing my checkbook.  “Oh, my rations cost me 2 shins a day?  Do I want to splurge and have a nice meal for 5 shins?”  And to me, that’s just an annoyance that gets in the way of my roleplaying – suddenly, I’m not Thundersmash the Barbarian, but Thundersmash the Wage-Slave, frantically counting pennies to see whether I can afford a new set of gloves.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind playing poor.  My current Mage campaign has me playing a notch above a homeless person, and that’s great; I’m fine, living in squalor.  And some of the best campaigns have been that sort of race against poverty, where you’re starving and need this job, because otherwise you’re not sure you can make it through the winter.  Victory is so much sweeter when it comes in the face of poverty.
But abstract the details.  Tell me my belly aches from hunger, tell me how cold it is outside, show me the sneers of the noblemen passing me on the street.  I don’t want to have to continually keep the medieval equivalent of Quicken at hand.
(Likewise, keeping track of every single inventory item.  Fun in videogames!  But just assume that if I’m a thief, I have a rope and some spikes.  I don’t want to manage a huge list of Things I Carried, all as a “gotcha” so when it turns out that no, I did not remember to add “quill and ink” to my mage’s inventory, I can write absolutely nothing at all.  Don’t get me started on somatic components.)
Puzzles I Am Expected To Solve Personally. 
Look, if I wanted to do logic puzzles, I’d sit down and do a goddamned logic puzzle.  Really, Mister GM, I haven’t been aching to solve the Towers of Hanoi one more time – and if I did, I wouldn’t want to do it with three other players debating the correct solution with me.
This is a classic D&D tradition, and I don’t mind it when it shows up in modules like The Tomb Of Horrors, which was basically a big middle finger from Gary Gygax to every ninetieth level wizard/assassin/cleric.  Tomb of Horrors was basically there to screw over cocky fourteen-year-olds who’d abused the rulebook, and so in certain circumstances the long tradition of giving the players something frustrating and impenetrable is fine.
But I play characters.  Who are routinely either smarter or dumber than me.  They are not me.  And so when you say, “Here’s a bunch of levers and switches,” it yanks me right out of all of this fine character-headspace I’ve built in; I don’t think anyone in the history of roleplaying has ever said, “How would my elf solve this puzzle?” – no, they go, “How do I solve this puzzle?” and then suddenly I’m basically spending time in real life doing things an iPad could literally do better.  Time that I am not losing myself in the pathetic grade-school power fantasy that I came here to intellectually whack it to, goddammit.
Not to mention that half these puzzles are total BS in-game, too.  The GM has to devise an elaborate reason why someone would spend hundreds of thousands of gold pieces on elaborate levers rather than just slap a magical lock on it with a passphrase, and usually has to put in cryptic “clues” handed to you by passing merchants or stuffed in lockers so you have a hope in heck of solving it.  By the time you’re having the clues of “A to B, B to C, C to A again” then you’re basically acknowledging that there’s no real good in-game reason, you just wanted a puzzle.
Nothing wrong with puzzles.  But they bring the game to a halt while I have to solve them, and if we don’t get them we’re usually not advancing the plot, and a third of the time it boils down to “Oh, make an Intellect check” anyway.  So my preference? Don’t.
Mapping Out Exact Distances. 
This is why D&D 4th Edition lost me.
As noted earlier, I come here for the roleplaying.  I want to immerse myself in the visuals created between a DM’s descriptions and my own mental interpretations therein, and write a tale between the two of us.  And I enjoying holding all of this glorious idea-landscapes created in my head, and then….
…I’m a doofy plastic piece on someone’s Cheeto-strewn coffee table.
Look, I’m not opposed to miniature wargaming.  It’s a perfectly nice hobby.  But when I’m roleplaying, I want to lose myself in swashbuckling, emphasizing the Rule of Cool – if I’m two feet short of my allotted move but it’s a great chandelier swing, I think that stuff should happen.  I don’t want to constantly measure distances to ensure that I’m within range or not within range, and to see whether that stone wall is half a move away, and how are these guys?
I appreciate the tactical portions of the game.  But keeping track of my guys with pieces feels like I’m playing some sort of embarrassing preadolescent chess, moving the big-boobed leather woman around, and it feels kind of shameful, seeing how my grandiose dreams have boiled down to these teeny silly bits that are going to be swept away the next time the cat jumps on the table.  Plus, then I’m more concerned with rules than I am with flavor – and to my mind, if I’m going to do something that complex and flavorless, why not just play a computer game where all of that is handled for me automatically, rather than this slow pause while we all roll dice and do math and determine things?
Look.  When I kill the demon, I want to imagine fire gouting from its chest, dying wings flapping, the terror on its face as it realizes a mere mortal has ended its existence on this planet.
What happens in real life is the GM tips the plastic toy on its side.
It’s not the same.

10 Comments

  1. Dylan E. Hoover
    Oct 14, 2013

    Did you ever try Greg Stolze’s REIGN. ? The abstracted (but nuanced) wealth system and dangerous (but not-the-sole-point-of-the-system) could very well be up your alley.

    • TheFerrett
      Oct 14, 2013

      I have not, but I’ve heard good things. (And I like Greg Stolze in general.)

  2. Marc
    Oct 14, 2013

    Regarding the first bit I couldn’t agree more.
    What I used to do as a GM so many years ago, before migrating to a different country, was something I liked to call “Dramatic Banking” where I wasn’t really interested in the exact amount of money /stuff that the players had. I was interested in their approximate level.
    I think that many people go after this kind of stuff as a bizarre way of levelling the playing field with the GM and fighting power players. Because it leaves stuff out of the GM control and so the GM doesn’t have to say “No because I say so” to the players.
    The same with the inventory.
    Regarding puzzles I understand your point but I still think it relates to badly thought ones. Every adventure needs obstacles and intellectual challenges provides a nice change of pace from yet another boss fight.
    Completely agree with the last one. Tried twice to start again D & D, spent 4 hours in a single fight, the most boring RPG ever.
    Cheers!

    • TheFerrett
      Oct 14, 2013

      That’s pretty much what I do: “Dramatic Banking.” Right now, my players have enough to buy a nice used car. That’s pretty much where it is.

  3. Anna
    Oct 14, 2013

    I fully agree with the first two points (and want to addendum the first with inventory weight micromanagement; my worst enemy). Having a general idea of my money so I can get that new breastplate I’ve been eyeing is one thing, but having to track my daily expenses on pocket change is terribly frustrating. The same with the weight thing; Oh no! I’ve gone over some arbitrary limit number and now I’m super slow and have unreasonable penalties unless I drop that last quiver of crossbow bolts! Really?
    The puzzle thing frustrates me because it does pull me out of my immersion. I’m personally great at certain types of puzzles, crummy at others. I end up having to argue for the ones I know, and just sit around feeling useless for the ones I’m out of my depth on.
    The third, I suppose since I’ve played with it from the start of tabletop gaming for me, I like. My spatial awareness is terrible, and having a visual representation helps immensely. I typically play healers, so knowing exactly how far I am from my cronies can be crucial (there are also times when knowing how far I am from my enemies is, too; “What? The boss was 25 feet away from me when I channeled and now he’s back to full? *insert curse words*”). My gaming group actually likes watching me work at skirting the lines to heal as many people as possible while healing few/none of the enemies. I can see how some people wouldn’t like it though.

    • TheFerrett
      Oct 14, 2013

      Oh, God, I forgot that most systems have a weight thing. I really hate that, too.

  4. Jason
    Oct 14, 2013

    Those things are all holdovers from the original D&D which was essentially an elaborate board game. They’re very important if you’re playing a game of player-based skill, where every adventure is a tactical puzzle to be solved before your guy dies. However, I agree that they don’t belong in a demi-game of interactive fantasy fiction. Most game just don’t have the design focus to realize that they’re just copying elements from older games without thinking about what they mean.

    • TheFerrett
      Oct 15, 2013

      Yeah, and I get that, but I think it’s ultimately harmful. I think the major flaw with D&D was that while it was fun, it highlighted all the elements that could be done more accurately with a computer, and suffered by comparison.
      You gotta go next level.

  5. maiki
    Oct 14, 2013

    I concur, and that is the large part of why I avoid d20 games; I am attracted to system mastery, but having to change the system creates cognitive dissonance, so I generally stick to narrative-based games (like Fate).
    I wanted to add about the puzzle thing, I think it is from culture that creators want to include a great puzzle. We see something like Wizard’s Chess, or all the interesting parts of Indiana Jones, and we want to solve those puzzles, and before the protanganists. But that is a different kind of immersion, and one that will solve itself at the end of a set amount of time.
    I think I was more tolerable when I didn’t have anything to do, but now games are squeezed in, so administrivia and puzzles are the first to get left off the table. ^_^

  6. Neil Carver
    Oct 15, 2013

    Back in our years of gaming, I think you and I were pretty compatible in these areas. I’d purposefully stated that book keeping was not part of the experience, I was never into puzzles as a defacto “challenge” (hopefully the challenge of trying to figure out what the bad guys were doing, while also figuring out the likely repercussions of your characters actions was enough), and minis, if used, were only to provide general positioning of large complex fights… a helpful visualization, not a range/measurement device.
    In the end, it is a meta-consideration… “What is this game about?” For you and me, and why it worked so well with certain groups in the past, we’d agreed that “The game is about drama and story!” and any rules, minis, maps, lists, etc., were used in service of the greater ideal of drama and story… not as ends in and of themselves. It is that kind of meta-discussion, getting everyone on board with the whole reason to be playing in the fist place, that makes or breaks a game. If the meta-decision is “We are here to grind out a huge battle of orcs vs. elves” then maps and minis and range measurement is important. That is not how you or I play, Ferrett (at least not very often) so it isnt’ for us.
    System matters… a common quote… basically meaning that the tropes/rules/mechanisms you choose, will either support or conflict with the end result you are trying to reach. D&D as a system supports a very different end game than 4thEd Champions, which is very different from Dogs in the Vineyard… vs. Heroine.
    And that isn’t even getting into discussions of “theme” which is just as important in deciding on an Ad hoc basis which mechanisms to use or not. (Hit Location for gritty games vs. no Hit Location for more cinematic free for all, as an example.)
    Love this type of metagame discussion. I never get to do it anymore, since RPGs are far in the past for me.

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