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Foaming at the Mouth: On Roleplaying

Hanging up the Dice Bag

by Erich S. Arendall
February 7, 2001
 

Four months ago, September of last year, I informed the RPGnet staff that I was going to wipe the foam off my mouth and hang up my dice bag. I explained further that a final column would be forthcoming. Imagine my surprise and annoyance when I never saw it posted! Of course, I realize now that I am the only person to blame for this. For while I might have written a column, I never actually sent it in. Silly me.

In a way, however, this is a good thing. In retrospect writing "Tunnels and Trolling" may have seemed funny to me at the time, but I've learned long ago that many people just can't take a joke. Gamers are an opinionated bunch and very defensive about their perspectives on their hobby. Which, while it can be a good thing, is often used against other gamers. So, in this final Foaming at the Mouth column, I'd like to continue the traditions I built this column on and express some of my own opinions about gamers in my foaming at the mouth way.

Roll-Players and Immersion Gamers
By most gamers roll-players, those who prefer to use dice to solve all the problems within the game - often leading to hack-n-slash games (but not always), are the bane and the oft-maligned within the gaming community. (Community, ha!) And yet, the other end of the spectrum of gamers, the immersion gamers are placed on pedestals as the epitome of gaming. Immersion gamers, those who attempt to see a fictional world from their characters eyes and often shun dice (some even shunning a GM), is this what gaming is supposed to be? The answer is no. Granted, the proper response is "gaming is supposed to be whatever suits you best", but how often is that overlooked when people praise one side and bash the other? These are the two ends of the spectrum, and there's nothing wrong with either type of playing, but RPGs are best suited for something in between the two, and we call them role-players. Note that I'm not claiming that role-playing is the best type of gamer, either, merely what most rules best suit. And yet role-players are viewed ho-hum at best. So, let me get this straight (from a majority perspective), roll-players are bashed because they default everything to the rules, role-players are the staple of gamers because they use the rules and have some play-acting in the game, and immersion players are what everyone should long to be because they have gone beyond the rule books? Did I miss a meeting somewhere?

If immersion gamers are so damn amazing, why do we even bother with reviews that largely critique the rules? Should we even care? And the answer: we care because most gamers (whether they admit it aloud or not) know that the root of RPGs lies in the foundations of roll-playing, built upon the tenets of war gaming - where rules are paramount. Ah, so gamers are hypocritical. What's the point of this little imbroglio? Simply this: roll-players are a staple of gaming, and deserve no more scorn than immersion gamers deserve glory. You bunch of hypocrites. (Hypocrit, critical successes or failures made by someone who's had too much coffee in a gaming session.)

Telling Stories
I've long hated the whole concept of "storytelling" it makes my flesh crawl and I clench my fists in defiance at the term. Most people do not game to tell some sort of story, crafted by the GM. The most important thing to the players is their character, as it should be. And while the Game Moderator/Master/Miscreant should have some cohesiveness in the game, their main priority should also be the characters. The most successful games I have participated in are those that have some sort of, dare I say, "plot" running in the background, but with most of the emphasis placed on the characters lives, tailored to the individual characters and players. For the longest time, I thought games had to be epic adventures, that could be turned into fantasy novels. But the more I read those novels, or any tale in general, the more I discovered that the really good novels focused on the character. The plot itself was merely a tool to give the character(s) a path to travel down. Role-playing is not about crafting a story. For those who truly feel it is, why not go write a novel - you'll avoid plot holes and pigeonholing your players that way. From roll-players to immersion gamers, all players are primarily concerned with their characters and not the over-all "story". And damn White Wolf for bringing an added popularity to an untrue concept. Not that I give them full blame, but "Storyteller System"? They're just trying to piss me off!

Online RPGs
I played Ultima Online for about a month, and followed that up with nearly a half-year of EverQuest. And for me, it failed. And here's the funny part: it didn't fail because of all the kewl d00ds. Online RPGs failed because there was no direction. No plot! Amazing isn't it? Not but a minute ago (or longer depending on your reading speed) I was grumbling about stories and here I am, seeming to be for them. Not so. I'm not asking for a story creation. I ask for, in RPGs and CRPGs alike, attention on my character and opportunities for them to walk down a path. I don't want to be driven through the plot, but I don't want to simply lie stagnant, only fighting stronger monsters the stronger I get. Online RPGs, while they have their "quests" are largely based on monster-bashing, and (like in a pencil & paper RPG) while the occasional bout of action can be enjoying, a game based on it grows stagnant quickly. I have yet to play Vampire or Neverwinter Nights (neglecting the fact that the latter is not on the market yet), and while my curiosity is piqued, I see these RPGs headed towards the realm of storytelling online, thus completely missing the point, and the fun part, of gaming. And until they have paid GMs for an online RPG, devoting themselves to characters Online RPGs will remain very temporary diversions.

Hanging up the Dice Bag
In September I was offered the opportunity for not only a more promising job, but one that was in my birth lands. I accepted and almost immediately moved from Houston, TX to Lake Bluff, IL. I wanted this move to be more than a simple change of locations, I desired to begin focusing on some of my long untouched projects again. Namely, my fiction and poetry. And now that I had no gaming group, I could divert more of my attentions to my projects. I'm not claiming that RPGs are attention diverters for everyone, but I tend to consume myself with my current hobby(s), and RPGs long were my only interest. Now, with hanging up the dice bag, I felt it a bit awkward to write a column for RPGnet. So, I resigned. And here I am.

Do I intend to pick up the dice bag again someday? Of course! Note that I never claimed I sold my RPGs or threw out my dice bag! I view gaming as a very positive hobby, despite all the negative things I have to say. And I look forward to sharing this hobby, with all its quirks and quirky people, with my offspring. So, while I leave you now, remember the immortal words of Optimus Prime from the Transformers movie.

I shall return to light your darkest hour,
Erich S. Arendall
sprite@rpg.net

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What do you think?

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All Foaming at the Mouth columns by Erich S. Arendall

(plus earlier items from the Sprite archive)
  • Hanging up the Dice Bag February 7, 2001
  • It's All In The Details August 8, 2000
  • Regarding Reviews July 5, 2000
  • Rest, Relaxation, and Role-Playing May 23, 2000
  • Gaming, Yes! Gamers, Argh! April 18, 2000
  • Kudos, Komplaints or Kriticism, I don't Kare! March 28, 2000
  • Three Little Words February 1, 2000
  • Stories, Characters, Supplements, and Modules December 7, 1999
  • Real Roleplayers? Real Snobs. October 12, 1999
  • Socialism and Systems September 14, 1999
  • Same Earth, Different - You Know the Rest... August 17, 1999
  • It's Evolution, Baby! July 20, 1999
  • Buried in Dice June 8, 1999
  • Look Ma! No Dice! No Rules! May 18, 1999
  • Oh, Servant! April 27, 1999
  • Motivational Evil March 30, 1999
  • Love and Sex... In Gaming! February 9, 1999
  • You're Doing What On-Line? January 19, 1999
  • I do it for the Toys December 9, 1998
  • Everybody Else is Doing it... November 24, 1998
  • All the Game's a Stage October 20, 1998
  • Nobody Wants to GM! September 15, 1998
  • Ugly, but not Frightening August 20, 1998
  • ...And I'll Be a Baker! July 21, 1998
  • Cultish Followings and Golden Ages June 16, 1998
  • Hocus Shmocus May 19, 1998
  • Crossbows over Characters? (or, Gaming Mentalities) April 21, 1998
  • Hey! You're Not Smart Enough to Play that Character! (Part 2) March 17, 1998
  • Hey! You're Not Smart Enough to Play that Character! (Part 1) February 17, 1998
  • Computer RPGs and How Most Aren't January 20, 1998
  • Sprite's first guest column, on The Economics of Gaming December 23, 1997 (or, "How to Dissuade Those Pesky Non-Gamers")

    Other columns at RPGnet

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