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Bells & Thistles: Humor and Gaming


Meera Barry
June 29, 2001
My last article was about the somewhat humorous trials in finding a new gaming group.

Gaming groups are relationships, too. Some of the gaming groups I've been in have lasted longer than the marriages of people within them. When I broke up with one of my girlfriends, we could no longer game, and I still kind of miss that. I don't miss her, but I miss her characters. I don't miss her attitude, but I miss the keen edge she had in challenging me as GM within the games. Our =91break-up talk' included her lecturing me on my GMing style, and I listened and made changes (based on some of the less bitter parts.)

I did not consult my gaming group when I wrote my last article. I insisted that these people were my friends, but I didn't want to just game with them anymore. Mostly because some of our gaming tastes had changed, and we weren't going anywhere with it.

On the other hand, I'm feeling guilty. Why?

Underlying the rational reasons, I was originally thinking of changing groups because of "gaming envy."

Gaming envy is when people you game with game with other people. It's like being cheated on, except that you don't have any rational claim to their gaming lives. It's not like we took any gaming vows.

[insert organ music]

"Do you, player name, take this GM as game administrator? To roll and to give modifiers, to plot and create cosmologies, in sick humor or low hit points, forever as long as the campaign shall live?"

[end organ music]

Could part of it be that I don't like some of the people with whom they're gaming? Oh, certainly. My girlfriend just IM'd me with, "Honey, I think that if you want to be in another group it's your choice, but, if you're doing it because they play with people you don't like, I would reconsider."

OK. She's a smart one (one of the 5,000+ reasons I love her.) If that were the only reason, I would probably swallow my pride to game. My pride is the big-gulp size, but sometimes I need the extra fiber of humble pie. (Maybe not as often as it's served in my household, but as long as I don't have to cook...)

I need to examine this a little more in-depth, I think. It's not like we were gaming regularly. We'd talk about starting campaigns, but no one would agree as to what night of the week we should meet or what game system we would all enjoy. When I was in the mood for Kult, someone else would be in the mood for Toon. When my husband wanted to play Earthdawn, I wanted to run In Nomine. So we kind of stuck with the Saturday/Sunday, "Whatever one-shot someone wants to run," sort of deal. The weekends, of course, were often filled with other family prerogatives... and it's hard because we were in a long-distance gaming relationship as it was. My house is too small; they live too far away. They have kids, but the kids will game - the cats will just eat their toes.

Then last year, when we were hit by a car, our character sheets got munched, too. Oh, sure, they were 1st Edition AD&D characters, easy to recreate, but I felt guilty. I didn't want to remind them of how bad I felt about it. (We managed to salvage the books - hardcover. Helga Nametobedetermined, 4th level dwarf fighter, died in the crash.) We had them in the car so we could game whenever we went over... and yeah, yeah, NOW we're doing the whole electronic character manager thing.

Maybe we ought to see a gaming counselor. There ought to be a "People's Court" of gaming, maybe.

[insert theme music]

"Gaming Court - the rule of the dice under the rule of law. Today's case, the Minions versus Meera Barry."

[end theme]

Nah, it'd turn out more like "Jerry Springer."

"But you've been gaming with HER!" and I'd point accusingly as they bring out the wench. "And her boyfriend!" And I'd make my to-hit roll, I tell you.

Gamers are an opinionated lot. So if the mediator isn't a gamer, how do I express it?

I'm trying to come out of the dice closet. As I write this article, I am wearing an AmberCon NorthWest shirt (the lovely purple long-sleeve turtleneck they offered last year) and I have one of the miniature copies of TSR's Monster Manual II in my back pocket. I pointed out to my boss in a meeting earlier that she drew maps the way I did... in my Dungeons and Dragons games. I've sent our new trainer (who was redeemed from a career in the pits of Human Resources) some of the articles I've proposed on roleplaying and internal business strategies.

It doesn't work. They don't understand me, I don't understand them. I'm a gamer. I can't help it. I think like a gamer. I drink like a ga-skip that last one. I'm still into the vulgar fruit drinks. When I sit through training classes on strategic planning, I'm planning an Ambercon campaign, not setting up my company's goals. When I'm reading, I'm thinking, "How can I work that neat idea in? Or do I have to start up a new campaign world for it?" When I'm watching TV, movies, listening to the radio ... Heck, when I was buying a new bed last Saturday, I was thinking of gaming. (It's complicated, but along the lines of how to use similar marketing techniques in adventurer's guilds.)

I need to be a real person, too, though. The gaming group dynamic is not adequately representative of the real dynamics between people. For one thing, it gets in the way when I try to GM my husband or girlfriend's life.

"My husband likes it this way."
"Why are you so sure?"

Well, because it's on his character sheet, of course. One of his quirks is, "No onions." It's at the two point stage now, but he has a delusion that enjoying onions is some sort of odious personal habit of mine.

So, in my quest for a new gaming group, I got the sweetest encouragement from my little sister, "Just Call Me Rainbow Cat." When I talked about gaming with her, her eyes got big, and she said, "I know exactly where the book you gave me is." She ran down and got it.

Short story, yeah, but you haven't seen her room. This is the traditional, two post-toddlers and an elementary school girl room, complete with at least 16 years worth of stuffed animal collections, books, and clothes in a staggering disarray that would take at least 6 rounds of searching to determine anything of value. Oh, and a high perception score.

She is gone for maybe a minute, and she comes up two flights of stairs holding a 2nd edition AD&D Players Guide ahead of her with the proudest, happiest smile on her face. Of course, I was a little disappointed; I thought she meant the Basic D&D set I got her for her 6th birthday (an original!) but we would do with what we had.

So I sat in the dining room, and we started to make characters. My husband was going to play, so he sits down. And then our girlfriend flits in and out between making dinner and fooling around with the testosterone menagerie that hangs around my parents' house. "Make a character for me," she tells my husband. Then one of the youngest of the Testosterone Menagerie sits down and says, "Hey, I want to play." So then another pulls up a seat, and says, "Cool. I haven't played in SO long," and he gets in to it. By this time, I'm juggling seven books, a half a courtesan's dozen players, and my sister, who has her gnome illusionist/thief (she's out of the elven fighter/mage stage) is bouncing, "Can we just game yet? Can we start? When are we going to plaaaayyyyy?"

I didn't want to break her heart.

(A courtesan's dozen is a few more than a baker's, but when some of them are counted twice, who's keeping track? Nevermind.)

I'm the GM of my household. I make it rain or shine, I decide the modifiers to each roll, and I interact as an NPC in certain circumstances.

It's not all about ego. It's a responsibility, darnit.

Can I bring up my reason for not going to gaming conventions? It's one word. "Politics." Look, I'm a GM. I can make people suffer. At the same time though, I really don't want to HAVE to put people through the wringer. (The rinse cycle, sure, but that's different.) Gamer politics can be nasty.

My girlfriend isn't a real gamer. She's fabulous, don't get me wrong, but she doesn't eat, sleep, and breathe gaming. (Hmmmm. Edible gaming supplements ... interesting. Collectible, too, I bet. Gummy sugar animal warfare... I think I have a system for it already in mind.) She won't game with other folks. You can't game with us, however, and then not expect people to assume you're a gamer. It just doesn't work that way, despite how frustrated it might make her.

Let's not go into gamer pick-up lines.


So she isn't a gaming floozy, so what? I might be flirting with offers from my last column, but I'm still pretty selective. We're not cheap dice tarts who roll d10s at anyone's table, if you know what I mean.

So I started meeting with my friends' kids and my girlfriend on Tuesday nights. This happened to be the same night of the week my friends went over to "that Other Group." Tuesday worked for me. Plus, I figured the kids (alright, that's what they're referred to as, but I'd like to say for the record that they're both taller [applies to just about everyone] and scarier [rare] than me) would like the opportunity to game since they're not in "that Other Group."

I didn't expect to hurt anyone's feelings, but, of course, I was wrong. I figure it this way.

Base chance of hurting someone's feelings: 0%
Fair enough, right?

Chance of hurting touchy people's feelings: 50%
Doesn't really apply. They're a little touchy, but not random about it

People are emotionally involved with activity: +15%
Makes sense, we're gamers. It's a group thang. Situation reminds people of controversial aspect: +5-30% In this case, say 15%. They are playing with someone who I've described casually as a "back-stabbing lying little tramp who feels her personal pleasure is more important than any friendships."

No background or moderating influence was applied: +10%
I didn't tell them I was going to do it ahead of time.

Charisma bonus: -10% (circumstantial) and -10% (personal, I was on their bad side for not having talked to them in a while.)

So, I guess I had a 60% chance of hurting their feelings. And I rolled lousy. Not a critical, see, but it did some emotional hit points.

Do you think in games characters make hit points more personal? "That's the d4 that lousy halfling mage did me... and that? That scar? 18 points from a fall into a pit. Failure in reading the climbing rules." Or should I just lay on hands and cure light wounds? Does that work for hit points by teasing, too?

Somehow I can see myself shouting out at the office that the mere thought does 1d2 exasperation damage. (Which I think should be one of the sources of Pokemon powers. Strong against Effective Attacks. But then again, I wander around the office muttering my Pokemon name. ("Office Coordinator. Office Coordinator." It's better than my evolved "Pervertmon" state.))

(No, I did not name my dwarf, "Tonker." It's just a rumour.)

As for the gaming with my little sister, we did eventually kill some rats. And a giant centipede, but that was only for the joke. ("What has fifty legs and can't walk?") And I promised her I would keep the dungeon map I made for her and we could game some more next time. She'll be eight in a couple of weeks. Maybe we can spend her birthday gaming.

As for a "new group," I'll spend some time networking. Plan to attend a gaming event or two, maybe even a general gaming convention (sigh.) Wear my blackest red lipstick and become a creature ov zee night... or wait, no, even I have limits.

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What do you think?

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