Friday, May 15, 2020

Rooting Against the Players

I am not a thirteen year old boy anymore.

But I remember being a 13 year old (barely) and having friends who were 13 year old boys and what our D&D games were like.


As usual, apologies for the lack of posting. I've been in a bit of a...a what? Malaise? Is that a word?...lately that I just can't quite shake. Activity, keeping busy (running errands, gaming, working around the house) helps. Sitting in front of the computer, writing, does not. Not that I have excessive amounts of time to do that...the kids, when awake, need near constant attention, and when they're asleep, the malaise is generally pulling at my eyelids, too. Daily naps have become, more-or-less, a necessity simply to retreat and recharge my batteries from the constant interaction with my family.

Ugh...apologies. Didn't want to get into all that. Just wanted to offer a reason why it's hard to bring myself to the keyboard recently.

Back to the kids...while it's certainly interesting to be involved in campaign play with children, I can't say I'm finding it especially enjoyable. There's so much that children just don't know, so much information they don't have. Not just life experiences, but knowledge and ideas. Hell, vocabulary.

But, that's the bed I've chosen to lie in. And regardless of the sophistication (ha!) of any adventure design or narrative prose I might contribute to the mix, in the end things generally come down to a D6 roll for initiative, a D20 roll for attack, and...well, you know the rest. Basic arithmetic.

The kids, being of different ages (and, thus, different stages of life development) provide an interesting snapshot of different approaches and priorities in gaming. The six year old is most likely to think out-of-the-box in terms of game play; her grasp of the rules isn't strong, and she approaches the game with her imagination, often trying to befriend or communicate with monsters. The nine-year olds are straight-forward game players: their first instinct is to go for the sword (if they think they can beat an opponent) and loot the bodies. One exhibits more caution than the other, though this manifests as "hanging back," not in taking any separate or different approaches to encounters and challenges.

[interesting that the "cautious" player is a fighter while the the "gung-ho" player is a magic-user who hurls one dagger before charging into melee with his second. Seems to work for them, though]

The thirteen year old. Mmm. I ask him to roll for initiative and he asks what die to roll; same with attacks. Told there's an evil high priest bent on taking over the world and he wants to find the guy and join his cause. Capture a band of mercenaries via a sleep spell and he wants to tie a guy up, pour oil on him, and light him on fire. Just to watch him burn. Find some mysterious cave fungi and he wants to try eating them; same with dead insects. Find a cold, natural tunnel covered in a thin layer of frost and he wants to get on his shield and see if he can "sled" along its length; failing to scoot more than a few inches, he decides to pick up shield, move a few feet, and try it again. And again.

Having been a thirteen year old once upon a time, I understand about the need/desire to push buttons and boundaries, to experiment with what is possible. I get that. Some folks might even feel that it's appropriate (or important!) to engage in some "asshole behavior" not only to assuage curiosity but to "try on" the behavior and integrate the experience into the developing psyche. I'm sympathetic to this point of view myself (I'm of the belief that repressing developmental experiences can lead to worse behavior in adulthood...and that being an asshole in youth doesn't mean you become an asshole in adulthood, so long as you have the proper guidance, teaching, and parenting).

But, as I said, I'm not thirteen anymore. And I'm not terribly interested in indulging in bad behavior, or having it indulged in at my gaming table.

This is the problem with having a mixed-generation group like this. When I was a young teen, I was gaming with other young teens (boys and girls) and, out of the sight of any parental supervision, we explored our own imaginary transgressions. Pushed each others' buttons. Acted like assholes. Laughed uproariously. Eventually, somehow, still growing up to be well-adjusted members of society.

That's not where I'm at anymore. And it's irritating to have to pause the game and explain why, no, it's NOT a good idea to murder the matriarch to whom you owe 10,000 gold pieces for a raise dead spell because, A) you might need her services again, and B) she's a respected figure in the city that you use as a base of operations, and C) the temple is full of under-clerics, followers, and temple guardsmen.

I haven't done a whole lot to curtail the bad behavior, other than letting the chips fall where they may, but it's hurt and frustrated the other our last session (yesterday) the boy's nine year old sister did not attend (claiming excessive school work) and I'm not so sure it didn't have something to do with the prior session's incident of torturing a prisoner to death for no reason. I find myself rooting against the player, hoping karma catches up to him before he causes more harm (to his own party)...and THIS is a bad place to be in as a DM. Not when it's already a challenge to maintain one's impartiality.

At the end of our last session, heavily wounded and burdened with treasure, the party decided to make a three day journey through the swamp in which the adventure is located, back to the tiny village that was the nearest "civilization." I explained that this wasn't the best idea; that they should try to stay on dry ground, at least to heal up a bit, rather than drag their wounded (at at reduced pace) through knee-deep water, infested with mosquitoes and snakes and whatnot, risking infection and disease. The magic-user was too weak to even walk (having been reduced to exactly zero hit points), and the kid didn't even want to spend the time to build a litter for him, preferring to sling him over his back, risking further injury or reopening of wounds. In the end, they compromised, building a litter with broken spear shafts, but deciding to make the hasty journey regardless.

First instance of
disease rules.
This morning, I decided to check the chance of the party contracting an illness or parasitic infection. Because I find the Blackmoor (Supplement II) rules to be both less informative and too specific for my tastes, I went with the more abstract rules in the DMG, as they are familiar to me; as I've written before, we were pretty By The Book back in our AD&D days. While I gave all the characters (except the paladin) a chance of contracting an illness, only two did: the party's dwarf henchwoman and the thirteen year old's fighter. Both earned gastrointestinal disorders: the dwarf's mild and chronic, the fighter's acute and fatal...karma indeed.

Of course, the party's paladin can cure disease once per day, so normally this wouldn't really be an issue. But would she use it on such a despicable human being who engages in torture and mayhem? Should she be allowed to? A lawful cleric might not even be granted the ability to heal such an individual, but paladins' powers are largely undefined (they appear to come from the character's own "innate goodness"). Since I do use alignment and class strictures, I had toyed with the idea of removing the character's paladin status for standing by while the fighter burned the mercenary alive (only dismissing the penalty as there had been nothing the paladin could do to prevent it from occurring at the time).

Mmm...decisions. I have a few days to consider before our next game session. In the meantime, I've introduced the classic BattleTech role-playing game to my kids and the children are having fun managing a mercenary company (lot of nice economic nuance in the old Mechwarrior RPG).  More on that later, perhaps. Turns out that my giant pile of hoarded role-playing games is a nice resource for a cloistered family. I'm debating if, perhaps, I should pull Boot Hill from the pile.

Anything to stave off the malaise.

[thanks for reading, folks]


  1. As someone who still remembers a lot of what happened at age thirteen, I can empathize with the jerk behavior - even if, as a referee, I'm all too aware of how annoying it is to manage. Best of luck to you and yours.

    1. Thanks, Fuzzy.

      One thing I consider (and I realize not everyone will agree with this) is that "jerk behavior" is relative. Some tables are just fine with a cutthroat environment...even cutting one's own throat. Certainly, in my youth we were happy to play this way...and we would pay the consequences as a result (one of the ways we learned what not to do).

      But I'm not playing as a "peer;" I'm an adult and a parent. I have a duty to check in with my own kids and mentor/parent them. Which is damn exhausting (in addition to the normal energy expenditure).

      I feel a bit sorry for the kid that doesn't have other kids of like mind to play with. But that doesn't change my mind on how I want to run *my* game. But even as I don't cater to his (or any of the children's) whims, I still have to have a level of patience with ALL the children because of the shortcomings that come with playing with kids at all.

      It's a bit "sucky'er" of an experience than I'd prefer. But, then, so is gaming in a virtual environment (as we are forced to do). There's a lot of ways things could be better...but they are what they are.

  2. I’m realizing how lucky I am that I’m playing with a good friend my age, and six more kids, two of them his own. Having an adult in the party definitely helps. Haven’t had to deal with this kind of behavior, ever. The worst it got was kicking around the head of a goblin.

  3. kids using rpgs to act out amoral tendencies is a great feature of the hobby imo. as long as you stick to having them face the consequences of their actions there's most likely no harm, unless things constantly stray into extreme territory. apart from the burning all your examples were just silly, but only you can judge if there's cause for worry.

    talking with the kids afterwards should be mandatory though, for a game that's bound to include violence, especially if you have a 6 year old involved. having a kid that young in a game that involves burning people alive or similar extremes seems way over the line to me, though. i would't allow that and i think you should communicate that to the older kids.

    as for your malaise, this could be a subtle sign of depression, if i may be so personal. seeing someone about that probably won't hurt. :)

    1. @ Shlomo:

      Don't doubt it's some breed of depression...very symptomatic. But aren't we all a bit depressed at the moment?

      There was no gratuitous, squeam-producing narration to accompany the burning, and my child has yet to have far, she appears to understand that we are simply playing a game. On the other hand, she doesn't particularly like that the character is "so mean." When she found out he had a fatal illness, her first reaction was "good."

  4. Honestly this was a big part of the appeal of Vampire: The Masquerade in the second half of the 90's up through the mid-2000's - a game designed from the ground up to have you play as a monster. And not just any monster, but the one that was in the middle of a pop culture renaissance at the time.

    1. I thought the main appeal of VtM in the late 90s was hooking up with gamers of the opposite sex.

  5. I absolutely feel the malaise right now, JB. Once my end-of-the-year teacher shit wraps up this week, I don't even know how I'm going to get out of bed.

    (Well, until online summer school starts, then I have to.)