Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Doesn't Everyone Have A "Robilar?"

I know that at least in one long-running campaign, I was Robilar.

I’ve been reading up on Gygax and Kuntz today…not too unusual for me, but perhaps that seems strange to some readers. Personally, I enjoy reading accounts of other people’s game-play (what one might call “actual play”) though rather than a blow-by-blow I prefer to hear “war stories.” You know, like “we went here and THIS happened and while that was going on here’s a funny anecdote or two.”

Some people don’t like hearing about someone else’s camping trip or vacation (or, God Knows, their D&D adventure), but this is the kind of fun conversation I like…so long as it doesn’t go with a three hour photo slide-show (a picture may be “worth a thousand words” but a good short story told with the humor of hindsight is worth a thousand pictures).

Anyway…reading interviews or stories or articles about the players of the early days are just as fun (for me) as reading about someone’s exploits in the Tomb of Horrors (and how their character died an agonizing and possibly humorous death). Not only does it give me insight into those “early days of the hobby,” it helps me feel connected to those primogenitors as a fellow role-player…and I like that.

So today I was reading about Gygax and Kuntz and how Gary liked to play 7+ sessions per week “back in the day,” and how Kuntz, perhaps frustrated by other players’ “lack of interest” did a lot of “solo adventuring” – and likewise, how the two would trade-off as Dungeon Master running each other’s favorite character through fiendish adventures.

The end result? Robilar and Mordenkainen had many adventures, amassed a great deal of power and treasure, rose to high levels, and became living legends in their campaign world…a campaign world (Greyhawk) that has been shared with the gaming world for many years now.

Doesn’t everyone’s long-running campaign have a Kuntz/Robilar player in it?

For whatever reason, some of us are more “into” this silly role-playing thing than others. Why do I have so many thoughts and stories on the game even though I stopped playing more than one-off games close to 20 years ago? Because when I was running long-term campaigns I was INTO IT, man.

I read somewhere on the internet (that old thing) how people these days have just too busy of schedules to put time into role-playing. Well, maybe that’s true (I guess it depends on one’s priority…certainly adults with kids and jobs have less time), but I sure had A LOT of time back then. Every day I would devote several hours to the role-playing hobby. Of course that was back before there was Facebook to update, or blogs/news reels to check, or blogs to post, or digital On Demand TV to watch…I think people just piss away their free time a lot these days. I know I do.

Dig: back in the day, I didn’t have all these “distractions.” Oh, I had a TV but I didn’t watch much of it. After school work, sports, Scouts, Church, and family dinners, most of my free time was divided between reading books and playing role-playing games…and I generally only read when no one was available to play. Even if we couldn’t meet face-to-face, we would talk on the phone for HOURS, tying up the land line (no cells in those days). Our parents eventually got “call waiting” – and then we’d do three-way calls! When one of us was out of “local call” range (generally because we were on family vacations somewhere…everyone took a couple on an annual basis) we would correspond by LETTER WRITING.

Talk about oldest school. You know how I blog? Well, that’s how I used to write letters: wordy and ranty and often. I’d fire off three to five page missives a day or every other day…and boy would my hand get cramped from writing. I did have fairly good handwriting, though.

The point is, this is how we gamed. D&D (and other RPGs to a lesser extent) was the King of entertainment. And those of us who were into it, were REALLY into it. And there were some of us…like my co-DM Jocelyn and myself…who were the “impatient types,” like Gygax and Kuntz. Who had to have it 7+ times per week.

That’s what I mean by “I was Robilar.” Maybe I should say I was Mordenkainen since, like Gary, I started as the DM and only got to play after Jocelyn (my Kuntz analogue) started acting as co-DM.

Whatever…either way, our personal characters (which, like Robilar and Mordenkainen, shared the same campaign world) grew to be rich and powerful (mainly through the extra attention rather than extraordinary play) and eventually became the legends of the campaign world.

Kind of ugly.

Not to hurt anyone’s feelings (certainly not those of Mr. Kuntz!), but in hindsight this appears (to me) to be, well, kind of a “DM’s Pet” thing. Though honestly, it’s only really bad when the DM plays favorites with their “diva player” while other players are present. Hopefully, that’s not the case. I know from personal experience that the DM tends to be HARDER on these “star” PCs when other players are at the table, for several reasons:

- The DM wants to avoid any claims of partiality
- The DM over-compensates for any perceived inequities (real or not)
- The other players’ resentment of the diva gets emphasized by the DM
- The diva player isn’t used to competing for attention from the DM

I don’t know if that’s how things rolled for Gary and Rob…certainly some of the Robilar “war stories” (like being chased over half the world) sounds like the kind of thing I experienced as a Robilar-type badass.

By the way, I’ve seen this kind of thing inside other gaming groups, too (the reason for the title of this post). With my buddies Ben, Mike, and Michael, it seemed obvious that Michael and Ben echoed this dynamic (I always felt somewhat of a “2nd fiddle” when I was in their Palladium games, and Mike may have felt the same). Likewise, when I played Stormbringer with those guys, it was Michael and I that spent more time “bonding,” though this may have simply been due to our shared interest/love in the material.

These days, I haven’t played or run a campaign (of ANY game) long enough to see who rises to the rank of “DM’s Pet” (to use a derogatory term…sorry), but I assume the DM-Diva relationship still shows up now and again in long-term play. I don’t think it’s necessarily a “bad thing” and it can be mitigated somewhat by the DM running solo adventures with other interested players…both I and my friend Jocelyn used to do this, we just didn’t do it AS MUCH with the other players as with each other. And, anyway, shouldn’t players who devote more time and energy to a game be rewarded for it?

Maybe. In the past, I wouldn’t say D&D was a game that rewarded “just showing up at the table” (now…who knows!). It was supposed to reward good play. Playing more often meant an increased risk of dying (more saving throws versus poison to take…)…but still, there’s playing hard and playing soft, and favoring one player over another will generally lead to resentment and rifts in the game group.

I just wanted to point out it wasn’t a unique phenomenon. And in MY old campaign, I was “that guy.” In the past, I always felt my actions were “good for the war stories.” After all, it gave the other players someone to hate and conspire against. Now, well…I hope that I didn’t completely ruin shit for folks. We always seemed to have had a good time, but how would I know…when I cared less about other players’ fun than my own?

Well, whatever (I can’t beat myself up about the past all day)…for me, at least, I can chalk up part of this to my personality. It’s the same thing that drives me prefer (playing) individual sports to team sports…or that makes me forgo networked computer games in favor of solo play…or that makes me beat my own head against a wall for twelve months to put out a book that might have been done in half the time if I’d allowed a few people to collaborate. The astrology tells the tale for me: I’ve got my Mars in Aries in the House of Leo…I’m a guy that wants the freedom to charge ahead, whenever the F he feels like it (and hopefully look good doing it). Having Mars in direct opposition to a certain “U” planet, just means I have the propensity for alienating others in my quest for personal freedom.

Any other “Robilars” out there? What’s YOUR excuse, douche bag?

; )

(and yes, if you are a Lone Wolf Aries or a Big Phat Leo, you may use astrology as your excuse…we forgive you!)


  1. nice thoughts ;)
    i begun with 2ed, and we played only in the weekends, but boy...that was fun! now i play one hour, once a week (if lucky!). i love those stories of how robilar did this, how mordenkainen did that...wish there was a book about it :(

  2. I always enjoy your posts. I have to say, your relationship with astrology intrigues me. I'm a Libra, what's that mean in your circles?

    Anyway, I wanted to ask: you aren't currently playing or DMing? I'm just getting back into the hobby, and I am curious about other people "of a certain age" and their current relationship with gaming. Are you just producing the companion? Are you going to be trying to get into actually gaming again any time soon? Just wondering about your status.

    Again, your blog more often than not stimulates many ideas for me to write about in my own blog...just need to find the time to write all that stuff!

  3. Hiyo JB, Nice post all around.

    Perhaps some clarifications in order. Yes, EGG and I traded a massive amount of adventures between us--Robilar running about Greyhawk Castle and Outdoor and City, and he doing likewise in Castle El Raja Key and precincts (including planar leaps on occasion). This soloing really started with Robilar when he and Tenser and Terik took control of GH Castle's first level and barracked troops there and controlled passage down into the Castle from that access point. This differentiated us from the groups to follow, who held us in partial contempt, you see. There was one point of departure; the other being that as in most cases, the quickest route while traveling is the route you walk alone, and in D&D's playtests I had seen some very slow, and sometimes, very inane routes and tactics (throw the fireball in a 20 x10 area type of stuff, the usual in many cases). So around 8th level I set off on my own, or sometimes in company with Terik, Tenser or Murlynd, but in essence with those whose tactics and strategies were consonant with my own, and mine with theirs. Our other henchmen/NPCs which were lower level could interface at times with low-leveled player groups as well, and this happened more as newer groups and visitors appeared in Lake Geneva to take a stab at this "new" game we were playtesting.

    Gary, ITOH, was intent o building his party and followers into the Golden Horde that he eventually became with the Circle of Eight. Believe me, I threw everything but the kitchen sink at him (as he did with Robilar, who lost a lot and came close to death about 4 times that I can remember). Mordy's (and company's) challenges were grave (as in the Iron Golem in WG5).

    So, yes, we adventured quite a lot. Because? The main reason being that we were both creative and imaginative and energetic about it and surpassed others in this regard then. This is one of the many reasons I became the Co-DM of Greyhawk--like you, I was into it. Then again, Robilar had brass b**ls, too, and EGG appreciated that as it challenged him to deal with my soloing rather than composite adventuring models which the castle had been designed for. As such this portion of the playtest expanded that outlook as well, and we were looking at every nook and cranny to explore this new idea, you see.

    Oh, Hi Rafael!


    Rob Kuntz (aka Robilar).

    PS--Tsk Tsk for that awful iron horsey mount, btw... Green Dragon or griffon mount only, please... ;)

  4. I totally understand the DM/Diva thing. Back in the day, when I was DMing 2 hour sessions almost daily, what I saw was that people who were more interested in the game naturally played more. They attended more sessions, played better and did all sorts of things that pushed the envelope to the point where their actions were impinging on the narrative control of the DM. In such a case they either got slapped down or they prevailed, which from the DM's perspective was pretty impressive and so they became sort of a diva in the game, not so much from the DM mollycoddling them but because they were just that good. This is when the whole DM vs players thing starts to morph into the DM vs that one guy and the players vs that guy thing and if the guy can take the hits and come out on top well, I guess he's a diva then. The other players either take the cue and improve their play in which case you have may have the diva vs diva or divas vs DM thing that often occurs in well-developed campaigns or end-game play, or they lose interest in the ongoing narrative and either drop out or retire their characters (or get them killed) and start up new characters to play in a rebooted session or a new campaign (or even game) altogether. As a DM then, one has got to choose to drop one of the two narrative streams or to just run two separate sessions, with one perpetually at a lower level because of the higher character turnover rate. That's how it was for me anyway.

  5. Nice post. Looks like we have a lot in common as to experiences while growing up and gaming. Reading this makes me glad to realize I am in good company. :)

  6. @ Raf: Glad I'm not the only one! Thanks!

    @ Drance: A person who's a Libra has the Sun in the traditional location of the constellation Libra at the moment they are born (not necessarily the actual location). The Sun sign colors the rest of your chart. Personally, I've never met a Libra that didn't a) like to socialize with other people (a LOT of gamers I've known have been Libras), and b) had some type of art they practiced (generally music, writing, or visual art). They learn about themselves through their reflections in the "mirror of others."

    Right now I'm working on the book. I hope to be involved in a regular game in the near future.

    @ Mr. Kuntz: Um...thanks for the clarification,, wow. I didn't know there were any living legends reading my blog.

    Sorry about the illo...I couldn't find a griffon-mounted one on-line.
    : (

    @ Everyone: Um, Rob Kuntz just said nice words to me...and no one bats an eye? Sheesh!

    @ Icarus: Perhaps I was being too hard...I mean everyone kept playing after all. The "two-tiered campaign" became the norm for us as well, though there were still some "everyone together events" that didn't always operate with perfect equity, if you know what I mean.

    @ Spiel: I am glad you think so! I know I do.
    ; )

  7. No Problem, JB. Just joking about the illo, as the only original of Robilar exists at my blog (the header piece drawn according to my description by the goodly artist Eric Bergeron).

    As for being a legend, I never let it go to my head like that. Started a gamer at heart, will die one. I have a lot of insights and knowledge for having been at the craft and related areas for so long, but that's it.

    I enjoy really well-crafted articles and one of my friends tipped me off on this as it seemed to him that I might be able to add to it. That's why I posted.

    As I said before, good post! :)

  8. @ Mr. Kuntz: Thanks for reading!

    Um...I hope you don't think I was calling YOU a diva and a douche bag, sir. Um...just so we're clear there...

  9. Hey JB. No worry there, for if I thought you had I would have asked for clarification and insisted that I would have been at least a very high level "one or other" by now. ;)

  10. I'm a Robilar, my excuse is I'm married to the DM. And when the Facebook is updated, the blog post typed, dinner cooked and eaten, the kids put to bed and the housework done, dammit if those other players can't make it well guess who can, 'er indoors of course. I don't think I'll amass great wealth, I have a henchman dragging down my XP so that helps, but I'd be happy to just play for pleasure, no XP.

  11. @ Dungeonmum: Which is, of course, why we play in the first place (NOT just "virtual powermongering").

    Personally, I think that role-playing can bring a deeper richness to our lives. I'm happy you and your husband can game together!
    : )