Friday, September 10, 2010

Guest Post: Don’t Be A Dick

Michael Wolf of Stargazer's World was kind enough to do a guest post today.  Here it is!

As some of you probably know “Don’t Be A Dick” is also known as Wheaton’s Law. And even though it was meant as a rule for people playing games online, it’s still valid at the gaming table - perhaps even more so.

The problem usually arises at character creation. While everyone creates a more or less good-aligned character willing to work with the group, there’s always that guy who just has to be the evil-aligned loner type that backstabs you the moment you least expect this. In most cases this ruins the game for everyone.

“But I am just playing my character” is usually the response you get, when you confront that guy after the session. And of course he’s true, but does playing one’s character be detrimental to everyone else’s enjoyment of the game? I don’t think so.

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely believe playing an evil character in a group of goody two-shoes can work, if done right. But most people think evil means you have to backstab your party members, kill any NPC on sight, poison the wells and salt the fields. But evil is not stupid. Playing a truly evil character is much more complex than that.

So if you really want to play an evil character, think more about his motivations and how he can achieve those within the group. Don’t try to make everyone else’s life miserable. Even an evil guy sometimes needs the help of others to achieve his goal. But being a dick, especially to your fellow player characters, is not the way to go. If you can’t pull of your character without alienating your group, don’t play it. Trust me, it’s not worth it.

By the way, being a dick is not something evil characters have a monopoly on. Even worse are players who think being lawful-good allows them to behave almost in the same way. Beheading your fellow group member because you suspect him of being an evil-doer is not the right way to make friends...

What I am trying to say is that you should always try to create characters that can work within a team. Of course everyone is allowed to have his own agenda, but try to avoid choosing a goal that doesn’t work within a group. Roleplaying games are social games and everyone around the game table has a better time if you just try not to be a dick!

P.S.: At Gen Con when Zachary ran Shadow, Sword & Spell for us, I experienced one of the rare occasions where someone managed to pull off to play a total dick without ruining the game for everyone. Heck, I think he even made it more enjoyable for the rest of us. But I think this worked a) because it was a one-shot game and b) he was a pretty good roleplayer. Don’t try this at home kids, we’re professionals. ;)


N. Wright said...

I've never had players think that "evil" means "backstab the party" but then again, I've always played with my friends and my friends' friends.

Playing evil, in my opinion, is infinitely more interesting than playing goody-goods. I mean, c'mon, who would you rather play: the goody two-shoes leader man Cyclops or pissed-off murderous lone wolf Wolverine? Be honest now.

Or hell, how about Superman v Batman?

Before I digress more, as long as you say up front, "Don't be a dick" and play with people who have at least middling social skills, you shouldn't have any problem whatsoever with evil characters.

Zzarchov said...

I use the very simple rule:

If you play your evil/good/not fitting in with the party etc character correctly and ignore the giant floating PC flag over peoples heads (and good for you), then everyone else should do the same...

And simply not travel with you. Roll up a new character, and don't whine..they are just playing their characters (ie, why would I be putting my life in this jerks hands?)

Lachek said...

Combating dickishness is helped infinitely if the game's premise is defined up-front. Whether or not a particular character concept or in-game action is dickish is dependent on if it is in line with, or in conflict with, the game's premise.

If backstabbing a PC is considered dickish, the premise is probably "we all work together towards this goal". But if the premise is "we all ostensibly work together towards this goal that's really quite easy to achieve, and the game is about whether we can overcome our party's internal strife or not to achieve this goal, and the fallout of our interactions" (as an example, check out The Sword for Burning Wheel) then not backstabbing another PC might be considered dickish.

Put another way, a lot of time "dickishness" is simply the side effect of a poorly defined and communicated game premise.

anarkeith said...

Dickishness also seems like a cry for attention. As the GM, what is it that this player seems to need? As a player, what is it about the game that isn't satisfying? Is there a way to bridge the gap before the game session starts to ensure everyone (or nearly everyone) has fun?

If you wanna be a badass, then create an NPC nemesis for your character to target. Work with your GM to create a scene that gives you the opportunity to show everyone your mighty evilness.

Mr. Gone said...

Good point Lachek. Before I began my campaign a year ago, I laid down a background on what was normal and what wasn't in "this particular area." Characters are always more than welcome to play any form of evil they wish. You can talk to another PC for what you want, or slit his throat, it makes no difference to me. But I always play by the rule of consequences or karma. And in turn my players have rarely ever rolled up an evil character, just because they know they'll have a hard time surviving.

I've banned paladins from my game completely. Everytime someone rolls a paladin they seem to think they can "smite" anything in the name of the god of good. Now that is exactly when I have to say, "don't be a dick."

Anonymous said...

When ever I play an evil character in a party of good characters, I always create a concept that gives him a reason to be there. In my PC's world view, these guys are the patsies and I use their reputation for 'good' to my own ends. The only time I've ever killed party members was when the GM forced me to do it before taking over one of my PC's to make it a major campaign bad guy. (Don't worry, I was rewarded with a new character and all PC's slain were resurrected by a local cleric.)

Swordgleam said...

I see so many complaints about gaming systems and rules that basically boil down to "this doesn't sufficiently prevent the players/DM from being a dick."

Take the "all 1s are a fumble, even on skill checks" house rule. People who have a good group and have played with it usually love it and have funny stories because of it. People who game with jerks think it means "every 1 out of 20 dice rolls your character impales himself on his sword and dies."

Narrative control is another big one. Do you think the DM/players has too much narrative control in a certain system? You might be gaming with dicks.