RPG Dictatorships

Being at a 4E table is better than being at a classic table for exactly the same reason why it is better to live in a country with a rule of law than living in an authoritharian country. - Moronic Blogger

I'm not sure what an "authoritHarian" country is, but it must be something like an authoritarian one.  Regardless, I'd like to address this for a moment as it nails down the biggest argument proponents of modern RPGs use to defend their game.

First let's just put aside the fact that using imagery of Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, North Korea or Obama's USA to equate with a game played in your living room is not only an absurd straw-man, but pretty reprehensible to those who suffered under those regimes.  I mean, if your game resembles anything like those kind of governments, I'd suggest, first and foremost, to get out as fast as possible before A) you get gassed to death, B) go hungry, or C) get shot by a drone.  That's my first advice to anyone suffering under such terrible conditions, because those that truly did or do live under such countries didn't/don't have the luxury of escaping themselves.

But for a moment let's assume that the author of this quote was being just a tad bit little hyperbolic.  Let's talk about how dictatorships really work.  I've never heard of one where the dictator literally runs his country without laws he has setup to do the job for him.  Dictators love to sit back and relax, take vacations, and go to lots of parties, you know, the whole getting fed by grapes and getting fanned by his worshipers thing.  He creates a massive police force backed by a laundry list of laws and regulations to do his dirty work for him.

You see, dictators don't last long if they are dishing out their punishment first-hand.  They want to maintain the propaganda of being detached from it all, like video from Hitler's Austrian retreat, his book, Mein Kampf ("My Struggle"), or Obama's White House parties.  They want to put off the aura of "hey look I'm cool, I'm one of you!  Everything's going great!".  A dictator looking like a dictator to his enslaved populace would soon have a riot on his hands.  And that would be no good at all.

I suppose in this way RPGs are not much difference.  Classic D&D DMs had a lot more power than modern DMs...or at least that's how it appears.  In reality, since DMs in the old school game were essentially "the law", they had to be on their best behavior: kind, trustworthy, and above all, fair.  Because if they weren't, the players would know exactly where and how to vent their frustrations and/or leave.  Dictator DMs don't get away with it in classic D&D because they are held accountable for their actions every time they run a game.

And let's not confuse words here.  A true dictator hides his evil behind laws and rules, maintaining a good face in public.  A true leader makes good judgement because he makes himself fully accountable for his actions.  He doesn't hide behind laws or rules.  Even in cases where a bad DM gets out of control, players are fully able to change their group and find one that works for them.  Changing DMs in Classic gives players the liberty to choose the game they enjoy most because the rules are designed to be adjusted and changed very easily.

So who is playing a game that rules most like an evil dictator? In a modern game of D&D, you have a system that claims, "we're fair and balanced because we have a lot of rules to make sure everyone plays so".  A player that comes to the table can essentially dictate anything he wants just as long as he is able to find a rule in a book somewhere to back it up.  So you have a recipe here of a true dictatorship, and not just one, everyone.   Because everyone at the table can wash their hands of their own rules, "Hey don't look at me, it's the book's fault, not mine!".  The term, "rules lawyering" really started during the post classic era of RPGs because anyone could dictate the game if he knew the rules well enough.

Now I'm not here to claim that if someone wants to be devious, they can't be devious in any game system.  A bad DM or player is a bad DM or player regardless.  But in the case of Classic D&D, the arbitrator of rules falls on the lap of 1 person and 1 person alone.  Getting rid of the bad apple is not a matter of arguing over a rule in the book (which can be interpreted in a thousand ways), but a matter of a decision of common sense.

And here's the thing, you can easily change rules by changing DMs in Classic, but you can't change the rules by changing DMs in modern.  The rules are the rules in modern gaming because they are part of the core rulebook.  Now you see how this is starting to remind you of those poor people of true dictatorship more and more.  They couldn't get away from it, the law was the law no matter where you went.

A country where a true dictator or king makes rulings for his people typically ends up in disaster because it's not so easy to get rid of them.  In an RPG, however, where the DM is accountable directly to his players, he cannot hide poor play.

Modern RPGs are a dictatorship of rules and rulebooks, where players and DMs have no accountability, where they can wash their hands of wrong-doing because of rules.  Being a dictator in modern D&D is just a splat-book away.  Classic D&D provides total freedom because accountability starts and stops at the table not the rulebook.

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