Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Fake Gaming is Real: Misha Burnett on that Critical Role Blowup

Author Misha Burnett weighs in on the recent commotion over the Critical Role show:

I started a thread about the Critical Roll situation in a Facebook group this morning. The group is kind of a general all things geeky group and I can count on them for good discussions without anyone getting political or screaming about being oppressed.

It was, for the most part, a good discussion, with a lot of different perspectives.

I did notice, though, some people getting really defensive when I pointed out that a DM who “doesn’t let player characters die” is a DM who is breaking the rules of the game to force a particular outcome.

One person insisted that she did not mean that a DM should break or ignore rules but instead just “fudge the rolls” to insure that no PC ever dies. Other people said that PCs should only die when it is the player’s choice, and one said that she will only play in games where character death is not a possibility.

And I think I figured something out. I have always wondered why players who emphasize “story-based gaming” and similar terms even bother to use books and paper and dice at all. You can have interactive storytelling just fine without them. If your goal is to just get a bunch of people to tell a story working together you need nothing more than the people and room to talk.

What’s more–the big storytelling advocates tend to have a lot of books, expensive hardbacks with tons of rules in them.

And it hit me that they want the illusion of rules, but not to be bound by them. It’s the same thing as the Soviet habit of holding elections even when there was only one party candidate to “elect”. They wanted to control the outcome while pretending that “the electoral process” put the right person in the right seat.

Storygamers want the rules in the same way. That’s why they got so defensive (I got one commenter tell me “I’m done arguing with you” when she had, in fact, not advanced a single argument) when I pointed out that if the rules weren’t being followed there’s no reason to have them at all.

They don’t want to admit that they are being capricious and arbitrary and just deciding how they want things to go. Instead what they want is a stack of rules that they can point to that prove that they are playing fair and earning their successes and that they all have 20th level half-unicorn bloodmages because they are just that good. And pointing out that they started at 10th level with magic items and have a DM who “fudges” away any negative result makes them livid.

So they keep bringing up “House Rules” and “Rule 0” and about how the DM is the final arbitrator of the rules. And that’s well and good, I am all in favor of house rules. But there is a big difference between a poker dealer saying “twos are wild” as he’s dealing and someone who says, “I’m going to turn this two into a seven to fill my straight” after the cards are turned over.

These people are only cheating themselves. The situations that develop when players are subjected to coherent rules and actual risks are so much richer than those that are derived from what people think would be the most intriguing. And I can almost understand it.

The rules and the dice really are there to protect you. They are like a climber’s rope and harness. They work… but you have to trust them. And when you’re fifty feet up on the wall, you really start to wonder: if I start to rappel down, is this stuff really going to work? It’s scary. It really is! But the moment you throw yourself off that wall… wow, is that ever fun!

It’s the same thing when you’re sitting there with half a dozen people looking at you expecting a good time at your table. I can’t imagine it really, having all of those rpg books, dice, adventures… spending countless hours “gaming” but never once seeing what happens if you just go where the dice and the rules and the adventure and the player choices take you.

I really can’t imagine it.

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One response to “Fake Gaming is Real: Misha Burnett on that Critical Role Blowup

  1. Robert Eaglestone July 20, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    It’s just another manifestation of the munchkin/power gamer — fear translates into protections, and sucks the fun out of gaming.

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